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Broadcast DVD presents
"'Independence' really just means, 'Do you get the movie that you want on the screen at the end of the day?'"
DVD ReviewFilm-Fest 4: Sundance 2000 & Hawaii is the fourth issue of Broadcast DVD's disc-based "interactive movie magazine." This issue focuses on the Sundance 2000 festival, with numerous interviews and clips gathered at the famous independent film mecca, and also covers the Hawaii International Film Festival; several fine short films and clips from upcoming movies are also included. Menus are nicely designed and fairly navigable, with short full-motion clips of film industry people and events recorded at Sundance 2000 on the main menus. The magazine is organized into four sections:
The "Feature Articles" menus include clips of Robert Redford and Kevin Smith; the articles themselves are interesting but brief. Each features an optional "Fest-Facts" subtitle track with additional info and trivia, and further text screen notes are provided for each:
SUNDANCE IN SECONDS:
A somewhat incoherent sampling of short clips from Sundance 2000, interspersed with snowboarding footage set to driving rock music.
Brief interviews recorded at the Hawaii Film Festival.
SURFING FOR LIFE:
Clips and interviews with the directors and cast of Surfing for Life, an interesting-looking documentary about geriatric wave-riders.
The "Festival Shorts" menu features clips of the Awards ceremony at Sundance, leading to four complete short films gathered from the festival circuit, each with production notes and alternate audio interview/commentary tracks:
Call Me Fishmael
A 2-1/2 minute character animation piece from 1997 about a frenetic stick-figure pitching his big movie idea, with video footage of the "finished film" as the punchline. Nice color animation under Steve Dovas' direction, though the joke itself isn't that funny.
A nearly-silent nine-minute German comedy short from 1999 about a young man whose younger siblings inadvertently create a Voodoo doll in his likeness, complicating his attempts to acquaint himself with a pretty young woman at the library. An entertaining concept, well-executed by director/writer Christian Ditter in black-and-white.
A slick if somewhat obvious three-and-a-half-minute 1999 black-and-white piece about elephants staging a dramatic protest against their own species' endangerment by jumping from tall city buildings. Director Steven Katz draws excellent model work, seamless compositing and realistic animation from his talented technical crew.
Joel Hopkins directed this 1998 black-and-white half-hour short about George, a shy travel agency worker who falls for Alicia, a Hispanic temp worker at his office. He imagines himself as an assertive, macho hero from a Spanish-language TV soap opera in amusing Walter Mitty-esque sequences, but finally must rely on his own shaky self-confidence to express his feelings for her. Nicely paced and performed, this film is unabashedly sweet and romantic, very funny without being tasteless or cynical.
The "Interviews" menu features a clip of Kevin Spacey discussing his pre-acting days and leads to five interview segments, each with text notes and one or two "extra" clips recorded at the same sessions but edited out of the "primary" selections:
Alan Rudolph, Nathan Lane, Emily Watson and Nick Nolte discuss the forthcoming Trixie, with additional clips about the barely-released Breakfast of Champions and Nathan Lane's first visit to Sundance.
Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols rambles on but doesn't say much of significance, with bleeped-out obscenities and two "extra" clips from the same shoot.
Heather Graham and colleagues from Committed talk about the film; it turns out she's not terribly articulate "in person," though the additional clip about her Lost In Space experience is entertaining.
British actress Brenda Blethyn discusses Saving Grace and her work with Billy Bob Thornton ("extra" segment). She's pleasant to listen to, and visibly tickled at her growing success late in her career as an actress.
Dave Foley has great fun and displays his sharp sense of humor discussing the orphaned Hollywood Pictures movie The Wrong Guy; in two additional segments, he discusses his work with the late Phil Hartman and the last days of the Kids in the Hall.
The "Coming Soon" menu features Human Traffic director Justin Kerrigan talking about his film's acquisition by Miramax, leading to trailers and clips for three forthcoming independent films, each with production notes:
SIX DAYS IN ROSEWELL:
A new documentary from the director of Trekkies concerning the alien-oriented gatherings in Roswell, New Mexico. It's a standard promotional trailer, nicely put together.
