By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
By Claire Lawton
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Anna Merlan
And those laypeople are being courted like the last man at a Sadie Hawkins dance. As the USA Film Festival turns 30, annual film festivals in Fort Worth and Deep Ellum as well as niche-market movie events (Latino, gay and lesbian) have been launched, and the Shooting Gallery Film Series takes acclaimed indies to most major U.S. cities. Landmark and Angelika plan to open Dallas art-house multiplexes in the next 12 months. These realities, plus the fact that the burgeoning DVD format contains more in-depth, behind-the-shoot coverage than a live, 30-minute Q&A with a visiting director, make us wonder how Beth Jasper and the USA Film Festival staff plan to surprise us in the future. Like many movie fans, we've grown accustomed to having our most arcane fancies tickled by a variety of providers. The USA Film Festival needs to find a way to sweeten the deal before they can lure us back to making them a habit.
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Don't be put off by the ponderous, "inner-journey" therapyspeak narrated by Mary McDonnell in the opening moments of Amargosa, director Todd Robinson's sweet and sad documentary about Marta Becket, a 76-year-old dancer and painter who operates a theater in the punishing heat and isolation of California's Death Valley. While the voice-over introduction prattles on about artists following their own light to the exclusion of worldly distractions, it's the details of those distractions that make Becket's story so poignant and, when layer upon layer is revealed, rather disquieting. Born and raised in New York City by a smothering mother and a vindictive father, Becket danced on Broadway and in nightclubs before happening upon an abandoned opera house surrounded by a modest settlement that used to house coal miners in the desert of Southern California. Becket and her husband decided to change their lives in mid-stream, from the morass of New York to the ominous emptiness of Death Valley, where she settled in to paint eerie, Renaissance-era audiences on the walls of the opera house. He eventually couldn't tolerate her obsession with the one-woman dance shows she choreographed and performed, at first to empty houses, and left her. Becket became even more insular, aligning herself with animal preservation causes (she freely admits humans are low on her preferred mammal list) and documenting the ghosts of the miners she believes haunt the settlement. Although Becket's talent for painting is obvious, we never get the sense of how good she is at her first love, ballet. Ultimately, director Robinson suggests it doesn't matter, and once Becket's past unfolds before us -- she has been abandoned by most of the important people in her life -- we get a firmer understanding of this eccentric loner than such documentaries usually offer. (Jimmy Fowler)
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