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The 1998 Gen Art Film Festival

Hands on a Hard Body

Gen Art gets a lot of flack for being a “party” festival. Each film shown at the New York City-based event is explicitly marketed with a party attached, usually in some fashionable SoHo night spot. Those who believe in the sanctity of the cinema deplore this cross-breeding of evening activities. Many film professionals who attend the parties claim they don’t know anyone there, and that this somehow makes the Festival lightweight.

This is all bosh. Festivals have been founded on far more suspicious foundations than this, and in fact one big one – that I happen to work for called the Toronto International Film Festival – was born with more or less the same idea. By attaching a nightly glamorous event to a series of films, you create a unified event, especially in New York, where the term “festival” is close to the realm of cliche.

So the concept is a good one and was certainly beneficial to the stronger films in the Festival. Modulations, Iara Lee’s marvelously entertaining and surprisingly in-depth look at the cutting edge of the music scene, is tailor-made for Gen Art; a kick-out dance party after the film has given the film’s distributors a solid word-of-mouth foundation to build on its Sundance debut. S. R. Bindler’s documentary Hands on a Hard Body also will benefit from the exposure when it opens later this summer. This cinematic oddity chronicles a contest in Texas which awards a new truck to the person who can keep one hand touching it for longest. With much to say about the “American Dream” and all that, although without much cinematic muscle, it has now been positioned as the kind of documentary should get significant cable play after its theatrical debut.

The opening film, Adam Bernstein’s Six Ways to Sunday, is an updated film noir with off-kilter dialogue spins and some stylish shots. It also feels depressingly dated, more like a tribute to early ‘90s independent film than a new film of energy and substance. It was an unfortunate opener.

The balance of the Festival was bleak. Marcus Speigel’s The Farmhouse came across as a silly Southern gothic yarn, even with the radiant Blythe Danner at its center. Rocky mountain stoner saga Scrapple is a fun idea – to do with a pig and a shipment of pot – that never takes off.

Gen Art finally faces the same problems as every other festival – the dearth of good films to hang premiere events on – but it is at least going into battle armed with a smart concept.

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