the long and the short

Filmmaker Dustin Guy Defa outside BAM in Fort Greene; photo credit: Adam Schartoff (C) 2011

Dustin Guy Defa is on the cusp of something big.  He has made a terrific short called “Family Nightmare” which very few people have seen.  He is extremely conflicted by this film, wondering whether he should even show it publicly ever again.  He’s not returning my calls.  I first offered to show it as part of a night of shorts and he wasn’t into that.  I’ve since come around and decided I’m not a big proponent of short slates.  Then I offered to show it before a feature.  Nah, not really up for that either.  Okay, then I saw the short!  Probably best to do so anyway.  How about we just show the short on its own.  Who says we can’t show a 7 minute short and then just hang out and discuss our reactions to it?  …chirp, chirp.  Nothing.  Okay, I’ll wait it out.

Why his ambivalence, you might wonder?  Like an exposed wound without a bandage to cover it up, the film is about as raw look at dysfunctional family life as you’ll likely to see.  For the majority of it’s 7 minutes you see a family hanging out and partying at home — ostensibly in the 1980s or early 90s.   Some of these occasions were holidays but it’s clear, very quickly, that they hardly needed an excuse to party.  Drinking to access is de rigeur.  But it’s not until one of the wives, possibly Dustin’s mom or aunt, walks into the bedroom and finds a number of the men sprawled on the bed watching porn, do we get a clearer idea of just how fucked up this family is.  There are also a few other moments of implied violence.  But the truly menacing aspect to this film is its audio track.  Like the recent film “The Arbor”, gone is the original audio voice track, replaced by Dustin’s re-enacted audio track.  And it’s spooky, disorienting, disturbing.  It almost puts in you in the mind of these people.  They’re monsters but, hey, they’re family.  The last bit of impact comes at the end with the end title cards where we learn the fate of various family members.

The film is a rarity in the day and age.  It’s so moving and unpretentious.  Oh, we’ll show it at filmwax.  It’s just a matter of time.

The other film I wanted to touch upon is Dustin’s feature, “Bad Fever” which I saw the next day at the 92nd Street Y/Tribeca.  It’s the archetypal indie film.  Except that Kentucker Audley’s performance is one of those tour de forces  you rarely see any more.  It’s a character part like De Niro would have performed 30 years ago.  He goes inside the head of this character so deeply and convincingly, it’s riveting.  Eleonore Hendricks plays a variation of the role she played in “Daddy Longlegs” and “The Plessure of Being Robbed”.  But she’s a compelling and beautiful young woman to watch on the screen and it’s only a matter of time until some big film project sweeps her away. Who knows, maybe it’ll even be directed by Dustin whose works definitely will fall into that DIY indie aggregate along with works by the Safdies and Ronald Bronstein.  Good company.

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