Borrego Sun - Since 1949

Another Successful Borrego Springs Film Festival

 

Last updated 2/15/2024 at 12:23pm

The Borrego Springs Film Festival has been an integral part of our community and never fails to disappoint. Despite a some hiccups along the way, the Festival weathered them and gave the film goers a long list of excellent films to enjoy.

The filmmakers who made the trip to Borrego Springs found a venue that was supportive and educational. Their respective films were given much support by the large audiences for each showing and by the level of questions offered to the film maker about their work. Over 37 films were represented by attending film makers and crew members who could make the trip to Southern California.

Many films were recognized by judges. In addition, The Laureen and Joyce Callo Foundation: the former recognized American female directors and their works such as MOON & STATIC. Each film maker was awarded a $1,000 award from the respective donors.

The Laara Award

Something new at this year's film festival was The Laara Award. The award was created in the memory of Laara K Maxwell, a longtime Borrego resident, a devoted cinephile, and a key initiator of the BSFF, remaining actively involved with the festival until her passing in September, 2023.

To commemorate her lasting impact on the film community The Laara Award was created. This accolade accompanied by a $1,000 prize is given to the BSFF film that is judged to be the most inspirational. This year the award was won by The Orchestra Chuck Built, a wonderful documentary about the YOCLA, the Youth Orchestra of Central Los Angeles.

For a list of all the winning films please visit the festival website at: www.borregospringsfilmfestival.org.

The energy and enthusiasm of this year's Festival was something noted by the film makers and the festival audience and that positive feeling and support is one of the reasons that Film Freeway has again chosen the BSFF one of the 100 best film festivals in the World.

To conclude, more people were pleased by this year's Festival and its content as expressed by film goers, film makers, panel members, staff, and volunteers. And the Festival's success nurtures business involvement and supports the local economy.

As done for the 2023 Film Festival, members of the committee have written their own reviews of films. In addition, sharing some personal perceptions from the attending filmmakers themselves, showing you why Borrego Springs is evolving into a modest, yet world-class, festival event for true independent filmmakers. The members were kind to do this as tribute to our very own Michael Sadler, long-time writer for the Borrego Sun, who had reviewed the BSFF films since the inception of the event, before his passing in 2022.

So, below you'll find a somewhat summarized look at the 2024 season, a few film reviews, some insight about the filmmakers, some filmmaker's testimonials, a list of the award winners, and, hopefully, an overall collection of information that will entice you to be a part of the BSFF well into the 21st century.

FILM REVIEWS FROM BSFF COMMITTEE MEMBERS

Matt Nothelfer

One of the most enjoyable aspects of taking in the movies at the BSFF is discovering independent filmmaker's cinematic influences. The Borrego Sun published a handful BSFF's interviews with filmmakers before the festival, and you can also find more interviews on our website: borregospringsfilmfestival.org/filmmakers.

These BSFF directors/producers/actors will happily share their insights, but it's always more fun to see their work in action. For me, the coolest film was actually the very the last movie to screen at the fest. Right from the get-go, looking closely, one could notice a homage present in the title of the short "The Ankou, The Child, and the Bandits."

Even though this particular film takes place along the Atlantic coast of Brittany, the vibe is pure spaghetti western. If you're a cinephile, that's probably enough of a hint to know where this is going. Yup, we all got see a rousing "western" genre short film similar to "The Good The Bad, and the Ugly."

All the storytelling elements and craft from that monumental 1966 classic were present in French director Simon Vautier's short drama. The music is aggressive and a deliberately overwhelming character in the film, leaning heavily into the Celtic folk influence of the region. It's a technique that is not unlike what genius Ennio Morricone would bring to Sergio Leone's films.

By the way, the BSFF offered a wonderful panel at the library that delved into the magic of that talented collaboration. borregospringsfilmfestival.org/2024_panel_entries/2023112the-italian-giant. You can also hear Simon's BSFF podcast interview about his movie here: borregospringsfilmfestival.org/24-podcasts

But, back to our film. The bad guys are truly nasty bad guys. Yet they're smart, grounded, and a threatening foe for the movie's protagonists; a 11 year old girl and "Death" himself.

And, much like Leone's films, this story conclusion gives us viewers a violent standoff that heightens the stress while stretching time. In this instance, the film showcases the tension with an incredible display of horse dancing that the French call "Equitation." In fact, the actor portraying Death in this film is also one of the world's premiere french equestrians.

