Anticipating the 2016 Dallas International Film Festival
With Colin Stacy on April 11, 2016

Beginning on Friday this week through Saturday next week, Colin Stacy will be covering the Dallas International Film Festival. His pre-festival article outlining his focus for the fest as well as what he's looking forward to seeing is below. If you are in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, don't miss this opporunity to see some of the world's most engaging and unique cinema playing in your neck of the woods. More information can be found here. - Editor

Both film criticism and film festival-going have the same questions at their center. What’s the arc? The narrative? The trajectory? Where’s the thread to lead me to the end? I’ve never attended a film festival, but preparing a screening schedule for my very first one felt like writing a review. As a programmed experience, a festival has its very own form and theme. It tells a story about the art of film and also the world itself. Looking through this year’s Dallas International Film Festival, I quickly grasped the thrust of its narrative: the diversity of voice. 

The pathos of DIFF is an emphasis on its second letter: “I”nternational. And that’s my angle. I don’t want to just go to the films I’ve heard buzz about. I want to see the ones which stretch my vision. I want to be wholly immersed into a perception completely unlike my own. So like the festival itself, my focus is on the films which expand my own perception of diversity, be it through linguistic, formal, or artistic conception (plus a few outliers).

The festival celebrates its 10th anniversary and runs from April 10-24. Over 100 films from 31 countries will be screened. Seven out of the twelve films on my schedule are directed or co-directed by women. Six are of the nonfiction/documentary form. Four are foreign-language. Two of them are over a decade old – from 1971 and 2002. And one features five directors, four of which are women.

Booger Red is touted as a hybrid narrative/documentary. A “fictional” journalist investigates a 2006 Texas trial in which seven people were sentenced to life for purportedly running the largest child sex ring in Texas history. It reads as a fascinating addition to the recent trending of the true crime genre, but with more complicated layers of personal and interpretive meaning. Hopefully it will push the genre into a more expressive form.

Farmer/Veteran is a subversive portrait of the “perfect soldier” which follows the life of a U.S. soldier after three combat tours in Iraq. He attempts to build a life with his new love and child as a farmer. There’s a vocational/creational slant to this documentary that is especially interesting for the Christian: the rehabilitation of peace via working the land.

Weiner is a film with “unrestricted access” to Anthony Weiner’s NYC mayoral campaign. Many know Weiner as the man booted from office on the back of a sexting scandal, but this sounds like more than a portrait of a man: a broader investigation into the celebrity and power of the mediated leader.

White Girl is the semi-autobiographical film from one of Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch, writer-director Elizabeth Wood. It’s a gritty, no-holds-barred portrait of a woman in the wild as she faces the repercussions of a night of bad decisions. It’s a college film set in NYC, which sounds like the premise for one of five films released each month, but maybe Wood has captured the underbelly of the Frances Has (which I adore, mind you) and Lena Dunhams by crafting a film of raw, unfiltered femininity. 

Sonita’s synopsis plays like a perfect antidote to our age: a female Afghan refugee living in Iran aspires to be a rapper. To her family, she’s a bride worth $9,000. As a cultural study, this documentary is certain to de-stigmatize, which is always welcome. What’s more fascinating is that the director Rokhsareh Ghaem plays an active participant in Sonita’s journey. And I’m all for a film with a female protagonist who thinks of Michael Jackson and Rihanna as her “spiritual parents”.

Tower is a mixed-media documentary which investigates the “first mass school shooting” at the University of Texas in 1966. We need more films which analyze the role of gun violence in America and how our culture compresses and contracts around these events. Maybe Tower can teach us a little about peace.

Hooligan Sparrow is a directed by Nanfu Wang, a woman who follows a group of Chinese activists lead by the titular Sparrow to protest an incident where school authorities allegedly raped six school girls. Eventually, this portrait of an activist quickly gets turned on Nanfu and Sparrow as they become enemies of the state. It’s a documentary about modern media and the positive power of viral content. It sounds like a work of compassion and force that is urgently Christian.

Collective:Unconscious is a surreal, strange outlier. Five burgeoning, boundary-pushing directors – four are women and all are indie darlings – have created an omnibus film adapting each other’s dreams. I strongly believe that film is the closest a medium can get to the land of dreams and memory, so I’m especially interested in this vision. 

Disorder is the sophomore effort from Alice Winocour, writer of last year’s acclaimed female-centric Mustang. This is about an ex-soldier with PTSD who comes home from battle and begins working as security for Jessie, the wife of a rich businessman. The protection turns into fascination and eventually into full-blown paranoia. Winocour is one of world cinema’s most renowned promising female voices. 

Office is set in China at a corporate high-rise after the 2008’s financial collapse. It’s a modern musical from renowned filmmaker Johnnie To. If you’ve seen any of his previous films, you know his balletic action choreography has always been akin to the flow of a Minnelli musical. We need more musicals. We need more Johnnie To. And we certainly need more films probing the world post-2008.

There are two retrospective films being shown at DIFF to honor two award honorees: 2002’s Sirkian melodrama Far From Heaven will be shown with cinematographer Ed Lachman in attendance and 1971’s famous “New Hollywood” road film Two-Lane Blacktop in honor of “Maverick” director Monte Hellman. Both films are quintessential American cinema. Hellman’s coming from a rebirth of the American film industry, and Haynes/Lachman’s as a pastiche-homage investigating modern norms via olden frameworks. Both speak to the spirit of the festival and its push for broader perspective.

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