Arts & EntertainmentSpotlight

Two Tacoma Film Festival movies that challenge (in a good way)

It may sound cliché, but one of the most exciting things about independent movies is their irreverence in the face of mainstream conventions and expectations. Because these movies come in all shapes and sizes, their moments of subversiveness may range from subtle and digestible new ideas to a slap in the face, telling you to forget everything you’ve ever learned. Two movies in this year’s Tacoma Film Festival provide viewers a challenge that lies somewhere between the two extremes.

“Francine” (Friday Oct. 5 4 p.m. @ The Grand Cinema and Sunday Oct. 7 2:30 p.m. @ Tacoma Art Museum)

This movie, showing both nuance and poignancy, is a highly atmospheric look at a single life. Francine has just been released from incarceration into anywhere, rural America. Most of the time, she is seen carefully navigating the trials of everyday life. Over the course of the movie and without a single mention of her previous history, I began to understand more about the person that had been behind bars in the past and why her new freedom seems foreign and precarious.

There is no plot here and that can sound bemusing or frustrating to viewers, but the movie carries forward and it had me constantly wondering what surprises lay in store.

At an early point, Francine wanders through this nameless small town feeling it out when suddenly vicious metal music takes over the movie’s soundtrack. As the guttural sound conveyed a distinct darkness and inner violence, she continues to walk. I was irritated, thinking this was supposed to be a blatant audible sign of the character’s troubled past. My instinctual reaction was to sneer at such lightly-veiled symbolism. To my surprise, the camera gradually pivoted around her and I saw that she was actually walking toward an impromptu music performance where youths, outcasts, and muted middle aged types were undergoing an alternating fierce and transcendent experience inspired by the blast of live metal. It is a transcendent movie moment for me too as it totally broke my sense of expectation. It’s this kind of unpredictability that makes “Francine” an exciting and provocative watch.

“Out on a Limb” (Saturday Oct. 6 10:40 a.m. @ Tacoma Art Museum and Monday Oct. 8 2 p.m. @ The Grand Cinema)

There may not be a topic in America that tests our sense of certainty and complacency more than homelessness. More than an average investigation about the factors and effects of homelessness, “Out on a Limb” asks the question: What do people do about shelter when all is said and done? David “Squirrelman” Csaky, for one, built a tree-home. This tree-home, illegally built in an Eastlake, Seattle neighborhood, is highly elaborate and structurally impressive. It is a testament to hard life and also hard labor, and it shows that unresolved issues of homelessness are not easily silenced and will literally pop-up where we least expect them to – like in a tree.

A movie about a tree house is a good pretext to bridge into the popular consciousness. Tree houses evoke fantasies of “Swiss Family Robinson” and the movie features a number of fascinating structures in addition to Csaky’s squatting space among the leaves. Thus one easily takes the bait expecting a neat urban tale to unfold with various pleasant quirks, but something more concerning and relevant develops in “Out on a Limb.” Questions of the law and city governance emerge and they’re countered by more questions about current dearth of employment opportunities and disabilities.

We quickly learn that this movie, like the issues that surround homelessness, is not simple storybook narrative with a clearly identifiable right or wrong. This objective look at Csaky and others surviving on the streets creates more questions than answers. What hinders these people? Is it insufficient institutions of society or are they dogged by their own behaviors and decisions? “Out on a Limb” leaves me questioning my own notions about homelessness and I have to acknowledge that the struggle for solutions can easily get caught within the immense complexity of the problems. Visiting such uncertainty is a good thing.