Movie Tickets: The DC Shorts Film Festival, “Iron Sky,” “Not Waving but Drowning”

Our picks for the best in cinema over the next seven days.

By: Ian Buckwalter

DC Shorts Film Festival

This column normally opens with a wide release or a high-profile indie. But this week’s two wide releases include a barely marketed Bruce Willis action pic currently not even out of single digits on Rotten Tomatoes (The Cold Light of Day) and a Bradley Cooper-starring drama (The Words) about a plagiarizing author that’s not polling much better, and which has one of the most cloyingly unappealing trailers of the year. With little of note on the indie slate, either, the dearth of worthwhile new releases actually works out quite well this week, which features the opening of one of the city’s most consistently popular film festivals: DC Shorts.

The festival, now in its ninth year, kicks off tonight with four of the 16 programs of shorts that will play over the course of the next ten days. Those 16 programs collect the full slate of 140 films, from more than two dozen countries and a wide variety of genres, ranging from tiny productions to higher-profile works with actors that include Judi Dench, Anna Paquin, and GĂ©rard Depardieu, among others. This year’s festival also concentrates on food-themed films, and is partnering with chefs from the area to provide snacks for audiences at selected screenings featuring those films. In addition to all that, there are a number of parties and non-screening events, including a screenplay competition with live table readings by local actors.

The festival schedule conveniently allows you to sort by a number of different variables to determine which collections might be most interesting to you.

Opens today and runs through September 16 at a number of area venues.

El Velador

This lyrical documentary by director Natalia Almada follows the daily routine of the unnamed caretaker of a cemetery in northwestern Mexico. The cemetery is a busy spot: It’s the final resting place for many who are killed in the local drug trade, and that trade has no shortage of bodies to provide. Almada makes nothing explicit, though, offering no narration and little spoken dialogue aside from news reports the titular watchman sees on his television that fill in some of the information. The movie offers a mostly observational experience of the day-to-day activities of the place, with mourners and marching bands by day and the quiet of the watchman’s duties by night—a look at the aftermath of Mexico’s brutal drug trade that comes at the issue from an entirely different angle.

View the trailer. Saturday at 2 PM at the National Gallery of Art.

Iron Sky

Normally E Street Cinema’s midnight movie slot is reserved for somewhat older cult picks, but every once in a while a new release that didn’t get a full local theatrical release sneaks into the mix. That’s the case this weekend as the theater screens Iron Sky, a somewhat divisive Finnish sci-fi thriller released in Europe earlier this year that couldn’t quite muster full US distribution. Which, given that the film’s political satire takes frequent aim at US targets, may not be entirely surprising. The premise from director/cowriter Timo Vuorensola is that at the end of World War II, a surviving band of Nazis managed to escape to an encampment on the dark side of the moon, where they’ve been planning their return to create a Fourth Reich for decades. Things just get crazier from there, with Nazis aiding a Palin-esque US President in her reelection bid, internal strife within the Nazi power structure, and special-effects-laden space battles. The film hits some more squarely than others, but this has all the potential makings of a new cult classic.

View the trailer. Friday and Saturday at midnight at E Street.

Not Waving but Drowning

The AFI’s ongoing Mid-Atlantic Regional Showcase features work from local filmmakers, and this weekend’s program screens Not Waving but Drowning, the debut feature from filmmaker Devyn Waitt, about two best friends from a small Florida town who separate for the first time in their lives. One heads to New York City, the other stays home, and the film follows them as they find their new paths in these new lives. Waitt will be at the screening along with the film’s producer, Nicole Emanuele, and the program will start with Waitt’s previous short film, The Most Girl Part of You.

Sunday at 6:45 PM at the AFI.

Life Journeys: Four Thai Films

This brief series at the Freer highlights four relatively recent films from Thailand, with an eye toward showcasing both the commercial and the artistic leanings of that country’s expanding film industry. Things start out tomorrow night with Tongpong Chantarangkul’s 2011 I Carried You Home, a road movie of sorts that throws together two sisters who’ve barely spoken in years, reunited on the occasion of their mother’s death and stuck in an ambulance together as the body is transported to mom’s rural birthplace.

The second film for this weekend is the oldest of the four, 2004’s The Overture, in which director Itthi-sunthorn Wichailak fictionalizes the story of Luang Pradit Phairao, a court musician who was a master of the Thai wooden xylophone. The screening will also feature a live performance on the instrument, plus a Q&A with the film’s musical consultant, Thaworn Sriphong, and the winner of a Thai xylophone competition, Pattarawadee Suwannasorn.

View the trailer for I Carried You Home, which screens Friday at 7 PM at the Freer. The Overture screens Sunday at 2 PM, also at the Freer; two more films follow next weekend. Check the full schedule for all descriptions and showtimes. All programs are free.

Blu-ray/DVD Pick of the Week: A New Leaf

Elaine May got her start as part of a two-person improv group with Mike Nichols, and initially followed much the same career arc, with work in the theater followed by a foray into filmmaking. Both looked to push the boundaries of studio filmmaking, but while Nichols was able to realize his vision in groundbreaking works like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Graduate, May was often stonewalled by studios and eventually abandoned by those with the money. She only made four films—one of which was a modest success (The Heartbreak Kid) and the last of which was a notorious bomb, Ishtar, which effectively killed her career.

I’d recommend you revisit that film, which most people know only by its unfairly maligned reputation, which resulted in the movie never even being released on DVD. What is available as of this week, however, is her debut, the comedy A New Leaf, in which star Walter Matthau plays a spoiled grown-up trust-funder who, after running out of his family’s money, decides to marry into more. To that end, he finds Elaine May’s character, a shy heiress whom he plans to woo and then murder for her money. May’s original film went extremely dark, and ran to nearly three hours, but the studio cut a much shorter, lighter version. While it would be nice to be able to see that full cut at some point, this disc has that theatrical cut, and even in that compromised form, the film received positive notices, despite not being much of a success.

View the film’s opening sequence.