Three and a half stars (NR)
This film, made by Evansville director Brad Kimmel, is a fake documentary that explores two eras: the ’70s and the present. The premise is that modern-day university students find archival footage and recordings of a band that came together briefly in May 1973 to record their album, only to mysteriously disappear afterward. The story switches back and forth from studio sessions and bonfires with the hippies to computer searches by the college students who love music and appreciate technology.
There’s no “mock” in this doc; it’s played straight. Contributing to this sense of verisimilitude are the razor-true performances — mostly by performers who had never acted before. The film plays as authentic because the actors improvised a good deal of their dialogue. The scenes around the campfire in 1973 are particularly effective, as the musicians drink, smoke, joke, make love and occasionally lament the Vietnam War. Spontaneity spills from the screen: Watch spellbound as Doobie Dan (Brian Reed), the session’s engineer, suddenly starts reciting Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.” By then you know you’ve fallen down the rabbit hole.
Novem, written by Kimmel and Patrick O’Connor, was Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2005 Indianapolis International Film Festival, whose current festival opens next Wednesday, April 25. In fact, Novem has racked up 10 major awards at festivals around the country. Its limited engagement at the Landmark theater is Kimmel’s attempt to find an audience large enough to fulcrum Novem to a bigger audience. You can help: Go, enjoy and spread the word. See novemsongs.com for more.