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Miles of Movies

top: Sign of the Times, bottom left: Will Eisner - Portrait of a Sequential Artist, bottom right: Adventures of a Teenage Dragon Slayer

The Buffalo Niagara Film Festival and the Jewish Film Festival kick off this weekend

Mid-spring and mid-autumn are often the busiest browsing periods for Western New York filmgoers, but this month brings a particularly overstuffed selection as Buffalo offers two overlapping film festivals. The fourth edition of the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival opens this Friday and runs through Sunday, April 25, while the 25th edition of the Jewish Film Festival has a few notable screenings this weekend and early next week before kicking into high gear from April 24 through April 29.

The special events that marked previous years of the BINF have been reduced this year to a handful of panels covering film marketing and publicity, musical scoring, short films, and Native Americans in film. The main focus is on movies, with a total (at last count) of 141 films, including 24 features, 27 documentaries, 14 works by by Western New York filmmakers, and assorted student films, shorts, and music videos.

The BINF opens on Friday at the Market Arcade Film and Arts Center with Adventures of a Teenage Dragonslayer (originally I Was a Seventh Grade Dragonslayer), a family-oriented fantasy featuring Lea Thompson and Buffalo native Wendie Malick, both of whom are scheduled to appear. Other scheduled guests for the opening weekend are Richard Dreyfus, narrator of the baseball documentary Sign of the Times (Saturday, 2pm) and ubiquitous Z-movie mogul Lloyd Kaufman, who appears in Stuck Like Chuck (Sunday, 8pm). Don’t hold your breath for Jim Carrey and Jenny McCarthy, though: Their appearance went south when they broke up.

For this edition of the JFF, the screening committee laudably decided to include only films that have never been shown commercially in the Buffalo area. Many of them have in fact not had been release anywhere in the US. While the bulk of the festival unspools at the Amherst Theater beginning on Sunday April 24, this weekend features some preliminary festivities—and, of course, films—at the Benderson Family Building at the Jewish Community Center, 2650 North Forest Road.

This Saturday starting at 12:30pm, the opening day celebrations include activities for children along with an Israeli folk dance demonstration and music by Zetz prior to a 3:30pm screening featuring the documentary My Flag, in which filmmaker Igal Hecht travels across Israel interviewing people for their answers to the question, “What does the flag of Israel mean to you?”. Look for more about the JFF in next week’s Artvoice.

Among the interesting festival items that were made available for preview:

Contractor's Routine
Divorcing God

CONTRACTOR’S ROUTINE—Crisply photographed on well-chosen San Francisco locations and sharply edited, this engrossing first feature by Russian immigrant Yuri Tsapayev makes up in visual appeal what it occasionally (and I assume intentionally) lacks in narrative clarity. A socially reclusive carpenter named Jacob (Kevin Giffin, a rough-hewn Robert Redford type) has an imaginary mentor named Easau (Richard Frederick), to whom he confides his philosophical queries. Jacob’s frustrations are vented in violent outbursts that are quite shocking, until they are revealed to be imaginary—or at least so it seems. Despite some clumsy patches of dialogue, it’s an imaginative and intriguing effort. BINF, 9pm Sat., Market Arcade

DIVORCING GOD—Lockport native Maggie Sargent began working on this project with the intention of documenting the marriage of a young couple, both evangelical Christians prominent in their church. When the couple separated a few months after the very public marriage, the film became something else, an examination of the of the tensions that can exist between religious faith and personal relationships. At least that’s my interpretation of it: Sargent and co-director Luis Gurgitano worked to keep the film’s point of view objective, and have reported that audiences of differing degree of religious faith react to the material so differently that it’s as if they are seeing different films. BINF, 8pm Mon., Market Arcade

BRAVO SIERRA—The only locally made feature film in the festival is this second film by UB grad Jason Aupperle, who grew up on Miami Vice and the movies of Sam Peckinpah, Michael Mann, and William Friedkin. (His first movie, Raw Hell, about a power struggle between a Detroit mobster and a Buffalo drug lord, played here in 2005.) A political satire in the clothes of an action-adventure comedy, Bravo Sierra stars Aupperle as a Secret Service agent who is punished with an assignment to a fictitious middle Asian country where the US and Canadian forces are trying to take over the valuable sod industry. Aupperle accomplishes a lot with a clearly minimal budget, and it’s fun seeing familiar locations substitute for the country of “Shitholistan.” I enjoyed the Canadian jokes (like the gun bought at Zeller’s) and the finale in which Aupperle, perhaps in homage to Sylvester Stallone’s speech at the end of Rambo, twitches like Joe Cocker on crack. Fans of local music will note co-stars Kent Weber, David and Kristin Gilmet, and Dave McCreery. BINF, 7:30 pm Sat., Market Arcade. Watch the trailer for Bravo Sierra on Artvoice TV.

WILL EISNER: PORTRAIT OF A SEQUENTIAL ARTIST—You don’t have to be a fan of comic art to enjoy Andrew D. Cooke’s documentary about the artist who arguably created both comic books and graphic novels. Based on interviews conducted with Eisner shortly before his death in 2005, the film is interested less in the content of Eisner’s groundbreaking series The Spirit than it is about the origins of this once disreputable business that largely sprang from the imaginations of Jewish artists from the Lower East Side of Manhattan. That his heritage was not incidental to his work becomes clearer later in Eisner’s life with his pioneering graphic novel A Contract With God and Other Tenement Stories. Including interviews with Eisner contemporaries and protégés such as Jules Feiffer, Kurt Vonnegut, Michael Chabon, Art Spiegelman, Frank Miller, Stan Lee, and others, this is fascinating for anyone with an interest in popular culture of the last century. It will be presented by comic book authority Emil J. Novak, proprietor of Queen City Books. JFF, Tues 7:30 pm, Benderson Family Building

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