Still trying to decide what films to see at the Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival, beginning its week-long run at the Dipson Eastern Hills Mall Cinema today? I feel your pain: there’s a lot to choose from, and over the past decade festival organizers Greg Lamberson and Chris Scioli have proven adept at separating the wheat from the chaff out of the hundreds of genre films submitted for inclusion every year.
Along the way they’re built an international reputation for Buffalo Dreams, as demonstrated by the large number of filmmakers who attend to present and discuss their work.
Lamberson’s own Widow’s Point, starring Craig Sheffer as a horror writer who makes the mistake of spending a weekend locked inside a haunted lighthouse, is the hottest ticket of the opening weekend. Given that Sheffer will be attending (no surprise, given his all-out performance in the movie) and the local angle (it was shot at the Dunkirk Lighthouse), the 7 pm Saturday night screening is likely to be sell out. If you can’t get there early to assure a seat, buy a day pass online. It’s worth seeing, as Lamberson gets to show what he can do with a better budget after years of microbudgeted work.
The other movie you can’t just show up for without a little advance planning is the elusive Catcher in the Rye with Diamonds, for which Buffalo Dreams has named Greg Sterlace its filmmaker of the year. Mixing the story of Holden Caulfield with the imagination of Mark David Chapman in the three days before his murder of John Lennon, Sterlace has created a true guerilla movie: copyright law being what it is, you have to admire the sheer chutzpah of making a movie that will definitionally never be able to turn a profit, or even to return a single cent of its costs. But aside from that, it’s a smart piece of work, ensuring that you’ll never be able to think of Holden Caulfield again without hearing a soundtrack by John Lennon. Because separate admission cannot be charged for the screening (7:15 pm Monday), you will need a Festival Pass or a Day Pass to see it—and opportunities to do so are rare.
Some other recommendations from the offerings I was able to preview:
PARALLEL (Friday 7 pm)—The most memorable film I’ve seen in the history of Buffalo Dreams was El Incidente by Mexico’s Isaac Ezban. Ezban returns for his fourth local appearance with his first English-language feature. Four friends, aspiring software designers who can’t seem to catch a break, discover that the attic of the old house they share has a secret: a mirror that is a portal to multiple universes that closely but incompletely resemble our own. Raiding these worlds brings them opportunities for professional and financial success—but, of course, there is a down side, as they also find their personal failings magnified. As with all of Ezban’s work, this is gleefully smart stuff that keeps you on your feet. And he has a first-rate collaborator in cinematographer Karim Hussain (Hobo with a Shotgun), whose bottomless understanding of cinematic devices more than compensate for the film’s modest budget.
NEFARIOUS (Friday 9:45 pm)—This British production initially looks like a product of that country’s school of social realist drama, contrasting a trio of friends struggling to survive by low-wage jobs and petty crime with a pair of brothers who are financially comfortable but facing their own problems. That the film is headed something more viscerally nasty is tipped off by the Zombie Flesh Eaters t-shirt one of the punks wears: a Ken Loach drama this is not. Belying what you might expect from his substantial career as a greensman and art department assistant on more than a hundred big-budget British films and television shows, director Richard Rowntree (previously at Buffalo Dreams with Dogged, named Best International Horror Feature) employs a jittery visual style whose saturated colors and jagged editing are somewhat reminiscent of Gaspar Noe. Receiving its world premiere here, it’s not one for the faint of heart.
THE TANGLE (Saturday 2 pm)—Sci-fi with dialogue and characters straight out of hard-boiled 1940s pulp. In the near future, “The Tangle” has rendered the world safe from violence with a system of nanobots that guide all human existence. So who murdered one of the operatives of the agency that oversees the Tangle, the only people not under its influence? It might take me a second viewing to get through all the implications of this dialogue-driven movie, but the stylizations helped keep me watching.
THE FINAL INTERVIEW (Saturday 4:30 pm)—Veteran actor Grainger Hines, whose familiar face will send you to IMDB to find out where you’ve seen him before (he has more than a hundred credits going back to 1973), gets a chance to eat up the screen as an over-the-hill TV journalist hoping to kickstart his failing career with a live interview of serial killer on the night he is to be executed. Written and directed by Pittsburgh’s Fred Vogel, recipient of this year’s Indie Genre Spirit Award. (N.B. for 80s movie nerds: Co-starring as Hines’ producer is Diane Franklin, star of The Last American Virgin and Better Off Dead).
ECHOES OF FEAR (Saturday, 9:45 pm)—When a young woman inherits the house of her recently deceased grandfather, she discovers that whatever killed him is still on the loose. Old school fright abounds in this well-crafted feature that makes an art out of the jump scare shot. For me, the highlight was the brilliant use filmmakers Brian and Laurence Avenet-Bradley make of their setting, a California house built on a hill and filled with staircases that provide perpetually shifting planes of action.
REED UNBOUND: THE JOEL M. REED STORY (Sunday 7 pm)—If you recognize the name at all, you’re probably a fan of 1976’s Bloodsucking Freaks. The Manhattan based Reed only made a half-dozen movies, of which I’ve always been fond of the tawdry sexploitation melodrama Career Bed (1969). This padded feature doesn’t rise much above the level of a podcast, but it’s worth seeing for the interview footage with Reed, who doesn’t take himself seriously and rambles entertainingly about his long career, beginning as an assistant for a star agent who assigned him to escort Elizabeth Taylor and beard Bob Hope.
VOLITION (Monday 9:30 pm)—As an example of a popular but tricky genre that Hollywood always seems to screw up, this one blew me away. A man afflicted with sporadic clairvoyance that gives him occasional glimpses of the near future tries to put that ability to work on a criminal assignment with a big payoff, even though his visions indicate it will end with his death. The movie takes an unexpected turn about half way through that I won’t tell you about other than to say that it takes what was already an intelligently imagined sci-fi thriller and amps it up to 10. I hesitate to tell you that it is a Canadian production filmed in Vancouver with actors you’re unlikely to recognize because it looks as professional as anything I’ve seen at a megaplex in years.
By all means check out the Buffalo Dreams website for more choices: even if nothing in this short survey spikes your interest, there are plenty of other options, including family films, numerous programs of shorts, and even a pair of Iranian documentaries.
Tickets are $10 per block (usually including a feature and a short or two), $20 for a Day Pass, and $60 if you want to see every last movie (25 features and 76 shorts) over the course of seven days. You can buy tickets at www.dipsontheatres.com or the theater box office. For more info, visit www.buffalodreamsfilmfest.com and follow Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival on Facebook.