Sunday, April 29, 2007

Film Fest Snapshots

If you count the first screening of Peter McAlevey’s documentary Screamers at the Westcott Theater almost two Sundays ago now, this year’s Syracuse International Film Festival – the fourth edition – stretched to a full week. SIFF typically screens a selection of features and shorts a second time, usually films expected to be award contenders. But Screamers was one of two “pre-festival events” so popular that people who didn’t get here till the official opening at the Landmark Theater downtown on Wednesday finally convinced organizers to schedule them again.

There’s no doubt this was a transitional year and that post-festival debriefings will have to include some shifts. But even with multiple screening venues, you didn’t have to read the numbers in the paper this year to envision the crowd you were part of. Four screenings sold out and turned people away. This meant, for example, that getting the whole crowd into the Bristol IMAX on Saturday night for the special Experimental Film and Music program - with returning filmmaker Elka Krajewska, Syracuse's own Carrie Mae Weems and others - delayed its start by about half an hour.

This year’s SIFF also had some obvious trophy catches – Michael Haneke’s Caché with Juliette Binoche, Ousmane Sembene’s Moolaadé from Senegal (both part of a special French-language cinema section from Africa, Quebec and France), Doug Block's 51 Birch Street (set to debut in early May on HBO) and Armenian Harutyun Khachatryan’s Return of the Poet. Here is a sampling of several other gems beneath the more obvious glitter.

Tuesday night at the Westcott

One result of SIFF’s growth was the presence of Argentine director Eliseo Subiela, who screened a roughcut of his new film Don’t Look Down at the Westcott Theater the night before SIFF officially opened. Since making Man Facing Southeast (1986), Subiela has won nearly 30 major international prizes – a trip to will get you four of them on DVD – and Mellen Press has just released a major retrospective study of his film career. Maybe most viewers last Tuesday night didn’t know that background, but entranced we were anyway. Subiela came to Syracuse to serve as an SIFF judge for feature-length entries and was a panelist on Thursday’s all-day forum on genocide in cinema. He says he made Don’t Look Down as a gift to his children, to reclaim the spirit of Eros in an age of commercialized, dehumanized sex. Don’t Look Down portrays a young man in mourning who takes to sleep-walking, falls into a girl’s bed through her skylight, and accepts her literally transporting lessons in intimacy. Once finished later this year, expect Don’t Look Down to premiere amidst great fanfare – though it probably won’t show up at Carousel Mall’s mutiplex.

Thursday at Lemoyne College

Sparsely attended in the morning, this all-day forum entitled “Images of Genocide in World Cinema” got the crowd it deserved after lunch. Syracuse University’s Beverly Allen, herself a screenwriter and scholar-activist (her book Rape Warfare influenced the Hague Tribunal’s decision to declare rape a war crime following Yugoslavia’s break-up), moderated with Lemoyne’s Barron Boyd. Panelists included Subiela, Senegalese filmmaker Ben Diogaye Beye (he screened clips from Raoul Peck’s film about Rwanda, Sometimes in April), Czech director Milan Cieslar, legal expert Diane Orentlicher and her husband, Clinton-era policy-maker Morton Halperin, and Native American actor Sonny Skyhawk.

Reflecting the next day about this panel, Allen commented, “It’s more clear than ever that where Eros – creativity, intimacy, contact – occurs, genocide cannot be there too. That is the real message of a film like Eliseo’s and the reason it’s such a gift.”

Three Films to Look Out For

Despite the brisk luncheon business spilling onto the sidewalk outside Alto Cinco on Saturday’s sunny afternoon, it was all happening in the magical dark inside the Westcott Cinema. Here are three films to watch for down the road on DVD.

The Professor and His Beloved Equation induced unembarrassed tears among many. Beautifully shot by Shoji Ueda –Kurosawa’s sometime cinematographer – this film is already available online in a Region 3 DVD if you have a zone-free player. After taking five SIFF prizes this year, it could wind up on the Facets label through SIFF’s fledgling DVD distribution project. This refined Japanese import has in common with the Adam Sandler comedy Fifty First Dates a major character’s daily amnesia, suggesting that modern desperation to get into the present moment goes beyond cultures.

Laura Muscardin’s Billo, Il Grand Dakhaar, fresh from taking the Jury Prize at Pierre Cardin’s Italian Film Festival in Paris, won SIFF’s best musical score (by Senegal’s acclaimed Youssou D’Nour). Based on his own story, the film stars Thierno Thiam as an immigrant to Rome who bridges two cultures and whose Muslim faith allows him two wives. The Rome-based Muscardin’s 2001 HIV-related film Days, available on DVD locally at Emerald City, won prizes at LA’s Outfest and Seattle LGBT festival.

