Kaleidoscope fills August viewing void
August is what show people call a “dump month,” when theaters are filled with less promising films. Movies that scored poorly during test screenings, movies (like the 3-year-old Halle Berry vehicle Kidnap released last week) that have been mouldering on the shelves, cheap horror films and misfit toys that the studios don’t know what to do with.
These are films that would have been released at other times of year had they done better at test screenings, films with less prominent stars, genre films (particularly horror), movies that cannot be easily marketed, and films intended for a teenage audience — these come out in August. We can’t elevate our expectations until the end of the Toronto International Film Festival in mid-September.
There’s some hope for people like us who live in tertiary movie markets — maybe The Little Hours, the funniest film I’ve seen this year, will show up. Maybe you haven’t seen Detroit, Dunkirk or A Ghost Story yet.
So it’s a good time for local entrepreneurs to step forward and offer some alternate programming.
The 3-year-old LGBT-theme Kaleidoscope Film Festival kicks off today and will run for nine days. It will screen 39 films (17 features) and host parties and gallery shows as well as literary and culinary events, including “Dinner and Conversation with Armistead Maupin,” presented in partnership with the Oxford American and South on Main at 6 p.m. Monday.
Maupin is best known for his series of nine San Francisco-set Tales of the City novels, which started as a newspaper serial in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1976. The books, which became a cultural touchstone for the LGBT community, were adapted into a six-part PBS series starring Laura Linney and Olympia Dukakis in 1994, with Showtime producing the follow-up miniseries More Tales of the City in 1998 and Further Tales of the City in 2001. In June, Netflix announced it was developing a new installment in the series, set in the present day with Dukakis and Linney reprising their characters.
Maupin wrote the screenplay for the 2006 Robin Williams film The Night Listener, based on Maupin’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name.
Among the films to be screened at Kaleidoscope are Cheryl Dunye’s cult favorite The Watermelon Woman (1996), a quasi-documentary that is often said to be the first feature film made by a black lesbian. It follows Dunye as she investigates the life of actress Fae Richards, a black lesbian who specialized in portraying “mammies” in the 1930s and ’40s, while at the same time following the progress of Dunye’s relationship with her white lover Diana. Research and private life begin to intersect when she discovers that Richards had an affair with one of her white directors, a woman named Martha Page.
While The Watermelon Woman is meta-fiction — there’s a revelation late in the film we won’t spoil — it is also a deep dive into questions of racial and sexual identity and politics. (And there’s a wonderful bit where cultural critic Camille Paglia discusses the “Mammy figure” and particularly the performance of Hattie McDaniel in Gone With the Wind.) The film will screen at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Argenta Community Theater, 405 Main St., North Little Rock.
The festival also features one of my most-anticipated films of the year, iconic Portuguese director Joao Pedro Rodrigues’ The Ornithologist, which is a beautifully photographed and beguiling film set in the wilds of the Portuguese forest. It’s an opaque film that could be either a serious religious allegory or a dying man’s fever dream or an elaborate joke or all of the above. Probably the best way to receive it is not to think too hard, to simply note the allusions to St. Sebastian, the Camino de Santiago and 13th-century St. Anthony. I took it as a nature documentary with absurd bits. (But maybe Kaleidoscope programmer Mark Thiedeman, whose short Narcissus screens immediately before The Ornithologist, can do a better job at unpacking the film.) The movies will screen at 4:50 p.m. Saturday at Argenta Community Theater (ACT).
University of Central Arkansas professor Jennifer Gerber’s feature directorial debut The Revival will screen at 5 p.m. Aug. 19 at ACT. I’ll just say this — it’s really good.
And following The Revival at 7:15 p.m., Chicago-based writer-director Stephen Cone’s Princess Cyd closes the festival. Interesting and well-observed, it’s a subtle, nuanced movie that features well-drawn portraits of autonomous women. And Jessie Pinnick, who plays the 16-year-old title character, is a genuine revelation.
But I might have had the most fun with Cherry Pop, which I watched sort of by accident. (I thought I was watching Princess Cyd and it took a day or two to realize my mistake. This is what happens when you overuse online screening links.) Cherry Pop, which will screen at 12:30 p.m. Aug. 19 at South on Main, 1304 Main St., Little Rock, as part of the festival’s Drag Queen Brunch which begins at 10 a.m., is a candy-colored campfest set in a small-town gay bar. It features the songs of Wendy Ho, a remarkably funny (and bawdy) recording artist whose tunes provide fodder for various drag queens. There’s nothing subtle or refined about this film, but it’s mad fun.
Visit kal2017.com, for more information and to buy tickets.
And later this month we’ve got the inaugural Arkansas Cinema Society events. We’ll take a look at them next week.
Paul Hamy stars as a naturalist lost in the wilds of northern Portugal in Joao Pedro Rodrigues’ The Ornithologist, which screens this weekend as part of the third annual Kaleidoscope Film Festival.
Novelist Miranda Ruth (Rebecca Spence) and her wayward niece Cyd Loughlin (Jessie Pinnick) bond in Stephen Cone’s naturalistic coming-of-age drama Princess Cyd, the closing night film at this year’s Kaleidoscope Film Festival.