SITGES 2003 Film Festival Report


After a very late brunch I'm ready to go and see KAENA: THE PROPHECY (Chris Delaporte and Pascal Pinon, France 2003). Sadly, this, the first fully 3D-animated film from France, is just plain terrible. The story is some utter nonsense about exploding worlds, a star ship full of survivors, and some people in loincloths - including the titular Kaena, a computer graphics nerd's wet-dream of the female form - who live in a really big tree. Big explosions, fast camera movements over computer graphics landscapes and name voice actors like Kirsten Dunst and Anjelica Huston don't make up for the total lack of original ideas or engaging characters - only the worms have any kind of personality! I didn't see FINAL FANTASY but I thought that by now people would have learned that a good fantasy world is not built by slapping together some silly un-pronounceable names, a few pieces of CGI-rendered backgrounds, the latest in rippling water effects, and some monsters out of the ALIEN movies. Compare this to a fantasy movie that successfully create a self-contained and believable world, like Hayao Miazaki's NAUSICAń: VALLEY OF THE WIND (an obvious influence here, even down to the title), and it's even easier to see how pathetic this effort is.

The Undead Spierigs Things go from bad to worse when CE JOUR-LA (Raoul Ruiz, France-Switzerland 2003) turns out to be unwatchably pretentious, and as I walk after half an hour out I'm wondering of those S.W.A.T. guys didn't have a point with that French phobia after all. So what about some Antipodean zombie bashing? UNDEAD (The Spiering Brothers, Australia 2002) is presented as two Australian brothers' attempt to make a successor to Peter Jackson's BAD TASTE and BRAIN DEAD, so one instantly knows what to expect. A meteorite shower start turning the inhabitants of s small fishing town into violent gut-munching zombies (but funny ones, mind!). A group of survivors "hilariously" shoot and slash their way through the un-dead hordes. The gory comedy bits are crowd pleasing, but ultimately just fall flat - BRAIN DEAD did the whole thing infinitely better, and it's hard to see the point of just repeating the same thing. The movie does get more interesting as an alien abduction sub-plot develops, and here it manages some really good visuals (apparently made on home computers). A scene of thousands of alien abductees hovering in suspended animation over the clouds is strangely inspiring, and shows that the brothers have potential to make something much more interesting than this rip-off. As a low-budget home-grown effort, the film is still something of an achievement, but while I'm sure the brothers fully expect to be making their own LORD OF THE RINGS or SPIDERMAN soon, as a calling card to Hollywood this is just not good enough.

Something as unusual as a Bolivian block buster, SEXUAL DEPENDENCY (Rodrigo Bellott, Bolivia 2003) is a teenage character study that looked very interesting because of the unique use of DV split-screen, but is somewhat out of scope for this report. More relevant, HELL'S HIGHWAY (Bret Wood, USA 2003) is a documentary on Ohio's Highway Safety Films, a company specializing in gory scare films depicting real-life traffic accidents. The film features a lot of interesting people, including film historian Rick Prelinger who gives a lot of background information, placing the films in their proper context. Another type of film historian, Mike Vraney of Something Weird Video, also gives his spin and claims that his customers buy this type of film for camp value and get their mates over to watch them! But this is not light entertainment. The excerpted films feature extremely gruesome images of dead and injured men, women, teenagers and children, sometimes accompanied by harrowing location sound. Eventually, the documentary is less about the films themselves and more a history of the people behind the company, which also made forays into other genres, such as police instruction films. The most bizarre example was filmed through a one-way mirror in a public toilet, for an instruction film on sex offenders, apparently catching many Ohio luminaries in less than decent positions! Again, be warned that some of the highway footage is extremely shocking, but for those who can take it this is a very interesting document, already available on a fully loaded DVD special edition.

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