Kujtim Çashku’s film Magic Eye brought many in Syracuse’s Albanian community to Westcott Street last weekend, playing to crowds both days. Çashku runs a film school and annual human rights film festival in Tirana. With accomplished performances and sustained suspense, centering on the media’s role in provoking violence in Albania’s 1997 civil war, this thriller is a major new addition to films about propaganda and its cost.

Next Year in Prague

Mary Angiolillo lives in the Czech Republic and teaches at FAMU, the National Academy of Film and Television in Prague, along with her husband, cinematographer Marek Jicha. A former Fulbright scholar to Paris with a doctorate in theater, she also grew up in Syracuse. During a family visit several years ago in April, she and her husband saw a storefront poster advertising a new film festival here. From this coincidence has grown a particularly strong partnership, with more trips to Syracuse every April, film entries in the festival, speakers like award-winning director Milan Cieslar for SIFF forums and, on a visit to Prague last summer by an SIFF-led group, the quiet but far-reaching beginnings of an exchange program between Syracuse University and FAMU film students.

“We are able to offer SU film students experience working with 35-millimeter film, which Syracuse doesn’t offer,” said Mary, “and we have the same approach to teaching film – that is, developing the total filmmaker to be able to handle all aspects of filmmaking. And I’ve been very impressed with the Syracuse students.”

Besides showing up all week at screenings and events, Mary went to the day-time forums on Thursday and Friday on genocide, animation and youth. She is an attentive listener who stays for the whole program and takes notes. Outside Eastwood’s Palace Theater on Sunday night before the closing ceremonies, she reflected on her week here. She said this year’s forums were timely. “You know, when our flight landed in New York, the first thing we saw was the big video monitor with the news crawl about Virginia Tech and the shootings there. This is so important, what’s offered here – the chance to talk about these topics.”

Published in the 4/26/07 issue of the Syracuse City Eagle weekly.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Film Review #97: Lola
1989 (DVD 2007)
Director: María Novaro
Cast: Leticia Huijara, Alexandra Vargas, Roberto Sosa

It’s early in the day, and the Mexican beach is still uncrowded. As the old man plunges into the waves, three older women up on the beach smile behind their hands and roll their eyes. Each time he stands up in the crashing surf, open-mouthed with surprise and staggering, his shorts are around his knees. One pudgy woman touches a teen-ager on the shoulder and says, “Go help your grandfather tie up his shorts.” But the old man is embarrassed when the girl approaches and turns away. Soon his wife trudges out to him and they walk back up the beach, her arm around him.

Watching this scene of deep family affection is pretty young Lola (Leticia Huijara in her first film lead). Somber and terrifically hung over, Lola’s waiting for friends who left her when they took a man to the doctor during last night’s bonfire party after Lola broke a tequila bottle over his nose. We understand perfectly that now Lola is stung with sharp regret and misses her own little girl, Ana (Alexandra Vargas).

Frustrated with the cops’ constant harassment of herself and other street vendors, depressed because her rock guitarist husband Omar has left for Los Angeles, Lola asked her own mother to take Ana for a while. We know it’s herself that’s the problem, since Lola loves the little girl tenderly. And we know that, after watching this old couple at the beach, Lola will go retrieve five-year-old Ana.

It’s a truism that film acting is different from stage acting because the audience, immersed in the medium of the huge screen, does more of the work – we attribute much of the interior life to characters from what’s come before and what characters are responding to, even when their faces are still and there’s far less dialogue and explanation than we’d get from live drama.

In her first feature film – made in 1989 after a string of shorts and some workshopping at the Sundance Institute – the Mexican director María Novaro already enters confidently into this deep collaboration with her audience. Although they have not said much by the film’s end, these are undeniably complex and very human beings and we’ve met them intimately.

Watching Lola is a good way to start to see how this is done and how other parts of a film act in its support. For example, except for two beach trips, Lola is set in Mexico City after the great earthquake of 1985. Novaro uses its vast rubble piles and graffiti proclaiming, “Mexico is still standing!” as images for Lola’s experience that her own life has crumbled. Then, ever-yearning pop radio lyrics suffuse much of the film, except during Lola’s long walk through night streets carrying her sleeping child to her mother. Here, Novaro uses Vivaldi’s version of the haunting “Stabat Mater” as background, elevating this journey to a one with life-changing consequences.

