Lots has been happening here in Dallas since the last dispatch I wrote up. I've seen several docs here: Where the Sun Rises, Darius Goes West, and Rape of Europa, and today I saw The Proper Care and Feeding of an American Messiah, Paprika, and Living and Dying. Let's talk about the docs first, because docs are one of my favorite genres. There aren't quite as many playing at this fest as I'd like, and most of the doc screenings have been a bit lightly attended. I've talked to a few locals about this, and what I keep hearing is that Dallas folks haven't really been exposed much to the idea of documentaries as entertainment, as opposed to something you're forced to watch for a class or catch on PBS because nothing else is on and you have insomnia.

So I want to plug some docs I've really enjoyed here so far. Where the Sun Rises, helmed by Grace Phan, is about Xanana Gusmao, former guerrilla leader and current president of East Timor, the world's youngest independent nation. Where the Sun Rises isn't about war and politics, though, it's about the healing power of forgiveness, and Gusmao's journey from hate to love and genuine forgiveness.


One of my fave films of this fest thus far is Darius Goes West, a lovely and inspiring film about Darius Weems, a 15-year-old boy with the fatal disease Duchenne Muscular Dsytrophy, which kills the boys who have it in their late teens to early twenties. Darius and his 11 best friends take a cross-country trip to California to try to persuade MTV to "pimp out" Darius' wheelchair on Pimp My Ride, and along they way they see all the places Darius, who has never before been outside his hometown of Athens, Georgia, wants to see before he dies.

I interviewed the film's director, Logan Smalley, this afternoon, and I must say that, while he may not be the most famous person I've met or interviewed, he is officially one of my favorite interviews I've ever done. Perhaps it's the years he's spent volunteering his time at Project Reach, a summer camp for disabled kids in Athens, or perhaps it's the impact of his friendship with Darius, who is himself a remarkable young man, but Logan's spirit just shines through when you talk to him. I'll get the interview transcribed as soon as possible around my screening schedule and interviews. In the meantime, you can read my review of the film, and please don't forget to check out the website for Charley's Fund, the not-for-profit foundation that will be getting all the profits the film makes, in the hopes of finding a cure for this devastating disease.

Also on the doc front, I saw Rape of Europa last night. This film is about how the Nazis stole countless pieces of priceless art in their takeover of Europe, and how a lot of it was recovered after the war. The doc was interesting, but longer than it needed to be, and unfortunately the fest schedule said it was only 79 minutes long, when in fact it's almost 2 1/2 hours. The former would be about the right length for the film; it could use some trimming of the bits that get repetitive. Watching the destruction of Poland, where my paternal grandparents lived (and were eventually rounded up and sent to concentration camps) was rather wrenching, though, and it made me want to visit the land of my heritage with my kids, so they know that part of their ancestral history.

Last night I also saw Midlothia, directed by Bill Sebastian and competing both for the Audience Award and in the Texas category. I reviewed the film today, so you can read about all about it, but suffice it to say that it's a smartly directed little indie drama, adapted from a stage play, and I really enjoyed it.

I watched The Proper Care and Feeding of an American Messiah, directed by Chris Hanson, in my hotel room today on my awesome plasma wide-screen television -- I want one of these at my house now. Messiah is a mockumentary about a man who thinks he's "a" Messiah (as opposed to "the" Messiah) -- you can think of him as kind of a regional Messiah servicing the spiritual needs of everyone within about a 100 mile radius. The film is quite funny, and I kind of wish I'd caught it at a screening to gauge the audience reaction and energy in response to it. The uphill battle it has to fight, of course, is that Christopher Guest has so effectively cornered the market on the mockumentary that it's hard, as you watch Messiah, not to imagine what Guest might have done with the material, and which of his cast of regulars he would have put in each role. Nonetheless, if you can get past the Guest hurdle, it is quite a funny film and stands on its own merit.

Tonight I had a couple of films on my plate: Paprika, a funky anime by director Satoshi Kon, which I enjoyed a lot. I really love a well-done anime film, and this one held me in its grip from start to finish. We got off to a bit of an odd start when the film was introduced, however, when the guy doing the intro told everyone to be sure to turn off their cell phones, and then added the aside that if anyone's cell phone was to go off, "we're gonna have to have us a lynching." I swear, I very nearly choked on my breath mint, I was so utterly shocked that he would say that. I was seated next to a very nice African-American couple, and they both tensed up but didn't say anything. Maybe I've just been living up in the Pacific Northwest for too many years, and down here in Dallas that's an okay thing to say, but I was offended and truly stunned that he would say that, and I can't imagine that other people there weren't as well. On a more positive note, the film was totally sold out, and they even had to bring in some extra chairs to fit everyone in, and audience response was quite strong. The film, which has already played a slew of fests, opens in limited release June 1.

After Paprika, I headed in for the screening of Living and Dying, another film competing in both the Texas and Audience Award categories. The film, directed by Jon Keeyes, stars one of my favorite younger actors, Edward Furlong. I had just been wondering what the heck Furlong was up to these days, and now I know -- he's been up to making a fantastically tense film. Actually, he's been working pretty steadily since American History X, but this is the first thing I've seen him in lately. The story is about four people who rob a local business, only to find the tables turned when the cafe they go to hide in turns out to already be occupied by a couple of psychotic criminals who decide to take the stolen money from the thieves and take everyone in the cafe hostage. The film already has distrib in Europe, and HBO Films will be bringing it your way here in the States in August or so. Keeyes has other projects in the works; here's hoping he casts Furlong again.

We did have a little minor drama before the screening of the film; a local indie filmmaker was trying to save two seats in the sold-out house for friends who hadn't arrived in the theater, and they showed up just after management had let in five people who had already been waiting in line, two of whom got those seats. The filmmaker was not happy about this, and there was a little dramatic moment that had everyone glancing uncomfortably at each other, but fortunately she seemed to get over it once the film started.

More screenings on my plate for tomorrow, along with interviews with Jon Keeyes and James Faust, Senior Programmer for the fest, along with banging out more reviews. Stay tuned for more coverage from AFI Dallas, including full reviews of these films and write-ups of the interviews.