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A couple of weeks ago I attended the annual Utopia Film Festival. Most years I attend at least one film shown at that festival mainly because the festival is held near my home and each film charges only a $5 admission. Last year I didn’t go because I was still recovering from hip surgery, I hadn’t been cleared by the doctor to resume driving, and there weren’t any films that interested me enough to beg someone to drive to the theater so I could make the slow shuffle to the box office with my walker.

The film festival offers an all-access pass where, for $25, you can watch as many of the movies in the festival as you want. I never sprang for it before because I would’ve needed to be interested in at least five movies in order for the cost of the all-access pass to pay off for me and most other years I was interested in anywhere between 1-3 films so it was just cheaper for me to pay the $5 admission fee separately.

This year had the most number of films that I was interested in seeing so I was finally able to justify paying the $25 for the all-access pass. Most of the movies I saw I found that I liked. There was only one film that I was disappointed in. I saw seven movies on Saturday and two movies on Sunday.

I still have the program where I circled the program names so I could give you a rundown of what I saw.

The Legend of Merv Conn: It was a documentary about an accordion player who became an institution in Washington, DC and he kept on playing his beloved accordion until he passed away this year at 91. Merv Conn was quite a character with an absolute joy for life and he really loved the accordion. He seemed such a happy person and I wished I had the chance to meet him in person.

Ernest Borgnine on the Bus: This was originally a pilot for a television show that was going to show actor Ernest Borgnine traveling around the country on his bus. It was made years before the rise of reality television and, according to the director who spoke after the film, the various network executives didn’t understand it so they passed on it. It was a really neat portrait of Borgnine and he really loved traveling to various small towns and meet ordinary people. He wasn’t stuck up like many other Hollywood stars.

Record Paradise: The Musical Life of Joe Lee: Another interesting documentary about the son of a former Maryland Governor who was the black sheep of the family yet he turned his love for music into running a profitable record store.

From Here to Obscurity: The Best of Travesty Films: I’m going to go off on a tangent here. When I spent my freshman year at Anne Arundel Community College, I was a writer for the school newspaper, whose office was located next to the college radio station (whose frequency extended only to the college boundary). We used to hang around each other’s offices all the time. One of the radio station staffer was this woman who had blond hair with two pink stripes in the front. She described herself as the “Punk Princess of Pasadena.” (Pasadena, Maryland is located just located just a few miles north of the community college.) She used to go nightclubbing and she said that one time she saw this hilarious film with the memorable title of Intestines From Space.

Well I finally found the documentary about the people responsible for that Intestines From Space film. It was part documentary about a group of young guys—who called themselves The Langley Punks—in the late 1970’s-early 1980’s who made a bunch of cheesy Super 8 movies in the DC area and they actually got their films shown in actual theaters (this was back in the days before the Internet and YouTube) and part compilation of some of their actual shorts. I have to admit that while some of their stuff was bad, there were other films that were pretty inspired and witty. I thought Alcoholics Unanimous and Hyattsville Holiday were the best of the shorts.

Every Other Day is Halloween: This one was a documentary about Count Gore De Vol, a campy vampire who used to be the late night host for Channel 20’s Creature Feature back in the late 1970’s-early 1980’s. I used to occasionally watch Creature Feature when I was a kid and it was cool to see a local host from my own childhood. Count Gore De Vol actually appeared in person after the documentary ended. I caught a few expressive photos of the Count with my iPad.

Count Gore De Vol
Count Gore De Vol
Count Gore De Vol

My Little Demon: This film had potential. It started off with a woman and her therapist and the woman needed professional help because of the death of her daughter in a car accident. It reminded me of my times with my own therapist. But it had the cool twist where the therapist is really a demon who is trying to tempt the woman to give up her soul in exchange for the demon bringing her daughter back from the dead. It had some cool special effects for a low-budget film. The only major flaw was that the film was overly talky and I grew bored with the constant back-and-forth arguments over whether the woman will give up her soul to get her daughter back from the dead or not. What sucked was that the film had deleted scenes after the credits and they were even more boring than the main movie. The director should’ve cut more of the talking scenes then the movie would’ve been more interesting and it could’ve interested in some major Hollywood studio.

Of Dolls & Murder: Film director John Waters narrated this documentary about Frances Glessner Lee, a woman from a wealthy family whose main specialty was recreating real murder cases as dollhouse dioramas that she called “Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death”. I know that many adult doll fans would have a hard time viewing dioramas featuring a doll with stab wounds or a doll hanging from a noose but I found the dioramas very fascinating with the attention to detail.

The Source: It was an interesting documentary about an alternative New Age commune that started in Los Angeles in the 1970’s but it quickly became a cult whose leader not only felt that he was entitled to having more than one wife but some of them were underaged girls.

Detropia: I read the reviews for this movie in The Washington Post and I wanted to see it. I was thrilled when it was part of the film festival. Detropia shows the impact that the auto industry has had on the city of Detroit. I found it very moving and I was glad that I saw it. It has to be the most memorable of the movies that I saw at the film festival and I can see why it’s been getting rave reviews in the mainstream press.

It was fun watching those movies but I was tired after seeing the last movie on Sunday. I don’t know if I would want to see that many movies in a single weekend again because it can get a bit tiring, even if I did like most of the movies I saw. I may or may not do the full access pass again at next year’s festival. It really depends on the number of movies I’m interested in and if I can schedule the time to actually see them.

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