Chattanooga Film Fest 2017: Day 4

Dead Man’s Carnival: A Conversation with Pinkerton Xyloma (Documentary Short)

The traveling Dead Man’s Carnival is a kind of modern vaudeville event featuring music, dance and gymnastics, burlesque, comedy and other kinds of acts. Pinkerton Xyloma is the face of the carnival, emceeing the shows and often participating in them in various capacities. I wouldn’t call it bad, but it is sometimes marginally unpleasant, and sometimes awkward visuals or an uneven sound mix. I’d probably not like the carnival, but the film is okay.

A Father’s Dream (Documentary Short)

David Finck makes violins. His father had dreamed of becoming a violin maker but never followed through. So when his daughters Ledah and Willa both took the instrument up when they were young, David decided to investigate what it would take to make one from scratch, and it actually turned out really good. It’s a good story, told well and without any extraneous content.

Ten Meter Tower (Documentary Short)

A ten-meter high dive (about 33 feet) is rigged with microphones, and a camera is trained on the platform and kept rolling while regular people realize just how high it is. There’s a lot of hesitation, people psyching themselves up, some jumping, some falling, and some chickening out. It’s simple, funny, and relatable, but one jump in particular goes on too long and makes it lose some of its charm.

Write to Kill (Documentary Short)

Shortly after the school shootings in Columbine, Colorado, Gina Tron caused a similar scare in Barre, Vermont. She was tired of getting bullied, so she wrote a threatening note, which was taken much more seriously than she intended, to the point that they even had armed guards at their prom. It’s a combination of archival footage and interviews, but some of that footage may have been captured a while ago since it certainly doesn’t seem like the interviews feature a woman in her mid-to-late thirties. Unfortunately, the documentary is so low key that it fails to capture the excitement that certainly would have accompanied the actual event.

The Dundee Project (Documentary Short)

A small town in Wisconsin hosts a “UFO Daze” festival, where all the local kooks get together to talk about the UFOs that they’ve all encountered (or hope to encounter). Not surprisingly, many of these people have strong opinions on other matters, like chemtrails as evidence of government weather modification experiments. The video quality is pretty crappy, which does get in the way a bit when we’re looking at the night sky, but that’s nothing compared with the corny, overly-dramatic, thickly accented narration that accompanies the footage.

Troll: A Southern Tale (Documentary Short)

A Mississippi hipster artist (who I’m sure would take offense at being called a hipster) takes pleasure in goading people and making them uncomfortable. And that extends to the audience of this documentary since we’re subjected to multiple selections of his musical compositions and meaningless droning.

This Is Yates (Documentary Short)

I honestly have no idea what this one is about. It seems to be a collection of disparate home movie footage, perhaps all gathered around the area of Fayetteville, North Carolina. There’s a lot of white trash, stupid people doing stupid things, and some just completely incomprehensible (like what may be watering a tree in a cemetery, but I really can’t be sure because of the terrible image quality).

Project X (Documentary Short)

Rami Malek and Michelle Williams read from leaked NSA documents, like a handbook for undercover international travel and a report on domestic surveillance. Directors Laura Poitras (best known for Citizenfour) and Henrik Moltke have what should be an interesting and important documentary, but unfortunately, the visuals are a little dull (mostly footage of cityscapes and driving around), and the background music is so loud that it occasionally almost drowns out the narration.

Ape Sodom (Narrative Short)

A douchey Danny McBride-type guy (who’s totally certain that he’s the greatest person who has ever lived, but is very much not that) hires a homeless man to be his slave. It’s dull at times, but that’s preferable to the unpleasantness that accompanies other scenes (and especially one involving a somewhat exotic sexual act).

Conquistadorks (Narrative Short)

An animated story that imagines the voyage that Hernán Cortés took to the New World and his encounter with the Aztecs upon his arrival. I’m willing to bet that there are plenty of historical inaccuracies, but it’s very funny and tightly paced.

