“Americans love our oversized portions. Whether supersizing fries or signing up for a labyrinthine cable TV package, U.S. residents often mistakenly correlate “bigger” with “better.” Recent SFUAD grad and filmmaker Jehad N. Al-Khateeb’s 2016 indie short “A Town Called Theocracy” calls the size fallacy out with a dark, socially conscious narrative. Made aware of injustice in his home country, Syria, Al-Khateeb says that activism is an inherent part of his art.
Within a 15-minute filmic interval, “A Town Called Theocracy” manages to underscore the danger of government censorship while successfully executing several other storylines. First, there’s the relationship that protagonist/projectionist Leo (Mark Feigenbutz, who also wrote the screenplay) has with his town’s theater. The arrival of intriguing out-of-towner Mabel (Lucy Madeline, who happens to be Feingenbutz’s IRL fiancée) sets the stage for a meet-cute and artistic collaboration…
After a rabidly religious mayor enacts a draconian film restriction bill, cinephile Leo finds himself feeding imaginary reels into the theater’s projector. He passionately introduces—indeed, conjures from thin air—nonexistent, fantastic and entirely improbable films to an absent audience. There’s popcorn, and the soda jets are tuned like a concert piano. We get to know Leo via these fantastic, absurd monologues, and then via an elegant, existential and funny dialogue with Mabel, a stranger and the sole theatergoer.
Feingenbutz’s physical comedy skill, comedic timing and stand-up comedy background allow him to make this essential character a real standout. This film also benefits from the couple’s incredible chemistry. Madeline’s portrayal of starry-eyed yet pragmatic truth-seeker Mabel pulses with naturalistic aplomb. We see the idea lightbulb flick on—that split-second when she becomes determined they must create a movie that creatively bypasses the strictures of Ordinance 4385. That’s the cue for romance’s full bloom.
Shot entirely at SFUAD campus theater The Screen (1600 Saint Michaels Drive, Santa Fe), the nighttime-lensed work features intelligent, vivid cinematography. Between the clever camera work, razor-sharp editing and a genuine soundtrack—you know, one that builds, sustains and reinforces narrative tension—audiences of “A Town Called Theocracy” are in for a treat. The festival film circuit has already announced for Team “Theocracy” with a slew of nominations, awards and official selection slots. The film has screened as an official selection at Sose International Film Festival, Dubai International Film Festival, Aesthetica Short Film Festival, 7th Underground Cinema Film Festival, Las Cruces International Film Festival, Los Angels Cinefest, Neu World Studios International Film Festival, Santa Fe Film Festival, London Golden Scout international Film festival, Highway 61 Film Festival and so on. Upcoming selections and screenings are slated for Boston Underground Film Festival, Blackbird Film Festival, and the list still grows.