Though 1994 was an interesting year for local imagesmiths, I bet it won't hold a candle to 1995. Nearly three dozen independent theatrical features either were shot or commenced shooting in the Dallas-Fort Worth area last year; still more are planned. So consider the following list of faves as the tip of the film-video iceberg.
Best Features and Boldest Local Filmmaker: John Carstarphen. This ambitious college film teacher and freelance cameraman worked his keister to the bone last year. He re-edited his bizarre, antinarrative first and second features, Mea Culpa and The Weekend of Our Discontent, and screened them at the DMA to polarizing effect (viewer responses ranged from, "This guy's another Nicolas Roeg" to "His movies make my head hurt"). He also made a sweet and funny African-American romance called Stealin' Home. He's a treasure; even when he falls on his face, you can't help appreciating his audacity.
Best Short Film: Diogenes. This hilarious black comedy about a homeless prophet wandering Dallas in search of an honest man looked gorgeous, moved deftly, and contained a number of amusing performances, particularly by Bill Bolender as the wild-eyed title character. Writer-director Richard W. Bailey and his collaborator, Kim Flores, pushed the proceedings into baroque slapstick, referencing everything from biblical spectaculars to Tex Avery cartoons. I can't wait to see what Bailey cooks up next.
Best Short Video: Little Women. Writer-director Jennifer Hoffecker's four-part anthology of personal essays on women's experience deployed poetic symbols, tricky editing, and artful writing with amazing grace and wit.
Best Screenplay: Late Bloomers. Local writer-producer Gretchen Dyer's swooningly romantic and very funny tale of two high school employees who fall scandalously in love was given a staged reading at the Dallas Theater Center in August, with actors reading dialogue directly from the page and a woman on a scaffold narrating. The result was more entertaining than most finished feature films I saw last year.
Best Midnight Series: The Major Theatre. From the familiar (Eraserhead) to the bizarre (Memoirs of a Madman) to the scatological (Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation) to the outright stupid (the 3-D late '70s T&A horror film Silent Madness), Dallas' only underground theater strutted in the best antiestablishment style, eschewing the direct-to-video crap and pre-approved festival-circuit fare favored by the Inwood (which, it should be noted, partially redeemed itself late in the game with a lineup of Jackie Chan action epics).
--Matt Zoller Seitz (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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