Since its inception in 2007, Landlocked, Iowa City’s film festival, has taken place in late August. This year it runs from Oct. 25-28th. Hopefully, it will lure more students, who ought to appreciate not only the admission fee (it’s free!) but also the crazy variety of films: animation, docs, features, music videos, shorts and spirited films by students.
This crazy variety of films—showing at a variety of locations, though centrally at the Englert—has an upside and a downside. The downside is that Landlocked lacks the coherence and camaraderie of a festival like Tipton’s Hardacre. The upside is that Landlocked gives you a chance to find your own way, to seek out interests and surprises and—if you’re up for it—to take the measure of contemporary independent filmmaking.
Certain loose themes do emerge: American politics, as you might expect in an election year (Party Crashers about the rise of the Tea Party and As Goes Janesville about the battle over unions in Wisconsin); the attempt to find hope amid upheaval (Words of Witness about a young journalist in Egypt, Today We Saw the Face of God about medical volunteers in Haiti during an earthquake, and Madres 0,15 el Minuto about poor Central American immigrants to Spain); football, both kinds (Gridiron Heroes about head injuries, How Do You Play Football on a Floating Village about playing soccer on a small Thai island, L’equip petit about a Spanish soccer mystery); and violence (particularly the big feature films, like the Western Heathens and Thieves and the German film Schlafende Hunde [Sleeping Dogs]).
A big part of the fun is dipping in and out, mixing and matching independent films.
Here’s our guide to some of this year’s offerings.
Fenar Ahmad (Denmark)
Thor’s Hammer is a great film if you like dark brooding teenagers and dark brooding Danish cinema. I have to say that I am a fan of just about everything that Denmark has to offer the film world and this film was a not a disappointment. The short focuses on the events of one fateful night in Copenhagen and how three friends handle the emotional and legal fallout of their actions. Well acted, beautifully shot and surprisingly well scored this film is a great watch.
Pow Pow Pow
Dianne Bellino (USA)
Pow Pow Pow is a creative and entertaining short film that is both a jab at the failing artist and at the widening income gap in the United States. The film focuses on a down on his luck painter that has lost his job and is forced to work as a clown to help make ends meet. Though he likes to think of himself as a painter, he has never “made it” professionally. After taking a birthday gig for an affluent family in the suburbs he comes to realize that he isn’t the man that he thinks he is and that perhaps you can’t call yourself an artist if you can’t make a living as one.
These Denmarkians really know how to take a few billion zeroes and ones and make them dance. While lacking some of the high-beam shininess and crack-beaver perkiness of the Pixar flicks we’re used to, these shorts retain most of the charm and oddly-proportioned humans. Wing stars a child flautist with an enormous head and only one wing (yes, only one). In addition to this malformation, the encephalitic-headed tot is beset upon by scarier versions of the pointy-faced Spy Vs. Spies.
Will he ever fly away from this wretched life? Watch and see!
David Rene Chrisensen (Denmark)
Load features a bedraggled office drone seemingly comprised entirely of Post-It notes. Will our hero stay mired in a hyper-bleak corporate world until he collapses under the weight of a million Post-Its or will he escape
nd regain his humanity? Watch and see!
Heathens and Thieves
John Douglas Sinclair, Megan Peterson (USA)
If you like movies where dudes on horses shoot guns at each other, bad guys dress in black, and people say “I reckon”, you might like this slick-lookin’ western (or any other western ever made). This one begins with two “businessmen” outlaws on the run. One is a morally-deficient old coot who cackles after every sentence he completes. The other is a man who may be secretly handsome behind his beard and who does entertain notions of honor and ethics. When they learn of an opportunity to rob gold from a wealthy Chinese couple’s ranch, the secretly-handsome man faces that classic three-headed ethical hydra we all must face at some point in our lives that stems from wanting to have money, not wanting to murder people and noticing that the Chinese lady is pretty. Find out whether or not the hero decides to racistly slaughter a family to get their wealth! Bonus: Try to decide whether the man in black is actually an albino or just pale and bald!
