The second annual Talking Pictures Festival took place in Evanston last weekend. Co-founded by local independent filmmakers and presenters of the Reeltime film and discussion series Kathy Berger and Ines Sommer, the fest showcased a diverse buffet of independent features, short films and documentaries throughout Evanston at such venues as Hotel Orrington, Cinemark Theatres, Next Theatre and the Evanston Public Library.
Ms. Berger and Ms. Sommer spoke before the beginning of the festival-opening film, “The Other Bank,” proud that their fest was “homegrown” and that they have created an environment where film buffs and filmmakers could come together and discuss the spectacle on the screen.
“We are cash-poor and idea-rich,” Ms. Sommer said, expressing a palpable passion for film and the festival.
Local indie filmmaker Bob Hercules expressed his support: “Most [independent films] are made without commercial backing. However, we can make the kind of films we want to make without anyone lording over us. Most are not distributed or ever make money. Why do we do this? Is it a sickness?”
Neither the haunting foreign film nor the two exceptional, geography-specific documentaries seen for this review felt like the result of a disease.
‘The Other Bank’ – The feature film from director George Ovashvili details the harsh realities of the aftermath of the Georgia-Abkhazia war. The film has already won awards and premiered at over 15 film festivals worldwide.
“The Other Bank” tells the harrowing tale of Tedo, a poor, young war refugee (played by 12-year-old Tedo Bekhauri), torn from his homeland. Now living in Georgia with his prostitute mother, Tedo resorts to crime in a desperate attempt to get his mother out of her seedy profession. When she refuses, Tedo makes his way across the barren landscape and crumbling, abandoned buildings, back to his homeland of Abkhazia, in order to find his father.
Mr. Ovashvili never overstates. His imagery, stark cinematography and hushed landscapes are punctuated by a beautiful, tense score, sparingly used to emphasize the emotional impact when the music finally crescendos, offering up moments of emotional devastation and relief.
Non-professional child actor Tedo Bekhauri is a revelation as the young refugee. His visage will stick with you long after the film has ended, and so will his character’s episodic journey of violence and despair and the fact that he must deal with an unwarranted hatred he is on the cusp of understanding.
‘No Crossover’ – This documentary investigates the legal, public and perhaps racial motives behind the 1993 arrests of a group of black teens after a fight with white youths in a bowling alley in Hampton, Virginia. The fight might have been little more than a blurb in the local newspaper had it not involved possibly the greatest high school athlete in the country, future NBA superstar Allen Iverson.
Narrator/director Steve James (who also directed the much-awarded and critically blessed “Hoop Dreams”), is a Hampton native now residing in Oak Park and a basketball fan. He decided to explore the regional racism he witnessed growing up in “the peninsula,” to see how much – if at all – those perceptions had changed by 1993, and how much – again, if any – progress has been made since then.
This exploration might change one’s understanding of Mr. Iverson. However, Mr. James explored race relations not only in his hometown, but in those of his film’s viewers as well. Virginia’s conflicted history is also under the microscope: It was a Confederate state upon whose beaches slave ships landed. Hampton had one of the first integrated schools in the U.S. (where James’ mother was a school nurse) and saw African-American and Caucasian players win multiple state championships together; it sent players to the NFL and the NBA, all while, as James narrates, “the black students all sat together on one side of the gymnasium, and all the whites sat on the other.”
“No Crossover” is an excellent film, sure to arouse more than slight sentiments. It poses questions of the validity of our justice system when race is involved, details the power of community activism and explores the childhood of one of the most polarizing and talented NBA players to ever lace up his shoes.
At the close of the film, Mr. James joined the audience for a Q/A and a workshop designed to get the racially mixed crowd to open a dialogue.
‘Echotone’ – “Echotone,” a superlatively entertaining film, details the “Live Music Capital of the World,” aka Austin, Texas. It delineates the snake-devouring-its-tail scenario created by entrepreneurial developers taking advantage of the hip area central to the decades-old thriving music scene, building high-priced condos and boutiques, thereby driving up the cost of living – forcing out the musicians, 70 percent of whom make under $15,000 a year, annually, according to the film – who made the city a cultural and financial Mecca in the first place.
While producer Nicholas Jayanty, who was in attendance, and director Nathan Christ, appearing via internet in a streaming Q/A afterwards, allege they made the film to pose questions without taking sides, it is hard to imagine a single soul walking away from this film siding with the developers. The musicians and their music are front and center – as they should be – and the result is a visually kinetic and aurally vibrant essay on capitalism, a broken music industry and a bunch of artists who want their music to be heard by “as many people as possible,” mostly shunning fortune and fame. The film boasts the best soundtrack of the year, but there is no room left to mention all the artists. See this film and listen for yourselves.