Film--The Cutting Room 

News from the local movie front

News from the local movie front

The Cutting Room

There's nothing like a gaping head wound to please a crowd, as evinced by last Friday's screening of senior thesis films at Watkins Film School. The nine-film program lasted almost three-and-a-half hours, and it had the usual film-school quota of bad relationships, people staring moodily into space while indie rock drones on the soundtrack, and hot chicks whose arrival is signified by long hair blowing in slow motion. Given the straight commercial bent of most of the work, Stewart Schuster's black-and-white 8 mm mood piece dedicated to Cassavetes stood out like Shadows on network TV.

But the most eruptive response was to Tony Dancy's "Jack's Bad Day," a gruesome comic short built around an attempted suicide. Unlike its protagonist, the sick joke hit its target; it had the added virtues of an original premise (by Watkins enfant terrible Elvan Penny), a length no longer than the idea needed, and editing and camera placement that did more than move the story along. Though it's definitely a boys-club stunt, it will go over like gangbusters on the festival circuit—the kind of recognition the school lusts after.

Indeed, from the shorts on display, the school's best shot at a breakout lies with the Triumvirate Films guys—Dancy, cinematographer Scott Phelps, and Penny (who paced and chain-smoked all night long). Penny's own short, "Cute Movie," subverted a routine meet-cute situation with oddball detours into incest and public sex (in a Laundromat, no less). The detours came off more weird than startling, but there's no denying that Penny has a voice and a sensibility: here's hoping his sense of risk and emotional investment grows in boldness along with his shock effects.

The most impressive work, though, was done by a cinematographer. Let's hear it for Jeffrey Stanfill, whose professional-caliber camerawork on Timo Kurti's long concluding film was the talk of the night outside. If, like Kurti, you're going to announce Fassbinder as your reference point, it helps to have a director of photography who knows his Michael Ballhaus. This guy has a future. Seen in the standing-room-only auditorium: Denice Hicks (turning in fine work as a widow in Phyllis Sutton's "Act Two"), Watkins Film School chair Valorie Stover, Radio Free Nashville's Greg Welsch.

♦ Nashville filmmaker Curt Hahn's romantic drama No Regrets airs again on the Lifetime network 4 p.m. Saturday. The locally shot 2004 feature stars Janine Turner and Kate Jackson, with a meaty role for vocalist Lari White.

♦ Opening Friday at Green Hills: Rebecca Miller's drama The Ballad of Jack and Rose, with Daniel Day-Lewis and Catherine Keener. At the Belcourt, you've also got one more week to see the erotic drama Head-On, featuring babe of the moment Sibel Kekilli.

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