BIFF 2012 #5: Turkey Bowl (US 2012)

A team talk in 'Turkey Bowl'

This was the other half of the double bill with Distinguished Flying Cross in the Uncharted States of America strand. At 64 mins this film comes in just below the conventional time length that separates ‘short’ from ‘feature-length’ – and that may be a defining constraint for audiences because this is a fiction narrative that for me required more time to tell a satisfying story.

Writer-director Kyle Smith has imposed some tough constraints on himself with a total of ten characters who play out a game of American Football on a summer’s day in a Los Angeles park. The narrative is composed in what appears to be nearly ‘real time’ (there is conventional cutting between shots but no obvious ellipses in the presentation of events).

Seven of the ten know each other  from college and are meeting for their annual game with the winner getting the turkey. One guy brings his girlfriend and two other players just happen to be in the park and are invited to join in. They go through team selection and then play the game. My dissatisfaction is probably because I find the game itself fairly incomprehensible. It isn’t a ‘beautiful game’ but I guess it can be the basis of interesting narratives given time for more background than is possible here. Competitive sport brings out the worst in people so inevitably there is bickering and stand-offs between those who play to win and those who don’t. Race, gender and class become divisive issues, but not quite in the way we might expect. I found several of the group to be simply offensive at first but they are nuanced enough as characters to enable a dramatic narrative to take shape. However, it has nowhere to go, so the final result is like a film school exercise. (I’m not sure why we need to see the whole game – a bit more social interaction would have suited me.) Having said that, it is well-acted, nicely shot and edited and works well in its own terms. I can see why the film was highly praised at the SXSW Festival in Austin. This review from indieWire gives a more sympathetic view and makes some interesting points.

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