It's Over, Now What? By Ian Maxton


For my final post on Hobnobben, I would like first to say thank you. To anyone who attended, to everyone who worked on making the fest great, and to those of you who have stumbled across my musings here and taken the time to read or comment: thank you.

But this doesn’t have to end. If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you have a membership to Cinema Center (if not, rectify that: Cinema Center Memberships)



The good news is that their Summer Documentary Series kicks off today with Dark Horse, the closing night film at Hobnobben. And even if you don’t have a membership, come on out to these films. They will be showing Weiner, De Palma, Tickled, Music of Strangers, and even a one-time screening of another Hobnobben film: Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made.

You can find dates for all of that here: Cinema Center Upcoming Films.

Be sure to keep an eye on Cinema Center’s calendar all throughout the year. No one else in this city is bringing us such daring, interesting, and challenging films. If we want to keep that going (and we do; we do), we have to speak up with our dollars and our voices. Go see movies. Bring your friends. Buy some popcorn. Or a beer. I will probably see you there.



And if you like discussing and reading about films, check out the Three Shot Podcast.

It’s made locally and features some really great discussion week after week.

Another great podcast is The Next Picture Show.



This one is unique in the way it pairs an older film with a new release.

If podcasts aren’t your thing, I find myself reading all over the internet about movies, but especially stuff at Bright Wall/Dark RoomIndiewire, and The A.V. Club.

Don’t forget to follow Cinema Center and Hobnobben on their various social media channels for announcements and showtimes and more movie-related info. I am also on social media, if you wish to subject yourself to it. My Twitter handle is @attheimax, and I am on Medium at medium.com/@ianmaxton. I talk about movies, but also other stuff. Sorry in advance.

Keep watching movies and sharing them. It is my sincerest hope that we can all get together next year at this time and do it all again.





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Favorite Films Pt. 2. "The Fits" by Ian Maxton

While a huge range of films screened at Hobnobben this past weekend – and I had the privilege of seeing many of them – instead of writing short pieces on each of the films I saw, I thought I would pick two favorites. These films were not only great on their own, but also emblematic of what made the festival as a whole so fantastic.

For starters, they both happen to be directed by women. This was not a conscious effort on my part – it just so happens these two were my favorites from the fest – but it was a conscious effort on the part of Hobnobben to include a diverse array of filmmakers. Needless to say, it paid off. So with no further fanfare, some thoughts on one of my favorite films from Hobnobben 2016. (This is the second of two reviews. Scroll down for the first.)



As we move through life, it becomes a matter of habit, of survival even, to categorize things, people, and experiences. In the swirling chaos of existence, we fix safe moorings, which tether us to the familiar, the understood. These tethers multiply and we begin to believe that we have a firm grasp on the universe. Of course, we are always being proven wrong. But instead of spinning off into space, most of us simply fasten more tethers – sometimes pretending to understand, other times reaching genuine understanding. With age, we tend to detach ourselves as much as possible from the baffling strangeness of life. Among the many reasons why I think it is great, one is that The Fits is a film that seeks to make the world strange to us again.

The film tells the story of a young girl named Toni. It takes place almost entirely in and around an urban recreation center. Toni visits the place daily with her brother, immersing herself in the masculine world of boxing. She trains alongside her older brother and his male cohorts. Across the hall from the boxing gym, the Lionesses train. They dance as intensely as the boxers train. Their world is exclusively feminine. Toni finds herself increasingly drawn to this feminine world, a world she can see herself belonging in. Shortly after she joins the Lionesses, the older girls on the team begin experiencing unexplained seizures. The rest of the film follows the consequences of these fits as they spread through the dance team.



The setup for the film is peculiar, but relatively simple. However, director Anna Rose Holmer’s cinematic choices imbue the world with a dark strangeness. Early in the film, she shoots dueling dancers in tight close up. She utilizes slow motion to make the smooth, kinetic dancing resemble the titular fits. Each muscle spasm and strand of whipping hair is given a life separate from the body. The focus on the component parts of human movement serves to make these undulating bodies alien. The dance moves and the athletic movement of the boxers are shot in this way and the resulting effect is one which makes these “normal” movements hardly dissimilar from the “abnormal” fits.

