Preview: Deep Focus Film Fest


In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably say that Deep Focus Film Fest founder, programmer, director, promoter and flier-passer-outter Melissa Starker, currently the assistant editor of local weekly Alive!, is a friend and former co-worker of mine. So there’s a chance I might be biased in her favor when reporting on endeavors of hers, like this year’s Deep Focus, which kicks off in a matter of hours.

But the festival is sponsored by The Dispatch Printing Company and Alive!, which fired me from their employ for yet-to-be-revealed reasons about a year and half ago. So there’s a chance I might be biased against any endeavors they sponsor.

So I imagine those two things cancel each other out, and you can all assume I’m being totally objective here, right?

Okay, cool.

So The Deep Focus Film Fest is in its third year now, which is still relatively young. In the past two years, it brought some of your favorite movies to Columbus before they managed to snag regular theater engagements, like Brick, District B13, The Aristocrats, Murder Ball and My Summer of Love. Looking back, Deep Focus sure managed to anticipate what would be indie hits and bring them to the city’s attention months before they’d otherwise have arrived.

I haven’t seen any of this year’s entries yet, so I can’t say for sure if there’s a Brickor Murderball in the bunch, but there are certainly a few that look promising.

The fest kicks off tonight at 7 p.m. with the late actress-turned-director Adrienne Shelly’s Waitress, in which unhappily married and knocked-up southern waitress Keri Russell (TV’s Felicity), who finds herself in an unlikely relationship with gynecologist Nathan Fillion. Co-stars include Larry David’s fake TV wife Cheryl Hines, Shelly herself and Andy freaking Griffith. It will be preceded by a screening of the short The Happiest Day of His Life by Ursula Burton, and followed by an after-party.

Friday’s films include a trio of documenataries.

There’s Air Guitar Nation, the debut film of a Project Runway producer that “follows the first Americans to compete in the World Air Guitar Championship in Finland.” If it’s half as funny as the synopsis, then it should be a blast.

There’s also Dare Not Walk Alone, which covers the Civil Rights movement in one of the its many little-discussed fronts, St. Augustine, Florida, where things got bizarrely savage. You’ve seen footage of German shepherds and hoses being turned on black folks, but how about acid? The film promises never before seen archival footage.

And finally, festival circuit favorite Maxed Out, whose subtitle “Hard Times, Easy Credit and the Era of Predatory Lenders,” pretty much says it all. Focusing on the dire financial straits of modern Americans and the woes of credit addiction, it looks like one of those filmic equivalent to vegetables (That is, watching it is, like eating them, good for you).

Saturday brings the fest’s sole screening After the Wedding, a Danish film by the writer/director team responsible for 2004 heartbreaker (and 2005 Deep Focus selection) Brothers. It stars Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Roayle‘s blood-weeping Le Chiffre ) as a Danish activist in India whose sworn never to return to Copenhagen…at least until a wealthy businessman offers to make a multi-million donation to Indian orphans to lure him back and discover a secret connection.

That’s followed Broken English, which has two names attached that are regular fixtures at film festivals, Parker Posey and Cassavetes (as in Zoe, daughter of John). Posey stars as a New Yorker at the age where she’s about ready to give up on happiness, the perfect time to meet someone new. Cassavetes writes and directs.

Director Daineil Burman is apparently referred to as “the Argentine Woody Allen,” which makes his dramedy Family Law sound worth a look (provided they mean he’s like the early Woody, not the current one). Star Daneil Burman plays a teacher and family man who suddenly finds himself not having to go to work for a couple weeks, and he uses the time to bond with his father and his son.

If you didn’t have the money and/or patience for last weekend’s Sci-Fi mara and missed zombie comedy Fido, relax; it’s on Saturday night’s schedule. In a fresh riff on the zombipocalypse set-up, it’s kind of a boy-and-his-dog flick, except that instead of a dog, the boy in this movie has a semi-domesticated zombie by the name of Fido, played by…Billy Connolly? Sweet!

Finally, there’s anime feature Paprika. Directed by Satoshi Kon, who was responsible for the beautiful but shallow and somewhat tedious Perfect Blue and Millennium Actress. In synopsis, this one doesn’t sound so hot either–dealing as it does with psychologists and a dream machine–but the trailers and previews are packed with wonderful imagery, and buzz in the nerdiverse has thus far been pretty positive.

The fest wraps up on Sunday withHip Hop Project a documentary following a New York City-based outreach program for teens that uses hip hop to as a vehicle for personal growth. “World’s Best Commercials,” a program of award-winners from the Cannes International Ad Festival, is also on Sunday’s schedule, as are encores of Air Guitar Nation,Broken English, Dare Not Walk Alone and Maxed Out.

Playing before many of the films will be locallycreated shorts by local filmmakers John Whitney, LeftChannel and CCAD students.

Additionally if none of that sounds like your personal cup of tea (and if it doesn’t, chances are you just don’t like movies…I mean, everything from documentaries to zombie family drama?), Deep Focus is counter-programming against itself with more mainstream “Modern Classics,” most of which are experiencing an anniversary of some sort.

These include Steven Spielberg’s scay-ass suspense classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Wow, have I really had that alien communication song stuck in my head for 30 years now?), Cher vehicle Moonstruck(Wow, has she really not aged for 20 years no?), David Mamet-written movie about why being a salesman totally sucks Glengarry Glen Ross (which turns 15 years old this year) and 1997 attempt to see if a Friend could still be funny if not actually on Friends film Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion (Wow, Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino would be going to their 20th reunion this year).

Finally, there’s programmed-by-Internet poll “sports film spotlight.” and visitors voted for 2000 Denzel Washington vehicle Remember the Titans, which I’ve already forgotten.

  • jill

    this festival gives “festivals” a bad name. there might be one or two good films but this is a realy sterile event. blah!

  • Jill, thanks for your constructive criticism. From your comments, you’ve obviously been to the Deep Focus fest at least once, and I assume you’ve been to other film festivals too, to have a basis of comparison. I’d very much like to hear what you thought of your experience at our festival, what it lacks in relation to your other film fest experiences, and any detailed suggestions you have on how we can improve our event. Just email me – my address is on the contact page at