For four years running, Eric Panter has curated an Atlanta Underground Film Festival featuring the kind of oddball picks that fly below most mainstream film festivals' radar. Out of 200 submissions to this year's festival, Panter has assembled a group of films of which he jokes, "If someone is offended, we're actually quite thrilled, and we know we've done our job!"
This year's AUFF will feature Panter's usual mix of experimental, international and local shorts, features, a midnight screening of the locally made horror film Blood Car and a Silver Scream Spook Show screening of Ray Harryhausen's 1963 classic, Jason and the Argonauts, as well as live bands at venues including the Drunken Unicorn and MJQ Concourse.
Though "underground" may be a concept more in the eye of the beholder, here are my picks for the best of the AUFF:
Moonlight & Magic *****
4:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 24. $7 general, $5 students. Plaza Theatre, 1049 Ponce de Leon Ave. 404-873-1939.
Blooming onions are apparently not the only tasty wackiness to come out of Australia. Timothy Spanos, whose home-invasion comedy Nancy Nancy screened at last year's AUFF, is back. Suggesting a cross between John Waters' bad taste and the low-key lunacy of Bruce Robinson's Withnail & I, Spanos' comedy features his demented muse, the sadistic, queeny bossy-pants Tim Burns. Here Burns is the mohawked Moonlight, a hapless minor criminal touring Coronet Bay, Australia, in a tangerine, Little Miss Sunshine-style camper alongside a fragile diabetic, Magic (Maxine Klibingaitis). The film features a typical litany of campy excesses including nipple clamping, robbing secondhand shops with a garden rake and encounters with larcenous punk-rock chicks. But where films such as the drippy indie Little Miss Sunshine strive for wackiness, Spanos actually delivers. Though Moonlight & Magic never quite achieves the delirious heights of Nancy Nancy, Spanos' utterly off-kilter bad-taste comedy and moments of "feeling" are certainly worth checking out.
Cracker Crazy: The Invisible Histories of the Sunshine State *****
7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 24. The Five Spot, 1123 Euclid Ave. 404-223-1100.
Cultural collagist Georg Koszulinski's film is a visual essay composed of footage culled from the Florida State Archives and music from the Florida Folklife Collection. Koszulinski's revisionist take on the Sunshine State counters the booster veneer of Florida as a paradise of luscious bathing beauties, alligator wrestling and Disney World. Instead, Koszulinski suggests Florida's history is composed of a cycle of violence and exploitation, first of the Indians by European colonists and then of blacks by racist citizens and politicians. Though there are passages of snooze-inducing didacticism that will project viewers back to middle-school history class, Koszulinski's goal to breathe a dose of reality into the omissions and outright lies of American history is surely a worthwhile effort.
The Short Life of José Antonio Gutierrez *****
9:15 p.m. Friday, Aug. 24. The Five Spot, 1123 Euclid Ave. 404-223-1100.
This German production is about the first Iraq war casualty, Guatemalan orphan and immigrant-turned "green card" Marine Gutierrez, who was killed by friendly fire. Director Heidi Specogna offers a haunting portrait of the difficulty and horrors immigrants in search of the American dream encounter along the way to a better life.
Sons of Saturn *****
8:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 23. Eastside Lounge, 285-A Flat Shoals Ave. 404-521-9666.
This experimental compilation film from Brazilian director Joao Machado uses archival family photographs and video to tell the story of three generations of luckless, social-climbing men. It's hard to tell what is true and what is false in Machado's intriguing tale of greed, self-deception and failure.