Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Great Time at the Annual SENE Festival, by Mike Ryan

A great time at the annual SENE festival.
by Mike Ryan

From April 6 through April 10th, dozens of films from all parts of the world were shown in Providence in the third annual Southeast New England Film, Music and Art Festival (SENE, as in South East New England).
Now I’m not quite sure how that spells SENE, but the festival is fast becoming one of those gems of cinema that’s perhaps better known outside our state than in RI itself.
The festival, like most festival, confronts viewers with the challenge of multiple screenings. It can be tough to choose what to see, but the festival did a great job of keeping screenings on time and smooth, and the proximity of the theatres (at RISD and the Cable Car) and after-party locations leveraged the pedestrian potential of the South Main St. area.
The combination of art forms – music before screenings and during gallery openings - may have been most evident in the opening event, a one-stop combination of party, music, art and film. The event, held at PeaceLove Studios in Pawtucket, was a party held in the gallery space, with a room set aside to screen a rolling selection of experimental shorts and a central space occupied by live performers.
“We were thrilled by how things turned out,” says Artistic Director and Co-Founder Phil Capobres. “The event is put together entirely by volunteers, and we had a great time working together to make this happen.”

Films were shown from around the globe, but there were a few local standouts too, featured in a “local artists” screening:

Bird Talk
This entertaining short focuses on real estate agents who start up an internet radio show to fill the downtime between home showings. Although they want to talk about birds, their callers have a different agenda – and the conversations have a serpentine ripple effect on the residents of this small, tightly connected Rhode Island town.
Written by Jennifer Sharpe, produced by her and Ted Marr,  and directed by Richard Griffin, the film also stars numerous faces familiar to fans of locally made film. Comfortably paced and professionally shot, the short see-saws between drama and humor and includes a number of twists. And although it effectively hits emotional notes, overall it has the feel of a  “Lake Wobegon” style introduction to a community of rambling, connected characters, rather than a plot-driven or single-character tale. 

Rhode Island: A Great Place to Get Lost
This ultra-short short is a playful few minutes spent romping around Rhode Island, lost in a state that’s bigger than you might think. Shot home-movie style, and clearly involving no budget beyond the gas needed for a road movie, this good natured piece is carried by its humor and the cute as heck performance of its young star. Created by Ryan Vemmer, this short recently took first place in the recent Why RI? contest sponsored by LeadershipRI.

The Phantom Pervert of Poquamuck
This mockumentary romp focuses on a collection of back-country Rhode Islanders, including the brawn-over-brains Tank and his uncle, a pig farmer permanently embedded in muck. Based on an urban myth from the 80’s, the story follow’s residents reactions to a spooky, unknown presence that steals womens clothing and flits about the countryside wearing it. The Phantom Pervert of Poquamuck is an entertaining short that may put you off pork for quite some time, but one in which the film’s affection for its cast of eccentric characters is obvious and heartfelt.
Rumor – and remarks during the QA session afterward – has it that the producers are planning additional adventures for these characters and for others living on the invented Rhode Island community of Poquamuck, so don’t be surprised if these folks pop up again, in an ambitious plan for interwoven stories.

Phantom was directed by Alec Asten: Website

There She Is…
It’s hard to say whether this is a mockumentary or documentary, but the entertaining short took the festival’s prize for best local film. None of the subject matter or characters are made up, but, as directed by Jenn Dlugos, “There she is…” also clearly doesn’t take things too seriously. The roughly 20 minute film moves briskly and if anything, leaves you wanting more about each odd step in comedienne Andrea Henry’s quest to become Mrs. Massachusetts.
A complete newbie to the beauty pageant circuit, Ms. Henry fits none of the height or fitness stereotypes one expects from pageant contestants, but she carries a wit and attitude that do her proud. Watching her gather advice from friends, and consultants, a dietitian, trainer and others forms the core of the piece. The encouragement and, mostly, discouragement she receives from these various oracles provides the foundation for her dry, self-deprecating wit.
Although there are uncomfortable moments, the short dodges anything approaching commentary on pageants themselves or the cultural associations. Deeper waters might be plumbed by viewers in conversation later, but for the most part this short only pokes fun at its protagonist, and is purely entertainment. While witty and engaging, Ms Henry is an odd hero, conveying an odd passivity within the weird and slightly uncomfortable situation she has created. The end result has a quirky, Christopher-Guest-like vibe which carries itself well in the world of pageants.

It’s a Bash! 
The SENE festival wrapped up at The Spot: Underground with a rousing screening of “It’s a Bash!” David Bettencourt’s latest RI-centric documentary tracks the adventures of local punk pioneers Neutral Nation, a band known for filling the Living Room with throngs of fans throughout the 80’s and early 90’s and inspiring . Fans of the band helped make for an enthusiastic and sometimes coherent Q&A session after the film, in which Mr. Bettencourt and band members took part.
The film was entertaining, amusing and generally whimsical, providing a look into the history of the group and the local punk concert scene in the 80s and 90s. There is no dramatic conflict within the band – indeed, the members come across as well adjusted and affable – a far cry from what many might expect from an aggressive musical style and scene that thrived on physical, confrontational performances.  The story of the bands successes, both deliberate and accidental, over the decades ends up as a light, feel good story that just might inspire you to pick up a base or microphone of your own.
For more information, please visit

Written by Mike Ryan
Editor: Rod Webber

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