A ‘Kiss’ hello from Filmfest | AspenTimes.com

A ‘Kiss’ hello from Filmfest

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen Times Staff Writer

“Just a Kiss,” which caps Aspen Filmfest’s opening-night program tonight, is refreshingly original in its tone, a sometimes discomforting, sometimes hilarious, mix of romantic ideals and overly harsh reality. It is a visually ambitious film, with touches of “Waking Life”-type effects sparingly used. “Just a Kiss” is equally experimental in its storytelling, as it presents alternate story lines, and folds layers of time over themselves.

The film features no star turns, but is an excellent example of ensemble acting. The three featured female actors ? Kyra Sedgwick, Marisa Tomei and Marley Shelton ? in particular, give outstanding performances as oddball characters stuck in, or instigating, painful romances.

“Just a Kiss,” which looks at the absurdly interconnected lives of a group of Manhattanites, is too dark and unusual to be a mainstream hit, though it is likely to attract a devoted audience who will spread the word to friends with similar tastes.

“Just a Kiss” is the first feature for its director, Fisher Stevens (though his short film, “Call of the Wylie,” was screened at Aspen Shortsfest ?95).

All this makes “Just a Kiss” an almost quintessential Aspen Filmfest presentation. For 24 years, Filmfest has made its name by highlighting the quirkier products of the film industry, the more experimental and artistic efforts, the darker corners of storytelling, and the young and unproven voices of cinema. This year’s Filmfest, which opens today and runs through Sunday, Sept. 29, with events in Aspen, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, offers plenty of the quirky, experimental, dark and new.

Filmfest opens with “Spellbound,” a documentary about participants in the National Spelling Bee. That may seem a dry topic for a documentary, but in the hands of first-time, feature-length director Jeff Blitz, the subject becomes almost, well, spellbinding. Audiences have been captivated with the stories of the teenagers who have competed for the title of America’s best speller.

“Spellbound” has earned Audience Awards at the Los Angeles Film Festival and San Francisco’s Doc Fest, and Best Documentary at Austin, Texas’ South-By-Southwest.

Other documentaries in Filmfest’s True Stories segment are “OT: Our Town,” about a high school production of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” put on by the students of an inner-city Los Angeles school; “Tribute,” about the phenomenon of tribute bands; and “Secret Lives: Hidden Children and Their Rescuers During WWII.”

Fisher Stevens has plenty of company in the New Voices segment, devoted to directors making their first or second features. New Voices opens with “Real Women Have Curves,” a Latina-themed, light drama by director Patricia Cardoso, which is featured as the Opening Night film tonight, at 5 p.m., at the Wheeler Opera House.

Other New Voices films are “7 Days in Tehran,” about an Iranian-born, French-based filmmaker returning to his native country to make a movie; “The Way Home,” a family drama by South Korean writer-director Lee Jeong-hyang; Rebecca Miller’s “Personal Velocity,” based on her own short stories and starring Kyra Sedgwick and Parker Posey; “Showboy,” about a fired television scriptwriter who pursues his ambition to become a Las Vegas dancer; and “Tattoo, a love story,” director Richard Bean’s straightforward romance about an unlikely pair.

Independent through and through

Sydney Pollack, who has directed 18 films, produced 25, and acted in another handful, isn’t a newcomer. With best director and best picture Academy Awards for “Out of Africa,” and such films as “Tootsie,” “The Way We Were” and “The Firm” to his credit, he’s well within the mainstream. But Pollack has also shown a streak of artistry and independence in his career, making him the choice as this year’s recipient of Filmfest’s Independent By Nature Award.

Pollack will receive the award on Friday, Sept. 27 at 6 p.m. at the Wheeler, in an event that will include an interview of Pollack by Aspen Filmfest Executive Director Laura Thielen, a clips reel of Pollack’s movies, and an appearance by musician Dave Grusin, who has done the music for nine of Pollack’s films.

Filmfest will also present a retrospective of three Pollack-directed features: the 1982 hit comedy “Tootsie”; 1969’s wrenching “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” which helped establish Pollack’s reputation; and the 1972 wilderness meditation “Jeremiah Johnson,” one of seven Pollack films to feature Robert Redford.

Another Filmfest mission is to present foreign films that audiences may never get to see elsewhere. This year’s Filmfest includes “Cuckoo,” a Russian film set in World War II. Also on the schedule is “Rabbit-Proof Fence,” an Australian film by director Philip Noyce (“Patriot Games,” “The Bone Collector”), that will receive a wide release later this fall.

Special events include a screening of the 1928 Buster Keaton comedy “Steamboat Bill, Jr.,” with live musical accompaniment by the Asylum Street Spankers; and “My Voyage to Italy,” Martin Scorsese’s four-hour tutorial of Italian cinema. University of California, Berkeley film scholar Sylvia Swift will lead the seminar, Knowledge and Pleasure: Noticing What You Know About Films.

For the young film fanatic, there is the ScreenPlay! presentation “Minoes,” a Dutch movie about a newspaper reporter whose career is saved when he meets the subject of a most unusual story.

In the higher-profile category are “Moonlight Mile,” an emotional drama by Brad Silberling that stars Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon and Jake Gyllenhaal; and “Frida,” director Julie Taymor’s take on the life of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, starring Salma Hayek and featuring Geoffrey Rush, Ashley Judd and Antonio Banderas.

(For a complete Aspen Filmfest program, see the special section in the Sept. 21-22 edition of The Aspen Times, pick up a program at the Wheeler Opera House, or go to http://www.aspenfilm.org.)

[Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com]

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