April 11, 2014

Indie Grits films range from piety to debauchery

Watching Indie Grits features “As it is in Heaven” and “Limo Ride” back to back could give a viewer the theatrical version of the bends. The abrupt change from quiet, powerful piety to laud, raucous debauchery might make the brain explode.

Watching Indie Grits features “As it is in Heaven” and “Limo Ride” back to back could give a viewer the theatrical version of the bends. The abrupt change from quiet, powerful piety to laud, raucous debauchery might make the brain explode.

Fortunately, the two films are being screened 23 hours apart, giving festival-goers a chance to contemplate the depths of religious devotion for most of a day before wallowing in a group bender to end all benders. And once they sleep off the “Limo Ride” hangover, they can appreciate how sweet it is that the Indie Grits brings these sorts of films to Columbia.

Last week, I previewed four of the feature films and three of the shorts coming to Indie Grits, and “Heaven” and “Limo” were my favorites. They couldn’t be more different, but they both dealt with people most of us have encountered on the way through life. No super heroes or explosive special effects. Just realistic fiction in one case, and reality seen through the fog of alcohol, drugs and time in the other.

“As it is in Heaven” director Joshua Overbay teaches communications art at Asbury University, a Christian liberal arts college in Kentucky. He’s the son and grandson of Baptist ministers. His “religious faith has been and will continue to be a big part of my personality,” Overbay said. “But I’m still figuring it out, and the movie was an extension of that.”

With that background, it’s no surprise Overbay is sympathetic to the members of the small religious sect in his movie dealing with an end-of-days prophecy. “They’re not crazy as much as they’re desperate,” Overbay said.

When the group’s aging prophet dies, he anoints another man, David, as his successor to prepare the group for the end of the world in 30 days. David declares they must fast for those 30 days to strengthen their faith. The cracks in various members’ faith, or at least their faith in David, move the drama along.

Overbay long has been fascinated by cult leaders such as Jim Jones and David Karesh. He takes his main character from the brilliance of enlightenment to the dark places where so many cult leaders end up.

By the film’s end, David realizes his absolute faith in the prophecy was wrong. Chris Nelson’s portrayal gives David the kind of depth the character deserves. And Overbay gives the film just the right tone to force viewers to contemplate their own faith.

Screening: 8 p.m., April 17, Nickelodeon Theatre

“Limo Ride” is “The Hangover” as a documentary, a reality show re-created from the fuzzy memories of 10 friends on a crazy New Year’s road trip in coastal Alabama and Florida. The good ol’ boys look back on their adventure with a mixture of pride, humor and disbelief.

Even if you’ve never been on a drunk bender yourself, you’ve likely heard somebody tell these sorts of tales. However, these guys – and one gal – likely will top any true story you’ve heard.

It starts when they rent a stretch limo to take them to the coast after a night of drinking and drugs for a New Year’s Day polar bear plunge.

Only some of them don’t bring swim suits, so they get naked on the beach. And the limo driver ditches them for a while to go back and pick up his crack-head cousin. And one of the guys makes out with the grandmother of one of the other guys. And just about everyone gets in a fight of some kind.

Eventually, the limo driver has enough and ditches eight of the 10 on a red-clay road in the late darkness of a freezing night in the middle of nowhere. While they fight and fend for themselves, the limo driver gets in a high-speed chase with cops, much to the surprise of the two nearly catatonic revelers left in the back of the limo.

Everybody eventually makes it home, and they spend the next few years embellishing the stories. Half the fun of the movie is hearing the varied memories from classic Southern story-tellers, and the other half is recognizing that most of it really happened. There’s no drugged pet tiger or Mike Tyson, but there is a slightly deranged surfer dude.

Directors Gideon C. Kennedy and Marcus Rosentrater use the recorded voices of the original 10 to describe the events while actors play the roles. It’s a docu-comedy in the form of a re-enactment. Most importantly, everyone seems to be having fun.

Screening: 7 p.m., April 18, Tapps Art Center

“Big Significant Things” is about oversized rocking chairs and frying pans and wooden buckets. Or it’s about marriage and buying a house. Or it’s about avoiding an embrace while embracing an avoidance. Yep, this film, which had its world premiere at the SXSW Film festival, is deep. It’s also extremely well-done. And it lovingly showcases some of the best quirks of Southern geography, architecture and culture.

Screening: 7 p.m., April 18, Nickelodeon Theatre

“Lighter” follows a burned-out redneck comedian who returns from Los Angeles to his Upstate South Carolina home town after a botched suicide attempt. While written with a subtle undertone that lovingly pokes fun at Southern culture, it’s a dark film. If you’ve spent much time in the state, you’ll recognize characters and places.

Screening: 5:30 p.m., April 19, Nickelodeon Theatre

“Yearbook” lasts five minutes, but you need to set aside at least 10 minutes after viewing it to think about the concept and talk about it with others. Director Bernardo Britto’s short, which won the Sundance Film Festival Short Film Jury Award for animation, delves into the challenge faced by a man hired to compile the history of human existence before the planet blows up.

Screening: Along with “Big Significant Things” at 7 p.m., April 18, Nickelodeon Theatre

“Lomax” and “Mipso in Japan” are two of seven entries in the Nickapalooza Shorts group on Saturday afternoon. Both deal with roots music, but in varied ways. “Lomax” is a quick re-imagining of folklorist Alan Lomax’s 1941 effort to capture blues history for the Library of Congress. “Mipso in Japan” follows the North Carolina-based bluegrass band to – surprise – Japan. But there are true surprises, including the appreciation for bluegrass in a country we associate more closely with sushi.

Screening: 2 p.m., April 19, Tapps Art Center

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