Holmer also utilizes static framing to establish the organized and regimented space of the rec center. The geometry of basketball gym floors and rows of fluorescent lighting is broken when Holmer’s camera tethers itself to young girls running with youthful abandon through the halls, or when it follows Toni up and down the steps of the pedestrian bridge outside the rec center.



As more girls succumb to the fits, Toni’s alienation from them is expressed through shots which focus on the physical space that grows between her and her teammates. This fear and alienation is further emphasized by the score of taut strings which crescendo menacingly in the soundtrack. At 72 minutes, no beat in the film overstays its purpose. Tension builds visually and aurally until it breaks in the ecstatic finale of the film. Here, the abstract, arrhythmic string section is replaced by the trip-hop inflected song “Aurora” by Kiah Victoria: https://vimeo.com/121740441

The dramatic tension of the film finds its source in Toni’s search for belonging. She tries to negotiate the troubling lines between male and female spaces while struggling through her own adolescence. While the fits are a perhaps too-obvious metaphor for the girls’ entry into womanhood, this is somewhat mitigated by their mysterious nature in the plot. Nameless, faceless adults scramble around trying to explain and cure them, but they come up empty.

In their search for rational explanations, the adults forget that the world is profoundly strange and often unexplainable. For the adolescents at the center of the story, the strangeness of the world is central to their reality – the world, and their selves, are mostly unknown. Toni spends the film trying to figure out who she is and where she fits (pun intended). The end of the film offers a bright glimmer of a beginning for the answers to these questions.



After the film, the audience was treated to a panel discussion on diversity in filmmaking. And while I won’t do a disservice to the gracious panelists by clumsily attempting to summarize their thoughtful sentiments, I will say that The Fits is proof (not that we should need it) that more diverse filmmakers leads directly to more interesting and varied modes of filmmaking. As some of the panelists after the film noted, a film like The Fits cannot exist within the nexus of Hollywood, not only because of its fierce strange-ness (both narratively and visually), but also because of its commitment to amplifying the voices of women and of women of color in particular. As more and more people begin to consider and discuss diversity in filmmaking (as well they should), it is important to remember that small films are always at the vanguard, more beholden to artistry than market interests. Taking a chance with your ticket dollars on daring films like this is often surprising and pleasurable. Not only that, it pushes back on the endless stream of hegemonic Hollywood films, opening up more space for brilliant, diverse, daring, and strange movies like The Fits.





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Favorite Films Pt. 1 "Nuts!" by Ian Maxton

While a huge range of films screened at Hobnobben this past weekend – and I had the privilege of seeing many of them – instead of writing short pieces on each of the films I saw, I thought I would pick two favorites. These films were not only great on their own, but also emblematic of what made the festival as a whole so fantastic.

For starters, they both happen to be directed by women. This was not a conscious effort on my part – it just so happens these two were my favorites from the fest – but it was a conscious effort on the part of Hobnobben to include a diverse array of filmmakers. Needless to say, it paid off. So with no further fanfare, some thoughts on one of my favorite films from Hobnobben 2016. (I’ll be back here tomorrow talking about the other one)




In the early 1920s, a doctor by the name of John Romulus Brinkley pioneered an
impotence cure for men by transplanting goat testicles to, ahem, assist the ineffective organs which the men already possessed. Shockingly, this seemed to cure scores of men, who began to swear by Brinkley’s unorthodox medicine. And this is hardly the strangest part of this wonderfully strange film.

Directed by Penny Lane (Our Nixon), NUTS! uses archival footage and audio, animation, interviews with historians, and Brinkley’s authorized biography to tell the strange tale of his meteoric rise. After pioneering the goat testicle cure, Brinkley establishes a hospital where the procedures are performed, and sets up a radio station there to dish out medical advice to his thousands of devotees across the U.S. Along the way, he struggles against the medical establishment seeking to keep his cheap and simple cures quiet, gets elected Governor of Kansas on a write-in campaign, gets that same election stolen from him, and goes on to establish a million watt radio station in Mexico that would broadcast all across North America. His life is the very picture of American dreamy exceptionalism. Except it isn’t.



