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At the five-year mark, the independent Rosebud Awards seem to be succumbing to a fate similar to that of the more renowned Sundance Festival. That is, they’re in danger of being usurped by professionals. Where formerly Rosebud was a showcase for the devoutly non-narrative and the fiercely artistic, offering short, homemade “statements,” this year’s program boasts several dramatic features and ready-for-PBS productions. One entry was even shot at Culver Studios in La La Land.
This is not an entirely unwelcome development. Just surprising. Many of these people managed to acquire sizable budgets. To be sure, there is representation from the all-black-wardrobe contingent. But even the quirky and the artsy flaunt impressive production values and seem at least slightly interested in flirting with the concepts of entertainment and accessibility.
Has that tired phrase “Hollywood on the Potomac” become true? Has whatever distinctive vision D.C. may have already fallen victim to Tinseltown’s evil influence? Not entirely. Not yet.
The most ambitious and polished entry is Ed Sherman, Tom Harris, and Margot Gerber’s feature, Eli’s Coming, about the Bicentennial bar mitzvah of a boy torn between the various squabbling factions of his family and his own religious doubts. When Eli struggles to master so much Hebrew, his Uncle Sol cheerily advises him to “have some fun with it.” There are many funny lines (“He’s been brainwashed into free thinking”) and the cast is uniformly good. Dramatically, however, Eli alternates between lively and flabby, suggesting that the story would have worked better as a short.
A short that’s just the right length is Michael P. Brinkman’s Young Men at Sea. Making very clever use of archival footage and home movies, Brinkman recounts his Navy career and though no one asked, we’re glad he told.
Jane Buckwalter’s Not Baking is also confessional, about a woman who has managed to survive without an oven in her house. Her friends face the camera to express amazement and/or jealousy. As the husband explains, “Domestic agendas take a backseat to our artistic and political agendas.” Of course, a new oven is on the way, so that may change.
J.I. Jolles’ Your Montana Vacation Tour of the World’s Wonders Starts With This Coupon, is barely longer than the title, but worth the journey. Shot on 8mm film and presented as multiple split-screen—including found footage of Abbott & Costello and professional wrestling—Jolles wryly and affectionately recounts a visit with his brother in Big Sky country.
In God’s Trombone George Kachadorian and Sarah George offer a video vision quest. Sticking their camera in Roadside America’s face from sea to chattering sea, they have taken the throbbing pulse of the nation. Quite a broad cross-section of citizens—street people, cops, farmers, architects, Methodist ministers, the aged, and the embarrassingly young—speak their minds on a wide-ranging number of topics. If PBS gets any more funding, this would make an interesting series.
A group of Hart Junior High students also hit the streets in search of answers, but they stay closer to home and have but a single question: Wha’s in Mumbo Sauce!?. As you might imagine, there are answers here to everything except the question they posed, but Jojo Q. Oji, Ricardo Hodge, and Dwight “Kunta” Jones’ spirited exploration is a reminder of the importance of arts funding in schools.
Gabriel’s Dream is Eduardo Sanchez’s feature version of his 1994 Rosebud entry. Overly earnest, Dream seems to aspire to be a kind of Glengarry Glen Burnie, but is a bit sluggish and vague as to who Gabriel is and why we should care about his dream.
Wargasm: A Celebration of Death, Farzin A. Illich’s “semiotic essay” is just the type of annoying excess that characterized too much ofRosebud in years past. Juxtaposing handheld video footage shot during the post-Gulf War festivities on the Mall with Nazi imagery and TV commercials, Illich tries awfully hard to invoke outrage over Desert Storm and American duplicity. But his imagined irony is far too pat and easy to be the slightest bit effective. Yeah, war is hell. No one is completely innocent. And Pennsylvania Avenue is not Brandenburg Tor.
Eugene Wooden’s finely edited Voices Against Violence, on the other hand, offers a compelling example of how to confront an issue directly and artistically. Highly styled visually (“Funky and rhythmic like an EU jam,” to quote the soundtrack), Voices presents a variety of rappers and poets addressing the deteriorating urban landscape. Their points of view are clear-eyed and precise, with promises of hope.
As always, what is most refreshing about the ‘buds are the many glimpses of Washington onscreen. From the harrowing and humorous ‘hoods of Voices and Mumbo Sauce, to the faux funkiness of Cleveland Park in Found by Chance, to Under the Overpass‘ rustic Virginia byways, this is a more interesting place than is seen in Hollywood films—or even the local TV news.
The Fifth Annual Rosebud Film and Video Competition will screen at the Biograph theater in two separate programs on Saturday, March 25, and Sunday, March 26, from noon to 5:30 p.m. And the winner is…find out April 2 at the Fifth Colvmn.