Cara de Queso: Mi Primer Ghetto

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Now in its 10th year, the D.C. Independent Film Festival is bookended by nostalgia trips: It kicks off on March 6 with a feature riffing on John Ford’s The Searchers and ends on March 16 with The Clash Live: Revolution Rock, which captures the punk act from 1978 to 1982. But in between, DCIFF is still all over the place, stuffed with more than 100 shorts, features, and documentaries, plus festival musts: filmmaker seminars and panels. For the second straight year there’s a music festival attached, and once again everything is happening in one place: George Washington University’s Jack Morton Auditorium, 805 21st St. NW. See dciff.org for more information.

Searchers 2.0
Thursday, March 6, 7 p.m.

Alex Cox’s bizarre but engaging meta-feature is a road movie, revenge film, Western, and tongue-in-cheek commentary on all three genres. Mel (Del Zamora) and Fred (Ed Pansullo) are former child actors who discover they have a shared enemy in screenwriter Fritz (Sy Richardson), who used a whip as an on-set motivational tool back when they were kids. With the help of Mel’s daughter, Delilah (Jaclyn Jonet), they shove off for Arizona, where they believe Fritz is lurking. Monument Valley has been the setting for loads of Westerns—including the 1956 classic from which Cox borrows his film’s title—and it looks as gorgeous here as ever, even in DV. Much like Cox’s cult classic Repo Man, Searchers 2.0 is stuffed with in-jokes, ironic asides, and critiques of mass culture; the storytelling is B-movie loose and unserious (Roger Corman produced), though how much fun you’ll have is likely a function of how much you care about the film culture that the characters obsess over. —MA

C Red Blue J
Friday, March 7, 7 p.m.

Christopher Sollars wants to figure out why his family is so politically divided—he’s an arty San Francisco liberal and his mom’s a lesbian, while his dad’s a born-again Christian and his sister is a Dubya cheerleader working for the Department of Energy. Using home movies, photos, interviews with his family, old political ads, and footage from the 2004 election, Sollars assembles a collage film that attempts to locate connections between American political scandals and his family’s dysfunction. (His parents’ divorce, for instance, is discussed amid footage of Iran-Contra.) This is a clever conceit for a 20-minute film; the 80-plus-minute film Sollars wound up making is overstuffed and a chore to watch. Mondale ads didn’t accomplish anything in 1984; what makes Sollars think they’ll work any better now? —MA

Blood, Boobs & Beast
Friday, March 7, 10 p.m.

The title tells you all a low-budget horror flick requires to get decent distribution, according to the subjects of John Paul Kinhart’s documentary, which follows the filmmaking careers of Baltimore-based director Don Dohler and his partner Joe Ripple. The film covers the typical shooting-a-B-movie-on-a-shoestring-budget territory. But the real focus here isn’t the artistic challenge of creating a marketable independent film without selling out one’s principles—it is, unfortunately (and perhaps unintentionally), on Dohler’s personal life, which is beset by tragedy. —MB

Disfigured
Saturday, March 8, 4:30 p.m.

Lydia is obese, and Darcy is anorexic—can these two women conquer their body issues and find friendship in a world full of cruel stares and stereotypes? You bet they can, though not without some clunky plotting on the part of writer-director Glenn Gers (who wrote the screenplays for last year’s Fracture and the recent Mad Money). Deidra Edwards is excellent as Lydia, who breaks away from her fat-acceptance support group to gather some walking buddies on Venice Beach; her soliloquies about weight are honest and engaging without feeling like lectures, and her sex scene with an admiring big guy is as hot as anything a pair of swimsuit models could whip up. The problem is rail-thin Staci Lawrence, trapped in a role that asks her to be at once sincere about the damage her disease has caused—yet blithely eager to give Lydia “anorexia lessons.” Nutrition experts will likely send Gers angry letters; everybody else will get a modest lift from a feel-good film that’s trying too hard. —MA

Ruby Blue
Saturday, March 8, 7 p.m.

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Writer-director Jan Dunn’s melodrama stars Bob Hoskins as a man going to seed in the British coastal town of Ramsgate—his wife is recently dead, his son is bitter and withholds the grandkids, and he’s a magnet for the mockery of local teens. Nothing a precocious child can’t fix: Once Florrie (Jessica Stewart) arrives to ask, “Why does everybody call you Grumpy Jack?” it’s clear that Ruby Blue is yet another entry in the cute-kid-as-redeemer genre. But it’s a better-than-average one: Dunn’s script is filled out with a host of characters and subplots that nicely detail working-class life (Josiane Balasko is especially good as a middle-aged French matron), and Hoskins’ performance improves on the script. Drawing on some of the dark energy he mastered in films like The Long Good Friday, he refuses to let Jack degrade into a Hallmark card. —MA

Praxis
Saturday, March 8, 9:45 p.m.

