GENERATION DIY At the Bloor Cinema (506 Bloor West), Thursday through Sunday (June 19 to June 22). $7, passes $15-$25. For complete schedule, see Indie & Rep Film. Rating: NNNN
Now that the means of movie production have become cheap, lightweight and digital, anyone with an iMac and some editing software can make a releasable feature.
Thus, a new wave of American indie dramas has surfaced in recent years. These films have been grouped into a loose genre labelled “mumblecore” – a reference to their often limited sound design and the shuffling, hesitant attitude of their slacker characters, who tend to be averse to decisive action and declarative statements.
Last August, New York’s IFC Center legitimized the mumblecore movement with The New Talkies: Generation D.I.Y., a series showcasing the works of directors like Andrew Bujalski (Funny Ha Ha, Mutual Appreciation), Joe Swanberg (LOL, Hannah Takes The Stairs) and the Duplass brothers, Mark and Jay (The Puffy Chair).
Six of those films are included in Canadian distributor filmswelike’s Generation DIY, a travelling mumblecore festival of 13 films that kicks off its cross-country tour tonight at the Bloor Cinema.
Unfortunately, thanks to distribution issues, Generation DIY is as distinguished by what it doesn’t include as by what it does. The Duplass brothers’ films, The Puffy Chair and Baghead, are owned by Sony Pictures Classics and therefore absent from this collection; Baghead is currently slated to open here in August. Also missing is Swanberg’s Hannah Takes The Stairs, a key convergence point in mumblecore cinema that includes virtually everyone associated with the movement.
In Toronto, Generation DIY will screen its entire package in four days, which seems a lot more like an endurance test than it needed to be: the lo-fi, low-rez mumblecore aesthetic has produced some terrific films, but watching three of them in a row can be deadening.
There’s no reason why this festival couldn’t have been spread out over a week, as it will be in Edmonton and Vancouver.
On the upside, two of the best films in the festival, Andrew Bujalski’s Funny Ha Ha (Saturday, 2:30 pm; rating: NNNN) and Mutual Appreciation (Sunday, 9:25 pm; rating: NNNN) are available on DVD, so if you’re interested in the movement, you’ve probably already seen them. If you haven’t, you really should. Bujalski is the closest thing mumblecore has to a formalist, shooting on film and crafting coherent emotional arcs for his characters.
He also has a sly wit that brings the earlier, funny Woody Allen to mind, following slightly dented characters who spend entire movies trying to convince themselves they’re decent human beings rather than selfish hipster douchebags – and sometimes even pulling it off.
Quiet City, co-starring Erin Fisher, scores high on the talky-to-involving scale.
Also scoring high on the talky-to-involving scale is Aaron Katz’s Quiet City (Friday, 4:30 pm; repeats Saturday, 8:30 pm; rating: NNNN), a delicate little pas de deux about two people (Erin Fisher, who co-wrote the script with Katz, and Cris Lankenau) who meet in a Brooklyn subway station one night and end up spending the next 24 hours together.The obvious comparison is Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise – and Katz clearly knows it – but Quiet City finds different notes to play within the ironclad dramatic structure, and makes its own lovely little music as a result.
Katz’s previous film, Dance Party USA (Saturday, 4:30 pm; rating: NNNN), also centres on a potentially life-changing encounter between two young people. This one takes place at an overheated house party where two casual acquaintances (Cole Pennsinger and Anna Kavan) have one of those accidentally soul-baring conversations and spend the rest of the film dealing with its implications. At 65 minutes, Dance Party barely nudges feature length, but it packs in the drama of an epic.
I think I understand what director Ronald Bronstein is trying to do with Frownland (Friday, 9:15 pm; rating: NN), a movie about a cripplingly anxious, vaguely self-destructive coupon huckster (Dore Mann) who spends the entire movie trying to bridge the gap between the tic-ridden squirm-fest he is and the socially capable person he wants to be.Bronstein constructs his movie as though it were taking place within the mind of its protagonist, so it’s an infuriating mess of long takes and silences punctuated by strange horror-movie music and random flashes of odd behaviour. As a result, it’s both completely empathetic and utterly unbearable.Similarly less essential to the movement are three imports. Blake Eckard’s A Simple Midwest Story (Saturday, 10:30 pm, rating: N) and Backroad Blues (Sunday, 7:15 pm; rating: N) will get some attention for their hardscrabble production stories. Eckard made both films for virtually no money in rural Missouri, shooting Midwest while he was still in high school and filming Backroad Blues on 16mm short ends in just seven days.
Yep, dude’s pretty resourceful. But Eckard’s accomplishments would be even more impressive if his movies weren’t amateurish, stiffly acted duds.
The sole Canadian entry, The Death Of Indie Rock (Sunday, 5:15 pm, rating: NN), doesn’t exactly break out of the pack either. A drama about three friends who take their band from Belleville, Ontario, to the big city of Montreal, only to find the hard-rocking lifestyle more than they can handle, it’s the usual rags-to-different-rags stuff, with the trio falling victim to egomania, drug abuse and woman trouble. Meh.
The biggest deal of the package, as far as I’m concerned, is opening-night entry Nights And Weekends (Thursday, 7 pm, rating: NNNNN), making its Canadian premiere after bowing at the South By Southwest festival.Directed, written and acted by Joe Swanberg and Greta Gerwig – the director and star, respectively, of Hannah Takes The Stairs, and who are not romantically involved in the real world – Nights And Weekends charts the deterioration of a long-distance relationship between two 20-somethings through two specific phases.
In the first half, the couple reunite in Chicago after a long separation, dividing their time between rolling around in bed (or, in the opening scene, on the kitchen floor) and taking vaguely depressed walks around the city. In the second, the relationship having ended, the two of them spend some time together in Manhattan.
If the mumblecore movement is distinguished by characters who can’t stop yammering on, Nights And Weekends represents a break with established dogma. Its uncomfortable, unflattering sex scenes strip the actors and their characters down to their literal essences, forcing them, and us, to confront the intensity of the emotions being thrown around.
There’s nowhere for anyone to hide, and it’s beautiful.
Interested in becoming an indie film art star? Here’s all you need to join the mumblecore movement.
• DV camera (preferred) or ancient Bolex camera and short ends of 16mm film bought cheap at a going-out-of-business sale
• Reasonably attractive friends who can deliver dialogue naturally and aren’t averse to showing a little boob in the name of art
• Friends in a band willing to provide a couple of tracks for the opening and closing sequences
• Final Cut Pro
Valuable but not absolutely necessary
• Friend with a deal at small distribution company
• Awareness of own limitations as an actor
• Talented cinematographer
• Some money
• Spacious loft (for sets and sleeping)
• Friend with a restaurant (for craft services)
• Comic book collection (for financing and pop culture references)
• Insight into human condition