The New Orleans Film Festival opens Friday and screens 180 films over the event's seven days. Below are previews and reviews of some of the festival's highlights. For a full schedule of films and details, visit www.neworleansfilmsociety.org.
(7:30 p.m. Fri., Oct. 14; 9:30 p.m Mon., Oct. 17; Chalmette Movies)
As a young women, Joyce McKinney was a gorgeous blonde beauty pageant winner with a wholesome demeanor and charming Southern accent. But she first gained international acclaim in 1978 in the British tabloid press as the "sex in chains girl." She had moved to Southern California and fallen in love with Kirk Anderson, a devout Mormon. He went to London on a mission, and from there, accounts of events diverge dramatically. McKinney pursued him and everything about her strange antics had scandalous appeal. In Tabloid, director Errol Morris (A Thin Blue Line) cleverly revisits McKinney's bizarre and titillating quest to recapture her lost love.
McKinney claimed Anderson disappeared without a trace. Others say he simply embarked on his Mormon mission. Smitten with him, McKinney dreamed up an elaborate plan involving hired body guards and pilots to locate and rescue him — others called it kidnapping. The Inspector Clouseau-like escapade was successful, and McKinney drove him to a hotel in Devonshire, chained him to a bed and serially copulated with him. She was eventually arrested for kidnapping and spent three months in jail, with all of the details of their tryst published in the tabloids. (Did she force him to have sex, Morris asks McKinney? "It's like stuffing a marshmallow in a parking meter. I don't think you can force someone," she says.)
As the case grabbed international attention, the tabloids feasted on every aspect, and she became a celebrity (famously upstaging Joan Collins at the London premiere of the film The Stud). The Daily Express painted her as a goofy girl hopelessly in love. The Daily Mirror described her as a prostitute, bondage model and kinky fetishist, and the truth probably lies somewhere in between. But what's amazing about her story and the film is the endless stream of weird revelations (several involving a sheepdog). They amount to a catalogue of tabloid gold: beauty queen, Mormon refugee, sex slaves, bondage, double lives, vows of lifelong celibacy, spying and even cloning. Throughout it all, McKinney is charming as she provides her account. Many of the other parties refused to talk to Morris, but the film doesn't lack captivating details. — Will Coviello
The Human Centipede 2
(midnight Fri., Oct. 14, Prytania Theatre; 9:30 p.m. Sat., Oct. 15, 9:30 p.m. Wed., Oct. 19, 9:30 p.m. Thu., Oct. 20, Chalmette Movies)
Anyone interested in seeing The Human Centipede 2 should know that once seen, this film cannot be unseen. The first installment's graphic scenes were made somewhat palatable by humorous horror movie cliches, some genuinely suspenseful moments and a brilliant performance by Dieter Laser, who portrayed a reclusive ex-surgeon who completes his dream project: conjoining three people via their digestive tracts to create a "human centipede." Tom Six's sequel, however, is nearly unwatchable. Six's self-referential concept for the sequel earns points for cleverness: Martin (Laurence R. Harvey), an obsessed fan of the first film, decides to create his own human centipede. He was sexually abused by his father as a child, but this grotesque character — a slovenly, asthmatic, overweight, sexually dysfunctional, virtually mute parking garage attendant — elicits no sympathy. He collects 12 victims, including a very pregnant woman, and keeps them in an abandoned warehouse. He's even able to recruit one of the actresses from the original film (Ashlynn Yennie) who thinks she's auditioning for a Quentin Tarantino project. He's an amateur surgeon, so the assembly of his centipede is a hack job using common hardware store supplies (a hammer, duct tape, a staple gun, etc.). Of course, it goes horribly wrong. I'll spare you the details, but Martin's favorite part of the film, which involves the digestive-related issues of a mouth-to-anus configuration, is nightmarishly reenacted toward the end. Making the film in the black and white was the only mercy the director showed audiences. — Lauren LaBorde
Man in the Glass: The Dale Brown Story
(2:15 p.m. Sat., Oct. 15, 5:20 p.m. Mon., Oct. 17, Prytania Theatre)
Director Patrick Sheehan clearly is a fan of former LSU basketball coach Dale Brown. His documentary is a heroic portrait and romanticizes Brown's best traits. Though a bit eccentric and a lot outspoken, Brown loved to be the underdog and "fight the system." The documentary chronicles Brown's life from growing up poor in North Dakota — abandoned by his father — to resurrecting LSU's basketball program and his ongoing fight with the NCAA. Brown integrated LSU basketball, which earned him as many fans as detractors. He championed the parole request of Angola inmate Ulysses Long and he supported Native American causes. He had a very positive impact on many people, and the film recounts his unique relationship with Shaquille O'Neal. It would be a more fully realized portrait if it spent as much effort examining his setbacks as his successes, but the film is sure to please LSU fans and Brown comes through as a compelling figure regardless of wins, losses and sports. — Coviello
(2:15 p.m. Sun., Oct. 16, Theatres at Canal Place, 6 p.m. Wed., Oct. 19, Contemporary Arts Center)
Writer/director Ben Lemoine is a former WWL-TV reporter who left TV news in order to stop trying to cover issues in 90-second spots. His documentary The Experiment is an ambitious and insightful examination into New Orleans' post-Katrina boom in charter schools. Begun in March 2009 and completed this June, the film wrestles with efforts to provide quality education to New Orleans' public school children. The camera follows five children (ages 9-11) as their parents try to find the best schools for them. It touches on everything that affects young people including their parents, communities, teachers and institutional issues, including corruption in the Orleans Parish School Board. The film is both sobering about the challenges and hopeful about the future of public education. This is its official premiere and Lemoine and fellow filmmakers will attend. — Coviello
With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story
(2:40 p.m. Sun., Oct. 16, Second Line Stages, 7 p.m. Mon., Oct. 17, Chalmette Movies)
Stan Lee is responsible for some of the most recognizable characters of the last 60 years. Spider-Man, The Hulk, X-Men and Fantastic Four — now all multimillion dollar film franchises — are among the dozens of characters he created through his comic book giant Marvel. Now the standard, Lee's challenge to the bubblegum world of comic books in the '60s transformed the medium into a counter-cultural platform with real characters with real problems, not superhuman cardboard cutouts.
