Selling a White Dress (10 minutes). Striking black-and-white photography dominates this atmospheric short, in which a photo shoot involving two fashion models, a black male (Robert Smith) and a Caucasian female (Joyce Eleny Ramirez), further heightens the colorblind palette. A catalog of abstract textures, disembodied voices and images of random limbs and body sets is propelled by a David Lynch-ian sonic soundscape that drifts between 1920s-era music snatches and atonal clatter. Amid the ambiance sits a panel of top-hatted observers (April Knotek, Arianna Pieragostini and Helen Meyers) dressed in bizarre togs, reminiscent of some long-forgotten Buggles music video. Director Christopher Toppino came up with the concept and handled the cinematography, and whatever he’s Selling in this offbeat, otherworldly work, we’re buying.
In the Heart of Chile (47 minutes). Filmmaker Stacy Barton eloquently documents the long, strange trip of Santiago, Chile, from the throes of genocide and dictatorship under Pinochet in the 1970s to its current democratic state, with interviews from a roster of rebellious movers and shakers who helped the country bridge that gap. Creative types such as painter Hugo Cardenas, artist-writer Jordi Lloret, writer-poet Malu Urriola, novelist-playwright Eugenia Prado and painter-engraver Sebastian Rojas-Jiminez have channeled their anger into artistry, as they ensure that the years of human rights violations must never be forgotten. Sites that were at one time devoted to the military junta’s torture of revolutionaries are now memorialized, while a wailing wall lists the people who mysteriously disappeared during Pinochet’s regime. Provocative photos of a recent Prado play titled Mental Disorders, a feminist work with occasional nudity, demonstrates that Chile has found new voices that would have been silenced 30 years ago. Toward the film’s end, Barton hails the sign of hope suggested by the election of a female president, Michele Bachelet, yet the filmmaker closes her work with a more subtle touch: Sometimes freedom simply means that a woman can play the blues in safety.
This Is My Cheesesteak (40 minutes). Filmmaker Ben Daniels’ hungry homage to his hometown of Philadelphia focuses on the illustrious cheesesteak sandwich, an intoxicating combo of shaved beef, fried onions, melted cheese and the right bun. Daniels interviews six purveyors who do their job right: Frankie Olivieri Jr. from Pat’s Kings of Steaks; Joey Vento representing Geno’s Steaks; Steve Iliescu of Steve’s Prince of Steaks; Vonda Bucci and son John Jr. running John’s Roast Pork; co-owners Abner Silver and Bill Proetto from Jim’s Steaks; and Tony Luke of the eponymous Tony Luke’s Olde Philly Style Sandwiches. The entrepreneurs all look like they’d be right at home in a Martin Scorsese movie (Iliescu in particular has a Joe Pesci flair), and they all have colorful stories to tell. Olivieri has a photo of his grandfather posing with a gun-toting Humphrey Bogart, while his across-the-street rival Vento, a motorcycle maven, says about his neon-lit establishment, “If I close my lights, I don’t know if they’ll be able to find Philadelphia!” Daniels pulls in a sociology professor and a nutritional coach for some counterpoint (the latter has health issues regarding the product, but still can’t resist the taste temptation), and he even visits a tony steakhouse that offers $100 cheesesteaks with caramelized onions (“It’s a marketing tool,” rationalizes Stephen Starr of the Starr Restaurant Organization). Daniels packs a generous amount of atmosphere, nostalgia, comedy (witness the cheesesteak makers’ disdainful reactions to microwavable Hot Pockets) and affection in just 40 yummy minutes, although it’s pretty easy to see which side of the griddle this filmmaker’s heart—and-stomach—can be found. Also slated to screen at the Armory Square Drive-In on Friday, May 2, 8:30 p.m.
Admission is $8, with students and seniors paying $6. For information, call 443-1870.
Cheese wizards: Filmmaker Ben Daniels and Geno’s Steaks proprietor Joey Vento tear into a South Philly specialty in the mouth-watering documentary This Is My Cheesesteak, screening Friday at SU’s Gifford Auditorium.