Tuesday 12 February 2013

Spark (2012)

Director: Diane M Dresback
Stars: Nathalie Cadieux and Kane Black
This film was an official selection at the Jerome Indie Music & Film Festival in Jerome, AZ in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
In theory, films produced for IFP Phoenix's Masterpiece Challenge ought to be more accomplished and more plentiful than, say, those produced for the Beat the Clock Challenge. The latter requires films to be written, shot and completed within 48 hours, with further restrictions: the filmmakers must work in one of a couple of genres and include a particular line and prop. That's pretty tough, you might think, and you'd be right. Yet for the Masterpiece Challenge, the only restriction other than a seven minute length limit is that they must be inspired by one of a variety of pieces of art at the Phoenix Art Museum. Bizarrely, taking their time seems to be harder for filmmakers. Many of those who work well under fire for Beat the Clock find that they can't stay focused on projects that take longer to complete, and the dozen registered teams for Masterpiece 2012 only turned in five completed films, mostly from long established names in Arizona like UAT and Mindclover.

What I found with this set of five is that time doesn't always seem to have helped. Three seemed less accomplished to me than much quicker shot equivalents, including this one from Mindclover, which felt more rushed and unpolished than usual, at least during the first half. Spark has a great and subtle story woven around an artist called Norman, who calls the cops after realising that one of his sculptures has been stolen, and Maggie, who apparently shows up undercover to look into it. Given the nature of Diane Dresback's story and where it takes us, I can't say any more without spoilers, but I loved the idea and certainly wouldn't mind seeing it extrapolated further. I'd even like to see it with these actors, Kane Black and Nathalie Cadieux, as they ought to fit the parts well. Both are recognisable from other challenges, Black an omnipresent face for both Mindclover and UAT, and Cadieux being so exquisite in Come Follow Me, shot by Dresback's son, Devon.

The catch is that for the first half of the film, it feels like they're rehearsing. They do pretty well in the more sarcastic moments but when they reach for emotion, it doesn't connect. It's as if they've only just been given scripts and they're experimenting to find the right tone to use but not finding it quite yet. I'd expect that a lot more from a 48 hour shoot than one crafted on a more leisurely schedule. They're both better than this and they show it later in the film, but of course we have to get through the first half to get to the second and it didn't help that Spark opened up proceedings when these films were shown in competition. Its failings may not have seemed as apparent a little later in the programme. Acting aside, everything felt capable but not really worthy of comment, either positive or negative. The story is what shines, brightly enough to build something of a swell late in the film, but ultimately and ironically missing what it needed most, a spark.

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