Experienced the Forbidden Films

Posted by phultstrand // August 4, 2013 // in Con News // 0 Comments


by Hal C F Astell

I looked forward to the Jerome Indie Film & Music Festival for a lot of different reasons, but one that deserves a special highlight is the set of subversive shorts called AZ Forbidden Films. It's showing at the Lighthouse Theatre in Jerome during their film festival came highly recommended.

Film critic Bill Pierce, who has covered local film for the Examiner for the last four years, came up with the concept for this selection when festival founder Toni Michele Ross first pitched the idea for Jerome in November 2012. While the festival has a deliberately strong and impressively broad focus on local Arizona films anyway, Pierce leapt at the opportunity to include a set of titles that are far too often overlooked.

'I wanted to present AZ indie films that were very well made,' he told me, 'but unfairly ignored simply due to the subject matter or content.'

He chose six titles, all made during the last five years, that have caused something of a stir in the local filmmaking community. Most have not been screened at the larger film festivals in Arizona, though The Violation, an excellent film by Hollywood actor turned ASU lecturer Christopher Bradley, was shown at this year's Phoenix Film Festival. It was accepted on its second attempt and apparently only after some concerted lobbying, even though it was the standout for me of the Arizona Shorts selection.

Beyond being a fine actor and director, Chris is a gentleman, who graciously came out to support my screening of one of his short films at this year's LepreCon and answer some wild questions in the process. I hope he'll be in Jerome too to do likewise for The Violation, a clever comparison of prejudices which he wrote and directed, because it's a powerful piece that conjures up a lot of emotions and prompts us to think about what we believe and why, without any attempt to pressure or preach. It deserves to be seen.

Pierce's favourite film in this lineup is the 2009 short, Her Special Day, written and directed by Casey Moore, which does a great job of merging the horrific with the utterly routine in a very neat throwback to the seventies. I've seen this a few times, once on the big screen at Fear Fest 4 in 2011, and I'm very much looking forward to seeing it again. I was initially underwhelmed, though, as always, I appreciated the acting of Patti Tindall, but it's haunted me over the years and refused to be either ignored or forgotten. Every time I see it, it gets better.

I've also seen two of the other selections, Mia's Blues and Hand of the Earth, films that are as unlike each other as they are those already mentioned. Like a mirror of the festival itself in miniature, this is an agreeably diverse set.

As Pierce describes it, Mia's Blues is 'a fantastic, unapologetic pro-marijuana film with a drug dealer as a superhero.' It's easy to see why filmmaker Orchid Tao apparently received a lot of heat over this short, though she's also represented at Jerome as an actress in the feature A Man Called Nereus. Whatever your views on drugs, this is a deceptively powerful little short.

Hand of the Earth is the last in a trilogy of surrealist films by underground filmmaker Barri Chase, a new name to me, one that's generally known only in those elusive underground circles that every true film fan dreams about finding roads into. Less taboo than the other films selected, it's unusual but a strangely beautiful piece of art with a lyrical and magnetic flow. I can imagine finding new depths in it each time I watch it.

One film that will be entirely new to me in Jerome was The Tortolita Twelve, which Pierce describes as 'a very well acted, very creepy film about cyber-bullying.' It was made by the Teen Street acting program in Tucson, its title sourced from the Tortolita Mountains in the Sonoran Desert, in which the story is partially set. 'We hope it will prompt people to talk,' says the Kickstarter page that financed its post-production, and given Pierce's choice to select it here, that's a given.

That leaves the provocatively titled Sex and Violence, which I gather is a pretty fair description of its plot. It aims to explore the connection between the two elements of the title, using a young couple with unorthodox kicks as a springboard.

Given that it was changed a little during production to be less like David Cronenberg's highly controversial Crash, it garnered some of that controversy itself. It was pulled from a planned screening at the Cave Creek Film and Arts Festival because of a proactive complaint. It was also supposed to be part of the 2009 Deadly Event, but my DVD of that programme just includes the other seven deadly shorts with this one notable through its absence.

At least I finally got to see it in Jerome, courtesy of this brave and challenging set of AZ Forbidden Films. It was very interesting to see what sort of reception Bill Pierce received after it, but I for one applaud the intention regardless.

Hal C F Astell writes reviews of films from the 1900s to the 2010s at Apocalypse Later, with a focus on what most critics don't cover. He is the author of two books, Huh? An A-Z of Why Classic American Bad Movies Were Made and Velvet Glove Cast in Iron: The Films of Tura Satana. Both are available at Amazon.

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