Wild Rose Independent Film Festival

The Wild Rose Independent Film Festival came to town last weekend. Held at the Fleur (my favorite movie theater in Des Moines), it ran from Nov. 4-11 and featured short films produced by students and other independent filmmakers, feature-length films, lectures, panel discussions, an acting workshop, and more.

This seemed like a lot of fun, but the only day I could make it down was yesterday – the last day of the festival. It still seemed cool, because they were screening three feature-length films in the New Iowa Film Showcase Series. The first one started at 4:30 p.m. – awfully early, if you work an 8-5 job – but we made it there in time.

The film showing at 4:30 was The Experiment. I remember when it was being filmed in Des Moines because Adrien Brody was in a war-protest scene with hundreds of local extras, and it was filmed near the capital so it got a lot of news coverage – but I didn’t really know much about the storyline. I was actually more interested in the later films – one called Haunting Villisca about the unsolved Villisca axe murders of 1912, which you may remember reading about in this very blog, and one called A Million Spokes, a RAGBRAI documentary.

When we got there, I was rather horrified to learn that each film was going to cost us $10 – which seems like a whole lot considering the normal matinee price is $6.50 and regular evening shows are $8.50. I was hoping we could view all three films for $10, but nope.

At that point I wasn’t about to walk away, so we paid for two tickets and went in. I think there were five other people in the theater, all of whom looked to be retired. Before the show began, a woman from the film festival welcomed us, talked about the film, and showed us a trailer for another film shot in Iowa – Molly’s Girl.

And then The Experiment began, and I can’t begin to tell you how horrible it was. Dave said afterwards that he has a pretty high tolerance level for bad movies and this was one of the worst films he’d ever seen.

Let me just say that this film went directly to video, and there’s a reason for that. (Come to think of it, perhaps the fact that they showed it in the middle of the afternoon should have been my first clue.) The basic plot involves a group of men who volunteer to participate in a psychological study that takes place in a mock prison in the middle of a cornfield. The subjects will be paid $1,000 for each day of the two-week experiment – that is, if they make it to the end.

Think of it as Lord of the Flies For Grownups, Trapped In a Concrete Building.

I objected to the extreme violence, yes, but more than that, I objected to the ridiculous storyline and the evolution of these characters from mild-mannered guys to full-on sociopathic cretins in something like three days. It was totally laughable.

I would have laughed more if I hadn’t been robbed of my ten dollars. When the film was over, we decided we were NOT going to take a chance on the second film about Villisca, even though the subject was interesting to me. The running time was more than 2 hours – way too long for “paranormal thriller” about a haunted house.

We decided to salvage what was left of the evening and go to dinner. On the way there, we wondered aloud why two such excellent actors (Brody and Forest Whitaker, the film’s other “star”) would take on such terrible roles. Both men have won best actor Oscars (Brody for The Pianist and Whitaker for The Last King of Scotland). The only thing we could think of was, like their characters in The Experiment, these guys were told they could make $1,000 a day if they made this film. Or something like that.

Anyway, we headed downtown Des Moines to eat dinner, which is something we rarely get to do on a weeknight. We went to Django, a cozy French restaurant on 10th Street. I had been there once before for happy hour (a great deal) but never for dinner. I thought it was amazing. We started out with fresh-baked twists of bread with big slabs of real butter while we looked at the menu – a menu that actually had many vegetarian selections. I’m not used to having that many choices, so it took me a long time to decide. Would I have wild mushroom crepes? The grilled cheese with white cheddar and swiss on South Union bread? The daily special veggie pot pie? Or just a wine flight and cheese plate? I ended up with the spinach and goat cheese ravioli tossed with fresh thyme, tomato and champagne beurre blanc. And a generous glass of Oregon Pinot Noir (not cheap, but the irony of that $10 glass of wine was not lost on me. Good wine trumps bad films every time.) I was hoping to have room for dessert, because the dessert list looked spectacular, but alas, I was too full from the bread and pasta.

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