For its first half, the film tells Brinkley’s story using excerpt from the biography commissioned by the man himself. The book is presented in a Wes Anderson style – placed on a black background, turned by an anonymous hand. As the story unfolds, it becomes more and more obvious to the viewer that a great deal of what she is seeing has to be false. The film traffics in a certain weird-history-that-you-won’t-believe-you-didn’t-know-about, but there is weird history, and then there is fake history. Brinkley is exposed in a dramatized, animated courtroom sequence (for each chapter of the story, the animation style progresses from Fleischer-esque cartoonism, to grotesque realism, to surrealist nightmare) which unravels the elaborate fiction presented by Brinkley in both his biography and the first half of the film.

I would say that none of this constitutes a spoiler because the pleasure of the film is in how Brinkley is slowly revealed and then unraveled. The sheer magnitude of his con – which led to the invention of the infomercial and the sound truck among other things – is staggering, but somehow less enraging for how impressive his commitment to it was.

Lane tells the story with an empathic eye for both Brinkley and the people he conned. One sequence shows the animated Brinkley-ites fidgeting nervously in their courtroom seats as it becomes clear that, during the Depression no less, these people were fooled into lining the pockets of this man month after month in exchange for a bottle of blue water. But as we come to understand the plight of the conned – desperate, having exhausted traditional medicine in hopes of a cure for whatever ails them – we stop laughing at them and realize they aren’t stupid or backwards, but merely people looking for something to believe in, looking for a savior, in their darkest hour. And despite Brinkley’s depravity, the film acknowledges the many legitimate accomplishments of his life that helped shape the 20th century, even as that were fueled and funded by his central lie. A card at the end of the film notes that his border radio station in Mexico became the home of pioneering rock and roll DJ Wolfman Jack after Brinkley’s passing. But the fallout of his exposure is reckoned with as well. Brinkley died at 56 and left his wife and son to sort through the mountains of debt and lawsuits Brinkley’s scheme incurred. This, coupled with the burden of their beloved J.R.’s dubious legacy, leads the film to darker places by the end.



NUTS! is interesting for both the story it tells and the unorthodox way in which it tells it, but it is also wildly entertaining. The completely absurd goat testicle cure is the source of a great many jokes, as is the wily way Brinkley defies his accusers time and time again – coming back bigger and stronger. And as I watched this film centered around a larger than life conman who captivated a large swath of the nation, I could not help but ruminate on modern-day parallels. Brinkley was, above all else, a consummate salesman in that he had nothing to sell – and he made a fortune off of it. He had a bizarre magnetism which pulled some in, and repulsed others. His intellectual and moral poverty was obvious to many in his field, but he was able to easily write them off as part of an oppressive establishment which sought to suppress his ideas. He was a phony in every sense of the word, wielding a fake medical degree from a fake school and offering a fake cure with a fake surgery and later a fake potion whose supposed qualities bordered on the magical. Yet for decades, people in homes across this country hung on his every word simply because they desired more than anything for it to be true. J.R. Brinkley knew the fastest way to sell a product or get elected was to tell people what they wanted to hear.


This film captivated me through the wit and ambition with which it told this lost chapter from the last century. I went into it not sure what I was in for. I did not expect a tragi-comedy of Shakespearian proportions, but that’s precisely what I ended up with. Not having the same gifts as John Brinkley, I’m not sure I could come up with a better summation of what makes Hobnobben so exciting and essential than that.
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Highlights of Hobnobben by Ian Maxton

Life is often too much. In the midst of car trouble, job searching, birthday parties, family squabbles, missed alarms, appointments, joys, frustrations, surprises, and tragedies great and small, we often have little time left for finding where we fit. For taking small moments and letting them stretch out. For a quiet evening of reflection. For me, art, and the cinema in particular, has been the way that I find this time. It is a way of processing the world, and processing my place in it. Roger Ebert said that movies “are like a machine that generates empathy.” I’ve always felt that to be the truest and highest purpose of art – it helps us to gracefully know ourselves and others.

But film does not have to be a solitary experience. Part of the machinations of its empathic generation are bringing a bunch of strangers together in a dark room and moving them together in strange and unexpected ways like a body that has just come to life for the first time. It’s limbs are awkward. It’s eyes are wide. And the only way forward is to open up and feel, together, for the first time. If you let it, cinema will help you find your people.

