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Our critic's guide

High Falls 2006 Film Festival 

Our critic's guide

Girls on film

Your guide to the 2006 High Falls Film Festival

It's rather hard to believe that the High Falls Film Festival is set to unspool its sixth installment already. As HFFF furthers its mission of highlighting the accomplishments of women in the film industry, it continues to bring to Rochester features, documentaries, and short films this city might not otherwise see, and offers panels and lectures featuring those in the business of making movies. But if you're like most people I talk to, then you just want to know what famous people will be in Rochester during the festival. Read on.

The Susan B. Anthony "Failure Is Impossible" Award honorees scheduled to attend this year are Oscar-nominated director Agnieszka Holland (Copying Beethoven), actor Famke Janssen (here with The Treatment but best known as X-Men's Jean Grey), and producer Lauren Shuler Donner (the upcoming Secret Life of Bees). This year marks the inaugural Elizabeth Cady Stanton "Thorn in the Side" Award, and the honoree is Stella Pence, co-founder of the Telluride Film Festival. Many other filmmakers and their subjects will be in attendance, including production designer Stuart Craig (responsible for some of the Harry Potter series' rich visuals), cinematographer Ellen Kuras (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), and Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, one of this country's higher-profile critics of the war in Iraq.

As in past years, the audience choices for best feature film and documentary will encore the Monday immediately following the festival at the Little Theatre, so try to conserve some of your First Tuesday voting energy for HFFF. Visit www.highfallsfilmfestival.com for any festival information you might need, including complete screening and events schedules as well as details on procuring tickets.

Here are just a smattering of the festival's varied selections...

Avenue Montaigne (in French with English subtitles)

Wednesday, November 8, Little Theatre, 6:45 p.m.

When last we saw the adorable Cecile de France, she of the Jean Seberg haircut and tombstone teeth, she was drenched in blood and wielding a chainsaw in 2005's Gallic gorefest High Tension. But what a difference a year makes: de France embraces her more fluffy Amelie side as Jessica, a small-town girl who takes a job at a café in one of Paris' more posh neighborhoods and proceeds to de-jade the cynical souls who cross her path with her wide-eyed joie de vivre. There's a concert pianist who longs for a simpler life, a wealthy man reconnecting with his son, and, in the funniest thread, a frazzled TV star (Valerie Lemercier, c'est magnifique) just itching for a chance to play Simone de Beauvoir for famous American director Brian Sobinski (played by famous American director Sydney Pollack). The French excel at making movies like Avenue Montaigne: touching, witty, and somehow both not enough and a little too much. But you'll be Googling airfare to the City of Lights the minute you get home.

Open Window

Thursday, November 9, Dryden Theatre, 7 p.m.

Photographer Izzy (the reliably gifted Robin Tunney) and educator Peter (Joel Edgerton, looking distractingly like Conan O'Brien) are newly engaged when Izzy is sexually assaulted in her studio, and the remainder of Mia Goldman's Open Window addresses the effects of the rape on Izzy and those who love her. Izzy's refusal to report the crime is just the first in a series of actions that drive a wedge between her and her fiancé, who is frustrated at not being able to get through to the increasingly remote Izzy. Shirley Knight gets some meaty scenes with Tunney as Izzy comes to grips with her ordeal through therapy, but Cybill Shepherd and Elliott Gould are quite irritating as Izzy's pushy parents. And that's Scott Wilson, the dad from Junebug, in a fascinating subplot about the strained relationship between Peter and his stubborn father.

Unfolding Florence

Thursday, November 9, Little Theatre, 9 p.m.

One of those people for whom the phrase "a true original" was most likely coined, Florence Broadhurst rose above her mud hut beginnings in turn-of-the-century Australia to perpetually re-invent herself into such incarnations as a stage performer, a mother, a Sydney society figure, and a successful wallpaper designer. She lied about her English background, had a taste for younger men, and kept her hair dyed a truly demure shade of fuchsia well into her 70s. But in 1977 she was brutally slain at her wallpaper factory, her murder unsolved to this day. Using interviews with friends and family, re-enactments, and Python-esque animation, director Gillian Armstrong (the perfect Little Women, the underrated Oscar & Lucinda) fashioned this absorbing documentary about an enigmatic and headstrong woman whose seemingly limitless ambition and drive afforded her a most extraordinary existence but also likely led to her violent demise.

Little Red Flowers(in Mandarin with English subtitles)

Friday, November 10, Little Theatre, 6:30 p.m.

Sunday, November 11, Dryden Theatre, 10:30 a.m.

I've never been able to understand how filmmakers are able to elicit crack performances from anyone still struggling with both gravity and buttons, but in the beautifully shot Little Red Flowers, director Zhang Yuan wrangles a swarm of kindergarteners into a compelling metaphor for individuality under Communist rule. Qiang is the newcomer to the school, and in order to receive the titular reward (think gold star) he must fall in line with his classmates, a task easier said than done for this obstinate charmer, whose eye for the ladies often leads to trouble. Occasionally Qiang is shunned by his peers, but when it comes to his attention that one teacher might be a monster (literally, complete with tail), he organizes them into a fact-finding mob. Qiang's choice basically comes down to the same one we all make: do we fall in line with everyone else or just do what we want and face the consequences?

