Assessing the sixth Dallas International Film Festival
by: Chris Vognar Movies
22 April 2012
After 11 days, the sixth Dallas International Film Festival is in the books. Let’s take a look back at what all went down, what went right and what we might see in the future. Star power: Not glowing, but not bad. It was nice to get Laura Linney in town to receive a Dallas Star Award and participate in a talk show at the Nasher Sculpture Center. But the opening-night presentation of Liberal Arts, a good get for a solid film that opens in September, could have used some guest pizzazz (no offense to producer Claude Dal Farra, who was in attendance, but an actor or two would spice things up).
Artistic director James Faust acknowledged that it was tough to bring in talent this year; most targeted names were working on projects or already done promoting whatever they had to promote. From my perspective, this is far from the most important element of a film festival; a strong and timely lineup easily trumps a guest list, and the folks who did come in were usually engaged, interesting and varied. But this is still Dallas, the city likes to see and be seen, and a bit more wattage would help raise the festival’s profile and make those ubiquitous red carpets seem a bit less ridiculous.
The lineup: Programming has always been DIFF’s strong suit, and that hasn’t changed. The documentary roster was particularly packed this year, featuring regional treats (the Texas Stadium eulogy America’s Parking Lot, the New Orleans fantasia Tchoupitoulas ) and national favorites. Some of the highlights showed previously at other festivals, but that’s not really important. Most Dallas moviegoers don’t make it out to Sundance or even SXSW, and DIFF gives them the opportunity to see what’s hot and what might not even make it into wide distribution.
I like the riskiness of this year’s lineup. Dallas native Terence Nance’s An Oversimplification of Her Beauty, a Sundance alum, is flat-out strange and wonderful, a romantic narrative experiment that plays like a mid-’60s Godard film. Ya’Ke Smith’s Wolf, which won the Grand Jury Prize in the Texas Competition, heralds a big new talent willing to embrace thorny issues (sexual abuse in the black church) without worrying about the bottom line.
For every dud showing at this year’s DIFF, you could find a handful of small gems. That’s a ratio any film fan can live with.
Logistics and hospitality: I wouldn’t mind a return to the multifilm, semicasual opening-night affair, like 2010’s shindig at the Angelika. The Majestic, which hosted this year’s opening, is a gorgeous venue, but it’s also a little daunting and overly formal for such a friendly event. Bring it back down to earth a little. Fill the lobby with the buzz of people bouncing from movie to movie, a sound that warms up the rest of the festival. This remains DIFF’s biggest strength, especially with the action centrally located in the Mockingbird Station area: a welcoming, communal spirit that tells outsiders to come on in and encourages residents to feel some pride in what has become an enthusiastic and learned film scene.
DIFF is a good look for a city with the reputation — often earned — for valuing style over substance. Keep expanding that everyone-welcome atmosphere that lies at the festival’s core and DIFF will become even more of a destination.