Brian, the protagonist of Alex Pacheco’s debut feature film, Praxis, isn’t all there—literally. He’s a ghost of sorts, bouncing amid locales, memories, and the space-time continuum as he searches for his true self, among many other mysteries of the universe. Confused yet? You will be. And the lofty subjects tackled in Praxis—including, but not limited to, sexual identity, pharmacology, the Protean myth, the search for meaning in one’s life, and the possibility of life on other worlds—aren’t done any favors by the film’s non-narrative structure. You can’t fault the director for lack of ambition, but Praxis gets lost in its own headiness. The result, is, well, just a headache. —MB

The Big Question
Sunday, March 9, 1:30 p.m.

It takes less than a minute for spiritual guru Deepak Chopra to appear in Vince DiPersio’s The Big Question—and when he does, he offers up this bit of New Age wisdom: “There is no one who is violent who has not been violated. There is no one who is a terrorist who has not been terrorized.” Deep words, Deepak, and words that set DiPersio’s audience up for this exercise in liberal guilt masquerading as a documentary on the healing power of forgiveness. By the time Chopra follows up with an equally embarrassing, “There is no person that cannot be cured by love,” it’s almost impossible not to see the film’s collection of interviewees—which also includes Ravi Shankar, Desmond Tutu, and a handful of people who share their stories of tragic loss and reconciliation—through the eyes of a death-penalty-happy conservative. Sure, you may be able to forgive DiPersio for assembling such infuriatingly over-earnest tripe, but you’ll never forgive yourself for watching it. —MB

Angelica’s Dreams
Sunday, March 9, 7 p.m.

Whoops! In a year when the housing market is getting repeatedly punched in the neck, here’s a film with a hard sell on the virtues of homeownership. Rodrigo Dorfman’s feature is the story of Angelica (Banu Valladares) and Roberto (Miguel Chirinos), husband-and-wife Latino immigrants who are grinding out a living in North Carolina; he works at a supermarket and a construction site, while she balances cleaning houses with ESL classes. Angelica begins planning to buy a home after learning she’s pregnant, despite the protestations of Roberto, who stashes money under the floorboards and dreams of moving back to their home country. What follows is largely a primer on home-buying dos and don’ts disguised as a relationship drama (the Latino Community Credit Union commissioned it); Chirinos and Valladares do what they can, but back-and-forths about loan structures and down payments aren’t much fun. —MA

Unraveling Michelle
Monday, March 10, 8 p.m.

Joe O’Ferrell is a successful independent filmmaker, but he has an even larger aspiration: He wants to be a successful female independent filmmaker. So begins Dan Shaffer’s documentary, which chronicles O’Ferrell’s male-to-female sex change operation and its effect on his personal and professional life. The transition is obviously a big deal for O’Ferrell, but Shaffer is unable to turn it into a compelling film. In fact, there’s very little unraveling going on in Unraveling Michelle—unless, of course, you want to count the film itself, which derails into a series of ho-hum interviews and hospital scenes accompanied by a groan-inducing soundtrack (including Neil Diamond’s “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon”). For a film about the touchy subject of gender reassignment, its analysis is regrettably skin deep. —MB

Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story
Friday, March 14, 9:30 p.m.

Whether it was buzzing seats, inflatable skeletons levitating across the theater, or “death by fright” insurance offered to audience members, film producer William Castle always had a gimmick that made his schlocky horror films a must-see. Jeffrey Schwarz’s documentary Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story—which chronicles the life and work of the Jewish filmmaker during the ’50s and ’60s—doesn’t have any such gimmicks, but it doesn’t need any: Castle’s infectious attitude, promotional creativity, and chutzpah are more than enough to carry the film. Talking-head interviews with family members and contemporary film directors such as John Waters, meanwhile, provide a more in-depth look at the motivations and aspirations of the “last great American showman” in Hollywood. —MB

Cara de Queso: Mi Primer Ghetto
Saturday, March 15, 7 p.m.

Ariel Winograd’s autobiographical feature is set in 1993 in the Stag, a gated community for Argentine Jews outside Buenos Aires. There’s trouble brewing underneath the enclave’s surface of impossibly blue swimming pools and manicured lawns, though the tension is mostly played for laughs: The film opens soberly, with the neighborhood fat kid getting pissed on by a bully, but what follows focuses on the attempts by Ariel (Sebastian Montagna) and his buddies to escape their parents’ supervision, get laid, and generally come of age. Writer-director Winograd’s story is busy, with about a dozen characters to keep track of, but he successfully juggles the details, and the film’s lightened with some nicely framed seriocomic set pieces, such as a scene where two girls chat about their romantic ambitions, oblivious to the man having a heart attack behind them. —MA