Indie Diversity Reigns at LIIFE

A scene from Christopher Jarvis'
darkly poetic The Birds Upstairs,
which screened at LIIFE on Sunday.

Celebrating its fourteenth year, the Long Island International Film Expo (LIIFE) returned to Bellmore, New York again (its home for several years now) with a new slate of diverse entries which began screening this past Thursday, continued over the weekend and wraps up on Wednesday night, with an awards ceremony to be held on Thursday evening. What I like about this local film and video festival is that its not a star-driven competition but one that focuses on unusual and original storytelling. That’s not to say that veteran actors did not show up this weekend — Paul Sorvino, Tony LoBianco and Michael Wright (yes, of V fame!) attended — but you will see, as one director noted last night, more off-the-wall pieces than you might elsewhere, and many of them are local. (This year there are 115 entries from 28 countries.)

I managed to check out a block of programming on Friday night and Sunday night. As a fear fan, I was bummed out that I missed Saturday’s horror block, but previous plans kept me from it. I hear that On Air was quite a provocative chiller. Friday night’s homegrown favorite was Jesse, a cop thriller directed by Fred Carpenter about a tough police officer (Stephanie Finochio) who seeks revenge against the mobsters that killed her brother. Having been shot in Bellmore, and featuring cameos by noted actors like Armand Assante, Eric Roberts and William Forsythe, the drama went over well with the packed crowd, who were surprised to learn that it only cost $150,000 to make. That feature-length film was preceded by three shorts, the most impressive of which was Over Cards, in which five poker buddies (four of whom are hitched) morbidly but humorously contemplate how they might bump off a spouse. The speculative dialogue gets quite intense. The animosity between brothers located on the opposite side of the tracks in Bad Blood is also engaging.

Yesterday afternoon I was treated to the documentary Composed, Charley Rivkin’s moving chronicle of Chris Errera, a four-foot tall, classically trained pianist who has overcome numerous obstacles — his height, multiple reconstructive leg surgeries, paralysis from the waist down and fused fingers — to compose and perform his modern piano compositions. He also teaches music to autistic children. Rivkin handles his subject with respect but is not saccharin in his approach, and Errera’s willingness to show us his good and bad days really humanizes him and elevates this beyond a regular tale of triumph over adversity.

Last night I caught several short films at 9:30 PM that really spanned the gamut. The most intriguing included two animated shorts: The Birds Upstairs, a stylish and Gothic NYU short about two aristocratic, skeletal birds desperately seeking to conceive a baby (yes, avian copulation ensues), set to an atmospheric score (I sense Tim Burton and Edward Gorey influences here); and Godaizer, about a gargantuan monster threat that requires a giant, retired Japanese robot to be reactivated for duty. It’s not so much the action and subject matter that shines here as the understated yet emotional take on the father-son pilot relationship in the story, as well as the fact that the movie literally has no dialogue. I also really enjoyed Death Goes To Therapy, in which a widowed shrink must help (and also confront) the being that took his wife from him, and learns that life as the Reaper ain’t so grand. These three films were screened amongst a block of programming that also included documentary, comedy and thriller entries.

The Long Island International Film Expo continues screenings through Wednesday night, so check the schedule for other entries that might intrigue you. You’re not going to many if any of them on YouTube.

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