75 films. 45 countries. 11 days. The DC International Film Festival, affectionately referred to as Filmfest DC, is back for its incredible 30th year beginning tomorrow, April 14th. As usual, the event brings a wealth of incredible movies from all across the globe. Many of these movies will never get the light of day here in DC, and that exclusivity is one of the festival's great rewards. There is always a film out there just waiting to be discovered.
This year Filmfest DC has added a new category to their variety of offerings; Cine Cubano, three films showcasing life and social issues in today's Cuba. It joins the usual categories: World View (international dramas), The Lighter Side (comedies), Trust No One (thrillers and espionage), Rhythm On & Off Screen (music and dance), Justice Matters (social justice), and Shorts (international and women-directed short films).
Australia takes the spotlight for the opening night film, Jocelyn Moorhouse's revenge comedy, The Dressmaker, starring Kate Winslet. The film earned 13 AACTA Awards, including a Best Actress win for Winslet, Best Supporting Actress for Judy Davis, and Best Supporting actor for Hugo Weaving. So having it as part of the festival is kind of a big deal.
For DC cinephiles, the next two weeks should be a lot of fun, so check out the full lineup of films. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased online here. I'm excited, and here is just a brief look at a few of the films I'm anxious to check out. Filmfest DC runs from April 14th-24th!
Director: Jocelyn Moorhouse
Cast: Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Hugo Weaving, Liam Hemsworth, Sarah Snook
This wickedly comic drama stars Academy Award® winner Kate Winslet as a worldly dressmaker returning to the Australian backwater that exiled her. The Dressmaker is a sumptuous, saucy, and scandalous tale of love and vengeance in the mid-1950s. Tilly Dunnage (Winslet) arrives in the small town of Dungatar like a gunslinger: broad-brimmed hat on her head, sleek pumps on her feet, and trusty Singer sewing machine at her side. Driven away when she was just 10 for supposedly committing a heinous crime, resilient Tilly found her way to Paris, where she trained under legendary designer Madeleine Vionnet. She has come back to Dungatar to look after her ailing mother, Molly (Judy Davis), but, with her beguiling, form-fitting dresses, she's soon turning heads. Winslet exudes femme-fatale danger and sexiness; she's Clint Eastwood meets Rita Hayworth. Writer-director Jocelyn Moorhouse infuses The Dressmaker with a perfect blend of glamour and edginess, generating laughter and intrigue right up to the explosive finale.
My King (Mon Roi)
Cast: Vincent Cassel, Emanuelle Bercot, Louis Garrel
"You leave people for the same reason that attracted you in the first place," someone says during the course of the tumultuous, decade-long relationship that is the beating heart of the extraordinarily passionate drama My King. In the film's first sequence, Tony (actress-filmmaker Emmanuelle Bercot) tears up her right knee in an off-screen skiing accident her therapist later hints was less of an accident and more of a cry for help. What weighs heavily on Tony's mind is Georgio (Vincent Cassel), her mercurial man-child of a partner and their emotional rollercoaster of a life. As Tony undergoes painful, tedious physical therapy, she remembers the highs and lows of their time together. The fourth feature from actress-turned-filmmaker Maïwenn, My King won Bercot the coveted Best Actress prize at last year's Cannes festival. It is a cautionary tale about the risks, rewards, and ramifications of love with an improper partner.
Men & Chicken
Director: Anders Thomas Jensen
Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, David Dencik, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Nicolas Bro
Men & Chicken, an uproarious comedy starring Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal) that has broken box-office records in Denmark, is about a pair of socially challenged, bumbling, harelipped siblings who discover in their late father's videotaped will that they are adopted half-brothers. Their journey in search of their true father takes them to a remote island, where they stumble upon three additional half-brothers—each also sporting hereditary harelips and lunatic tendencies—living in a dilapidated mansion overrun by barn animals. Initially unwelcome by their newfound kin, the two visitors stubbornly wear them down until they're reluctantly invited to stay. As the misfit bunch get to know each other, they unwittingly uncover a deep family secret that ultimately binds them together.
Director: Gabriel Ripstein
Cast: Tim Roth, Kristyan Ferrer
Gripping and gritty, 600 Miles is a nimble, intense thriller that delves into cross-border crime. Kristyan Ferrer is Arnulfo, a callow petty criminal who buys firearms in Arizona and smuggles them into Mexico for use by the cartels. The purchases are legal and hassle-free in the gun-happy state; the whole thing is easy money until Arnulfo and his accomplice encounter ATF agent Hank Harris (Tim Roth). The film becomes a dark journey southwards with Harris as captive and Arnulfo as kidnapper. This is a nail-biter, but it's also a close-range portrait of a subculture told from a narrow perspective but with rich implications coming in from every corner. Roth plays a tightly coiled professional, Ferrer a desperate amateur, and the two actors sketch a duel of mismatched wits. This is a simple tale, but one told expertly; it's a short-fuse trip with a bang at the end.
Director: Cynthia Mort
Cast: Zoe Saldana, David Oyelowo, Mike Epps, Ella Thomas, Ella Joyce
Nina Simone was one of the century's most extraordinary talents, a 15-time Grammy nominee and Grammy Hall of Fame recipient. Her mesmerizing songs and passionate politics combined to make her the unforgettable artist played by Zoe Saldana in Nina. Fame and fortune came with a price, however, and Simone's later years were riddled with depression, alcohol abuse, and isolation. Rediscovering the meaning of her life and work took courage, strength, and one true friend: Clifton Henderson (David Oyelowo), the man who started out as her assistant and eventually became her loyal manager. With Clifton's encouragement, the "high priestess of soul" began a courageous journey back to her music and eventually herself.
The Last King
Director: Nils Gaup
Cast: Jakob Oftebro, Kristofer Hivju
The year is 1204. Norway is torn apart in a civil war. The Norwegian king is fighting for survival against the church's bishops, who will use any means available to obtain victory. While the king is on his deathbed, his only remaining heir is guarded in deep secret. Half the kingdom wants the boy dead, but two men will sacrifice everything to protect him. The two warriors set on a perilous journey through the harsh Norwegian winter landscape to rescue the two-year-old future king and his mother from a terrible fate. A new film by Oscar®-nominated director Nils Gaup (The Pathfinder), The Last King created quite a buzz at the Cannes and Berlin film festival markets for its director and its stars, Jakob Oftebro of Kon-Tiki and Kristofer Hivju of Game of Thrones.
Akounak: Rain the Color of Blue with a Little Red in It
Director: Christopher Kirkley
Cast: Mdou Moctar, Rhaicha Ibrahim, Kader Tanoutanoute
The title of director Christopher Kirkley's musical drama is a sly reference to Purple Rain, and indeed star Mdou Moctar does his best to channel the enigmatic Prince. Moctar arrives in town on a purple motorcycle, and his only luggage is an electric guitar. Like another famous musician, Jimi Hendrix, Moctar plays guitar left-handed, which means that when his disapproving father burns his instrument, he can't just pick up any other six-string. But Moctar coaxes sounds out of his Stratocaster that its inventor Leo Fender probably never imagined. While romancing local fangirl Rhaicha (Rhaicha Ibrahim), Moctar runs afoul of rival musician Kader (Kader Tanoutanoute). In a city where reputations are made by how fast songs travel via cellphone, a battle of the bands is organized to prove who the real rock star is. Akounak's many musical interludes will keep toes tapping long after the film is over.