Now in her mid-50s, Novaro is one of a generation of women writers and directors who have worked collaboratively and came into their own since the early 90s, after the Mexican Film Institute began encouraging indie film production. Lola has been out on DVD only since late March and this excellent edition features interviews with Novaro, lead actress Huijara and a now grown-up Ana, plus production notes by Romy Sutherland, who has written more extensively about Novaro for the online Australian film journal Senses of Cinema. Since Novaro continues serious work in short-form cinema, maybe those eleven films can now find their way onto a DVD collection too.

Meanwhile Novaro’s other three features – all road trips, as Lola really is – are worth seeking out. In Danzón (1991) a mousey woman’s sole outlet is a weekly formal dance. When her regular dance partner goes missing, she seeks him out in Vera Cruz, befriending Suzy the queen and taking a younger lover. Garden of Eden (1994) weaves several stories together of characters who gather in Tijuana, all imagining that life on the other side of the border will improve. In Without a Trace (2000), two very different women, both at the ends of their rope and both fugitives, forge an unlikely friendship.

Novaro has a past local connection through the Syracuse International Film Festival (SIFF). All set to visit here previously for one of SIFF’s filmmaker forums, she had to cancel that trip because of sudden health issues. Let’s hope we’ll see her here in the future.

Not to be confused with a raft of films of the same title by Fassbinder, Jacques Demy, Max Ophuls, Tom Tykwer & others, María Novaro’s Lola is available at Emerald City Video, 3208 Erie Blvd. East, whose owner Jim Loperfido sits on SIFF’s board. SIFF has begun to issue a line of DVDs of selected SIFF films, which Emerald City stocks. This review appeared in the 4/19/07 issue of the Syracuse City Eagle weekly, where “Make it Snappy” is a weekly column reviewing recent films that did not have a regular theatrical run in Syracuse & older films of enduring worth.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Film Review #96: Black Book
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Cast: Carice van Houten, Sebastian Koch, Thom Hoffman

Even in a post-Children of Men cinema, the capture of the young Dutch Resistance gun smugglers in the marketplace in Black Book is an impressive piece of movie-making about war. Set mostly in 1944 Nazi-occupied Holland – the “mostly” is key, because there’s a frame around the main story whose precise date suggests we should pay attention – this film has a slew of exciting skirmishes that pull us through its 145-minute running time. They all erupt during momentary lulls, steadily eroding our hope that any moment of peace could be other than passing and provisional.

Opening with an aerial dog-fight among Allied and Axis fighter planes that shatters a sunny afternoon sail, Black Book then turns a midnight boat trip of grateful, relieved reunion into a massacre shrouded with plumes of frozen breath, features several zero-to-sixty blazing shoot-outs, an underground prison break-out, a stairwell assassination, and the drugged heroine’s daring escape by stepping off a balcony into a seething crowd. Black Book closes with an Israeli kibbutz springing into lockdown siege after another reunion rich with evoked memories and what we thought – foolish audience! – looked like closure.

But the marketplace catastrophe stands out for the ways in which Verhoeven blends riveting, deftly-shot action with visual exposition of the story’s basic dilemmas. This scene occurs fairly early in the film. Rachel Stein (Carice van Houten), a Jewish cabaret singer formerly of Berlin, has landed under Dutch Resistance fighter Gerben Kuipers’ protection following the murder of her family. Kuipers (Derek de Lint) has some kind of unspecified shop near the marketplace. People come and go and women in head-scarves sort piles of things. Its real purpose in the movie is its perfection as a setting – a warren of shabby hallways and rooms, sliding doors to duck behind and views of the street.

On this crucial day, a pick-up truck crosses the crowded marketplace carrying rifles hidden in straw and Kuipers’ son Tim (Ronald Armbrust) in its cab. There’s a mishap. The truck crashes against a building’s doorjamb, half-overturned. For agonizing moments, the trapped passengers struggle with the doors as rifles spill into the street, the marketplace crowd raises a cry and Gestapo thunderously arrive. Kuipers and his crew run from window to window, watching things fall apart in the street. Realizing they must not endanger their larger operation, Rachel helps others hold Kuipers back when Tim is arrested, beaten and hauled away.

