In Unleashed, screening 7 p.m. Thursday, a woman dates her pets. It's endearing, somehow.EXPAND
In Unleashed, screening 7 p.m. Thursday, a woman dates her pets. It's endearing, somehow.
courtesy USA Film Fest

5 Must-See Films at This Week's USA Film Fest

We are in the thick of film festival season, a span that’s grown wider and richer across DFW. Now host to 11 film festivals, some new regional offerings like Women Texas Film Festival are much more niche, and others, like DIFF give a span of styles and budgets targeting a variety of tastes. And then there’s the longest-running and sometimes tough-to-classify USA Film Festival, which celebrates its 47th program this weekend. Here you’ll find a mix of old and new, steeped in celebrity culture.

It pre-opened with several screenings of its most sought-after film, Del Shores’ A Very Sordid Wedding, the Southern-fried follow-up to his popular play-turned-film-turned-series. Its final two screenings happened on Tuesday before USA technically began its run (Wednesday, April 26, through Sunday, April 30). So, if you’ve missed your chance to see Winters, Texas, come alive with a big, gay wedding – well, bless your heart. We’ll help dry your tears with five other films worth discovering before the curtain pulls shut on Sunday.

Something important to keep in mind if you’d like to see any of these: Oddly, USA Film Fest is no longer selling advanced tickets online. You have to buy them – in cash, on site, where there is no ATM – on the day of the show, and no sooner than one hour before showtime. Does this seem like a logistical nightmare? Yes.

So withdraw your old fashioned foldy money, leave your house weirdly early and take a stab at seeing these five films. They’re all at the Dallas Angelika, 5321 E. Mockingbird Lane.

Bill Evans
Bill Evans
courtesy USA Film Festival

Bill Evans, Time Remembered
4 p.m. Saturday, April 29

Before Miles Davis sought him out to become his principal pianist, Bill Evans was carving out his sound in New York’s jazz scene. His experimental style helped reinterpret early-era standards and feed a new generation of musicians and fans. By his death in 1980, Evans had seven Grammy awards, 31 nominations and was integral to Kind of Blue’s success as the biggest-selling jazz album of all time. His personal life, like so many great musicians, was less perfect. Several of those closest to him – his girlfriend, brother and collaborators – had their lives cut short by suicides. In his grief, Evans found heroine, and later, cocaine.

His body of work drove through those complications but was set apart by how tenderly it managed to show something else: a hopefulness.

In his newest documentary, Bill Evans, Time Remembered, award-winning producer/editor Bruce Spiegel unravels the story of this musical icon through early footage and interviews. It’s a primer on a jazz legacy and a deep dive into the life of one of the genre’s greatest talents. Catch it, and hear a few words from Spiegel on Saturday.

In Search of Fellini is the surprising first film written by Nancy Cartwright, who voiced Bart Simpson.
In Search of Fellini is the surprising first film written by Nancy Cartwright, who voiced Bart Simpson.
courtesy USA Film Fest

In Search of Fellini
7 p.m. Friday, April 28

Some kids bump around Europe to find themselves after high school. Nancy Cartwright (the voice of Bart Simpson) did too – kind of. Her journey was originally about finding someone else entirely: her idol, Italian film legend Federico Fellini. Co-written/produced by Cartwright and Peter Kjenaas, directed by Taron Lexton and picked up for release by AMBI Group, In Search of Fellini takes you along on a youthful quest while packing in enough love and love lost to please Fellini himself. Cartwright and Kjenaas will be present Friday, along with actress Mary Lynn Rajskub and producer Monica Gil.

Animated film Revengeance is about a California bounty hunter.EXPAND
Animated film Revengeance is about a California bounty hunter.
courtesy USA Film Fest

Revengence
9 p.m. Friday, April 28

What happens when you let two terrific weirdos co-create an animated feature film? You wind up with the newest full-length, Revengence. Written and designed by Los Angeles animator Jim Lugan, but inked out by Bill Plympton, this one spins out the story of a California bounty hunter as he’s shaking down desert goons to get his man – or in this case, woman.

In an interview with Indiewire, Plympton described Revengence’s cast of characters as: “religious cults and wrestlers and biker gangs and transvestites – all sorts of crazy, sleazy people.”

Count me in.

Unleashed (pictured at top)
7 p.m. Thursday, April 27

Comedian Kate Micucci (of Garfunkel & Oates ... she’s the “Oates”) stars as Emma in this offbeat indie rom-com that asks the very reasonable question: “What if anthropomorphic versions of your pets magically showed up to jockey for your affection … ladies?" Would your dog be the overprotective type? Would your cat vacillate between excessive neediness and complete disinterest?

But let’s back up. Micucci’s character didn’t set out to date manifestations of her pets. Her last fella (Josh Brener) ripped off her nerdy celestial navigation app and sold it for big cash. Now, she’s just another single woman in her 30s, being guided through life by some vague combination of astrology and fate, dating human versions of her dog and cat. (You know what? She could be doing worse.) Writer/director Finn Taylor and producer Susan Johnson will attend Thursday night.

Ella Brennan (standing) at her restaurant Commander's Palace.
Ella Brennan (standing) at her restaurant Commander's Palace.
courtesy USA Film Fest

Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table
7 p.m. Saturday, April 29

If you missed this new documentary by Academy Award-winning director Leslie Iwerks at the Dallas International Film Festival, then you’re in luck. You’ll have another opportunity to discover the reigning queen of Louisiana cuisine at USA Film Fest.

An unconventional matriarch, Brennan isn’t a chef, she’s a visionary. Known for turning food into a participatory event with jazz brunch, and nurturing the careers of now-celebrity chefs Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme in her family’s famous Commander’s Palace restaurant, Brennan understood what made her community special. By allowing the food to be as lively as the people it represents, Brennan’s family business flourished. She’s an inspirational woman, a trail-blazing foodie and our patron saint of brunch. Honor her Saturday. Director Leslie Iwerks and Ella’s daughter, Ti Martin, will both be attending.

USA Film Festival, Wednesday, April 26, through Sunday, April 30, Angelika Film Center, 5321 E. Mockingbird Lane, usafilmfestival.com.

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