The most high profile event of the Middle Coast Film Festival, which kicks off at the Davis Theatre this Friday, September 21, will be an opening night anniversary screening of The Birdcage co-hosted by local drag queens Lucy Stoole and Kat Sass. While that should start the fest on an irreverently fun note (and if you haven’t yet seen the film, it’s worth checking out for Elaine May’s witty script and Gene Hackman’s layered performance), some of the other highlights are lesser-known new works by local independent filmmakers. In addition to a well-curated locally made shorts block, which presents another chance for Chicagoans to catch amazing short films like Maggie Scrantom’s Atoms of Ashes and Clare Cooney’s Runner, Middle Coast will also screen impressive micro-budget features like Mercy's Girl and In a Moment.
Mercy's Girl, an auspicious debut feature from veteran actress, but first-time writer and director, Emily Lape, centers on a young woman living on the North Side of Chicago whose alcoholism and closeted sexuality can both be traced to a fraught relationship with her religious, blue-collar parents. Mercy (Lape in a wonderfully understated performance) finds her world turned upside down when she engages in her first serious relationship with another woman: free-spirited college student Jesse (Alison Hixon). This ultra-realistic drama may toil in the same “flesh vs. spirit” thematic vineyard as Chicago filmmaker Stephen Cone (Princess Cyd) but Lape also has her own unique cinematic voice, one so attuned to the textures of everyday life in the Windy City that the accumulation of the smallest details in the production design and the subtlest gestures of performance eventually add up to a quietly devastating portrait of an ordinary life. Think of a female version of Mike Leigh (Naked) at his toughest and you’ll have some idea of what Lape is up to here.
In A Moment occupies Middle Coast’s sole late night slot and is a good example of how even the grungiest genre fare can be elevated by a creative approach. Writer and director Dustin Puehler juxtaposes two separate Michigan-set narratives—one involving a rural gay man’s search for love on the internet, the other a group of roving, drug-addled criminals on a home-invasion spree—then inexorably brings them together for a bloody B-movie climax. Working with limited resources and money clearly didn’t hold Puehler back from putting a lot of care into the stylized color cinematography, jagged editing rhythms and an almost Lynchian attention to sound design (where heightened sound effects are occasionally indistinguishable from Campfire’s atmospheric original score), creating an intense cinematic experience. This is the kind of gem that too often gets passed over by film festivals, so Middle Coast should be commended for programming it. Seeing it with a buzzed, late-night crowd should be fun.
For more information including ticket info and showtimes visit Middle Coast's website.