Like the Navy Seals, the one thing the annual Atlanta Underground Film Festival (AUFF) always profits from is the element of surprise. While the AUFF movies fit within traditional genres like documentary or narrative, in terms of content they often pack a mighty wallop. And this year's festival is as all-over-the-map as ever, though the following are special standouts in terms of vanguard content and visual inventiveness.
This twisted little Australian gem unfolds like a John Waters spin on The Cat in the Hat. Two sheltered, nerdy siblings, Carole (Polly Stanton) and Pim (Michael Burkett) find their home invaded one peaceful night by a controlling, but oddly maternal transvestite named Nancy Nancy (Tim Burns). Nancy Nancy forces them to defecate in a tiny cat box, listen to her deranged lovemaking with a featherbrained boy toy and obey her ever-increasing catalog of bizarre whims.
Inspired lunacy through and through assures us that the avant-garde spirit of Paul Morrissey and Jack Smith lives on.
Sat., Aug. 26, 7:30 p.m., CineFest Theater at Georgia State University, Suite 240, University Center, 66 Courtland St.
Dance Party, USA
Portland director Aaron Katz's film makes Gus Van Sant's teen world immersion in Elephant look positively verbose. Much like the adolescence-fixated Larry Clark, Katz is captivated by the abrupt, jagged, incoherent miscommunication that defines teenage conversations. His film gets fly-on-the-wall close to two high school beauties, Jessica (Anna Kavan) and Gus (Cole Pennsinger). The pair represents the Grand Canyon gulf between teenage boy and teenage girl sexuality. But gulfs are meant to be bridged, and amid prolonged teenage inarticulateness and the kind of longueurs that will leave action fans contemplating a straight razor, something sweet and unexpected happens.
Fri., Aug. 25, 9:15 p.m., CineFest
"Do You Want the Elephant Music?"
In the lexicon of circus kitsch, clowns have been cheerful, scary and sad, but never like they are in this gorgeous, 17-minute short film (included on a bill of documentary shorts) that is so illustrative of life's ordinary cruelty and loneliness. South African director Leslie Dektor started out in documentary but has since moved on to a maverick career in advertising, creating slick television commercials for clients like Ford Motors and Dove. Using footage shot 30 years ago at a South African circus, Dektor has assembled an exquisite and inventive meditation on circus life told in slo-mo, extreme close-ups and voice-over glimpses into the interior life of its subjects. The strong man, the clown, the lion tamer and the midget talk about the circus as a kind of psychological bondage, but also as the only life they have ever known or want to know.
Thurs., Aug. 24. Program begins at 6:30 p.m. Eyedrum Art and Music Gallery, Suite 8, 290 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive
East of Euclid
Blending the garage-baroque visual style of Guy Maddin with the deadpan quirkiness of Aki Kaurismaki, Canadian filmmaker Jeff Solylo follows the travails of Villosh (Michael O'Sullivan), a former KGB agent stranded in the frigid wasteland of Winnipeg. From his home in a dreary pierogi factory, the compulsive gambler dreams of escaping Canada and rolling the dice in Atlantic City.
When a Finnish hockey star (Miles Boisselle) blows into town, Villosh sees his opportunity. He and his brutish henchmen embark on a kidnapping plot that -- in a unique blend of film noir and Russian lit -- steadily goes awry. Solylo served as art director on several of Maddin's better films (including Archangel and Careful). And, like his mentor, Solylo emphasizes the little technical imperfections (clumsy miniature sets, scratchy vintage records, awkward dubbing) that add texture to the low-budget film and provide morsels of amusement to viewers who savor the language of cinema.
Sat. Aug. 26, 4:30 p.m., CineFest
Like sex, lies, and videotape done in 10 minutes, "Hombre Kabuki" is a tale of sexual and romantic negotiation. The film from California director Leo Age in the Drama Shorts program opens as a kinky fantasy. A man brings home a leather Mexican wrestling mask and asks his lover to put it on. The woman argues; the mask becomes a bone of contention until she finally gives in. Sex is virtually guaranteed, but the film keeps circling back instead to talk about intimacy and trust in a long-term relationship.
Fri., Aug. 25. Program begins at 7 p.m. Eyedrum Art and Music Gallery
"Tristesse," "Love Me, Love Me, Love Me" and "Take Good Care of Me"
On the Experimental Shorts program, former Atlantan Eric Potter's three moody and impressively assembled films take on a roster of complaints from a post-thirtysomething crowd of hipsters, including splintering relationships, self-doubt and sexual anxiety, with far more visual panache and emotional depth than usually attends such suffering.
Thurs., Aug. 24. Program begins at 10:30 p.m. Eyedrum Art and Music Gallery
For additional films and screening information, visit www.auff.org.