Filmfest’s often include a stinkeroo, and Opuntia is arguably LAFF 2017’s most-must-miss movie. In his defense, writer/director David Fenster’s 60 minute pseudo-doc does have some interesting things about it. Opuntia (which translates as “prickly pear”) is a movie meditation on 16th century Spanish explorer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and his peregrinations across much of what whitey now calls America. So viewers can learn a bit of history and particularly, in keeping with LAFF’s multi-culti leanings, about this European’s early contact with our continent’s indigenous people.


Fenster’s film form is also interesting as he attempts to combine the documentary with the poetic in an effort to create what LAFF’s program guide dubs a “visual essay.” But in doing so, Fenster fails to create either a doc per se (although he does use actuality footage) or a motion picture poem. Many of his interview subjects are inherently incredible airy fairy New Age types - to give you an idea of Fenster’s fringe fixations, he previously helmed cinema about Sasquatch called Bigfoot Museum (methinks the name says it all).


But not only are some of Opuntia’s dimwitted ideas offensive, but worst of all, Fenster foists objectionable imagery upon unsuspecting viewers: Lingering out of focus shots plus repulsive sick people in (presumably) hospital beds that make you want to crawl out of your skin. Fenster may be fantasizing that he’s some sort of demented Stan Brakhage or Frederick Wiseman, but these big images were so uncomfortable to watch that I felt like screaming, “Get that off the screen!” Shaman on you for hurting your aud’s eyes.