This year's KC FilmFest, which runs April 10–14 at the Alamo Drafthouse Mainstreet (14th Street and Main), comes loaded with discoveries — movies neglected or rarely screened or almost entirely unseen. It also offers local audiences a crack at films that have won awards at other festivals. And it has booked some talented filmmakers and cult heroes to appear at screenings. Full passes run $50. See kcfilmfest.org for a schedule.
Q Meets the Bronies
Actor John de Lancie has built his considerable fanbase on a wide array of roles. He's recognizable as the mischievous and enigmatic Q, from Star Trek: The Next Generation, but also known as Donald Margolis, a small but key character in Breaking Bad. And he has grown accustomed to signing autographs for people who simply recognize his distinctive voice as the villain Discord in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. He had forgotten the recording sessions, so when e-mails from young fans started rolling in, his wife reminded him that he had participated in a cartoon intended to entertain little girls.
Then de Lancie reread the senders' names and told her, "These aren't little girls." His new correspondents were Bronies: grown men who also happened to love this latest version of My Little Pony. They held jobs, served in the military, gave generously to charities. Some would find spouses at Bronie conventions that began to pop up, and which de Lancie began to participate in. And he's an executive producer of the documentary Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony.
"I haven't had anything like that happen before," de Lancie says from his home in Los Angeles. "I've been on a number of shows that were really successful shows, where I was brought in for what was intended to be a one-shot and the character became very popular, but nothing where I had walked away, never expecting to hear anything more about it."
He adds, "I began to have an opportunity to talk with them, and I found them to be very reasonable kids. The notion that they were all a bunch of creepy perverts walking around was immediately out the window."
He and fellow producer Michael Brockhoff are at the Alamo Drafthouse at 7:15 p.m. Thursday, April 11, to present the film at a screening. (It costs $20 to get into that event; for a separate $30 ticket, there's also dinner with Discord himself, at 5:45 p.m.) The show's creator and former head writer, Lauren Faust, is also coming to town, for a separate screening at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 13 (also $20).
De Lancie figures that his character resonates for a simple reason. "These are stories that are intended to be parables: Getting along and all that type of stuff. While the main characters might have conflicts and different points of view, they generally try to make things work in the end. To get a character in there who's just plain naughty ... guys were liking that naughtiness. I think those two elements came into play."
How the Summer Children Grew Up
The five-decade odyssey of Springfield, Missouri, native and Universal Studios employee Jack Robinette started with a game of tennis. He was playing at the home of Jack Ryan, the Mattel engineer who helped design the Barbie doll. Another aspiring filmmaker named James Bruner was there, and he and Robinette would team up to make The Summer Children, a 1965 SoCal sun-and-surf story that owed more to Jules and Jim than to Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello.
Most films of that period portrayed teens and young adults as either marauding delinquents or giddy Beach Blanket Bingo players, but The Summer Children followed attractive young people through real problems, set against a gorgeous landscape — captured by Vilmos Zsigmond, who would become one of cinema's most admired cinematographers. Robinette is scheduled to be on hand to present his infrequently screened film at 9:20 p.m. Friday, April 12.
"What we were looking for was the French New Wave or Italian neorealism," Robinette says. "We were totally enamored with that style of film. This was really a '60s pop-culture film. What little I knew about reading a script at that time, I identified with people or combinations of people who would fit those various characters."
Children was more sexually frank than most of what played in the United States at the time. Robinette says, "We were trying to push the envelope. This was not any more explicit than European films that were our influence at the time. We probably didn't even think that far ahead. We just went for it."
Distribution stalled, though. "We signed with a distributor, and part of the arrangement was that he was going to pay the lab bill," Robinette says. "We thought he understood the film. Yes, he understood the film, but he forgot to do this little thing called paying." The finished movie got shelved, and its makers lost track of it.
After years of false leads and a point when Robinette accepted that the negative had likely been destroyed, he resumed the hunt with his cousin Edie Robinette-Petrachi (who's also coming to the Alamo). At a family reunion, the two decided to renew the search; when they came across Children again, Robinette says, "We were two weeks from it being destroyed." He was able to buy back the film, allowing the cousins to present it finally as something other than a fond memory.
The film is worth another look for Hungarian-born Zsigmond's lovely work. Over the next 15 years, he would shoot Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye, McCabe & Mrs. Miller and Images, and win an Oscar for his work on Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Robinette says the film has had a lasting effect on him, but he adds that one of its actresses remembers the original shoot less fondly. "Sandy Gabriel remembers we had a lot of bologna sandwiches and white bread. She says, 'There's now two things I hate in life, and that's bologna and white bread.' "
Jason Wiles grew up in Lenexa and Kansas City but left the area at age 19 to try his luck at acting. He beat the odds, with a role in Beverly Hills 90210 and then as a lead in Third Watch, which lasted six seasons. There have been movie parts (he's in David Fincher's Zodiac), and he has directed a couple of projects (including the 2006 movie Lenexa, 1 Mile, aka Full Count, which he shot around here).
Wiles is at the Alamo for a 9:15 p.m. screening Friday, April 12, to present The Jogger, a film in which he plays the manipulative best friend of the beleaguered title character, Paul (Derek Phillips, Friday Night Lights). Paul's marital and work problems begin to seem small when a psycho chases after him in the woods.
"He's a guy who's always in control," Wiles says of his character, a sleazy salesman. "He's going to dictate how he's perceived almost. I was lucky enough not to have to work in those situations, but I had a lot of friends who went down that road and talk a big game. You never know what's underneath and where some of these insecurities lie. It was such a fun role to play because there weren't too many rules with that character."
Wiles isn't the only one fond of the Oklahoma-shot movie. On March 24, it won Best Narrative Feature at the L.A. Indie Film Festival. Its writer-director team, Casey Twenter and Jeff Robison, met playing fantasy football.
"I'm really excited for Casey and Jeff," says Wiles, who plans to work with them again. "Some of their other scripts are really great. There's talented people everywhere. You just have to take your shot and believe in it."
Other FilmFest Highlights
For showtimes, see kcfilmfest.org.
Griffin Dunne (Martin Scorsese's After Hours) stars as a struggling history professor and single parent whose effort to pull his estranged father (Stuart Margolin) out of a catatonic state results in the two taking part in a re-enactment of Lewis and Clark's expedition. The setup sounds gloomy, but the film is clever and often quite funny. Margolin, probably best known for playing James Garner's former cellmate on The Rockford Files, is scheduled to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award at the fest.
Twenty Feet From Stardom
Morgan Neville's documentary follows a group of backup singers — mostly women — who often stole songs out from under the lead voices. Darlene Love sang lead on a record or two by the Crystals, but she, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer and others did most of their work behind someone else and remain obscure. Stars such as Sting and Bruce Springsteen appear in the film to acknowledge the importance of these singers' contributions. Neville's movie is worth the time just for the chance to hear Clayton's terrifying, isolated vocal track from the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter."
This grim, Austin-shot drama was a hit at Sundance and South By Southwest. A lonely high school teacher (Lindsay Burdge) tries to get out of an affair with one of her students, but the crop of men her own age seems slim and less than ideal. During its short running time, the movie burns like a 10-alarm fire. It's not pretty, but it's impossible to look away. Hannah Fidell's unsentimental direction and Burdge's vulnerable performance leaven the story's sordidness.