This was the purpose of Hobnobben. Its name. Its motto: see and be seen. It’s about finding your people, not just in the dark theater, but outside of it too. Over beers maybe. Or hot dogs.

Hobnobben is a first for this community and I wasn’t sure what would happen. Would people come? Would they respond to the films? Would they “get it?”

I couldn’t have been more of an idiot.



The opening day of the festival gave us first The Fits, a brilliant film, followed by a panel on diversity and inclusion in filmmaking. Afterwards, the opening night gala was packed with cinephiles. Even while sitting quietly to the side and assessing my notes, I managed to meet several people and discuss the film and their excitement about the festival. We shared our thoughts on cinema, recommended books to each other, and raised glasses of free champagne before shuffling into the opening night film Other People. 





As I mentioned in my preview, Other People was a huge get for a first year festival and the crowd matched that – filling seats, laughing, crying. While there were other films at the festival that I preferred to this one, the screening served as an encouraging sign for Hobnobben.

Saturday offered a full slate of films, including the latest from GKids (April and the Extraordinary World), a new Hertzog (Lo and Behold), a program of short films, and the latest from Joel Potrykus (The Alchemist Cookbook), a filmmaker from Grand Rapids whose previous feature, Buzzard, is a weird ride worth checking out.

As evening fell, moviegoers streamed bleary-eyed out of the venues that made up Hobnobben and headed down to the block party. I was among them and have to say that, if there is a perfect argument proving how vital and wonderful and essential this festival is, it was this event. Aside from the great food and beer provided by Bravas, Shigs and Pit, and Mad Anthony, the party was the best place to meet people who love movies and engage with the community. After a few hours of mixing and laughing and realizing that we aren’t alone, we were given a great gift by the organizers of the festival: an outdoor screening of Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused. This is the kind of film that offers pure cinema pleasure. The soundtrack blared through the streets of Fort Wayne. I spotted more than a few people playing air drums. I’m not sure if they were drunk on beer or movies. It doesn’t matter. The crowd’s elation echoed off buildings and magnified as we witnessed early turns from Matthew McConaughey, Milla Jovovich, Parker Posey, and Ben Affleck.



If Hobnobben was about being together, then there was perhaps no better distillation of it than this screening.

But there were still two days (!) to go and Saturday’s slate was even more full than Friday. From Raiders! and Boy and the World, to Little Men and Danny Says, Hobnobben continued to offer up a huge variety of films. One of my favorites, NUTS!, had its second screening on Saturday. The screening of Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan was packed.



The night culminated in the awards ceremony. Viewers’ Choice went to Other People. Best Narrative Feature went to Dheepan. Best Documentary went to NUTS! Best Short went to The Rain Collector.

The festival also gave out more site-specific awards like the Philo Award, highlighting the best TV pilot entry at Philo Fest; the Hoosier Spirit Award, given to the best local film; and Best Student Work, presented to the best work from the Universty of St. Francis Student Showcase. These awards went to Mythplaced, Skate or Don’t, and The Roses, respectively.


 





Sunday felt like an after-after-after party for the festival. The crowds were great, especially for Hunt for the Wilderpeople. But if the awards ceremony was the peak of the party, these screenings felt like everyone getting together the day after the party to hang out and play cards or watch TV. No one wanted to let the party end because they wanted to be together. To be seen by each other one last time.

I hope to see you next year when we all gather again at Hobnobben. But until then, just remember that you, that we, are not alone. Keep watching movies.

I will have a few more wrap up posts for Hobnobben this week, culminating in a sequel of sorts to this one. Check back tomorrow for an in-depth dive into my two favorite films from the festival.
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Interview with Jonah Crismore by Ian Maxton

The Hobnobben Festival begins today. As an introduction to the festival, I interviewed Jonah Crismore, the Executive Director at Cinema Center and one of the chief organizers of Hobnobben. Hopefully this will give you an idea of what film festivals, and Hobnobben in particular, are all about.

Ian Maxton: Hey Jonah, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with me. How long have you been working on Hobnobben?

Jonah Crismore: The whole process began about 2 years ago. That’s when we first decided that a film festival would not only be a great way to celebrate Cinema Center’s 40th anniversary, but would also say loudly and proudly that Cinema Center is here; that it is part of the cultural fabric of the city.