Matt Bosson

The BSFF People's Choice Award winner for Best Overall Film, The Countryman is an impressively hefty bit of filmmaking. It clocks in at a lean 21 minutes, but this film is epic in scope. Shot in hyper-cinematic black and white, the film plays like a John Steinbeck Great Depression parable, with a touch of Twilight Zone, and looks like it was directed by Peter Bogdanovich, with help from the Coen Brothers.

That's not to say that The Countryman is merely derivative. Writer/director/actor, Andy Kastelic has created something truly original, that references classic American cinema while finding its own unique voice. Stylistically, the film is specific in its art direction and photographic look, yet the story takes unexpected turns, playing both as self-reflexive, genre-based satire, and as mythic melodrama.

The acting performances, however, are so strong – especially the young girl (who gives Tatum O'Neil a run for her money) – that the weight of the plot is easily buoyed by the strength of the characters. The story is narrated by a dead man, the deceased father of the aforementioned girl, who was killed before her eyes with a pitchfork by a bad man who drips with dangerous menace.

Into this world, enters a mysterious stranger, played by Kastelic as a kind of huckster, offering to pay cash for people's hatred. As he offers wads of cash, the local farmers lineup to give their hatred over to him. Here the plot becomes more convoluted. The hatred is siphoned out of these people as they reveal their earliest memories, and then sealed into a whiskey pint bottle which the stranger guards as his most important possession. The young girl, still bitter over the murder of her father, understands the power of this "bottle of hate," and decides to use it to give this rural community "what they deserve."

There are more characters and plot than I've mentioned here – like I said, it's hefty. In fact, The Countryman feels like a feature film more than a short. My guess is that it was produced as a "proof of concept" for a larger production, which I think would be more suitable. The Countryman - feature film is one movie I would very much like to see, whenever it comes out!

Winning the BSFF People's Choice Award for Best Documentary, the Award for Best Editing, and the Laara Award for Most Inspirational Film; The Orchestra Chuck Built is simply one of the most satisfying films I've seen in quite a long time. The 23-minute short doc – which would easily fit in a PBS or CBS Sunday morning segment – tells the story of former lawyer-turned-conductor Chuck Dickerson and the ICYOLA – The Inner-City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles – which is the largest majority Black orchestra in the United States.

While there are many youth orchestras throughout the country, mostly in upper-middle class, white communities, ICYOLA is the only one of its kind which serves a minority community and has a majority of Black and Latinx musicians among its ranks. The film cuts seamlessly from music rehearsals led by Dickerson, to interviews with him talking about his experiences, philosophy, and love for music, as well as interviews with several of the student-musicians in the orchestra.

It's with these young musicians that the film really excels, showing how the orchestra serves as both a resource and a haven. Many of these teenagers are incredibly talented musicians, but the film makes clear that they are also just normal kids who want to be happy, play classical music, and be part of something great. The film comes to a thrilling conclusion during a concert at the Walt Disney Concert Hall as they premiere a symphonic piece written by one of the young cellists in the orchestra.

This film really resonated with me because I was a music-kid in high school during the 1980s. I enjoyed being part of something larger that could make good music, and of course, I realized later how fortunate I was to have the opportunity to play in a school band that fostered my interests. The opportunity which I enjoyed in my youth is exactly what ICYOLA and this great documentary – The Orchestra Chuck Built – is all about. And watching this excellent film was a truly uplifting experience!

A film with absolutely no dialogue, Box Boy is a great short that masterfully utilizes the primary form of cinema - visual storytelling. With a clever device – a cardboard box (worn upon one's head) – Box Boy tells a simple, universal story of one individual's struggle to live in a thoroughly conformist culture. With an eye for detail, writer/director Kelsey Edwards, superbly crafted this parable about the need to be one's true self.

The lead character, Box Boy – played with childlike innocence by co-writer, Joey Long – lives in a bland, suburban world, where everything is either beige, white or tan, and everyone thinks about, works on, and wears cardboard boxes. Every morning, he eats "bran cubes" and rides his bike to work, where he sits in company meetings about, you guessed it, cardboard boxes.

But at night, his dreams betray an inner desire for something more. When, one day, Box Boy meets Flower Girl (played by the director) – a young woman who wears flowers in her hair and paints with vibrant watercolors – his "boxy" reality begins to come unglued. As Flower Girl's influence on Box Boy increases – his box now decorated with painted flowers – he starts to have problems at work, eventually losing the respect of his peers and his job. At the end, feeling lost, Box Boy removes the box from his head and finds himself in a world full of color and hope.

Box Boy tells a lovely story with classic style – like that of the best Silent Films, it's both amusing and poignant, while clearly delivering a strong and hopeful message.

 
 
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