deadCenter Film Festival: Recommended reels


(Illustration by Christopher Street)
Illustration by Christopher Street

deadCenter Film Festival


See related stories and the festival program in this issue.

Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise examines the poet and activist’s life. (deadCenter Film Festival / provided)
deadCenter Film Festival / provided
Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise examines the poet and activist’s life.

Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise

If there’s one figure whose life and work were just waiting to be represented in a documentary, it’s Maya Angelou. That is why it’s crazy when you realize that there hasn’t been a single feature film produced about the revolutionary writer until now.

Thankfully, we finally have a tribute worthy of her wide-reaching legacy in Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise. Before she died in 2014 at the age of 86, the wildly influential poet, writer and civil rights activist had seen her share of professional and personal trials and tribulations.

The documentary, directed by Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn Whack, chronicles the life and career of Angelou, in particular her traumatic childhood and rise to artistic prominence. It also gives viewers a look into the way her words and guiding spirit have impacted everyone from writers and activists to politicians and performers and includes interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Bill Clinton, Common and Cicely Tyson among others.

Freak Fest Shorts

Monsters, demons, killers and ghosts all come together in deadCenter’s Freak Fest collection. Comprised of seven short films dabbling in all manner of the macabre, this year’s set is the festival’s most frightening to date.

Much like its title character, Sebastian and Them initially appears innocent enough before delving into the world of a twisted psychosis. Night of the Slasher gleefully subverts standard horror film tropes all in one continuous shot. (Bonus points for whoever can spot all the Halloween references.) Market St.’s horrific trip on a streetcar makes your crowded morning commute seem a little bit better by comparison.

Inspired by Henry James’ classic ghost story The Turn of the Screw, Awakenings features a woman fighting to save two children from a frightening spirit.

With a balance of horror and comedy mixed with some gross-out gore and old-school scares, these shorts are guaranteed to make you scream, shout, laugh and everything in between.

Strange Encounters Shorts

While you might expect a collection of short films to stick to a specific genre or theme, the festival’s collection of Strange Encounters Shorts are a hodgepodge of different styles.

The one obvious thread tying them all together is an individual’s strange encounter with someone that affects them in various ways. In slow-burning ENOS, two explorers uncover something in the mountains that would’ve been better left untouched.

Theodora features a young woman with a twisted sense of humor preparing a feast for herself and her mysterious friend. Timely Video examines the fallout from hurtful language when a woman’s racist remark is recorded by two young black women. Trippy She Stoops to Conquer is an exercise in self-expression and shows a young performer interacting with her lookalike in a strange nightclub.

Tapping into themes of race, identity and desire, Strange Encounters Shorts offer a little something for everybody.

Black Mountain Poets

Fans of British comedy take note: Do not miss Black Mountain Poets.

In the vein of UK imports like The Trip to Italy or Life Is Sweet, Black Mountain Poets is an improvised comedy about quirky con-artist sisters Claire and Lisa Walker on the run from the law. To avoid capture, they stow away at a poetry retreat in the Black Mountains in Scotland by assuming the identities of world-renowned poets The Wilding Sisters after stealing their car.

Claire and Lisa hope to win a large cash prize at the poetry retreat to fund their next con. However, their time spent in nature, surrounded by various unique individuals, leads them to re-evaluate their lives and their relationship.

Hilarious and surprisingly heartfelt, Black Mountain Poets is worth watching for the vibrant chemistry between the three leads — Alice Lowe, Dolly Wells and Tom Cullen — alone.

Life, Animated chronicles Owen Suskind’s journey to a place of communication and understanding. (deadCenter Film Festival / provided)
deadCenter Film Festival / provided
Life, Animated chronicles Owen Suskind’s journey to a place of communication and understanding.

Life, Animated

For decades, Disney animated films have played an integral role in a generation’s childhoods. The Lion King taught us to learn from our past instead of running away from it, Peter Pan encouraged us to embrace our inner child no matter our age and Dumbo made us realize that what makes you different also makes you special.

The lessons from these films and many more are probably what make Life, Animated so resonant. The documentary centers on Owen Suskind, a young boy who was unable to speak or express his thoughts and emotions until he and his family were able to find a way to overcome great challenges using classic Disney animated films.

The film weaves in sequences from Disney films with footage of Owen and his family, and the viewer gets to see the way these films gave Owen a basis for understanding his own feelings and desires.

In the end, Life, Animated serves as a love letter to the power of cinema that helps viewers make sense of the world around them.

The Master Cleanse

It’s hard to pin down The Master Cleanse, a film so strange and genre-bending that it must be seen to be fully understood.

On the surface, it’s about Paul (The Big Bang Theory’s Johnny Galecki), a down-on-his-luck guy who can’t catch a break in life or love. To revive his lackluster life, Paul attends a spiritual retreat in hopes of finding some sort of relief. But what he isn’t prepared for is the way the titular cleanse releases toxins as well as a whole series of memories, demons and emotional baggage in the form of little critters.

The movie takes the everyday emotions we have pent up inside and gives them a physical manifestation, resulting in one of the most delightfully strange films playing at deadCenter this year. To say anything more would spoil the funny, strange, bizarre surprises sprinkled throughout.

And if that’s not enough to get you to see it, the fact that legend Angelica Houston and Anna Friel round out the cast should be more than enough conviction.

Print Headline: Recommended reels, deadCenter Film Festival is full of great projects, and we’ve picked a few of our favorites.

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