Throughout this scene, Verhoeven’s cameras cut rapidly back and forth among these shifting points of view, embodying war’s messy, split-second contradictory demands and the competing, sometimes paralyzing human impulses they call forth. As the film goes on, Tim will reappear periodically – as a prisoner with bloody feet hustled down a hallway, as a tortured scream behind a door, finally as a just-identified corpse in a killing field. He is the contradictory symbol of all a Resistance fights to protect (or avenge), what trauma and helplessness an occupation imposes, how love can skew and undermine judgment as surely as greed lead to betrayal. It’s the elder Kuipers who suggests Rachel sleep with Gestapo chief Müntze (Sebastian Koch), and Kuipers himself who’s ready to risk Jewish lives and his own comrades to save Tim.

Verhoeven hasn’t made a Hollywood feature film since the fairly awful Hollow Man six years ago. Instead he returned to Holland after two decades to make a film about war’s slippery moral landscape – a Dutch Resistance now seen as less than thoroughly heroic, widespread Dutch collaboration with the Nazi regime, and barbaric treatment accorded those same collaborators after the war in Dutch prison camps.

Verhoeven was particularly inspired to make this film now by the recent Abu Ghraib prison scandal and surrounding events. He also lived through the Nazi occupation of Holland as a child and in 1977 made the film Soldier of Orange about those years. With his long-time screenwriter Gerard Soeteman, he’s been researching documents and photo archives since the late 60s regarding the murky histories of Dutch collaboration and resistance alike. In that decade rumors surfaced of a missing “black book” like that in the film, listing individuals who made fortunes trading in Jewish lives. The marketplace is an apt metaphor.

Often ignoring uniformly fine performances from an international cast, a ripping good war-time intrigue, terrific editing and cinematography, some US reviewers have dismissed Black Book. For example, some decry the sympathetic portrayal of Gestapo chief Müntze as calloused on Verhoeven’s part and somehow historically impermissible. Quite a few assume Verhoeven lamely copied the movie Carrie’s bloodbath for one extreme scene in which Rachel is doused with a vat of excrement. But Verhoeven’s knowledge of the Dutch prison-camp practice of dumping feces on collaborators dates from the 60s too. Apparently able to take in and integrate Verhoeven’s shades of gray about their collective past, the Dutch movie-going public has rewarded Black Book with the largest box office in that country’s history (besides significant honors from the Dutch film community).

The bracket surrounding the film’s main 1944 story is also persuasive of a more thoughtful look at Black Book. Curiously, hardly any US reviewer has bothered to remark upon this bracket as other than a routine plot device that deprives us of suspense about Rachel’s fate. But Verhoeven gives us a bridge between the Second World War and the present day that does two things.

First, Rachel’s discovered alive in the Israeli kibbutz by her war-era friend Ronnie (Halima Reijn), a Dutch woman who lived through the occupation with Rachel by attaching herself to a Nazi officer – the gross, murderous Franken. Upon liberation, Ronnie immediately found herself a Canadian protector, and she shows up on the kibbutz tour having married him. This encounter triggers Rachel’s memory. As the story winds down and returns to Israel circa 1956, Rachel’s been sitting alone by water, thinking about things. While Verhoeven has filled in events Rachel didn’t see – she learned about Müntze’s execution afterward, for example, while we do see it onscreen – the tone of the story fits the tone of a flashback she might have. Some scenes are dizzying, a bit surrealistically tinged with neon around the edges. When Rachel next encounters Franken in Gestapo headquarters at a glittering party – having last peered through marshy reeds as he ransacked her family’s bodies for money and jewels in the riverbank mud – the room whirls. Recognizing him literally makes her sick. Black Book isn’t strictly a first person account, but its story is filtered through Rachel’s eyes, including how she may be able to tolerate recalling her own behavior and others. This certainly includes how she would recall both Münzte and her sometime Dutch lover, the dashing doctor Hans Akkermans (Thom Hoffman), subject of the film’s most shocking reversal.

Secondly, the front-loaded notation “October 1956” provides a context for the sudden gunfire at the end. This is an Israeli kibbutz defending itself at a very specific moment. Verhoeven asks us to use the Nazi occupation as a starting point to reassess a vaster swath of history. He certainly references the complex cluster of events and international power shifts that we call the Suez Crisis. In October 1956, Israel invaded the Sinai in response to Nasser’s nationalization of Egypt’s Suez Canal; the UN responded by sending the first modern peace-keeping force, proposed by (Ronnie’s husband’s countryman) Canadian Lester Pearson. At that time Europe had been importing about two-thirds of its oil via the Suez Canal, a short-cut that saved ships 11,000 miles around Africa. Quite a collision in the marketplace.