Benny Freman (Denmark)
Denmark once again with a surprisingly high, some might say disproportionate, representation at the Landlocked Film Fest this year. Leak is a short psychological thriller that starts off, thrillingly, with a little girl washing a whole bunch of blood off her hands, indicative of her severe psychological issues (see where I’m getting psychological thriller?). Her mom is a little concerned that the six-year-old may be a dog-murdering psychopath. But what can you do? Well, hypothetically, and I’m not saying this happens in the movie (although it definitely does), if a doctor said he could erase a brain’s traumatic memories and your little kid was obviously messed up from either suffering or causing some trauma, would you take that doctor up on the offer? This flick has got it all: blood, hitting, experimental brain zapping, attractive actors and intrigue. Be warned: It will make you uncomfortable. Don’t bring kids. For the love of God, please don’t.
As Goes Janesville
Brad Lichtenstein (USA)
If you thought that the entrepreneurial class was the best answer to current economic problems in the U.S., As Goes Janesville may make you reconsider. A documentary distinctly in the tradition of Roger & Me, this film follows factory workers, political operatives, pro-business lobbyists, members of the ‘Recall Scott Walker’ campaign, a state senator and the governor himself, in a tableau approach to understanding the events that followed the closing of the GM Assembly Plant in Janesville, Wisconsin in 2008. As Goes Janesville’s approach is both broader and more subtle than Michael Moore’s inaugural effort, and it is somewhat more nuanced in its portrayal. The opinions of the film are perhaps best illustrated in its satire of the sloganeering of its right-wing partisans—Scott Walker repeatedly announces that Wisconsin is “Open for Business,” despite the closing of many of its high-capacity factories in the 2008 economic collapse; pro-business boosters refer to themselves as “Ambassadors of Optimism,” even as they endure insults at the hands of GM workers on the picket lines they drive past. The film asks pointed questions about the role of unions and common Americans versus the increasingly shrill demands of the entrepreneurial class.
Hund i Himlen
Jeanette Norgaard (Denmark)
Janette Norgaard may have had an extremely scarring experience with organized religion at some point in her life, but it probably wasn’t as bad as the one her main charter, Lora, has in her animated film, Hund i Himlen. Lora is orphaned and sent to a nunnery, at which the hilariously short mother superior murders her dog (imaginatively named “Hund”). The remainder of the story frames how Lora comes to terms with this loss, and loss in general, and somehow makes it a point of departure for improving life and attitudes at the nunnery: more soccer, better food, etc. It must be hard to love a dog that looks essentially like a triangle with a nose, but geometry—in all the film’s settings—is a big part of its visual appeal. The overall effect is quite beautiful—grey, spare, flat, all the qualities that we like to think the Danes are especially good at. The sound in this film does as much to paint the picture as the animation itself. In Thomas Richard Christensen’s score, we hear not only swells of strings to accent the strong emotions of the film, but also every drip of a faucet, every chair slide, the inevitable dog barks, every footfall down the nunnery’s absurdly austere hallways, all of which ingeniously serve to deepen Hund i Himlen’s visual experience.
Kelly Rundle (USA)
Being known as an ‘ax murder expert’ must be sort of strange for Edgar Epperly, the central figure of Axman, Kelly Rundle’s short documentary about the Villisca ax murders of 1912 and a follow up to Rundle’s earlier Villisca: Living with a Mystery, a longer feature about the same crime. Iowans will be familiar with the facts of the case: an unsolved murder of no less than eight people, adults and children, residents and houseguests at the Josiah and Sara Moore home in what is now Red Oak, IA.
After 100 years of investigation, some three trials, much division and accusation amongst citizens of the town and several documentaries, the crime remains famously unsolved. Rundle’s film focuses less on the crime itself than the obsession of Epperly with its history and resolution. Epperly has been studying the case since his days as a college student and Axman explores his methods, personality and personal history with the case.