Some film picking advice for the weekend's film fest

Image by Background image by Flickr user Incase DesignsImage by 20090422-filmfest.jpg If you're like us, you thought "There has to be a better way to find the good stuff."
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A good film festival is, by nature, a mixed bag. Part of the fun is noting the vast differences in quality, as well as the realization that sometimes the most enjoyable and affecting movies don't have the high production-values or the biggest stars.

Read more stories on this subject in our Charleston International Film Festival topic page.

Also, a big thanks to Dan for helping us out with this. Be sure to take a gander at his excellent blog.But that uncertainty can make attending a film festival a stressful thing: With so many blocks to choose from and so many unknown films, how do you pick which blocks are right for you?

With that dilemma in mind, we offer you this audience guide to the 2nd Annual Charleston International Film Festival. You can browse our chronological listing of blocks (with summaries of the films provided by the festival), or you can get a subjective ranking of each block based on the amount of interest each is likely to generate.

These rankings don't attempt to predict which of these films will be the best -- they're just one man's educated guesses at which blocks are the most likely to attract buzz, ticket sales and exciting festival audiences. They also reflect festival director Summer Spooner's comment that this year's CIFF has a darker edge to it, a zeitgeist observation that could speak to the identity of the event itself.

And don't forget, you can get schedules, previews, guides, and Twitter chatter on our CIFF special section.

Here are Dan's picks (ranked in order of general "interestingness")

Friday Block 4, 7 p.m.

Think of it as: An award-winning creepfest.
What you get: "Dying Breed" appears to be a likely contender for an award, and pairing it with the Cannes-anointed short "Next Floor" made this a high-interest block.
Best selling point: Some people love being scared.

Saturday Block 9, 10:45 p.m.

Think of it as: The wicked nightcap highlight of the festival's biggest day.
What you get: Nine animated dark visions.
Best selling point: You already know you want to see these. The good news is that Blocks 7 and 8 should wrap up before this one kicks off.

Saturday Block 4, 4 p.m.

Think of it as: The darkest of the festival's shorts programs.
What you get: A poor night's sleep and some really weird nightmares.
Best selling point: If you're looking for the dark heart of this festival, this collection is probably in contention.

Thursday Block 4, 9:30 p.m.

Think of it as: 99 minutes of inventiveness.
What you get: Two animated shorts, followed by a re-imagined road movie.
Best selling point: “Fix” looks like a fun ride.

Sunday Block 4, 3:30 p.m.

Think of it as: The last block of the festival before the organizers and filmmakers head off to the awards gala.
What you get: A short, followed by the biggest South Carolina film of the festival.
Best selling point: Hollywood star power. The cast of “Gospel Hill” includes Danny Glover, Angela Bassett and Julia Stiles.

Thursday Block 2, 7:30 p.m.

Think of it as: A world-premiere helps set the darker, edgier tone of this year's festival.
What you get: The eerie documentary “Chasing the Shadows” and a comedy-horror short.
Best selling point: How often does Charleston host a world premiere film that doesn't include the words “This is Geoff Marshall.”

Thursday Block 1, 7 p.m.

Think of it as: “Welcome to the festival, I'm Brad Jayne.”
What you get: A short by a respected local filmmaker opens the festival, followed by an independent film with some name-brand Hollywood stars.
Best selling point: Local boy Brad Jayne is retiring “Search” from the festival circuit after this screening, so it's a fond farewell for a decorated short.

Saturday Block 6, 7 p.m.

Think of it as: A ticket to see the locally made feature “All for Liberty.” Because there's nothing else in this block.
What you get: Clarence Felder's film about his ancestor's role in the Revolutionary War in South Carolina.
Best selling point: It's very local, and you can expect to see lots of local talent.

Sunday Block 3, 3:15 p.m.

Think of it as: A dark-horse short, plus Vincent D'Onofrio.
What you get: A strong mob-themed feature, with an allegedly provocative short (“Interpretation”) as a warm-up act.
Best selling point: Hey, D'Onofrio is pretty good.

