Let me start by saying I am a big fan of Cinequest. I have been ever since I discovered just how cool and unique film festivals are. Here’s what I love about them. Ordinarily, when you go to the movies, you pick a movie to see because you’ve seen a thousand previews for it, and it’s the summer blockbuster, and it’s Chris Pratt’s 11th movie this month, and even though you know the story will be weak, at least there will be plenty of explosions, lots of action, and then when the movie is over—you go home . . . full of popcorn and Junior Mints.
But with Cinequest, it’s a completely different experience. There is no overhype or overexposure. What you get instead is a mixed bag of films where the stories come first, where you leave the theater really thinking, where you can see back-to-back-to-back movies, with actors who are unfamiliar . . . and who you might even be able to meet.
When the festival guide comes out, I read through the descriptions for each film, I circle the ones that sound interesting, and then I end up going to the ones that fit my schedule. But no matter what I see, the experience is rich and varied.
So when it was offered, I jumped at the chance to preview a couple of films before the actual Cinequest Film Festival starts. I saw two. One, The Center, I chose specifically based on the description, and the other, Los Hamsters, I closed my eyes and picked randomly. And then, I went to the movies. Here’s what I thought.
I love dark, scary, creepy movies. This one intrigued me because it’s about a guy named Ryan who found and joined a self-help group after floundering in both work and life. The program description warns, “But there is a dark side to everything, and The Center has many secrets.” Sounds promising, right? Well . . . let’s just say that when they revealed this “dark side,” my reaction was, “I hope that’s not the dark side they were referring to. I hope there’s a darker dark side.” Nope. The movie was OK but it had some major flaws. First was the acting.
One thing I love about film festivals is discovering new talent. I play the hypothetical director: there was not one person in this film I would hire for another movie. I found myself at times willing the actors to react in different ways or to show more emotion. But alas, that was not to be. My second major challenge with this film lay in the story itself. As I said, the concept was very promising, but the actual story was quite thin. There were no major events, no build up and climax. . . it all moved very slowly and did not piece together well. I wished there were more depth, more surprise. The story itself was much too surface level and predictable; the pace, far too slow. All in all, I would not recommend this as one of the better films to see.
Los Hámsters (Spanish with English Subtitles)
My “who-knows-what-you’re-going-to-get” pick was definitely the better of the two and was a much more enjoyable experience overall. A Spanish film, this movie peeled apart a day in the lives of a family that seemed composed and well put together from the outside, but was something quite different on the inside. Unlike in The Center, the acting was skillful and seamless. It felt very much like real people and real dialogue. The reactions were authentic and I felt connected to each of the characters.
I also liked the concept of a minute slice of someone’s life: this single day blossomed into something rich and revealing. The events of the day were a bit more extreme, of course, than what most of us might encounter, but this kept the film moving at a good clip, keeping me also focused and engaged with what was happening at each moment to each character. And the movie stayed with me: I found myself thinking about this one after it was over. Worth seeing = yes. Best film of the festival = I highly doubt it. There will be even finer films to see, each one of them an adventure.
I can’t wait for Cinequest to start on Tuesday, February 24, so I can discover more gems like these, immerse myself in their characters, their dreams, their dilemmas, and experience stories that can’t otherwise be found on the big screen. See you there?
For the movies and the schedule, visit Cinequest.org
by Josh Russell, Executive Vice President
Los Hamsters Buy Tickets
California Theatre – Fri, Feb 27 5:00p
Camera 12 – Thur, Mar 5 9:15p; Sat, Mar 7 5:00p