The competition films aren't as high-profile as the out-of-competition showcase screenings, but offer the best chance to catch emerging indie filmmakers on the way up. We haven't had a chance to screen all the competition features yet, but of the ones we have, these stand out:
Bad Fever (Saturday, 5 p.m., Studio on the Square) Hometown favorite Kentucker Audley shows off his acting chops in the second feature film by Dustin Guy Defa. Eddie (Audley) is a socially stunted would-be comedian who jockeys between driving around and tape-recording each terrible joke that comes to mind and actually sharing those jokes with an unforgiving audience at a stand-up comedy club. Irene (Eleonore Hendricks) is a warped vixen who delights in making videos of men humiliating themselves. Thus, a match made in purgatory emerges: a socially clueless loner looking for love and a manipulative sex fiend looking for a victim. The film is exceedingly and intentionally uncomfortable, but achieves a strange harmony in the intersection of these two lives. Audley has mastered his character, with an almost schizophrenic manner of speaking you won’t be able to forget. — Hannah Sayle
The Dish & the Spoon (Thursday, 6:45 p.m., Studio on the Square): This feature, directed and co-written by Allison Bagnel, who co-wrote the Vincent Gallo indie hit Buffalo 66, is something of a showcase for actress Greta Gerwig, who has lately been transitioning from the mumblecore/festival scene into the mainstream. Gerwig is a woman who reacts messily to the discovery of her husband's infidelity. Gerwig's character flies off the grid for a while, and picks up an effete stray (Olly Alexander) in a meet-not-so-cute. Most of the film is about the developing friendship between these two lost souls, with echoes of such previous quirky/indie odd-couple pairings as Midnight Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho, and Annie Hall. Big-boned, disheveled, but still quite attractive, Gerwig is more charming, flawed-human oddball than Manic Pixie Dream Girl. — Chris Herrington
A Little Closer (Sunday, 5:45 p.m., Studio on the Square): Beautifully shot on a minimal budget, A Little Closer is the story of a single mother, Sheryl and her two sons, Marc and Stephen, in rural Virginia. The film is slow burning, but for those patient enough, the aching drama comes to fruition in a few particularly haunting scenarios. Sheryl’s search for physical connection leads her to community mixers in a tragically familiar, church basement-like setting, complete with slow dancing, folding chairs, and a punch bowl — and a palpable sense of discomfort and desperation. When she strikes up a fling and makes a subtle attempt at something more meaningful, the result is predictably heartbreaking. Older son Marc, after taking sex tips from a seedy guy at his summer job at the car lot, convinces his new girlfriend to have sex with him in what becomes a painfully non-consensual encounter fueled by teenage urgency. And younger brother Stephen’s sweetly awkward transition into adolescence finds conflict in his first real crush on his summer school teacher and his desire to fit in with a group of rebellious classmates. Unfailingly authentic, A Little Closer is a quiet, unpretentious gem. — Sayle
Snow on Tha Bluff (Saturday, 10 p.m., Studio on the Square): Shot and marketed in the slippery the is-it-real-or-is-it-fake? mode of I'm Still Here and Catfish, this raw feature from Atlanta is sort of like The Blair Witch Project meets The Wire. The conceit is that a camera-wielding crew of middle-class collegians are robbed at gunpoint by a drug dealer (star/protagonist Curtis Snow), who takes the camera and decides to document his daily life, giving a guided tour of drug deals, street violence, sordid sex, and painful childcare issues, which performers and scenarios that seem to blend staged and real. An intentionally provocative, if not entirely successful, project that certainly stands in contrast to the white, middle-class, twentysomething milieu more commonly found on the festival circuit. — Herrington
Without (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Studio on the Square): Named one of the five nominees for “Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You” at this year's Gotham Independent Film Awards, this impressive debut feature from filmmaker Mark Jackson tracks a 19-year-old woman (Joslyn Jensen) acting as a caretaker for an elderly man in a vegetative state while his family is on vacation. Stuck on an island in Washington state, otherwise alone, with no internet or cell-phone signal, and dealing with recent personal trauma, it's a subtle, convincing portrait of a woman unraveling, sort of a minor-key, modern-indie answer to Repulsion, with Jensen doing heavy-lifting in a role that has her on-screen in nearly every shot. — Herrington
The Louisiana-set Lord Byron (Friday, 7:15 p.m., Studio on the Square) played to mixed reviews at Sundance. It's a character study of a weed-fueled, unemployed gadabout juggling girlfriends. Another Sundance film is Prairie Love (Sunday, 3 p.m., Studio on the Square), a story of three characters searching for love on the North Dakota tundra. Five-Time Champion (Saturday, 1:45 p.m., Studio on the Square) is a Texas-based film about a young scientist dealing with family and personal issues. It debuted at SXSW earlier this year. Butterfly Rising (Sunday, 5:30 p.m., Studio on the Square), which tracks two women on a life-journey of a road trip, is the writing and directing debut of actress Tanya Wright (True Blood). And David (Sunday, 1 p.m., Studio on the Square) is a feature based on last year's Indie Memphis short-film winner, Daud, about a young Muslim boy in Brooklyn who is mistaken as Jewish by new friends.
Lord Byron trailer:
Up next, a look at some of the festival's documentary selections.