In the documentary With Great Power, directors Terry Douglas, Will Hess and Nikki Frakes whiz through his life story, beginning with 18-year-old Lee's writing career at Timely Comics in the '40s, where he wrote World War II arcs for Captain America and other war hero stories. He later joined the U.S. Army as a playwright among nine other enlisted men, including Frank Capra and Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss. Lee and comics world talking heads narrate his career over still images and archival footage brought to life with cartoonishly popping comic book frames surrounded by the characters that the writers and illustrators created.
His wife Joan encouraged him to break from the norm and embrace the angsty, "real" vision he had for his characters — the result was 1961's Fantastic Four No. 1. Sprightly and hilarious at 87, Lee says he owes his energy to Joan's spurring, and in moments joking with her, the film captures more about the writer than anecdotes from his co-workers and celebrity super fans. While the film frantically fits in decades of history charting the growth of the underdog Marvel into a multimedia empire, it also takes time to show Lee as the consummate comic nerd, unabashedly prancing on red carpet premieres as the marquee characters he created. — Alex Woodward
(4:45 p.m. Sun., Oct. 16, Prytania Theatre)
Based on Helen Krieger's short story collection In the Land of What Now, Flood Streets captures the bohemian life in Bywater in the wake of Hurricane Katrina as people rebuilt their homes and lives and sought relief and inspiration in music and art. A young aspiring singer tries her hand in the real estate business. A woman squats in an abandoned home and seeks spiritual wellness as she battles cancer. A painter turns his artistic talents into an advertising business. Audiences will recognize Harry Shearer as a dentist and The New Orleans Bingo! Show and other local musicians. — Coviello
The Black Power Mix Tape 1967-1975
(9 p.m. Sun., Oct. 16, 9 p.m. Thu., Oct. 20, Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center)
This documentary's catchy name hints at its premise. It combines recently recovered interviews by Swedish journalists with some new voiced-over interviews with contemporary African-American musicians and filmmakers, including Erykah Badu, Talib Kweli and Mario Van Peebles. The film would be better without the new material, but its presence is not a hindrance. The interviews with Angela Davis, Stokely Carmichael and even the charismatic young Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan are brilliant. While Goran Olsson's film addresses the Civil Rights movement's goals, what's most powerful and different about the film is the way critical moments of the era are addressed in their context. Reactions to the Vietnam War drove certain aspects of the movement. The assassination of Robert Kennedy left many despairing the possibility of realizing change. Debates about violence and nonviolence are held less in theoretical terms than in response to activities of the Black Panthers and the police, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and Davis' trial. It's refreshing and well worth revisiting how civil rights leaders and activists saw their times when it wasn't clear what path history would take. — Coviello
Live at Preservation Hall: Louisiana Fairytale
(7:30 p.m. Mon., Oct. 17, Prytania Theatre; 9:20 p.m. Thu., Oct. 20, Theatres at Canal Place)
Noted rock photographer Danny Clinch filmed what is both a beautiful portrait of Preservation Hall and an intimate behind the scenes documentary about the collaboration between My Morning Jacket and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The project was made possible by friendships that developed between Preservation Hall director Ben Jaffe (who coproduced the film), Clinch and Jim James of My Morning Jacket. The trad jazz band went on tour with the Louisville rockers in 2010, and the two bands finished My Morning Jacket's 2010 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival set with a jam that included "Mother-In-Law," "St. James Infirmary" and Curtis Mayfield's "Move On Up." MMJ then played a midnight acoustic concert at Preservation Hall. Most of Clinch's film focuses on those 48 hours in New Orleans and it captures the warm relationship that developed between the two bands. — Coviello