It’s Dallas International Film Festival, 2018 and you’re an indoor kid who wants to sit in a chair, uninterrupted, for eight days and allow your body to atrophy naturally. But you’ve got a day job.
What’s a corporate sellout to do?
Well, great news: This handy guide is for you, Dallas working stiffs. There’s even time allotted for you to run home and let your dog out before hitting nightly double-features. Whether you’re a weekend film warrior or you’re planning to shed every last tinge of pigment you’ve acquired this spring, there’s something for you here. (Asterisks designate top festival picks.)
Thursday, May 3
8 p.m. — 1985*
In 2013, Austin-based filmmaker Yen Tan shared Pit Stop, a tender tale of a rugged romance grown delicately from cracked Texas soil. His latest feature, 1985, brings a Southern family together at Christmas during the rise of the AIDS crisis. Shot in black and white and starring Cory Michael Smith as a son with a secret, this tight narrative work already won hearts at SXSW. Now, it’s our turn.
1985 first plays at 8 p.m. Thursday. It replays at noon Saturday. If you’re going to Saturday’s screening instead, see Puzzle at 7:30 p.m.
7:30 p.m. — Puzzle
Marc Turtletaub has produced a bunch films you like, from Loving and Little Miss Sunshine to the 2012 sleeper time-travel flick Safety Not Guaranteed. In his second directorial narrative work, Turtletaub tells the story of Agnes, a woman whose life finally clicks into place when she discovers her untapped talent for jigsaw puzzles.
9:45 p.m. — Narrative Shorts 1
Start your fest off right with snack-sized films by fantastic talents. Make sure to salute Austinite-by-way-of-Dallas Frank Mosley, who will be sharing his latest, the shot-in-Cuba tale Casa De Mi Madre.
Friday, May 4
6:45 p.m. — Roxanne, Roxanne
Lolita Shante Gooden, aka Roxanne Shante, brought powerhouse lady-positive freestyle rap out of Queens in the mid-’80s, and those songs still hold tight. Writer-director Michael Larnell digs into her snap stardom origin story in this dramatized biopic. Hang tight afterward for a live performance by Shante, with support from local rappers. (Shante, if you’re taking requests: “Independent Woman.”)
9:30 p.m. — Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich*
If you love fake blood, puppets and stuff made ’round here, you can’t miss Cinestate’s latest project. Shot locally and produced locally by Dallas Sonnier’s Old East Dallas shop, this latest installment in the series is bound to be the rowdiest crowd-pleaser at DIFF.
Saturday, May 5
11:30 a.m — Dead Pigs*
Cathy Yan snapped up Sundance’s special jury prize for this zany tale of converging lives. As progress moves in to modernize Shanghai, local pigs — you guessed it — start to die and clog up the waterways. As that triggers an economic shift, the lives of a salon owner, busboy, architect, farmer and rich kid get shaken together.
2:30 p.m. — Won’t You Be My Neighbor?*
There aren’t enough heroes in life. Even those we hold in remarkable esteem tend to deflate over time. And that’s what makes a rarified outlier like Fred “Mister” Rogers so truly fantastic — even posthumously, Rogers remains wildly inspirational. This heartfelt doc by Oscar-winning director Morgan Neville (Twenty Feet From Stardom) received a standing ovation at Sundance and teary-eyed smiles at SXSW. Embrace a true hero and leave feeling great about the world we occupy together.
5 p.m. — The Iron Orchard
Based on the Tom Pendleton novel of the same name and set in late Depression-era West Texas, Ty Roberts’ wildcatter tale premieres at DIFF. The book has a cult following — especially in this state, where men still pat the tush of the statue at The Petroleum Club for good luck before returning to the oil fields. Texas Monthly has a nice piece on its making and the anticipation building around its release.
8:15 p.m. — On Her Shoulders
8 p.m. — First Reformed
You’ve got options for this hot Saturday time slot. Oscilloscope called dibs for On Her Shoulders, a doc about a goddamn remarkable 23-year-old woman who, after escaping genocide and sexual slavery, is fighting to bring ISIS to justice. With A24’s First Reformed, you get the latest by Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver writer, American Gigolo writer-director). This tight little thriller starring Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried releases in a couple of weeks. On Her Shoulders hits screens later this year.
Sunday, May 6 — Go to brunch. You’ve earned it.
2:15 p.m. — Three Identical Strangers
Neon plucked up Three Identical Strangers, Tim Wardle’s wild doc about triplets who discover one another by happenstance in ’80s New York, and gave it a summer distribution date. See it here first because everyone loves a freaky story about identical triplets.
