Monday, August 25, 2008

ACE Film Festival: Preview

Yes, this week will be heavy on Korean films as coverage of the NYKFF continues. If Korean cinema is not your cup of tea, you’re missing out, but there will be plenty of arts documentaries in the very near future. The 2008 ACE Film Festival (the American Cinematic Experience) is set to take place September 4-7 in the main theater of New World Stages, just west of Times Square in the Theater District. Having seen shows here before, I expect it to be a cool venue for the Fest.

In addition to narrative features and shorts, the ACE Film Festival includes five documentaries from the extensive New York Foundation for the Arts film library. The NYFA selections touch on various disciplines of the humanities, including music, dance, architecture, and history. I already heartily recommend Been Rich All My Life¸ the story of the Apollo Theater dancers, the Silver Belles, which screens the 7th and plan to attend the screening of the Holocaust documentary, The Children of Chabannes.

In the narrative program, the Salsa drama The Big Shot Caller, sounds particularly promising, since it has been chosen to close the festival. Also, Kill Kill Faster Faster looks like a notable film-noir, with a big-name cast and a Crime Jazz-influenced score by Michael Benn, known for his work with Terry Callier.

The ACE Film Festival runs from the 4th through the 7th. Information on tickets and passes, directions, and film descriptions can be found here. As a preview, here is a slightly condensed version of a previous Been Rich All My Life review, which screens at ACE Sunday, September 7th:

There was a time when people dressed up for a night out. The big bands ruled the night clubs and theaters, and the women of the Silver Belles were dancing in the chorus at the Apollo Theater. Director-producer-and-most-everything-else Heather Lyn MacDonald records their stories in the touching feature documentary Been Rich All My Life.

It was big band swing that they danced to at the Apollo and legendary night-spots like the Cotton Club, so as one would expect, music plays an important role in their story. Silver Belle Marian Coles explains: “We do mostly jazz moves. You got to be loose to move and the music inspires that.” Which band did they single out? Jimmie Lunceford’s: “that was our band . . . because they were swinging.”

Ms. Coles, age 88 at time of filming, was also teaching tap in addition to performing. When she talks about preserving the tap tradition, her words have resonance for jazz lovers as well: “I love to dance—I teach because our style of dance—there’s no one out here doing it . . . I teach to pass it on, because the students love it.” Her teaching techniques even reflect a jazz influence, as she scats the dance steps to her students.

MacDonald captured some great interviews, preserving some important cultural history. In one interview, Cleo Hayes tells us: “I’m from Greenville, Mississippi and I don’t have to tell you why I left.” If you don’t know, it should be clear when listening to their experiences on Southern tours. Even when a part of the first African-American USO tour, they had to deal with segregation, despite soldiers shouting: “Hey Apollo, Hey Apollo.”

Tap like jazz depends on masters passing down the tradition, by teaching young talents. Coles and Hayes both credit senior member Bettye Lou Wood, who passed away during filming, for just that sort of formative instruction early in their careers. It is that sense of living tradition and passion for one’s art that makes Been Rich a rewarding film.