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Looking Back at LIFF

Phil and Louise Keoghan do a Q and A with the audience about their featured film, "Le Ride."

Phil and Louise Keoghan do a Q and A with the audience about their featured film, “Le Ride.”

Hi, I’m Dakota, I’ll be your volunteer today,” said the bright-eyed film major from Western Kentucky University as he introduced “Dependents Day,” a romantic comedy I caught at 10 a.m. on Saturday. Dakota went on to thank us for coming to Louisville’s International Film Festival (LIFF) and gave us one more big aww-shucks smile before he started the film.

I met some great people at the eighth annual LIFF. I had some awesome conversations, and I saw some wonderful films. But Dakota best summed up the air of the festival: It was a bunch of people who love movies, hanging out in beautiful downtown Louisville, watching movies together.

I wasn’t able to catch all the films – heck, I only caught six, wedged in between other events on a beautiful October weekend – but what I saw impressed me. Here’s a quick recap.

“You See Me”

This was a tough movie to watch. Aching and filled with regret, “You See Me” documents one woman’s attempts to get to know her father better after he has passed away. Linda Brown’s use of interviews, home video footage and film shot as her father convalesced creates a powerful narrative that will hit especially hard with anyone who has lost a parent or is struggling with a loved one with a debilitating illness.

“To Oh Seven”

This short narrative follows a sweet old guy as he journeys across town carrying flowers, presumably for someone he loves. Director David Hall manages to convey a lot of hope and excitement, which becomes bittersweet as we realize that the old guy is taking the flowers to the park in memoriam of someone long gone.

“Frozen Chosen”

People think of documentary films as being “true” because they are a based in fact. But the truth is a filmmaker can force all kinds of thoughts and judgments onto an audience through what they present. I was a little timid heading into “The Frozen Chosen,” a film about an evangelical couple trying to start a church in a heavily secular part of Boston. Despite a subject that could have easily leaned too far into either proselytizing or ridicule, director Elizabeth Gardner keeps her feelings out of the film and paints a simple and very rewarding portrait of two people, David and Betsy Hill.

“Deaners”

This short documentary follows obsessive James Dean fans and their yearly festival, held in his hometown of Fairmont, Indiana. The film is mostly lighthearted fun, but it manages to touch on the issue of America’s evolving ideas of masculinity and show how much of that evolution is driven by the men we see on the silver screen.

“Suicide Letter”

This short feature follows a man preparing to hang himself, engrossed in writing the perfect suicide letter, until a runaway dog derails his plans. The film’s uplifting message is carried by the solid filmmaking and a strong score.

“Dependents Day”

This feature-length romantic comedy was a solid little genre entry. LIFF carries plenty of artier fair, but they also showcase films that have a commercial appeal, and this film falls squarely into that category.

“Dependents Day” tells the story of a relationship between Cam Shuer (Joe Burke) and Ailce Rivera (Benita Robledo). Rivera makes a lot more money that Shuer, and in the first scene, which had me laughing in seconds, Rivera and their income tax advisor decide that Rivera should claim Shuer as a dependent.

The movie doesn’t always carry the initial hilarity of that first perfect scene, but it remains enjoyable throughout. It’s anchored by great performances from Burke (who I IMDb’d almost immediately to see what else he’s done) and Robledo (whose IMDb tells me is in MTV’s “Teen Wolf”). I liked Robledo so much that I’m considering watching it. But what really makes this film work is an interpersonal dynamic that hasn’t already been strip-mined to death by the Hollywood. Society still throws mad shade at men who aren’t the primary breadwinners, and there is a lot of story potential in couples trying to navigate those waters, as well as a lot of comedy.

Another great pleasure of a film festival is getting to meet some creators. After the credits rolled on “Dependents Day,” I realized writer/director Michael David Lynch had been sitting behind me the whole time. When I pitched him hard on shooting his next film in Louisville – seriously, Michael, the tax incentives are great! – he asked if I was in the business. I said, “No, just a fan of good movies.”

Story By Eli Keel