Today at the Dallas International Film Festival (4/1/11)

Now that we’ve gotten through the opening night festivities, let the meat of the 2011 Dallas International Film Festival begin. Here are some film fest picks for the first full day of festing:

Reviewed in today’s edition: Zero Percent , Rainbows End, and The Future.

Zero Percent (Angelika 7: 7:15 p.m): This documentary goes into New York’s maximum-security prison, Sing Sing, and looks at an education program there that has turned around the lives of many inmates. The title refers to the re-incarceration rate for those who participate in the program (compared to the national average rate of re-incarceration, which is 60 percent), but Zero Percent‘s strength comes not through sociological point-making, but through its candid interviews with inmates — murderers, drug dealers — who reveal to the camera a reflective, deep-feeling sensibility that is profoundly moving to witness. The film is not about jail, but rather about the power of education and its role in opening up the imagination to the possibilities of life.

Rainbows End (Magnolia 5: 10 p.m.): In the running for the zaniest, funniest, most enjoyable ride of the fest: Rainbow’s End, a bizarre, Spinal Tap-inspired mock doc about a group of musicians and oddballs from Nacogdoches, Texas, who set out on a rock ‘n’ roll odyssey to Los Angeles where they will record a session with outsider music legend, The Legendary Stardust Cowboy. What sets this band apart is that their drum set is made with pieces of the space shuttle that exploded over Nacogdoches. Blurring fact and fiction, Rainbow’s End is populated with the kinds of eccentric fools that lend backwoods Texas its endearing mystique — from a bearded, baton-twirling dandy, to a man with a howitzer canon who blows up cars.

The Future (Angelika 8: 7:30 p.m.): Miranda July’s work is an acquired taste. Her quirky, offbeat sense of humor is hard to spot at first glance, and the often haphazard pacing and emotional awkwardness she creates in her movies can feel strained and unpleasant to sit through. But the artist/filmmaker has a unique cinematic vision, owing in part to sensitivity towards the visual medium she cultivates through her work as a video artist. In The Future she pushes that narrative ambition even further than she has in other films. July’s movie is a lovesick, melancholic tale, both deeply personal and resonates with a greater cultural consciousness.

Films with good buzz:

13 Assassins (Magnolia 4: 9:30 p.m.): I bumped into the Dallas Morning News’ Chris Vognar last night at the festival opening, and we exchanged picks. At the top of his list was 13 Assassins, by prolific Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike. The film is a remake of a move from 1963 based on a real life event from the fading era of samurai, when 13 men are hired to take revenge on a sadistic lord. Writes the Toronto IFF’s Colin Geddes: “13 Assassins offers no gimmicks, wires, bullet time or modern soundtrack; it’s dead-serious.”

Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times (Angelika 6: 10 p.m.): One of the documentaries that came out of Sundance with a lot of excitement behind it, the film follows the New York Times’ media desk as the paper and reporters struggle not only to exist in the tumultuous, fading world of newspapers, but they cover it. From the Variety review:

Rossi’s coverage of daily news meetings and interviews with editorial staffers aren’t as juicy as one might have hoped or expected, but for journos (who will likely rep the film’s most appreciative audience), simply being a fly on these hallowed walls will offer much to savor. Excellent tech package includes black-and-white footage of the newsroom at its 1950s peak, a precious yet saddening reminder of the profession’s more prosperous days.

Shorts Program 1 (Angelika 7: 9:45 p.m.): While, before the Internet, film festivals were one of the few places you could actually see short films, shorts programs are still a big reason why you buy a pass to a film festival. Shorts Program 1 features seven movies ranging from the story of an African-American 20-something looking for his Nigerian stepfather to a story about a pair of elementary school boys shaped by a spitting incident.

Image: From 13 Assassins

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