4:45 p.m. — Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me*
Directed by Peabody Award-winner Sam Pollard, this biopic looks deep into the complicated life of one of our country’s greatest performers, Sammy Davis Jr. Black, Puerto Rican and Jewish, Davis didn’t have a place where he fit in, so he created space onstage where he could truly stand out.
7:30 p.m. — Hearts Beat Loud
7:15 p.m. — Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda*
If you have a heart in need of warming, choose the star-studded Sundance charmer Hearts Beat Loud, featuring Nick Offerman, Kiersey Clemons, Ted Danson and Toni Collette. I have no heart, so I’ll be downloading new programming about the wildly influential Japanese electronic musician-composer-activist-artist Ryuichi Sakamoto.
Monday, May 7
8:15 p.m. — Narrative Shorts 2
You could also catch this showcase Sunday afternoon, but if you didn’t, catch these shorts Monday night. Make sure to high-five Dallas filmmaker Blair Rowan, who will screen his lust triangle, Heavy Chemistry.
10:15 p.m. — Sick for Toys
You’ve seen David Del Rio play roles in dozens of shows and films, and now you’ll get to see his spooky directorial feature debut, shot in nearby Nocona.
Tuesday, May 8
6 p.m. — Remixing the News
In a very cool cave/lab/vault under Southern Methodist University, old WFAA-TV news camera footage is being converted to digital, creating a more complete Dallas history. For Remixing the News, archivist Jeremy Spracklen and others are taking those dusted-off images and reinterpreting them as original short works. Pop by this Dallas VideoFest-sponsored project and see what our city’s best weirdos are up to.
7:30 p.m. — Generation Wealth
Filmmaker-artist Lauren Greenfield really likes to think about money. Her 2012 doc The Queen of Versailles explored a family’s grotesque wealth before and lack of wealth during the Great Recession. Her latest project is a multiplatform work featuring a museum exhibition, a photographic monograph and this flagship film, Generation Wealth. In it, Greenfield covers the globe to examine people’s relationship with cold, hard cash, baby. Amazon snatched this one up. It is scheduled for a July release.
10:15 p.m. — People’s Republic of Desire*
In China, a new fascination with everyday celebrity is emerging through livestream channels. Each day, millions tune in to watch “top hosts” read text messages, feed children or sing songs. You know, basic human interaction stuff. It looks completely dystopian, but it’s the new normal. This flick won the documentary grand jury prize at SXSW, so give it a spin.
Wednesday, May 9
8 p.m. — Sons of St. Clair
7:30 p.m. — Eighth Grade
7:15 p.m. — Shirkers*
Wednesday night is a pickle: You’ve got Sundance sweetheart and A24 release Eighth Grade, the personal quest/DIY-inspired story Shirkers that won Sandi Tan a Sundance Directing Award, and a film about Bone Thugs-N-Harmony by former Dallasite Tim Newfang. Netflix picked up Shirkers, which will be released soon. A24 will push Eighth Grade out to theaters this summer, and you can catch it Thursday night. But this is the only post-work screening time for the Bone boys doc, Sons of St. Clair.
Pro tip: You can have it all. See Sons on Wednesday. Ditch work early Thursday to catch Shirkers on the big screen at 4:30 p.m., and stay late for Eighth Grade at 10 p.m.
10 p.m. — Madeline’s Madeline*
IndieWire called Josephine Decker’s new boundary-crossing experimental work “one of the boldest and most invigorating American films of the 21st century.” It stars Miranda July and newcomer Helena Howard as a mother and daughter distanced by mental illness, but it’s also much more — and much stranger — than a capsule description allows. Go see it big. It’s co-sponsored by Oak Cliff Film Fest.
Thursday, May 10
7:30 p.m. — McQueen
Alexander McQueen was cut from a different cloth. Whether he was helming Givenchy or working under his own label, he collided supernatural couture with escalated catwalk drama. Look inside entirely too short a life, stopped by suicide at age 40.
10 p.m. — Eighth Grade
If you skipped it Wednesday, catch it Thursday night.
DIFF pro tips:
- You can buy tickets individually, and it makes good sense to if you’re only seeing a handful of movies. But get to screenings at least 15 mins early — especially if the film is marked "rush." Tickets may not be available for all films.
- If you plan to see a bunch of films, get a festival badge, not a film badge. Yeah, it’s $75 more, but you have a day job, so you can afford it. A festival badge gets you lounge access, and that means access to booze. (And to bananas so your legs won’t seize into unflattering, prizmatic shapes.)
- There is no animated shorts block this year. That isn’t really a tip as much as something that makes me sad. What’s up with that?
- Also not a tip, but I’d like to point out that this year’s schedule is packed with films that feature women in prominent positions, like directors, writers and cinematographers. Good job, guys.