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The Deep Focus Film Festival: A Handy Preview

by David Cornelius

Living almost my entire life in Cincinnati, I’ve always been a little jealous of our cooler, more sophisticated, less embarrassing neighbor to the north, Columbus. If our cities were cable networks, Columbus would be Trio, with its edgy documentaries and hipster retro specials, while Cincinnati would be ABC Family, with its endless “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” reruns and TV movies starring John Stamos or Kelly Ripa.

Anyway. Columbus now takes one more step into Coolsville with its first annual Deep Focus Film Festival. Presented by “Alive” (the self-described “city’s longest-running alternative newsweekly”) and the Drexel Theaters Group (the name “Drexel” being synonymous in Ohio with “quality art house goodness”), the Deep Focus is a chance to bring the variety and quality of a regional film festival to the Buckeye State. Considering how places like Ohio miss so many top notch films simply because they don’t fit the multiplex mold (and the art houses around the state can only carry so many titles at one time), the Deep Focus also serves as a chance for Midwesterners to see movies that they’d ordinarily never even knew existed.

Here, now, is the line-up for the first annual Deep Focus Film Festival. It’s a combination of recent favorites from other festivals, as well as a few titles with more local flair:

Off the Map. Campbell Scott directs this touching look at a family who lives, quite literally, “off the map,” away from the mainstream society. Their low income and lower presence keeps them away from civilization - but not, it turns out, the IRS. Starring Joan Allen, Sam Elliott, and JK Simmons. “Off the Map” is the Deep Focus’ “Opening Night Gala” selection; also showing is the short film “Last Day,” from local filmmaker Cara King. Thursday, May 5, 7:30 PM.

Brothers. Winner of the Audience Award-World Dramatic Competition at this year’s Sundance, this Danish drama centers on two brothers, one of whom, an army officer, is captured in Afghanistan and presumed dead. Starring Connie Nielsen, Ulrich Thomsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, directed by Suzanne Bier. Friday, May 6, 8:00 PM; Sunday, May 8, 4:00 PM.

The Aristocrats. Perhaps the most talked-about film from both the 2005 Sundance and South By Southwest festivals, and certainly the one I most want to see at Deep Focus. Veteran comics Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette turn their cameras on a secret comedy institution: a joke so vulgar it’s only been shared in private between comics… until now. Friday, May 6, 10:30 PM.

Mad Hot Ballroom. From documentarian Marilyn Agrelo comes this look at New York City public school students who are introduced to the world of ballroom dancing. Also showing is “1976,” a music video produced by production house Leftchannel for Ohio-based artist RJD2. Saturday, May 7, 4:00 PM.

Moolaadé. The film’s description - it’s about the African ritual of female circumcision - makes it sound difficult, perhaps even unwatchable. And yet in the hands of African filmmaking pioneer Ousmane Sembene, it becomes what the Deep Focus website dubs “stirring, occasionally funny, ultimately uplifting.” Winner of the Grand Prize: Un Certain Regard award at last year’s Cannes, this title appeared on many 2004 year-end best-of lists. Saturday, May 7, 4:30 PM; Sunday, May 8, 1:30 PM.

My Summer of Love. In the village of Yorkshire during one particularly hot summer, two girls find each other - and find love and obsession, too, much to the chagrin of a fundamentalist brother. From director Paul Pavlikovsky, who previously made “Last Resort,” “My Summer of Love” recently won the Best British Film prize at the BAFTA Awards. Saturday, May 7, 7:30 PM.

Dorian Blues. A coming-out, coming-of-age comedy in which gay high schooler Dorian (Michael McMillian) learns to face reality and confront those around him, most notably his stern, conservative father. Saturday, May 7, 9:00 PM; Sunday, May 8, 6:00 PM.

One Missed Call. Just one of the five thousand movies made by prolific Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike, best known Stateside for titles such as “Audition” and “Ichi the Killer.” His latest is a horror film in which people begin to receive phone calls from their future selves, warning them about impending deaths. Should be perfect for anyone getting into the recent J-horror trend. Saturday, May 7, 10:00 PM; Sunday, May 8, 7 PM.

The Animation Show. Another one of those ever-changing animation festivals that are always popping up. This one is the second to be programmed by Mike Judge and Don Hertzfeldt, and features a wide variety of cartooning styles and themes, including Bill Plympton’s Oscar-nominated “Guard Dog” and Hertzfeldt’s “The Meaning of Life.” Sunday, May 8, 1:00 PM.

Zero Degrees of Separation. Fresh off its world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival, this documentary, produced in part with Columbus’ Wexner Center For the Arts, makes its U.S. debut right here at the Deep Focus. Filmmaker Elle Flanders follows the story of a gay couple - one Israeli, the other Palestinian - living in Israel. I’m guessing things do not go so smoothly for this couple. Flanders will appear to introduce the film and to provide a Q&A session afterward. Sunday, May 8, 3:30 PM.

Murderball. The must-see movie of the 2005 festival circuit (it took the Audience Award - Documentary at this year’s Sundance), this documentary by Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro studies the sport of quad rugby - that is, a game played by wheelchair-bound athletes, most of which involves ramming into each other. Touching, funny, and always brutally honest, this one’s already cemented in my mind as a top contender for this year’s best-of list. Picked as the Deep Focus’ “Closing Night Selection,” because you should always go out with a bang. Sunday, May 8, 8:00 PM.

All films will be shown at the Arena Grand in downtown Columbus. Tickets are available now through the Arena Grand website. For more information on the Deep Focus Film Festival, or to check for schedule changes, special events, and the like, you can always visit the Deep Focus official website.

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originally posted: 05/01/05 06:08:17
last updated: 05/01/05 06:12:32
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