Black Book
opened theatrically in New York and Los Angeles on April 4th, heading for release in 28 US and Canadian cities by the end of April. This review appeared in on 4/17/07.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Film Review #95: 13 Tzameti
Director: Géla Babluani
Cast: Georges Babluani, Aurélien Recoing, Philippe Passon

Somewhere outside Paris, thirteen contestants gather in a circle, load their pistols, spin the chambers, and set the muzzles point-blank against the skull of the man in front. Against a frenzy of betting onlookers and a handler’s sharp orders, they wait for a hanging bulb to switch on, then fire. This repeats through three rounds. Then two finalists face each other for a point blank duel – the sarcastic, taunting Jacky (durable French character actor Aurélien Recoing) has survived three previous duels, managed by his own brother, and the shy young handyman Sébastien (Georges Babluani, the director’s younger brother, in his first film role) has walked into more than he bargained for.

On the wall, a poster of 1960s rock star Jim Morrison evokes an era of glamorized self-destruction. Shot in somber, finely detailed black and white – director Géla Babluani says color would be distracting – with almost no blood on-screen, 13 Tzameti meditates on chance, choice and human nature, sorrowing at all three.

Despite inevitable comparisons with director Michael Cimino’s classic 1978 film The Deer Hunter, Babluani insists he had not yet seen Cimino’s film when he made 13 Tzameti. The earlier Robert DeNiro-Christopher Walken vehicle follows a Russian-American enclave in a small town near Pittsburgh’s steel mills through the Vietnam War era. The Deer Hunter famously includes games of Russian roulette, first those the Vietcong imposed upon young US soldiers whom they held prisoner. Then Walken’s character remains in Saigon after the US pull-out. He has a heroin habit that he supports night after night via secret, high-stakes Russian roulette matches played very far off any beaten tourist track.

For those only just beginning to dig their way out of the Vietnam era’s quandaries by the late 70s, The Deer Hunter showed how far afield that war had taken an entire generation. Even more pointedly, that film commented on how the American dream held up for one community of immigrants, still not fully assimilated a generation after their parents fled Soviet repression.

13 Tzameti is the first feature film by writer-director Géla Babluani, in his late 20s and from Georgia, the former Soviet republic. “Tzameti” is Georgian for the number thirteen, universal sign of bad luck. Babluani’s close-knit working-class immigrants are transplanted to France, where any film depicting foreign workers assumes a tension these days. Babluani’s father, a prominent Georgian filmmaker himself, sent his children in France in the early 90s – to the “so-called civilized world,” Babluani says in the DVD interview. He says his generation fell into chaos after the violence of three domino-like civil wars in Georgia and the sudden free-fall into freedom they encountered in a post-Soviet world. Unlike the revolutionary but provincial thugs in The Deer Hunter, those organizing Russian roulette matches outside Paris are worldly men in shiny black cars, habituated to power and complaining that their sport’s golden era is past. Once a night’s match started with 42 contestants, laments one, and the opening bets in Istanbul were much larger.

Around the cramped table in their slope-ceilinged kitchen, Sébastien’s family has a bit of bread and soup to go around. They still speak Georgian at home. Sébastien loses his roofing job at a crumbing, walled villa on the beach when the owner overdoses on morphine and the sudden widow dismisses Sébastien without paying him. The wind fortuitously blows a letter into his hands, containing a train ticket, paid hotel reservation and mysterious instructions. Feeling cheated, Sébastien feels entitled to take his former employer’s place in what he discovers, too late to back out, is the heavily guarded Russian roulette match in the dark woods. His conviction that he’s entitled to overturn his luck of course also generates Sébastien’s later encounter with Jacky’s manager-brother, who feels similarly entitled.

13 Tzameti is meticulous filmmaking, with clean, understated performances. The tensest scenes are not necessarily those during the shooting matches. When detectives arrest Sébastien for questioning on his way home, he evades their confrontations, insists on his story, holds his gaze steady. Gradually it’s clear that mastering his own surging panic during the matches has inoculated this rather shy innocent against garden-variety threats and automatic obedience. To what end, at what cost is less clear.

