A Durango-flavored film festival
DIFF set to return and screen 104 films

Derrick Casto, of the Durango Independent Film Festival, shows off a stack of passes. The festival kicks off its 5-day run on March 2./Photo by Steve Eginoire

by Willie Kriscke

You might think that film festivals are for hipsters, film geeks and artsy types. That the organizers play a bunch of depressing and/or foreign films that most normal people – the type who list “Transformers” and “The Blind Side” among their favorites – would never want to watch. Well, the Durango Independent Film Festival is here to challenge those notions and to challenge Durangoans to watch something a little different than multiplex fare.

The festival runs from March 2-6 and will play at the Durango Arts Center and the Gaslight theaters.

DIFF will be screening 104 films this year, many more than in previous years, and of course there will be plenty of parties, panels and workshops where locals can rub shoulders with the filmmakers. Giancarlo Esposito from “Breaking Bad,” “Rabbit Hole” and “The Usual Suspects” will be in town leading an acting workshop, and Jon Gries (Uncle Rico in “Napoleon Dynamite”) will discuss the making of his latest film, “Pickin’ and Grinnin.’” Wednesday night, as always, is Free Movie Night, and five films and a shorts program will be playing at the Gaslight.

And while it might not have the same profile (yet) as the Telluride or Sundance film festivals, DIFF is gaining ground and showing higher profile films this year. The docket includes “Contracorriente,” Peruvian director Javier Fuentes-Leon’s acclaimed ghost story/romance. “Contracorriente” was selected as Peru’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film to the Oscars (though it didn’t make the final shortlist) and won the World Cinema Audience Award at Sundance in January. Also playing is “Still Bill,” a documentary about soul legend Bill Withers, which has also garnered attention on the film festival circuit recently.

But the movie that might just change your opinion about film festivals is “The Dead Inside,” which has its world premiere at DIFF. From filmmaker Travis Betz, who stormed the festival circuit in 2009 with his demon film “Lo,” “The Dead Inside” is a ghost story musical ... with zombies. Dustin Fasching and Sarah Lassez (who looks uncannily like Lea Michele from “Glee”) star in this horror comedy about hipsters visited by a ghostly presence. Fasching is a gloomy wedding photographer, and Lassez writes hip zombie novels (they look like they might land somewhere between Stephanie Meyer and S.G. Meyer.) We get to meet her zombie characters, who are really doppelgangers for Lassez and Fasching themselves, the zombie story mirroring and commenting on their real lives. And hey, they sing. The songs in “The Dead Inside” are really pretty good, though Lassez is no Lea Michele in that regard. Given the material, that might be a good thing.

2009 with his demon film “Lo,” “The Dead Inside” is a ghost story musical ... with zombies. Dustin Fasching and Sarah Lassez (who looks uncannily like Lea Michele from “Glee”) star in this horror comedy about hipsters visited by a ghostly presence. Fasching is a gloomy wedding photographer, and Lassez writes hip zombie novels (they look like they might land somewhere between Stephanie Meyer and S.G. Meyer.) We get to meet her zombie characters, who are really doppelgangers for Lassez and Fasching themselves, the zombie story mirroring and commenting on their real lives. And hey, they sing. The songs in “The Dead Inside” are really pretty good, though Lassez is no Lea Michele in that regard. Given the material, that might be a good thing.

The Gaslight Theater prepares to screen many of the Durango Independent Film Festival’s 104 short and feature films. Additional showings will take place at the Durango Arts Center./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

“The Dead Inside” has a smart, funny script, though it kind of lags in its last third. Its biggest problem is in production and might have to do with working on a tiny budget. It’s filmed entirely inside the couple’s apartment, which is painted in bright, bold colors, with the kind of visually arresting art and pop culture artifacts hanging on the walls you’d expect to find in the dwelling of a professional photographer and a professional hipster. But while the living space fits the characters, it alienates the story they’re living in. When “The Dead Inside” turns gloomy and dark, it’s hard to take seriously amongst bright blue walls and couch-cushion forts. Betz is a good storyteller, and he gets decent performances from his actors, but he has a thing or two to learn about mood, atmosphere and ambience.

You really ought to see “The Dead Inside,” if only because it’s a fun film people will be talking about nationwide, and it’s premiering here in our little town. But if zombie movies really aren’t your thing, DIFF has plenty more to offer. Indeed, with 104 films on the schedule, there’s bound to be something for everyone. The Adventure Sports program has been so popular in years past that now it’s been split into three programs: Extreme Adventure, Supreme Adventure and Mesmeric Adventure. There are 20+ documentaries for the NPR crowd covering a variety of topics including the environment, the war in Afghanistan, and what it is that makes us happy. There are two programs devoted to GLBTQ issues, one of feature-length foreign films (including the above-mentioned “Contracorriente”) and the other of shorts made nearer to home (if you go see “Six,” a short doc made right here in Durango, you’re almost guaranteed to see someone you know.)

And speaking of “close to home,” DIFF has added two Native American programs, “Native Resolution” and “Native Spirit.” “A Good Day to Die,” a documentary about AIM co-founder Dennis Banks, will play on Thursday, and Dennis Banks himself will be around afterward to talk about the film, his life, and the AIM movement.

And of course, it wouldn’t be a film festival without shorts programs. This is my favorite part of festival-going. Really, where else (besides in front of Pixar features) are you going to see complete films less than 10 minutes long? It’s an art form almost completely neglected by the multiplexes, and yet I find short films to be some of my favorites. This year, DIFF’s shorts programs have such great, descriptive names, I’m just going to list them for you. There’s “Our Attempt at a Lighthearted Program,” “Shorts That Make You Uncomfortable,” “You Think Your Family is Bad,” and, um, “A Call to Honor.” (Three out of four isn’t bad.)

This is our kind of film festival. Hope to see you there. •

For more information about the Durango Film Festival, to buy passes, see the entire lineup/schedule, and figure out how to sneak into a VIP party, visit www.durangofilm.org.

 

 

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