Twisted: A Balloonamentary
EmptySouth By Southwest
AUSTIN -- Festival-goers who showed up for a movie with "animation narration by Jon Stewart" may have felt misled by the catalog description: The fake newsman's spot lasts about two minutes. But few appeared to feel cheated. "Twisted," it turns out, is one of those wide-grin quirkster documentaries one hopes to discover every festival season, a thoroughly winning feature that, despite appearing to be made with the small screen in mind, could hold its own theatrically in the feel-good docu niche.
Centering on the world of professional balloon twisters -- yes, that guy entertaining your kids at the family restaurant can make a living at it -- the picture spends a good deal of time at conventions where the limits of latex-and-hot-air construction are put to the test. Unlike the intensely competitive world viewed in "Spellbound," "Wordplay" and the like, the scene depicted here is one of boundless generosity, where practitioners happily give away the secrets to their best creations, and attendees gather in marathon "jams," whipping shapes out until the wee hours.
Not that competition is completely absent. We get a peek at sculpting contests where the workaday repertoire of animals and funny hats is replaced by incredibly complex, sometimes beautiful one-of-a-kind items: a man-sized shark swimming around a scuba diver; a beautiful geisha with a balloon-weave kimono; a Trojan horse. The possibilities appear to be infinite, and the film enjoys returning periodically for a few new jaw-droppers.
The movie's heart, though, is the collection of characters it follows from the convention floor back into everyday life. While the feature offers little in the way of ongoing suspense, there's plenty of individual drama in the personal histories. Directors Sara Taksler and Naomi Greenfield manage to find people whose lives have actually been changed by balloons: the five-time felon who hopes his new life will keep kids from repeating his mistakes; the molecular biologist who gave up her career to entertain children; the teenaged trailer-park dweller determined to escape poverty, who paid for her braces, a car and a college education by twisting.
Following up on some interviewees' obsessions, "Twisted" detours into such heretofore unheralded specialties as gospel ballooning -- in which balloon crucifixes are employed in sermon-like routines -- and its opposite, the bachelorette-party-friendly techniques known as "adult" twisting.
Co-director Taksler is a staffer at "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," and it looks as if this project began with television in mind. Interviews and location footage are shot in small-screen format and horizontally stretched for movie screens. This does little to help the film's unremarkable look, and is an unnecessary nuisance for those who notice such things. Meanwhile, "Twisted" is charming enough that it shouldn't be hobbled by modest production values.
TWISTED: A BALLOONAMENTARY
Eliot Lives Prods.
Directors: Sara Taksler, Naomi Greenfield
Producers: Sara Taksler, Naomi Greenfield
Executive producers: Lauren Versel, Nick Rotondo
Directors of photography: Sara Taksler, Naomi Greenfield
Music: Mayfair Workshop
Editors: Sara Taksler, Naomi Greenfield
Running time -- 79 minutes
No MPAA rating