Air Guitar Nation

Friday, November 10, Little Theatre, 6:55 p.m.

It's another entry into the whole documentary genre in which a filmmaker tracks people through a competition of some sort, and it's probably the least socially relevant one thus far, but Air Guitar Nation is also insanely fun and surprisingly moving. Alexandra Lipsitz's chronicling of the American decision to invade the largely European world of invisible axe mastery follows an aspiring actor named David Jung (stage name: C-Diddy) as he takes the U.S. title in an attempt to win the 2003 Air Guitar Championships in Oulu, Finland. But there's a bitter rivalry between C-Diddy, who favors the crowd-pleasing stylings of Yngwie Malmsteen, and --- say it out loud --- Björn Türoque (a/k/a software developer Dan Crane), determined to take the coveted crown despite the fact that C-Diddy clobbers him at every turn. The competitors take their craft very seriously, and Air Guitar Nation wouldn't work if it didn't do the same, laughing with its subjects and not at them.

The Treatment

Friday, November 10, Dryden Theatre, 7 p.m.

Ian Holm is probably still flossing the splinters from his teeth after his scenery-chewing turn as Dr. Morales, the über-Freudian analyst enlisted to help Jake (the appealing Chris Eigeman) deal with his issues, which now include a new relationship with a wealthy widow (Famke Janssen, elegantly delicate) toting baggage of her own. It's your standard romantic comedy --- maybe a little too ambitious in its subplots --- but the top-notch cast, including a wily turn by Harris Yulin as Jake's dad, raises it above the fray. Eigeman should be familiar to audiences as Whit Stillman's alter-ego from early '90s blue-blood talkathons like Barcelona, and the intervening years seem to have softened his once-snobby features and made him more available. Here's hoping we see him again soon.

13 (Tzameti)(in French with English subtitles)

Friday, November 10, Little Theatre, 9 p.m.

It's a good sign when I completely stop taking notes while watching a film, and Gela Babluani's debut feature caused me to drop both my pen and my jaw. To say too much about the film would be a disservice since its appeal, as it were, lies in its horrific unfolding, so this will be barebones: 13 (Tzameti) follows a young laborer who thinks he's stumbled onto a get-rich-quick scheme, which he truthfully has, but the possible outcomes are as black and white as the film's lushly bleak cinematography. Some hack American is probably trying to adapt 13 (Tzameti) as I write this, so go see the source and allow Babluani's assured pacing to have its way with you.

American Blackout

Saturday, November 11, Little Theatre, 1 p.m.

If you're not already hopping mad about our increasingly shady political system, witness Ian Inaba's scathing indictment of the recent electoral processes in Florida and Ohio, irrefutable evidence of the growing --- and blatant --- disenfranchisement of black voters. Besides meticulously detailing the specific steps taken by the Republican party to keep traditionally Democrat-leaning African-Americans out of the voting booth, Inaba also trains his lens on Rep. Cynthia McKinney, serving DeKalb County, Georgia, since 1992 and a very vocal critic of the President's war on terror. He allows McKinney's detractors to have their say, though filming them as they pose proudly in front of their Hummers isn't entirely fair. But you'll be awed by McKinney's passion for a thankless job that puts her in harm's way, and her defiant mano-a-mano with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is this film's money shot.

What Remains

Saturday, November 11, Dryden Theatre, 3:30 p.m.

As Time magazine was heralding Sally Mann in 1993 as "America's Best Photographer" she was also under attack for her art, which featured her astonishingly photogenic children in images some thought provocative. Stephen Cantor expands upon his Oscar-nominated short film about Mann to trail the artist as she prepares for her latest exhibition, a series of photographs contemplating the nature of death and deterioration, two topics lately hitting uncomfortably close to home for Mann. What Remains is a portrait of a woman deriving inspiration from the everyday and using it to challenge both us and herself.

Follow My Voice

Saturday, November 11, Little Theatre, 3:30 p.m.

The Brontë-monikered director Katherine Linton accomplishes two things with one poignantly rousing documentary: she puts a face on the lesbian-bisexual-gay-transgender teenagers who have more on their plate than most kids, and she follows a record producer as he tackles a total labor of love in an effort to help them. Chris Slusarenko corralled artists like Jonathan Richman, the Bens (that's Folds, Lee, and Kweller), and the late Sleater-Kinney to reinterpret songs from Hedwig and the Angry Inch for Wig in a Box, a benefit CD assembled in hopes of raising money for the Harvey Milk School, a New York City institution at which LBGT kids are provided a safe haven for learning. We meet Tenaja, excommunicated by her religion but finding faith in herself; and Angel, a lovely young woman trapped in a male body and shunned by her family. I dare you not to tear up when Angel is elected prom queen.