Two short clips from what looks to be an interesting UK-produced slacker/drug comedy, directed by Justin Kerrigan.
Three brief clips from a Spanish-language drama about a young boy's life—hard to assess from the samples here, though the photography is gorgeous.
Film-Fest 4 is nicely produced, but as a magazine it's a little light on content and context, feeling like an independent Entertainment Tonight despite its extensive use of DVD's interactive capabilities. Its video features cover a lot of ground, but none of the subjects gets much attention or introduction—the "Fest-Facts" subtitle track supports the Featured Articles nicely but is nowhere to be found in the other sections, and while informative text screens are provided to supplement each and every major menu selection, these don't show up when watching the magazine in its most convenient, hands-free mode from beginning to end.
The disc's advertising presence is unsubtle—there are several commercials from Film-Fest's sponsors interspersed throughout the disc (I wish they were separated more from the editorial content) and the noisy menus are laid out like Web pages, with animated "banner ads" at the right side of the screen. The short film selections are valuable, and I enjoyed the brief articles, but Film-Fest 4 isn't as meaty as a print magazine, nor as vibrant as a video magazine can be. It's somewhere in between and hasn't quite hit its stride yet, but I applaud the effort and look forward to more.
Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: Broadcast DVD's Film-Fest 4 disc presents all material in its original apsect ratio, ranging from 1.33:1 full-frame to 2.35:1 widescreen as needed (none of the widescreen material is anamorphic). Most of the interview footage was shot on film or recorded on video and modified for a "film look," giving it a pleasingly soft-edged quality, though color occasionally appears faded. There are scan line artifacts visible in some of the converted video footage, and two of the short films exhibit significant grain. The digital transfer handles this range of material competently, with a few compression artifacts here and there but no major flaws that can't be attributed to less-than-ideal sources.
Image Transfer Grade: C+
Audio Transfer Review: Film-Fest 4 uses Dolby Digital 2.0 audio throughout, usually set up to decode as monophonic sound, though a few segments use 2.0 surround. Some of the "live" material carries audible LFE-level atmospheric hiss and rumble, and the Sundance 2000 clips of official speakers generally have poor sound, with voices hard to hear amidst significant competition. Most of the "on the spot" audio suffers from noise and volume inconsistencies, and the magazine menu screens are marred by excessive, overlaid sound effects (some from the "banner ads"). The short films fare better, with generally clean sound and some nice bass effects on Enchanted, so the digital transfer doesn't seem to be at fault. Recording live is always a challenge and can't be expected to match a controlled studio environment, but some of this material is downright irritating to listen to.
Audio Transfer Grade: C-
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Six Days in Roswell
My only complaint is that these neat features aren't better-integrated with Film-Fest 4's articles—they provide valuable background for the video clips, but it's not immediately apparent that they even exist (the otherwise useful "Help" main menu option doesn't explicitly mention these features for DVD-ROM or DVD Players, though the paper insert does). A "Credits" option lists and thanks all the folks involved with the production, with snapshots of staff members and Sundance 2000 attendees.
PC DVD-ROM users can also play with a neat technology called "Fest-Cam 360," allowing mouse-driven navigation of 360-degree footage shot at Sundance 2000 in a Quicktime VR-like environment using MOVING footage. I was not able to test this out, but it sounds interesting and innovative.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsFilm-Fest 4: Sundance 2000 & Hawaii is valuable "DVD Magazine" viewing for anyone with an interest in independent film and filmmakers. The four short films included are enough to make the disc worthwhile, and the interviews and documentary pieces are brief but interesting. Some patience is required to sort out the "good stuff" from the fluff, and the advertisements aren't as transparent as I'd like, but the ads do support this publication's extremely low price. At about $5 per issue for subscribers, Film-Fest is not a bad DVD deal at all.
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