Behind the chipper, upbeat surface of every film festival lies a raging maelstrom of greed, desperation, blind ambition, ego, and murderous competition. IFC's six-part comic mockumentary miniseries The Festival dives headfirst into these rich satirical waters with its tale of a neurotic young filmmaker (Nicolas Wright) who travels to the Mountain United Film Festival to sell his painfully earnest labor of love, The Unreasonable Truth About Butterflies, an arthouse vehicle for a hunky action star (James A. Woods) whose charmed life throws into relief Wright's sad-sack existence. (He lives with his mother and works at a video store for its sweet-ass 25-percent employee discount.)

An increasingly intrusive IFC camera crew is on hand to follow the not-so-intrepid filmmaker, but as one mishap after another befalls his seemingly cursed film, Wright starts to unravel psychologically. Director Phil Price maintains a zippy, energized pace as he deftly juggles subplots involving the festival's obliviously positive pod person of a PR director, a gruff distributor (Rob deLeeuw) who takes pride in not seeing the films he buys, bearish Russian players whose primary filmmaking experience involves the KGB, and a brassy, domineering lesbian pushing her latest and most provocative experimental short film, "My Vagina Scares You."


The Festival adroitly captures the giddy, drunken high spirits and high-altitude mix of idealism and pragmatism that power most film festivals. Like many mockumentaries, The Festival owes a considerable debt to the films of Christopher Guest, and while its jabs at narcissistic actors and egomaniacal directors aren't exactly revolutionary, Wright imbues his wannabe auteur with surprising depth. He's a pretentious boob, to be sure, but it's hard not to feel for him as his Hollywood dreams steadily devolve into a comic nightmare. The Festival delivers a steady stream of chuckles, but there's surprising pathos in its realization that even a project as ridiculous and pretentious as The Unreasonable Truth About Butterflies represents the sum total of someone's hopes and dreams.

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