Scene from "Crystal" via Picture Farm Instagram

Last weekend, I attended the second annual Picture Farm Film Festival. It was held at the Picture Farm gallery. Just like last year, it offered a mixture of short films of all stripes and the occasional feature. And just like last year, it was a great event. Here’s a recap of the first day. I’ve gone to both years of the Picture Farm film fest and I am fully expecting to attend the third. It’s a lot of fun. I saw many great films in an intimate environment and I enjoyed the chance to meet fellow film enthusiasts, hear from filmmakers and actors, and interact with them. Plus there was complimentary popcorn and beer – at a free event.

I was only able to make Saturday’s program, but I watched all of it. The festival kicked off with a block of shorts called Help! The very first film was the one pictured above, “Crystal.” It was one of my favorites. The lead performance of a rebellious, vulgar teenager who lives out music videos in her head and also might be more vulnerable than she lets on was incredible. Great visuals too. The other highlight for me was “Down in Flames,” a hilarious and gripping mockumentary that honestly had me guessing for way too long whether it was real or not. But ultimately it didn’t matter because this story of a fire-eater seeking to get in the record books by blowing a flame while skydiving was so funny and so well made.

The first block also featured “Here,” which was anchored by a strong lead performance that merged humor and emotion well; “Lady Secrets,” an animated short with a distinctive style; “Neighbors,” a thriller that crafted a powerful sense of dread and paid it off in a way I did not expect; “Keys, Money, Phone,” which blended a beautiful portrait of noctural South Africa with less than flattering portraits of the denizens of the town; and “Tondo,” a contemplative, atmospheric depiction of artworks by its creator.

The directors of “Here” and “Neighbors” plus a producer of “Down in Flames” participated in a panel after the screenings. I loved learning that the genesis of “Here” came from the partner creative team developing the idea over a three hour river float. It was amusing to hear that “Neighbors” had so much trouble with elevators since they play a large functional part in the film, but it also spoke to the level of effort and resourcefulness independent filmmakers must display to pull off their visions. I felt a little vindicated by my confusion about “Down in Flames” when I learned that all the talent was real from the fire-eating to the sword-swallowing and everything in between.

The second block was Past & Future. As a huge fan of any time travel narrative, I was quite taken with “Dear Lucas.” It had a lot of threads that made me want to watch it again to fully grasp its plot, but with an interesting romance at its core, it certainly was emotionally charged. I really enjoyed “Tonita’s,” a documentary about a South Williamsburg bar called Tonita’s. Bar does not go far enough, as the place is a de facto community center. Throughout the film, we meet a rich cast of characters, including the enigmatic but warm owner of the club. As an establishment only a few blocks away from the festival site, the conflict between the tight-knit, long-standing Latino residents of Los Sures (Williamsburg’s south side) and the gentrification and rapid change throughout the area was particularly poignant.


Also screened were “The Race of Gentlemen,” a brief look at a group of aficionados of old cars who gather to race them and celebrate a bygone lifestyle; “Permission,” a story that examines the power of art in education and the challenges of connecting with people and letting them go; “T’s World,” an experimental documentary about a stranger-than-fiction news story from 2011. Terry Thompson was a man who owned more than 50 wild animals like bears and tigers and one day he let them all go and took his own life; and “Body,” a brief but lovely representation of a moving poem with rich imagery.

Panel after Past & Future via Picture Farm Instagram

After this block, we heard from the directors of “Dear Lucas,” “Permission,” “Body,” and “Tonita’s.” I thought “Permission” was a fine film but I became more impressed when I learned how young the cast and crew was. It was fascinating to hear that “Dear Lucas” was sparked by hearing about a couple that has a suicide pact for when they reach a certain advanced age. I was glad to hear more about the people in “Tonita’s” and very surprised that the directors almost couldn’t convince the club owner to sit for an interview. And it was cool to hear that “Body” emerged from director Christopher Baker’s desire to do something quick after being involved in a lot of long projects.

The night was capped by a screening of the 1994 documentary Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool by Earle Sebastian, who attended for a Q&A afterwards and provided tons of great insight on the production. This was part of a project to raise awareness about AIDS and brought together contemporary (circa 1994) alternative hip-hop artists with jazz legends to craft new compositions. In some ways, it sounded like the project was originally conceived as a long form commercial for the music, which was the real driver of the whole Red Hot project – there were other albums besides the “Cool” edition. But the resultant film went so far beyond that and crafted something compelling and provocative and indeed cool.

I love the mixing of music and film so I was quite impressed with the performances captured here. It was neat to see how the hip hop artists and the jazz artists came together and just about every tune had a palpable, infectious energy. And the visual style that Earle and cinematographer Kevin Kerslake brought was awesome. I was particularly taken with the unconventional composition of the interview scenes. My favorite was the depth of the Pharcyde shot, with two members close and on the sides and the other more central but farther back. Not doing it justice I’m sure. Anyways, it was interesting to learn how the African American community felt about AIDS. There was a lot of pain and anger and confusion. While we’ve made a lot of progress, this 20 year old film still rang true in ways that are disconcerting as signs of just how much farther there still is to go to reach more equality and understanding.

Earle Sebastian and a festival attendee via Picture Farm Instagram

That was Day One. I’m sure I missed a bunch of great films on Sunday. And I definitely missed an appearance by Michael K. Williams! But I can’t complain because Saturday was excellent. Eleanor, Arianne, the Picture Farm team, and their sponsors did a great job putting it all together. I can’t wait for next year.

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