Onscreen empathy for teachers usually comes as a reward for their work at the end of feel-good American classroom stories. The struggling school excels, the student finds her voice, and the teacher, barely alive, can finally sigh. Their work is honored in what’s achieved. Alternative Math is certainly American in the most current sense. Its protagonist Mrs. Wells isn’t so lucky to see her purpose fulfilled. She has one mission: to convince a tiny pupil, his parents, and school administration that two plus two equals four. Literally. Only in this groundless time could such suspension of disbelief take hold. Director David Maddox (executive producer for A Ghost Story) works smoothly in concert with extremes of disputed truths in 2017, making this funny short a jarringly sad document of the Trump era.
Viewers are immediately endeared to Wells’ hardiness as played by Allyn Carrell. She comes across as the sort of teacher for whom the concept of retirement is elusive. Maddox said in a Q&A after the film’s screening at VideoFest’s AltFiction that he and co-writer Malcolm Morrison considered a young, idealistic teacher on which to center the film. They decided to make Mrs. Wells a seasoned educator, and this means everything to the film’s most important reference: the scope and length of work undone by enthusiasts of alternative facts.
Protestors chant “students count, teachers divide” as a shocked Wells sees her transgression — grading a math problem correctly — go all the way up the chain, even to members of the news media, who urge her from the TV as she watches exhausted on her couch to “go teach in commy France” if she “hates America that much.”
Maddox and his crew use monochromatic costuming, sketch-comedy style pacing, and self-aware jokes aplenty to add levity to material for something of a heartbreaker. By the end all viewers know they can hope for is Wells’ emancipation. Anything more has shown itself to be impossible.
– Lyndsay Knecht
ctrl alt delete
I first met Roni Geva when filmmakers, screenwriters and producers from around the country gathered for the second annual Flicks by Chicks Film Festival on behalf of Women in Film Dallas in Deep Ellum in late October.
The smell of fresh fruit followed me to the macaroons at Casa Stellina. I was just about to sneak some into my purse when I was greeted with a wide smile. “My name’s Roni, like ‘macaroni’,” she said, extending her hand to shake mine. Sporting natural, crazy curls, a floral dress and bright yellow wedge sandals, Geva, the actress, writer, and producer, is known for TV roles in Jane the Virgin and Casual. Turns out Geva is just as quirky behind the camera as she is in front of it.
Her work had been chosen to be part of the select first half of a larger block put together by programmers with Flicks by Chicks; the first half was to be shown here, at their festival, and the second half at VideoFest. Geva was there to screen Episode 2 of ctrl alt delete — an abortion comedy.
The Israel-born screenwriter knows the words “abortion” and “comedy” don’t usually end up in the same sentence. She co-created, wrote and produced ctrl alt delete, which, in Episode 2, takes the audience into the lives of a middle-aged couple who find themselves pregnant. Their children grown already, the grey-haired couple decide to terminate the pregnancy. The pair’s awkward trip to the abortion clinic and their interactions with staff left mouths open and stomachs tight from laughter.
“I love humans, I love women, I love life, and I’m so interested in learning and squeezing the juice out of this life so that when I’m dying, I’m spent. I do not have the capacity to not make a joke,” Geva laughed.
Geva claims College Station and is now based in Los Angeles, where she’s missioned to push television and film’s increasing comfort with modern realities that bump up against social issues and human rights — from interracial marriage to LGBTQ communities — on to the subject of abortion. Four of 7 episodes of the Facebook series have been released, with a half-hour pilot filmed and ready to be pitched to production companies, titled “Ladies First.”
“Come hell or high water, we’re making this pilot. My ultimate goal with this show is to get it produced and half a half-hour comedy on television, that is a workplace comedy about an abortion clinic,” she said. “The abortion clinic is just the setting. It’s the characters that we’re in love with and it’s the characters that we’re rooting for, with their private failures and successes, that we’re deliciously consuming.”
The night’s energy crescendoed with Geva netting a Femme Forward Award for excellence — and dropping her glass award moments after cameras flashed.
— Demetria Lester
Don’t Hang Up The Fucking Phone Curtis (NSFW) [Best Narrative Short, Dallas VideoFest AltFiction]
I caught this short after sitting down to watch a feature purportedly about gentrification in Oak Cliff and its metaphysical implications. Curtis, which was chosen to precede Richard Bailey’s hyper-locally anticipated Telefóto, actually fit this description much better and through its placement succeeded at adding something new to the conversation — not through endless, theoretical musings about displacement and small-business-moralizing key of Bailey’s feature, but instead through a roasting of the white hipster gentrifier that ends in auto-erotic asphyxiation and death by housecat.
Track with me, on this read. Writer-director John W. Yost opens Curtis with a painful monologue helmed by a leather-clad philosopher at a party. “Every single decision you make will lead to your inevitable end,” he tells Curtis, explaining also that cats can see the future, and this somehow is connected to why they eat their shut-in owners. The title character played by Jeremy Bartel is understandably thrown. He returns to the slick apartment where he lives alone and is suspicious of his cat, and his cat’s food, and the idea that his cat is actually the future incarnation of Curtis himself.
The effect of the aggrandized stand-off between Curtis and his cat against gleaming kitchen backsplashes and new stark-white paint reminded me, for subtle reasons, of a funny and telling cultural moment in 2015, when proud suburbanite Marc Maron complained about having to shut his cats in the bedroom so he could interview President Obama. As humans we tend to project our own freedom onto our cats. The reputation they have for entitlement, one we play up with amusement, comes from cats’ ability to express our independence and choosiness. Let’s just say Curtis’ excess of freedom comes back to bite him.
— Lyndsay Knecht