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With 123 features and numerous shorts, experimental films and other programs vying for people’s attention, following are just a few promising offerings to keep an eye on.
Chasing Ghosts (Documentary Competition)
In a section loaded with socially and politically minded films about racism, global warming, religious intolerance and the war in Iraq, this documentary about the 1982 World Video Game Championships promises to be a much-needed palate cleanser. The event took place at the Twin Galaxies Arcade in Ottumwa, Iowa, the self-proclaimed “video game capital of the world,” after its founder, Walter Day, toured 100 arcades in four months, registered high scores on all the games and brought them back to his arcade. To this day, Day’s record-keeping remains the standard for other classic gamers, many of whom appear in the documentary.
The Nines (Premiere)
Over the past decade, John August has established himself as one of Hollywood’s most sought-after screenwriters, with credits that include 1999’s “Go,” 2000’s “Charlie’s Angels” and recent movies from director Tim Burton, including 2003’s “Big Fish” and 2005’s “Corpse Bride” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” His directorial debut, “The Nines,” sounds a little like “Go” with its densely connected three-pronged story lines, which follow the lives of an actor, a TV showrunner and a highly respected video game designer. Descriptions of the film have been deliberately cryptic, with the vague promise that its characters will intersect in “mysterious and unsettling ways,” but it might be a case where the less that is known about it, the better.
The Pool (Dramatic Competition)
Long revered as a documentary filmmaker, Chris Smith won the Grand Jury Prize at the 1999 festival for his cult favorite “American Movie,” which he followed with two more quirky and irreverent docus, 2002’s “Home Movie” and 2004’s “The Yes Men.” For the first time since his minimalist debut “American Job” in 1995, Smith tries his hand at feature directing with “The Pool,” which tells the peculiar tale of an underage hotel worker who obsesses about a swimming pool at a lavish home in Panjim, Goa, in India. His attempts to interact with the family that owns the pool lead to unexpected ramifications. Far removed from his modest Milwaukee roots, Smith gambles on what will surely be the biggest curveball of his young career.
Year of the Dog (Dramatic Competition)
It was only a matter of time before Mike White — the screenwriter (and occasional star) of acclaimed works such as 2000’s “Chuck & Buck,” 2002’s “The Good Girl,” 2003’s “School of Rock” and the one-season TV wonder “Freaks and Geeks” — stepped behind the camera. Leading a cast that includes John C. Reilly and Peter Sarsgaard, Molly Shannon stars as a happy-go-lucky office drone whose cheery nature gets thrown for a loop when her beloved dog Pencil dies. White plays her painful transformation for the uneasy mix of humor and pathos that has long been his stock in trade.
Zoo (Documentary Competition)
Sight unseen, Robinson Devor’s unconventional documentary has been tagged one of the festival’s most controversial titles for its subject matter alone: the true story of a man who died of a ruptured colon after his ill-advised … um … coupling with a horse in a barn outside Enumclaw, Wash. Devor has assured everyone up front that there will be no footage of the incident itself, but he does seek to answer some lingering questions, not just about the logistics of such an act, but about people involved in the sex ring, the absence of anti-bestiality laws and the libidinal abnormality known as zoophilia. Lest it be written off as pure sensationalism, Devor insists that he’s found a humane and poetic side to the story, and his reputation for uncompromising indies such as 2000’s “The Woman Chaser” and 2006’s “Police Beat” make it especially intriguing.
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