IM: Can you give everyone reading some idea of how much work – volunteer and otherwise – goes into an event of this size? How many people are involved?

JC: It started with just the board at Cinema Center and myself, and then a volunteer committee was formed just for Hobnobben. There are about 16 individuals in leadership roles for the festival comprised of Cinema Center employees, the board, and Hobnobben volunteers. For the past year they have been working very hard to organize the festival, especially the festival co-chairs Ryan Kruekeberg and Emily Wissel. In addition to their great leadership, Cinema Center director of operations Andy Helmkamp has been providing all logistics for the festival and it’s astounding how much that aspect comprises. But it’s also a family affair in some regards. My wife Amanda Knauer designed our website and my cousin Amanda DeLong is the special events chair.

IM: On a similar note, I don’t think most people know how much goes on behind the scenes in order to program such a great lineup of films. I know you are the one who has primarily handled that. Could you maybe lift the curtain for a moment and talk about why you chose the films that you did and how, along with sponsors and local arts patrons, you were able to bring those films to Hobnobben?

JC: The programming process was pretty intense. We received over 220 submissions from all over the world and it is amazing just how many were really, really good. We have a programming committee who just evaluated films. Each film was evaluated by two individuals and if there was a split yay/nay between them, a festival consultant came in to cast the deciding vote. From there, I would watch the films and decided if there was a specific program that would be good – if it made sense for our community and our audience. I also spent a lot of time working with festival coordinators, distributors, and filmmakers to get some of our “bigger” films to play. Luckily, being a theater in operation for the whole year, we have a great relationship with many of the companies who are letting us screen their films. We are really grateful to have so many well-seasoned films and filmmakers participating, most first year film festivals are not in that position.

IM: As Fort Wayne continues to grow and thrive, more and more events seem to pop up, especially in the summer, but I know you and I both agree that Hobnobben is something different and special: an event for every kind of film lover that brings some of the best contemporary cinema to a city that can sometime be limited on that front. But it isn’t just about the films. And for many people coming out over the weekend, Hobnobben will be their first experience with a film festival. Could you talk about the differences and advantages of a festival setting versus, say, programming these films for a normal run at Cinema Center? What can people get out of a festival that they can’t get out of the usual theatre experience?

JC: Well, for one thing, you are seeing these films before their Indiana play dates, which is really great. It truly is a big party, with film being the reason because of it. There are filmmakers at Hobnobben, and as an audience member, you can ask them questions about why they made the film the way they did and you get to learn about the filmmaking process. There are panel discussions about filmmaking in Indiana and a general filmmaking talk, and a block party on Friday at 6pm at the Arts United Plaza with a free screening of Dazed and Confused. It’s all going to be so much fun. What makes it really exciting is that we are taking the mission of Cinema Center – elevating the art of film – and taking it into the community, helping to build a more robust kinship between cinephiles.

IM: Lastly, I’ve already written at length about the specific films at Hobnobben that have me the most excited. So at the risk of asking you to play favorites, could you perhaps highlight one or two films you think our fellow cinephiles absolutely must see this weekend, perhaps some films that they, or I, might have overlooked?

JC: You didn’t overlook it, but The Fits. It’s our festival preview film. We are screening it on Thursday afternoon at 4pm with a diversity and inclusion panel afterward. This is an excellent film, with a mostly non-professional cast, but you would never know it. It deals with so many issues but it is told simply and beautifully.

IM: Well you know I’m not going to argue with that choice. The house will hopefully be packed for that film. Again, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me. And thank you for bringing such a great event to Fort Wayne.

JC: Thank you, I look forward to reading your festival reports!


That wraps up my pre-fest coverage for Hobnobben. As the weekend progresses, I will post periodic updates on how the festival is going over on Twitter (my handle is @attheimax). For more updates, you can follow @fwcinemacenter and @hobnobben. Also check out the Facebook pages for Cinema Center and Hobnobben.

Next week, I will go all in, posting full recaps, some film reviews, and other odds and ends right here throughout the week. So please come on out for opening night and keep coming back the rest of the weekend.

And if you aren’t sure what to see at the fest, consult our 3-part preview just below this post.

We hope to see you at Hobnobben!




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