A High Falls film fest preview

05:00 AM, Apr 17, 2013

Mélanie Laurent stars in 'The Day I Saw Your Heart,' a feature at High Falls Film Festival. (Vertigo Productions)/

Written By Jack Garner

After a one-year hiatus, the High Falls Film Festival is back, complete with a return to a beloved earlier name, and to a concept that made it a unique offering in the sometimes-crowded world of film festivals.

The 360 | 365 name is gone. And the founding goal of more fully spotlighting the work of women in film has returned. To get the festival back on firm ground, the event is running only four days and won’t be presenting any special stars as added attractions. If this festival works, a longer schedule and occasional stars may be in the High Falls fest’s future.

The emphasis will be strictly on films — with around 50 movies (including shorts) and 27 screening programs over four days, starting Thursday (April 18). The cinema of 13 countries will be represented. The program includes a world premiere, two U.S. premieres and a state premiere. Panels will be held on filmmaking topics, from getting started in the business to the key technological issue of the day — the rise of digital filmmaking and media platforms.

If I’ve made all this sound too serious, fear not. Comedies are among the films, and Friday and Saturday nights will end with parties.

Though I still have yet-unseen films in my sights, I have been able to see several and have some to especially recommend.

I already mentioned The Girls in the Band in last week’s column, and have great affection for this tuneful documentary about the women who pioneered performance in jazz, and those who’ve come after.

Among narrative films, I really love Future Weather, a poignant portrait of a bright and promising 12-year-old girl who struggles with how to cope when her flighty single-parent mother abandons her to pursue a Hollywood pipedream. Writer-director Jenny Deller has created a work of touching honesty, surprising grace and deep affection, with wonderful performances by veterans Amy Madigan and Lili Taylor and impressive newcomer Perla Haney-Jardine.

My favorite documentary in the festival will appeal to anyone who, like me, loves the movies. Casting By details the history of the all-important casting directors in the movie-making process, focusing primarily on the life and contributions of the late Marion Dougherty, a pioneer who helped elevate the importance of the people who help assemble the right actors for film projects. The movie is jammed full of famous acting and directing faces, and a bevy of great movie clips.

Turn Me On, Dammit!, meanwhile, is a Norwegian teen sex comedy that may offend some folks with its frankness (considering that the lead character is a 15-year-old girl with raging hormones and rampant fantasies). Still, it’s fresh and funny and winning.

Fashion takes the stage literally and cinematically when the festival presents Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, a documentary biopic on a late leading icon of fashion photography and magazine presentation.

A great archival interview by the also-late George Plimpton is the centerpiece of the film. In it, Vreeland comes off as a bright, original, no-nonsense, but always fun woman. From her, in the film, I also came up with my new motto: “I shall die very young. How young? I don’t know, maybe 70. Maybe 80. Maybe 90. But I shall be very young.”

The narrative features also include Rochester representation with How We Got Away with It, a beautifully shot mystery drama about a reunion of old friends at a house on Lake Ontario in Charlotte, and a death that casts a shadow on it. As directed by one of the film’s actors, Jon Lindstrom, and co-written with two other actors, the film creates a mysterious ambience that can be frustrating for viewers, since few hints are divulged about what is going on, until the denouement.

And finally, there are two documentaries I admire about aspects of cultural differences in the world.

The first, Unfinished Spaces, tells the stories of architects called together in the first blush of “freedom” and socialism after the victory of Fidel Castro in Cuba. They were to build a lovely, artful complex of schools for art and music and theater on what was once a golf course, used by Cuba’s “decadent” upper class. The plans and construction begin with great enthusiasm, but soon the inevitable conflicts arise between artistic free expression and repressive dictatorship.

The second is A Lot Like You, a personal film created by Eliaichi Kimaro, a young filmmaking daughter of a Korean mother and a Tanzanian father, who takes her camera on a personal odyssey to discover, mostly, her African roots. Along the way, she discovers disturbing aspects of the place of women in that tribal culture.

Don’t let my choices lead you away from other choices on the festival slate — just consider these picks as a sampler platter. Other films described in the festival program will warrant your attention. And you’ll probably see me at several of them. The lists and the schedule are at highfallsfilmfestival.com.