But it's totally OK if you do. Art is supposed to make you feel something, remember?

HighFalls Film Festival 06 Schedule

Unless otherwise noted, events take place at Little Theatre.

Wednesday, November 8

Avenue Montaigne 6:45 p.m.

Copying Beethoven, appearance by Agnieszka Holland, 7 p.m. Dryden Theatre.

Life After Tomorrow, Q&A w/Julia Stevens, 7:05 p.m.

King Leopold's Ghost, Q&A w/Pippa Scott, 9 p.m.

Shorts Program No. 1 9:15 p.m.

Opening Night Party 9:30 p.m.-midnight, Rochester Contemporary, 137 East Ave.

Thursday, November 9

Coffee With..., 11 a.m.-noon, The Strathallan, 550 East Ave.

Young Filmmakers Festival 6:55 p.m.

Open Window, appearance by Shirley Knight, 7 p.m., Dryden Theatre

Ten Canoes 7:05 p.m.

Kiss Me Not On The Eyes 7:15 p.m.

"Screenplay Live," w/Gordy Hoffman and Maureen Tilyou, 7:30 p.m., CurtisTheatre

Unfolding Florence 9 p.m.

Shoot The Messenger 9:20 p.m.

Goodbye Life 9:30 p.m.

Deliver Us From Evil, Q&A w/ Amy Berg, 9:30 p.m., Dryden Theatre

Friday November 10

Coffee With... 11a.m.-noon, The Strathallan, 550 East Ave.

Little Red Flowers 6:30 p.m.

Air Guitar Nation 6:55 p.m.,

The Treatment, special appearance by Famke Janssen and Edwige Geminel, 7 p.m., Dryden Theatre

Absolute Wilson, Q&A w/ Katharina Otto-Bernstein, 8:25 p.m.

A Coat of Snow, Q&A w/ Sonya Joy Sims, Jennifer Christopher, Abigail Spencer and Gordy Hoffman, 9:45 p.m., Dryden Theatre

13 (Tzameti) 9 p.m.

Renaissance 11 p.m.

Saturday, November 11

"Preview of Coming Distractions," w/Gary Meyer, Lauren Schuler Donner, Paul Cohen and Amy Taubin, 10:30 a.m.-noon, CurtisTheatre

Children's Shorts 11 a.m.

Shorts Program No. 2 11:10 a.m.

"Dr. Documentary (A Pathology of Non-Fiction Film)," Aviva Slesin, 11:15 a.m.

American Blackout, Q&A w/Anastasia King and Cynthia Mckinney, 1 p.m.

"Stuart Craig's Chamber of Secrets: Harry Potter and Worlds Beyond" 1-2:30 p.m., Dryden Theatre

Cinematographer's Style, appearance by Ellen Kuras, 3:15 p.m.

Follow My Voice, Q&A w/Katherine Linton and Angel, 3:30 p.m.

What Remains, Q&A w/Mary Lorson, 3:30 p.m., Dryden Theatre

Livin' Life and Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme 5 p.m.

Women of School of Film and Animation 5:40 p.m.

The Play 6:15 p.m.

The Lives of Others, appearance by Lauren Schuler Donner , 7 p.m., Dryden Theatre

Night of The White Pants, Q&A w/Amy Talkington, 7:45 p.m.

Gala Night Party 9:30 p.m.-1 a.m., Artisan Works, 565 Blossom Rd.

The Host 10:05 p.m.

Sunday, November 12

Little Red Flowers 10:30 a.m., Dryden Theatre

21 Up America, Q&A w/Victoria Bippart, 11 a.m.

"Documentarians Speak Their Minds" 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m., CurtisTheatre

"Pigeon (And More) Within - The Animated Mind of Emily Hubley" 11:15 a.m.-12:45 p.m.

Lauren Schuler Donner and Richard Donner In Conversation 12:30-1:30 p.m., Dryden Theatre

KZ 1:30 p.m.

The Cats of Mirkitani, Q&A w/Linda Hattendorf, 3 p.m.

Men At Work 3:15 p.m.

When I Came Home, Q&A w/Nancy Roth, 3:35 p.m.

Shorts Program No. 3 5:15 p.m.

After The Wedding 7 p.m.

Coney andLonesome, accompanied by Alloy Orchestra, w/appearances by Stella Pence, Caroline Ahlfors Mouris and Frank Mouris, 7 p.m., Dryden Theatre

Monday, November 13

Best of Festival Audience Award-Winner: Narrative 7 p.m.

Best of Festival Audience Award-Winner: Documentary 9:15 p.m.

Little Theatre is located at 240 East Avenue; the Dryden and Curtis theatres are located at George Eastman House, 900 East Avenue. For more information visit www.highfallsfilmfestival.com.

--- Compiled by William Matthias

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