An Ithaca Dilemma: (5 Resons) Why I Find Myself Drawn to the IIFFF

ithacs poster 2015I am going to start this journey, which could take a sharp turn off a steep cliff at any given moment, by writing in a mode I have a general disdain for: The life hack, list-centric, turn everything into a reason for being mode. Far be it from us to leave people to draw conclusions, let’s map out their reasons for sticking around lest they fear their time is being wasted, valuable time that could be spent on fingerprinting their approval on streams of photos or making up 2-choice surveys for random people to stop and click on their favorite cancelled 90s sitcom.

So while on one hand this might not be putting my best foot forward, this is also a fitting theme for stepping out into the abyss: by introducing a new institution. A new destination. A new preoccupation. New at least for me. Although in its 4th year, this is the first that the 5 day event, running from November 11 – 15, has landed on my radar and continued blipping. Steadily, til it dawned on me that I must be a part of it.

And while I find the overuse of this function-over-form way of focusing an article, it is pretty fitting here. A few times that I have tried to tackle an introduction to this festival, which I myself am just getting to know, I ended up stymied. There is that much to process. I find then, my most honest – and desperate, as I find this piece of writing fast approaching irrelevance with every passing minute – approach would be to talk about what has got me all hot and bothered about the affair. As of yet, I haven’t counted how many points there will be. But hopefully, it will be a nice countable number like 5 or 10, which would end up making the title that much more clickable and your time perceptibly that much less wasted.

Of course you could always just click on the link to the festival website: http://ithacafilmfestival.com and draw your own conclusions.

  1. A Resplendent Retrospective

Without knowing a single shred of new features on the program, I was sucked in by an incredibly curated side focus on body horror. It features a razor sharp selection of touchstone works for fans of cult films and offbeat takes on the horror and scifi genres alike. Most notable for moi would be Tsukamoto Shinya’s TETSUO: THE IRON MAN, a discovery I pulled off the shelf of a Blockbuster Video store while in high school, which has had more of an influence on my apetite for Japanese movies than anything by Kurosawa Akira or Hayao Miyazaki. It is a seamless world of industrial pleasures, despite being created on a shoestring budget, which erases the boundary between sensory experience and analysis. A riff on the battles of mass destruction rendered in Godzilla along with the kaiju movies it spawned and Akira, it follows two men whose bodies transform into junky, unwieldy metal machine monsters who are drawn into a love hate battle of wills, in which one will prevail or two will merge into one bigger and more destructive machine. It is a work of nihilistic glee set to a tribal-industrial soundtrack way ahead of its time by CHU ISHIKAWA. Seeing it on a big screen can only enhance its thrills.

Fast forwarding a decade into Japan’s visceral canon of films, we have AUDITION, one of Miike Takashi’s first blasts of confrontational cinema to impact Western shores. It starts as a playful romp wherein as a single father engages in the most charming of abuses of power by engineering an casting call that also doubles as a search for a potential new wife/mother for his adolescent son. Then, suddenly and violently turns into an increasingly delirious drop into madness. Man’s idealized notion of woman becomes his worst nightmare, as the now iconic Eihi Shiina has her way with her suitors in queasy sequences involving needles and wires. Its another film whose effect will be enhanced by the viewer’s inability to look away.

Then there is David Cronenberg’s SHIVERS, a mischievous experiment on the zombie genre in which sex is terrifying, and an all purpose apartment complex is a microcosm for an infected organism. The 70s kitsch on display is the perfect backdrop for a yarn about uncontrollable lust for physical gratification gone to gruesome extremes. The series is rounded out by EYES WITHOUT A FACE and POSSESSION, films I have not seen and am grateful for the opportunity to catch in a theater.

2. New York, but not New York

 New York City is filled with events in the realm of film and music and art, but there is something significant to be said for getting away from the trappings of the city one is familiar with and truly escaping into an all encompassing environment. And opportunities to do so without going too far out of bounds have been on the rise. Basillica Hudson, for instance is a festival that has been earning high marks for presenting music and other arts in a moody, absconded landscape, where the lack of commercialism and the daring of the artists curated has been rewarding for those willing to travel. If coming from New York City, you’ll have to travel a bit farther to get to Ithaca but the array of experiences to take in is vast enough to make it well worth the road trip.

3. A New Sono

 Upon seeing the film fest’s lineup of international selections in competition, a question I’ve considered had a chance to be answered: Is the chance to see a new Sion Sono (in this case LOVE AND PEACE) film worth driving 3 plus hours for? To which I leapt up and cried ‘yes!’ Without worrying if it will be good or bad, his best or somewhere in the middle, I can rest assured that it will be true to his vision, that it will be unique, and therefore more than likely to be intensely interesting. Look to his existing body of work peppered with rousing acts of celluloid incitement like SUICIDE CIRCLE, LOVE EXPOSURE, and WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL.

Other films in the lineup I am looking forward to on the merit of their directors’ past work is Midnight film AAAAAAAAAH! featuring lines blurred between man and ape, helmed by Steve Oram, who helped write the quick witted Sightseers. Scherzo Diabolico looks to be a blast of societal skewering by Adrian Garcia Bogliano, whose punk fueled head splitting horror film HERE COMES THE DEVIL blasted me out of complacency.

  1. Japan

Along with TETSUO, there is a small focus on extremely independent films dubbed DIY In Japan. HARUKO’S PARANORMAL LABORATORY is one of them, a piping hot Bento box of pop culture references and hyper sexuality that betrays its Gondry-on-a-budget cuteness.

  1. Movies…. andMusic and Art

It’s nice to have a mix of mediums so as to give some perspective to all you are digesting. So it is notable that the organizers of the IIFFF had the foresight to include an art and music component to its proceedings. A gallery will host the art of Chet Zar, a noted special effects creator for the likes of Planet of the Apes and Hellboy. A documentary on the artists called I LIKE TO PAINT MONSTERS will also be screened Saturday afternoon. Concerts will take place most evenings with a focus on heavy sounds Friday, and a diverse evening Saturday, which includes visitors coming up from the Tristate SCREAMING FEMALES and AYE NAKO, whose punk and indie rock leanings are sure to stir the soul.

Oh wow, that came down to 5. Totally organically, not at all planned.

This is far from a complete overview, though, with the event also including films with a focus on the art world, another focus on the films of Turkey, as well as one dedicated to directors from New York, and others under an umbrella theme of gaming. The international competition section features a number of films that may have eluded the savvy filmgoer at fests like Tribeca, Austin Fantastic Fest, and Montreal’s Fantastia to name a few. A selection of short films will be screened, and numerous guests will be on hand including Joe Begos (THE MIND’S EYE), Michael Keating (DARLING), and artist Chet Zar along with the director of the documentary he is the subject of, Mike Corell.

For a comprehensive look, peruse the IIFFF website and download the brochure. And keep in mind, it starts the evening of Wednesday, November 11 and continues through Sunday, November 15.

See you there.

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