[Image via Uptown Flavor]
Heading to Grand Central metro station yesterday, I walked past a hole-in-the-wall theatre where an afroed sista was handing out flyers. We realized we had some friends in common, Hanifah and Olive (of black-queer-womyn-artist-living-in-Brooklyn fame). I knew this chick was down, so I had to support. chashama, a non-profit theater based at 217 East 42nd (btw. 2nd and 3rd Avenues) is holding its first ever film festival.
Begun in 1995 as a performing arts group, chashama has become a full-fledged arts organization providing subsidized rehearsal and performance space, artist's studios, and free performances and installations in temporarily vacant storefronts. Now they dare go where every other theater has gone before.
Nevertheless, I was ecstatic because I had been planning on catching Iron Man in Times Square and could mos def pass on that $11.75 Hollywood shit for some free, gritty, indie stuff. So when afrochick called chashama Film Festival 2008 a “visual vehicle for original thoughts of filmmakers from around the globe,” featuring “films that other festivals are afraid to show,” I was sold.
Cut to me watching some of the worst films I’ve ever seen.
The worst of the worst, The Bait Pile, was a feature about a serial-killing, agoraphobic woman who lures victims to her house over the internet and enlists her mother to dispose of the bodies with hydrochloric acid in the bathtub. A great premise, and the mother-daughter duo were as insanely emotionally-detached as the Grey Gardens ladies, but shoddy camera work (face shots often had their eyes cut off), cheap special effects, and poor image quality (was that a camcorder?) were too much of a distraction.
In my opinion, it’s not that other festivals aren’t showing these films because they’re afraid to, but rather because they know better. I applaud the indie artist’s struggle to tell her story, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn't be held to some basic standards.
It’s not enough for chashama to break the mold if they can’t put something more compelling in its place. I find it hard to believe that, as artists themselves, the cFF programmers could have such poor taste.
That being said, 647 Days, directed by UK-based Matt Platts-Mills, was the best of the evening, coming in at just five minutes. It’s about a grieving father who visits a playground every day to watch where his daughter used to play until some guys, who think he’s a pedophile, attack him. The performances were great, the picture and sound quality on point, and it was the only time I wasn’t looking at my watch praying for the film to end.
If you want to check it out just to see how bad it is, and catch the occasional gem, CFF 2008 will be screening through June 1st.
Written by Iquo B. Essien