Film and TV

Reel Talk, With Merritt: DIFF Focuses On The Creatives, We Think About Teen Witch

It probably sounds completely obvious that for the past two days the repeating theme seemed to be creativity. Because, well, naturally, films are creative endeavors. But the documentaries and features (three of four, anyway) centered around creative people -- big-time ones, indie ones and "What the hell do I do with my life?" ones.

In Xan Aranda's Andrew Bird: Fever Year, a film commissioned by Bird, but in which he is the reluctant subject, audiences saw an exhausted, innovative and driven man whose touring schedule has made him both lonely and desperate for family farm solitude. Also, they saw a truly funny group of musicians.

Practice session scenes are intimate, but not intrusive -- a hotel room rehearsal with St. Vincent's (and formerly Dallas') Annie Clark was a special treat. We watch both artists, who can be one-person-bands at the flip of a switch, swim in the same pond.

Though largely a concert film featuring full-length performances, Fever Year achieves something quite unusual: showing someone's worst possible year and making it seem like a victory.

Sadly, Aranda told audiences Fever Year will only be screened at festivals -- where sound and picture is ideal. Unfortunate, sure, but that stance is appropriate as it sort of parallels Bird's own attitude toward sharing live performances and connecting with an audience.

Someone else who believed in artistic connection? Diana Vreeland.

In Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel (showing again today, Wednesday, at 7 p.m.), voiceovers and vintage interviews propel forward a photographic and archival story of Vreeland's life, from childhood through her death.

The first fashion editor of Harper's Bazaar and ever, actually, Vreeland changed fashion (and the appetite for fashion) in America one issue at a time. Though never formally educated, Vreeland moved from Harper's to Vogue and on to curating some of the most celebrated costume/fashion exhibitions at the Met.

Her sons may have wished for a more maternal mom-type, but there's no denying that many readers appreciate the icon for proving pivotal in bringing masses around to viewing fashion as art. Besides, no one ever has the parents they think they should have. And no one should really have the parents they want.

Speaking of less-than-perfect parenting, musician and co-screenwriter Wes Cunningham stars in Sironia (showing again tomorrow, Thursday, at 4 p.m.) as a musician rejected from Hollywood's labels and looking, with his wife (Lake Highlands grad Amy Acker) and their new son (tiny baby actor), for a little creative salvation in a small Texas town.

The music, having inspired the film, provides perfect framework for Sironia, filmed in and around Waco. The town serves as a character all its own, and on-location filming adds much to the overall sincerity of the fairly predictable but thoroughly enjoyable film. [Note: I was just in Waco on Monday and actually ate at George's, a location featured in an open-mic night scene that ends well in terms of the contest, but doesn't end well overall. What up, George's!]

And sure, Cunningham was successful at making me hate him (neglecting his kid, being a drunk pity party), then feel for him (sad songwriter trying to be good), etc., but the real scene stealers were Robyn Lively and Tony Hale. But then, I could easily be biased -- I love Teen Witch ("Top that!") and Arrested Development almost as much as getting kolaches on the way home from Waco.

And in case you were wondering what the fourth film was ... I also saw Still Life, a German-language drama that only touches upon my creativity theme if you count how to creatively destroy a family via a letter to a prostitute. Sebastian Meise's debut feature is dark and quiet and ultimately successful in providing a disturbing topic of conversation post-viewing: Is forgiveness possible when the parent-child trust is broken in an unexpected and alarming way?

Oh, and Still Life also made me wonder this: Why are the dark, quiet and upsetting films always scheduled for the last screening when I'm yawny and will be forced to drive home in a frame of mind that prevents me from wanting to sing along with a perfectly good Asia song?

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Merritt Martin
Contact: Merritt Martin