13 Tzameti opened in the US in July 2006 and released on DVD last month. This review appeared in the 4/12/07 issue of the Syracuse City Eagle weekly, where “Make it Snappy” is a weekly column reviewing films that have not had regular theatrical runs in Syracuse & older films of enduring worth.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Film Review #94: The Challenge
Director: Tim Scanlon
Cast: Tim Scanlon, Ray Rinaldi, Jennie Russo

“I’m forty years old and I trained for six weeks before we filmed,” said Tim Scanlon, who stars as aging boxer Irish Pat Reilly in The Challenge. Scanlon also wrote, directed and edited this new feature film. “Then the first day of shooting I overdid it and had to go to the hospital. It’s very hard work. I underestimated what it takes. I swam in college and I thought swimming was the ultimate. Now it’s boxing.”

Scanlon, a Cazenovia native, spent eight years in Los Angeles working in films as a stuntman, actor, set dresser and production assistant. A decade ago he came home to start Scanman Productions. Now a West-sider, he’s made eight comedies built upon his Billy Mahoney character and four action films. Speaking before last Friday night’s premiere of his newest at Eastwood’s Palace Theater, Scanlon said he was hopeful for a good crowd.

“The Palace staff tells me I hold the record there for an indie premiere – in October 2005 I had 245 people come to Reynolds City.”

An informal head-count suggested last Friday’s enthusiastic audience was a tad larger. The Challenge screened as a fund-raiser for Ray Rinaldi’s two Syracuse Golden Gloves boxing gyms, where Rinaldi coaches kids and young adults. Rinaldi wants the kids to stay in school and out of trouble. He also mentors boxers with talent and discipline enough to make a start on the pro circuit. Rinaldi holds the New York State franchise – outside New York City’s metro area – for Golden Gloves. He plays himself in The Challenge, a tale that pits his system of clean fighting values against the organized underground world of “street fighting” with its big gambling bucks and no-rules slugfests.

The easy-going, courtly Rinaldi doesn’t think much of himself as an actor, but he greeted people in the lobby and then got on stage with two of his students for a boxing demonstration. He said, “Now this is the real Rocky!” about the first kid, dark-haired Rocky Sardo, fast and wiry. He said the second, willowy, auburn-haired Caroline Buerkle, already has some fight dates. Scanlon MC’ed these preliminaries, which included an Australian buddy who’s a comic and singer Kristen Hoffmann, who drove up from New York for this. Her song “Temple” closes the film.

The Challenge starts with an underground fight that’s set in the basement of The Palace, “closed for twenty-one years” for the story’s purposes, in which Reilly whips the strapping Jorge Medina – in real life an auto detailer at Bresee Chevrolet on Old Liverpool Road – and gets scouted by trainer Mitch O’Malley (Carl Barber). O’Malley tells Rinaldi he can get Reilly in shape for real boxing again. Rinaldi doubts it. He says Reilly’s “a nutcase,” but he welcomes his once gifted student to his gym on South Geddes – there’s even a flashback of the two sparring years ago. Reilly’s girlfriend Tammy (Jennie Russo, whom you might’ve seen at the Spaghetti Warehouse doing dinner theater murder mysteries) also objects to Reilly’s bar brawling –another flashback of a nasty skirmish at Pooches Bar in Solvay features a stray ear. After some testy goading and circling, Reilly and Rinaldi’s grandson – real life pro boxer Damian Rinaldi – resolve matters in a suitably instructive way.

Friday’s crowd did lots of cheering. There’s such unexpected but undeniable pleasure in seeing your own town up there on-screen that you yearn for more locally produced movies. Radio DJs Ron Bee and Becky Palmer from 104.7 and 107.9’s Marty and Shannon are up there on-screen. Scenes occur in the Coffee Pavilion, Traffik nightclub, Canastota’s Boxing Hall of Fame – even Eagle Newspapers’ newsroom. Scanlon’s also made a film worth seeing. He says he worked on choreographing that first fight scene over three weeks, with extra help on blocking the crowd from local filmmaker Ron Bonk. Fine camera work from Rick Stern, who drove from Ohio four times, is especially evident there, in the nightclub scene and during the final showdown fight – itself a 12-hour shoot.

The Challenge may screen at Jazz Central too, but Scanlon was already selling DVDs in lobby Friday night. This DVD is a good deal. Had the excellent trailer run on local network TV, Friday’s crowd would’ve been bigger. There’s also an interview with Scanlon and a wonderful commentary track with Scanlon and producer David Schmidt (who also plays Reilly’s shady street fighter manager).

The Challenge plus two earlier Scanlon features, Concrete Skies & Reynolds City, are available through This review appeared in the 4/05/07 issue of the Syracuse City Eagle weekly, where “Make it Snappy” is a weekly column reviewing films without regular theatrical runs in Syracuse & older films of enduring worth.