Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.
There’s a special feeling that comes over movie fans on the first day of a film festival: ceaseless anticipation that borders on delight, as today commemorates the opening day of the USA Film Festival in Dallas.
In its 45 years, the festival has become known as an event that pulls in big name talents, and this year it continues to fit that description.
For the next five days, local and visiting guests such as Ernie Hudson, Margo Martindale and Pat Boone are a few of the many great talents who are stopping in Dallas to take over the Angelika Film Center with their upcoming features, documentaries and shorts.
Fresh Fiction is covering the festival and is sitting down with a few of its filmmakers and screen talents. But until then, here’s our festival preview, where we’ll discuss the films that you should seek out.
DAY 1 – Wednesday, April 22
Of the three films opening the festival tonight, GALLOWS ROADS starring Ernie Hudson is your best bet. As storied a career as Hudson has had – whether its GHOSTBUSTERS, OZ, or THE CROW – he has forever been a gift to follow.
With GALLOWS ROAD, Hudson portrays a shop owner and a devoted family man named Bob Collins. After a night of racially motivated violence, Collins finds his faith tested when he loses his family and his home is destroyed.
From the film’s trailer, GALLOWS ROAD seems to be exactly what this festival needs to kick it off on the right foot: a touching and well-acted film to experience with the whole family.
GALLOWS ROAD screens tonight at 7:00 p.m.
Also screening: FINAL RECIPE (food doc with opening night dinner) at 6:30 p.m.; and SHARING THE ROUGH (a doc on the journey of colored gems) at 7:00 p.m.
DAY 2 – Thursday, April 23
Premiering tomorrow is DIOR AND I, a documentary that gives audiences a glimpse of the complex road to the runway, while also shining the spotlight on Belgium fashion designer Raf Simons.
In 2012, Simons took on the role as creative director in the iconic Parisian fashion house Christian Dior. He came in with no background in couture and had to pull of no small feat: create his first haute couture collection in just eight weeks.
While the film features some great fashion, the real heart of the story is a man fighting and working with a team to uphold one of fashion’s most legendary houses. Whether you’re a fashionista or just in the mood for an entertaining story, the life of Simons remains just as captivating.
DIOR AND I screens tomorrow (4/23) at 7:15 p.m.
Also screening: SONGS SHE WROTE ABOUT PEOPLE SHE KNOWS (a comedy about a repressed woman who resort to music to to work through personal issues) at 7:00 p.m.; and THE DOO DAH MAN (starring Dallas-native Glenn Morshower) at 7:30 p.m.
DAY 3 – Friday, April 24
Friday is when things really get moving. The first day of the weekend begins with six features, including a wonderfully enchanting documentary titled IRIS.
Not to be confused with the Judi Dench-starring film of the same name released back in 2001, IRIS puts the magnifying glass on fashion icon Iris Apfel. But (also) more than a film that focuses on fashion, this is a story about creativity and how someone, even at the age of 93, still continues to soar and inspire.
IRIS screens at 7:15 p.m.
Also screening: HELICOPTER MOM (starring MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING‘s Nia Vardalos) at 7:30 p.m.; and THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (with special guest Candy Clark in attendance) at 7:00 p.m.
NED RIFLE marks the closing chapter of writer-director Hal Hartley’s Grim family saga. The story has taken nearly 20 years to tell, kicking off with the Cannes prize-winning HENRY FOOL (1997), continued with FAY GRIM (2006), and now capped off in NED RIFLE.
This trilogy chronicles the life of Henry Fool (Thomas Jay Ryan) and those unfortunate enough to cross his path. However, this particular story focuses more on Henry’s son, Ned (Liam Aiken), who embarks on a mission to track down his father and kill him for ruining his mother’s life– respectively played by Parker Posey. But when a sexy superfan (Aubrey Plaza) of Henry enters, things get stirred up.
NED RIFLE is a very peculiar film, but it features a strong cast and rich script to chew on for days. So, not a bad way to spend your Friday night.
NED RIFLE screens at 9:45 p.m.
Also screening: WILDLIKE (starring Bruce Greenwood) at 9:30 p.m.; and THE END OF DAYS AT GODFREY GLOBAL INVENTORY (Director Jennifer Liao’s darkly comic debut) at 9:30 p.m.
Day 4 – Saturday, April 25
If you were like me, when you were young, you may have often wondered about different cultures and their views on marriage. If that’s the case, then MEET THE PATELS might interest you.
This winsome documentary follows a pair of first-generation Indian-American siblings as they document an attempt to find a wife through traditional Indian means. The film is a lovely journey, where by the end, you feel as though you’ve known the Patels for years.
MEET THE PATELS screens at 4:30 p.m.
Also screening: SWEETHEARTS OF THE GRIDIRON (doc exploring history of a football team) at 4:30 p.m.; and GUYS AND GIRLS CAN’T BE FRIENDS (starring Stephen Tobolowsky) at 4:30 p.m.
This year’s lineup features a significant amount of shorts. From high school and college students to local filmmakers, the shorts include fun and interesting narratives such the Margo Martindale-starring THE EMISSARY and a student short titled A BAND OF THIEVES.
HIGH SCHOOL SHORT FILMS screen at 3:30 p.m.; TRIBUTE TO MARGO MARTINDALE SHORT FILM SHOWCASE at 7:30 p.m.; STUDENT FILMS at 9:15 p.m.; and ANIMATED SHORTS at 9:30 p.m.
Also screening: JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF EARTH (1959)- A new digital print, where you can meet Arlene Dahl, Diane Baker and Pat Boone – at 7:00 p.m.; and TAB HUNTER CONFIDENTIAL (a salute to Tab Hunter) at 7:15 p.m.
DAY 5 – Sunday, April 26
Sunday’s shorts include competing fiction works and program of fascinating portraits. But of all the shorts in this block, we are most excited about is Courtney Marsh’s WAR WITHIN THE WALLS, which pivots around the lasting effects of Agent Orange used during the Vietnam War.
Also screening: WINDSOR (starring Barry Corbin) at 5:00 p.m.
Closing out the festival on Sunday night in a big way is MR. HOLMES. Sir Ian McKellen reunites with his GODS AND MONSTERS director, Bill Condon, to take on an aged, retired Sherlock Holmes (McKellen) who looks back on his life and is compelled to solve one last mystery.
Of course, we all love Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Downey in the role, but the idea of McKellen taking on the beloved role sounds like a dream casting, and after the release of two trailers, I think it’s safe to say the idea is living up to expectations.
Also screening: BEST OF ENEMIES (doc on television news) at 7:30 p.m.; and WELCOME TO ME (starring Kristen Wiig) at 7:30 p.m.
The full lineup and information on screenings and tickets can be found on usafilmfestival.com.