If there’s one concept that unifies the movies playing the Middle of the Map Fest, it’s that “things prove more complex than what they initially seem.”
That also applies to the event itself.
The sixth annual Middle of the Map Fest, a production of Ink magazine and the Record Machine, expands its lineup this year into a 10-day collage of film, music, art, comedy and ideas. There’s simply a whole lot more of everything.
The cinematic section proves equally ambitious, boasting a lineup of 27 diverse features and two shorts collections. Crime and comedy. Documentary and drama. Historical and horror.
Here are 10 MOTM films that are generating plenty of advance buzz:
The Adderall Diaries
Star James Franco has such clout that the mere attachment of his name seems enough to greenlight any project (“The Disaster Artist,” anyone?). But this adaptation of author Stephen Elliott’s memoir arrives with higher expectations, having already earned a nomination at the Tribeca Film Festival for Best Narrative Feature. Franco headlines the true story — which we can hope is better than his recent film “True Story” — of Elliott covering a murder case that challenges his own perspective on how people can delude themselves. Franco met director Pamela Romanowsky while both were earning MFAs at New York University. After working on a short film together, he hired her to direct “The Adderall Diaries.” The lesson for aspiring filmmakers: Go to class, and good things will occur.
The title refers to a medieval crossbow equipped with a mechanism for drawing back the string. How this relates to “The Arbalest” is one of the many mysteries to be found in this puzzling drama. A winner at SXSW, the film centers around an enigmatic inventor (Mike Brune), renowned for creating “the Kalt Cube,” the world’s most popular toy — but one revealed to have been stolen from another inventor. The story takes place throughout the mid-1960s and ’70s, leading to plenty of amusingly garish costumes and sets.
The Black Coat’s Daughter
Recently retitled from the less-cryptic “February,” “The Black Coat’s Daughter” has the reputation that the less you know about the plot the better. Here’s a spoiler-free synopsis: Introvert Kat (Kiernan Shipka) and bully Rose (Lucy Boynton) get stranded during winter break at their spooky Catholic prep school. Meanwhile, a hitchhiking fugitive (Emma Roberts) makes her way toward the school thanks to a ride from a couple (James Remar and Lauren Holly) with a disturbing connection to the place. The project marks the filmmaking debut of Osgood Perkins, son of “Psycho” star Anthony Perkins.
Called to Walls
Lawrence-based artist Dave Loewenstein spent a year crafting murals for cities in six adjoining states. “Called to Walls” chronicles the experiences of Loewenstein and fellow artists/filmmakers Nicholas Ward and Amber Hansen as they work with communities on four of these murals: Tonkawa, Okla.; Newton, Kan.; Joplin, Mo.; and Arkadelphia, Ark. But each of these sites present challenges, from Tonkawa residents debating how to display their American Indian history to Joplin’s post-tornado rebuilding to a controversy in Arkadelphia in which the Confederate history of the locale runs counter to the mural’s central image of an African-American woman. Screening features a Q&A with Ward.
If There’s a Hell Below
An Edward Snowden-esque exercise in paranoia and tension, “If There’s a Hell Below” follows a zealous reporter (Conner Marx) chasing a story that leads him to a reluctant whistleblower (Carol Roscoe). She insists on meeting him in a remote area, but upon spotting a vehicle while she’s about to reveal her tale, the two embark on a nervy road trip to find sanctuary. Filmmaker Nathan Williams netted a nomination at Slamdance for his debut feature.
Any movie about a “Japanese action comic punk band” should be pretty good, right? “Mad Tiger” showcases Peelander-Z, a conceptual art band that comes across like what might happen if the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers had grown up at CBGB. But the group’s 15-year existence gets threatened when bassist Peelander-Red decides to quit, sending founding vocalist Peelander-Yellow into a fury. Their silly onstage antics are contrasted with their serious off-stage issues in this documentary by Jonathan Yi and Michael Haertlein. The film’s title comes from the act’s song of the same name, which features the telling broken lyrics, “Adult paying money / Us laughing watching this.” Screening is followed by a live concert with Peelander-Z, Destroy Nate Allen and Drop a Grand.
The Ones Below
It’s always the friendly ones you have to watch out for. That’s the lesson of this psychological thriller from David Farr (writer of “Hanna”). Clémence Poésy (of the Harry Potter series) and Stephen Campbell Moore occupy the upper half of a terrace house in suburban London. They are at first pleased when the fastidiously tidy new neighbors (Laura Brin and David Morrissey, aka the Governor from “The Walking Dead”) move in. And the women bond over their pregnancies. Then stuff gets awkward and turns nasty. Like a horror-tinged spin on the play “God of Carnage,” “The Ones Below” exploits a narrative where sympathies shift from one character to the next as Farr unveils each new detail.
Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made
In 1982, three middle-schoolers attempted a shot-by-shot remake of their favorite movie: “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” For the next seven summers, the Mississippi teens worked on the project, completing it with the exception of one action scene. Two decades later, filmmaker Eli Roth (“Hostel”) gave a worn copy to a festival programmer, who showed the kids’ adaptation to a packed crowd. It resulted in revered astonishment at the youthful achievement. The documentary “Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made” catches up with the now 40-something trio as they reunite to shoot the missing scene.
Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives
Before hip-hop became a global golden goose, aficionados of the style needed to turn their radios to the provincial WKCR, the student station at Columbia University. A weekly program launched in 1990 by DJ Stretch Armstrong and host Bobbito Garcia introduced the world to artists who would soon become household names. “Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives” highlights the influential broadcast that Source Magazine called “the best hip-hop radio show of all time.” Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, Eminem, Jay Z and The Notorious B.I.G. are among the unsigned and unknown artists who got their break from the show, and the documentary incorporates archival footage and interviews (then and now) of these prominent performers.
With a title that describes both a trivial career and a view on long-term romance, “Temps” centers on a short-term worker (Grant Rosenmeyer) whose goal is to make enough money to pay for his annual ski trip with a fellow temp buddy (Reid Ewing of “Modern Family”). But after he enjoys a one-night stand with an ambitious co-worker (Lindsey Shaw), the couple attempts to engage in a more meaningful relationship. As the tagline alludes: “Minimum wage. Minimum commitment.” Featuring a Q&A with director Ryan Sage.
▪ The Middle of the Map film festival begins Thursday and runs through Sunday at Alamo Drafthouse Mainstreet, 1400 Main. Single day passes are $15; full fest passes are $35; tickets to the Peelander-Z concert are $10. For schedule and show times, go to MiddleOfTheMapFest.com.
Jon Niccum is a filmmaker, freelance writer and author of “The Worst Gig: From Psycho Fans to Stage Riots, Famous Musicians Tell All.”