Doll Power (Narrative Short)

Tessa is given a genie doll by Barbara Eden. But even more interesting than the doll’s provenance is its magical abilities. It gives Tessa the power to blink in the style of a certain television genie and make things happen simply by wishing for them. It’s a fun, sweet film that’s clearly a family effort and is a joy to watch.

Here Lies Joe (Narrative Short)

Joe is a new attendee at the local Suicide Anonymous meeting, where he meets other people with suicidal tendencies, like the woman who tried to overdose on multivitamins. And like Z, who’s definitely going to kill herself, just as soon as she’s able to make the perfect suicide note. Soon, Joe and Z are hanging out together and sharing their neuroses with each other. It’s a very well done film, but it does go in the expected direction, and it feels like it could be a bit shorter.

Killed in Action (Narrative Short)

Rick and Don served together in World War II. Rick came back but Don didn’t, and now Rick feels that it’s his duty to visit Don’s widow Alice to tell her what happened. It’s a solid film that doesn’t go where you’d expect, which is refreshing.

Sure-Fire (Narrative Short)

Benny Boon is a con man with a lot of schemes in play, but they’re just not paying off. He owes a lot of money to a guy who really wants that debt paid, so Benny hatches a new plan. He sees that former actress Kitty Kinkaid is looking to make a comeback, and he’s sure that he can sell her a script that would be perfect for that. But he can’t write, so he places an ad for a screenwriter and gets a lot of interesting applicants. It’s a surprisingly fun film, although the premise (and especially how Benny will be able to profit from it) isn’t fully revealed until the end.

The Man from Death (Narrative Short)

Stryder has a magical list that can tell the future. He and his companion Sergio keep getting themselves into trouble in the old west, but the list always seems to get them out of it. It’s a reasonably fun movie, but it’s too stylized in a way that that quickly starts to get annoying.

The Lure

Silver and Golden are sisters. They’re also mermaids. A nightclub owner finds them and wants to put them in a show where they sing and strip. And that’s just fine with them since they’re very good singers and have no problems with nudity. They also seem happy enough making the transformation between human and mermaid in public. But Silver has decided that she wants to become human, and that may put both of them in jeopardy.

This is definitely the best Polish mermaid musical that I’ve seen, although it seems to reinvent itself a couple of times over its relatively short runtime, which leads to it feeling somewhat uneven. It starts off very lighthearted and highly musical, but over time becomes much more serious and much less straightforward.


Dayveon is a thirteen-year-old boy who recently lost his brother to gang violence. And now he finds himself being initiated into that same gang. At first, it’s just companionship, but it soon progresses into him participating in the gang’s activities, much to the chagrin of his sister’s boyfriend who is trying to serve as Dayveon’s adult male role model.

It’s hard to believe that this movie is only 75 minutes since it feels much longer than that. Some of that may be because it’s often very hard to understand the dialogue, full of slang and mumbling. But it also feels like there are entire scenes with no purpose whatsoever. There are definitely moments in which it’s very effective, but there are too many that aren’t for my taste.


Derek Cho is a lawyer who’s doing a very good job at moving up the ladder at his firm, especially after his instrumental work in helping a big client beat a murder rap. But office politics are very serious business, and the people at the top don’t have any qualms about stepping on the people beneath them. When one of his superiors screws up, Derek finds himself the scapegoat, and he’s fired without much hesitation. But before he can be kicked out, the building is quarantined as a result of a viral infection that puts emotional reactions on overdrive. The building is overrun with fighting and violence, and, in the midst of that, Derek is determined to make his way to the top floor so he can help the executives see the error of their ways. Along the way, he’s accompanied by an angry woman who also feels that she’s been mistreated by the firm, but since he’s been her main point of contact with the company, her ire is directed as strongly at him as it is for anything else.

This is what The Belko Experiment should have been. Mayhem is a highly violent film in an office building, but it’s not as predictable or as stupid as Belko. It’s very funny, full of action, and loaded with gore, but not so stupid that it becomes hard to swallow. This is one I look forward to revisiting, and I hope I get the chance to do so in the near future.