The indie movie scene in DFW has come a long way in the past decade, enjoying growth in both the number of arthouse screens in the area and film festival offerings.
And yet, Chris Kelly’s Modern Cinema Festival — the ninth annual showcase curated by former Star-Telegram and DFW.com film critic Christopher Kelly — still manages to bring to the region films that might bypass us completely.
In fact, the festival, which runs Oct. 3-6 at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, is nicknamed: “Great Films You Haven’t Heard Of ...Yet.”
“The starting template is to come up with an interesting mix of films that won’t be shown here otherwise,” says Kelly. “That was the original motivating factor in 2004. There were these indie films that were opening elsewhere that weren’t opening here.”
That’s not to say the festival only worships at the altar of obscurity — Kelly scored coups in 2007 with The Kite Runner, and 2009 with Precious (Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire), showing those eventual Oscar nominees well before they opened elsewhere in the market. This year’s lineup includes Daniel Radcliffe (the “Harry Potter” films) starring as Beat poet Allen Ginsberg in Kill Your Darlings, and Adam Scott ( Parks & Recreation) and Jane Lynch ( Glee) in the comedy A.C.O.D. (short for Adult Children of Divorce).
But Kelly admits that the higher-profile films are just appetizers for the meat of his schedule, which often consists of lesser-known gems that are big on substance, if not necessarily hype. It’s an approach that seems to have worked. Kelly says festival audiences have mushroomed over the past decade.
“I think [the Fort Worth audience] has gotten more open to risk-taking, surprise and taking chances on things,” he says. “I’d like to think we’ve been an integral part of that.
“The very first movie we showed was a Turkish movie, Distant, and I remember standing there thinking we’re going to have three people here. I was pleasantly surprised we had 50 people at that screening. At the last festival, for some obscure movies, we had 125 people. People will take chances on things.”
With that mind, we had Kelly run through each film on this year’s schedule and explain why he chose it.
7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3
Starring: Adam Scott, Jane Lynch, Richard Jenkins, Amy Poehler, Catherine O’Hara
Story: A 30-something tries to come to terms with how his parents’ divorce affected him.
“The first few films that were programmed were very dark. I was looking at the schedule and thought, ‘Boy, this is going to be a downer.’ I saw this [movie] at Sundance and it’s really a very modest, charming movie. It’s not going to be a life-changing movie, but it’s kind of fun and crowd-pleasing.”
6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 4
Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Toni Servillo, Fabrizio Falco
Story: Based on actual events, the film from director Marco Bellocchio dramatizes the case of Italy’s Eluana Englaro, a woman in a coma whose husband wanted to disconnect her from life support, over the objections of the Vatican and the Italian government.
“This is from one of the great Italian directors, who did China Is Near. He’s somebody I’ve always been interested in. ... This was like the Italian Terri Schiavo case. ... It shows how society was impacted by this woman whose husband was planning to pull the plug on her. In a year when we have a new pope, it was just really interesting and good timing for it.”
8:15 p.m. Friday, Oct. 4
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Ben Foster, Elizabeth Olsen, Michael C. Hall
Story: Set in the 1940s, the film depicts soon-to-be-famous Beat poet Allen Ginsberg as a Columbia University student who meets up with other future-famous writers Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs and becomes implicated in murder.
“It’s a good solid drama with great star performances. I’d recently seen On the Road and I thought that movie missed the boat entirely on that era. It’s a really sharp and interesting movie.”
2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5
Starring: Veerle Baetens, Johan Heldenbergh
Story: Two very different, passionate people — he’s a banjo player in a bluegrass band, she’s a tattoo shop owner — fall deeply in love, but their love is tested when their young daughter becomes ill. Directed by Felix Van Groeningen ( The Misfortunates).
“It’s good old-fashioned melodrama. It’s a strange kind of mash up but it comes together. It’s Belgium’s submission for the Oscar.”
5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5
Starring: Néstor Guzzini, Malú Chouza
Story: A Uruguayan coming-of-age tale, it tells the story of a girl who goes on vacation with her brother and divorced dad.
“Every year I try to find a precious jewel and this one is about a girl who goes on vacation with her father, and it rains, and she learns a hard lesson about life. It’s really a sweet, heartwarming movie from Uruguay that’s not going to get much attention otherwise.”
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, George MacKay
Story: An American teenager vacationing in England finds herself racing across the country to reuinte with the boy she loves in the midst of a global war. It’s directed by Kevin Macdonald, whose The Last King of Scotland screened at Modern Cinema in 2006.
“It’s a really accomplished movie, that I think will appeal both to older crowds and to teenagers and college students — and brings a jolt of action to the festival, so we’re definitely excited to be able to show it. This is one of its first screenings since its world premiere last month at the Toronto Film Festival.”
2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 6
Starring: Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan, Jeff Goldblum
Story: An English couple tries to bring the spark back to their marriage by going to where they honeymooned, Paris.
“I had this one on my radar and I love [director Roger Michell, Notting Hill] and I love the cast. I got a chance to look at it in August and I was desperate for us to show it. It’s kind of like Before Midnight; it strikes a similar balance between comedy and tragedy and bittersweet. It’s a really, really special movie that I think will get a lot of attention. ...We’re getting it two days after the U.S. premiere at the New York Film Festival.”
4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 6
Story: The film follows a young man who treats HIV-infected children in India.
“In some respects, it’s the best movie we’re showing this weekend. It’s really moving and compelling and it opens people’s eyes to these young people in India suffering with HIV and AIDS. It’s a great illustration of a person finding their place in the world. You genuinely get to see someone’s life changed and eyes opening to a new way of looking at the world. I hope people take a chance on it. It sounds depressing but it’s not.”