Apart from this Smokey and the Bandit interlude at the closing ceremony on Sunday evening, the event promises some significant movie-going experiences. Beginning Thursday, more than 100 features, documentaries and shorts from about 25 countries will be screened in six venues.
The educational component includes 10 or so workshops, panel discussions and master classes on a range of subjects, such as writing a hot script, women in the medium, financing and marketing, and Native American filmmakers. Oomff! forums on everything anyone could possibly want to know about digital technology are accompanied by exhibits of the latest gizmos.
Speaking of gizmos, Seven Days cyberwizards were able to print just half of the download-only program guide from the Manchester Web site. A more user-friendly schedule finally appeared on www.manches terfilmfest.com last weekend. My advice to the festival: Next year, try mimeographing.
Despite a frustrating start, Im ready to speculate on possible highlights in the documentary category: Divining Mom is George Kachadorians homage to his water-witching mother Lea a natural for Vermont, the dowsing capital of the world. I Put a Spell on Me, a Greek directors look at 1950s American rock sensation Screamin Jay Hawkins, will enjoy its U.S. premiere. Well Done, Now Sod Off chronicles Chumba-wamba, a band of eight British rockers who consider themselves anarchist pranksters.
One short got my attention. Roundabout, concerning a man who suffers a nervous breakdown en route to work one day, was directed by Australian actress Rachel Griffiths. Shes the Golden Globewinner whose character on HBOs Six Feet Under is perpetually anxious and depressed.
In terms of longer narratives, Twelve, by Daniel Nash, seems to coincide with the current craze for Memento-like plots about amnesiacs. This ones a sci-fi examination of a club crawler who wakes up with no memory whatsoever.
Another dramatic fantasy, Accumulator 1, by the Czech Republics Jan Sverak, follows a protagonist with either chronic fatigue syndrome or a nasty doppelganger thats sucking him dry. He consults a mysterious healer.
Gritty realism is the key to MacArthur Park, which mercifully doesnt depict a cake out in the rain like the similarly titled 1968 pop song. The motion picture by Billy Wirth traces the denizens of a once-gracious Los Angeles green space now overrun by addicts and gang violence.
Raja Amaris Satin Rouge, well-received at the recent Lake Placid Film Forum, is a Manchester gala presentation from Tunisia about the sexual reawakening of a widow who takes up belly dancing.
Several of the films playing in Vermont for the first time have a track record on the festival circuit. I caught Wendigo in Fort Lauderdale last November, so heres a mini-review:
This art-house approach to the horror-slasher genre, directed by Larry Fessenden, straddles too many ideas to do any of them justice. While driving through upstate New York for a winter getaway, the McClaren familys Volvo hits a deer on an icy country road. Before you can say Deliverance, some menacing locals lay claim to the road kill.
The parents (Jake Weber and Patricia Clarkson) reassure their frightened young son Miles (Erik Per Sullivan of televisions Malcolm in the Middle), even after spotting bullet holes in the walls of their woodsy vacation house. And these city folk fail to notice that the nastiest redneck has begun stalking them.
At the town pharmacy, a spooky Native American elder tells Miles about the legend of Wendigo, half-man and half-Bambi. In director Fessendens pointedly atmospheric thriller, the McClarens, the wacko and the creature all intersect in ways that are more predictable than genuinely disturbing.
Fessenden is apparently on the Manchester guest list. Wendigo will be shown, along with three older fright flicks he recommended: Sisters and Phantom of the Paradise, by Brian De Palma, plus the original Spanish version of last years Vanilla Sky, called Open Your Eyes.
In the Earthly paradise that is a film festival, opening your eyes remains precisely the point.