VisionFest, founded in 2001 as The Guerrilla Film and Video Festival, aims to elevate domestic filmmaking to the status of foreign films. Dubbed “the other festival,” the Tribeca-based annual event occasionally unearths films that go on to success at Sundance and elsewhere.
Participating films are mostly unrestricted in length and subject matter, and everything from three-minute horror shorts to full-length features are shown side-by-side, loosely organized by theme and genre. This year’s VisionFest, which ran from Sept. 19-23 at Tribeca Cinemas, was a mixed bag with a few gems.
Several films caught our eye. Patrick Smith’s Puppet is a humorous and existential treat in traditional hand-drawn animation.
Roland Becerra’s Dear Beautiful, a 30-minute animated horror feature, blends rich textures and a single-narrative voice to portray an apocalyptic story set behind a Connecticut couple’s deteriorating relationship. In the House of the Sin Eater, by Paul Kloss and Mathew Acheson, animates puppets and found objects to create a lush blend of anthropology and fairy-tale.
The horror short Storage, by Mark Roush, carries an inventive narrative although cinematically mediocre. Jon Griggs’ Deviation, an animated short created with software used for multiplayer video games, suffers from redundant dialog but the unusual form opens the mind to new techniques. Lucas Peltonen’s Lycanthrope is a humorous horror romp that’s plagued with cliché characters and plot, leaving the enthusiastic actors space to create memorable moments.
The festival showcased a couple particular films. Vijay Mathew’s Off Duty explores a night-long encounter between a Punjabi cab driver and his fare, a wealthy Long Island man who is manipulative and bordering on psychotic.
While the story occasionally verges on cliché and melodrama, the numerous plot twists stay both surprising and (barely) believable. Shot with only three cameras and no script (the hour plus plot entirely improvised), the story nonetheless hangs together with genuine moments of humor, shock and a creeping feeling of alienation associated with allnighters.
Pretty in the face, which made its New York debut at VisionFest, made off with the most awards and a positive audience response. New York native Nate Meyer moved to Maine for two years to make the film with a minimal crew and no cast (his wife, the only professional actor in the film, plays the lead). The film looks far from a typical low-budget production, however.
Long close shots and the use of non-actors create a genuine awkwardness and discomfort in this exploration of the many manifestations of insecurity. The film builds characters through seemingly random scenes, revealing the interlocking stories of an overweight teenager deeply ashamed of and cruel to his obese mother, and his uncle who cheats on his sexually inexperienced fiancée. Portraying unpleasant and questionable choices, the film nonetheless manages to be non-judgmental.
The ending, while open, doesn’t leave the viewer hanging — if anything, we feel gracefully ejected from these other people’s lives, to return, somewhat shaken and more pensive, to our own. VisionFest achieves what many festivals aim for — a truly independent showcasing of assorted artists in the nascent stages of their careers, warts and all. These films were truly a labor of love, with their frequently microscopic budgets augmenting our appreciation of the filmmakers’ accomplishments.
—Irina Ivanova & Frank Reynoso