Saturday Block 5, 6 p.m.

Think of it as: A promising documentary about a child soldier's journey, with a bunch of documentary filmmaker types in the audience.
What you get: Ben Affleck playing director for five minutes, followed by what could be a pretty good feature-length documentary.
Best selling point: There are only five minutes of Affleck.

Saturday Block 3, 3:30 p.m.

Think of it as: An Asheville martial arts comedy with a local comedy short as its opening act..
What you get: “Golden Blade III: Return of the Monkey's Uncle” is the sort of broad kung fu satire we haven't seen since “Kung Pow: Enter the Fist.”
Best selling point: It's got a local flavor without being “The Hills Have Thighs.”

Sunday Block 1, 12:30 p.m.

Think of it as: Another chance to catch a Farrah Hoffmire short.
What you get: Outside of being local artist/documentary filmmaker Hoffmire's second entry in this festival, the main course is a serious documentary about coal.
Best selling point: You're one of Farrah's many friends, or you love documentaries.

Saturday Block 1, 12:30 p.m.

Think of it as: The world premiere of a locally made film about South of the Border.
What you get: Jesse Berger and Nate Mallard's big moment at the festival, plus a short film from Spain.
Best selling point: “Pedro says watch this movie.”

Friday Block 6, 9:15 p.m.

Think of it as: A chance to watch six short films with a bunch of local improv actors in the audience to watch the screening of “It's Just Lunch.”
What you get: Hey, it's a shorts program. You get a bit of everything.
Best selling point: Did we mention there are likely to be a bunch of local improv actors in the audience?

Friday Block 7, 7 p.m.

Think of it as: A feature-length film by animator Bill Plympton.
What you get: A feature-length film by animator Bill Plympton. Plus a short.
Best selling point: If you like Plympton, this is your block.

Saturday Block 8, 9 p.m.

Shorts Program

Think of it as: Four dramas, followed by two comedies.
What you get: Four East Coast premieres
Best selling point: “First Time Long Time,” starring John Savage, explores what happens when you get an erection lasting more than four hours. We're up for that.

Friday Block 2, 4 p.m.

Think of it as: A foreign film with a foreign-film opening act.
What you get: A Portugeuse dramedey, plus a touching short from Australia.
Best selling point: The novelty of the words “Australian” and “touching” in the same sentence.

Saturday Block 7, 8:15 p.m.

Think of it as: Down-beat drama.
What you get: A local short, followed by the U.S. premiere of a feature on terrorism, war and hate.
Best selling point: Sometimes it feels good to feel bad.

Sunday Block 2, 1 p.m.

Think of it as: The most eclectic mixed block of the festival.
What you get: Four wildly diverse shorts, plus an hour-long documentary called “Secrets to Love.”
Best selling point: Ah, variety.

Friday Block 5, 8:15 p.m.

Think of it as: Kind of stuck between the Block 4 creepfest and the Block 6 shorts program.
What you get: A documentary about London gangsters.
Best selling point: Cockney rhyming slang.

Thursday Block 3, 9:15 p.m.

Think of it as: Short Attention Span Theater, Act I.
What you get: The first of the festival's “shorts” blocks.
Best selling point: Watch an Oscar-winning short film on the big screen.

Saturday Block 2, 1:30 p.m.

Think of it as: Surf porn.
What you get: A chance to see “Finding Pura Vida” if you were unable to get into last year's sold-out show at the Terrace.
Best selling point: Local filmmakers shot a documentary about Lowcountry surfers helping a Costa Rican orphanage, and hey – surf's up in Tahiti!

Friday Block 1, 3:30 p.m.

Think of it as: The South Carolina history they didn't teach you in South Carolina schools.
What you get: A made-for-PBS documentary about a generally overlooked chapter in the civil rights movement.
Best selling point: OK, so it's all by its lonesome in this block, it had its (free) Charleston premiere in February, and you'll probably be able to catch it on public television sometime soon, but this is an important, well-made documentary with a local angle.