The Dallas International Film Festival often picks a safe, soft selection for its opening night gala (including the last two, Words and Pictures and I'll See You in My Dreams, which is actually quite good for all its safeness).
Thursday night at the Dallas City Performance Hall felt different.
The audience was younger and, frankly, less white than usual. So was the movie, a sturdy and affecting teen drama called The Land. The very promising feature debut from Steven Caple Jr., the film follows a group of Rust Belt skateboard buddies facing dead ends in their native Cleveland. With few options before them, they use their skating prowess to hijack cars -- until they hijack the wrong one, which holds a shipment of drugs believing to one Momma (Lisa Emond, forever upending your conception of big screen drug lords).
The film features Dallas' own Erykah Badu, excellent as a strung-out prostitute and negligent parent.
Badu was in the house Thursday in all her Baduness, joining the audience to watch the film at a venue right across the street from her old school, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, then joining the cast and crew onstage afterward for a lively Q&A session.
All told it felt like a younger, fresher gala than usual, a smartly programmed event with a local star, high energy and a little-seen film that happens to be really good. The Land shows again 4:15 Friday at the Angelika Dallas.