Monday, October 8, 2007

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 9

Aka, the kinda stupid and incredibly exhausting 14 movies straight with no sleep--part 1.

Let's jump right in. First off I saw a short and feature about people living in makeshift communities far from civilization. This isn't even small town, it's no town. First up was "The Legend of Rosalie", a loving tribute to the hard partying, beautiful soul who built a library in her trailer, brightened everyone's life, and then sadly died of breast cancer. But even up to the end, she wasn't sad about dying, she was sad that her post-mastectomy boob job was so botched--all lumpy and irregular. It would've been better in her mind to have no tits.

And then the feature, "Off the Grid: Life on the Mesa", an in-depth look at the eccentric characters who've chosen to live in the middle of the desert so that they can be free. If there's an economy at all there, it's selling pot. But mostly they hunt and farm what they can, and scrape by as best they can. It's a refuge for old hippies, ex-soldiers who've become disillusioned with the society that's willingly given up the freedom they fought for, and of course teenage runaways. One runaway in particular--a young girl who stays on the Mesa for a while (with a kindly old farmer who takes in all kinds of strays--human or animal)...then leaves...then dates a 35 year old guy in town...then gets hooked on crack...then gets pregnant, would be particularly tragic if she weren't so stupid and annoying. But the real drama comes in the form of a series of robberies committed by a gang of teenage runaways living nearby (but who declined to be on camera). Several of the ex-soldier types want to hunt them down and shoot them, cuz that's the law out here and they were stealing from the mouths of babies. As one resident says, "We don't dial 911, we dial .357!" Without giving anything away, the situation is resolved. At times it's a chilling look at the fringes of society, but ultimately I see it as a society with about as much freedom as you can have without an anarchic implosion. In many ways, it reminds me of Burning Man back when guns were allowed (or shortly after they were banned), when people really came for the freedom instead of the braindead hippie bullshit rally it's become.

Speaking of hippies, the next program was a short and feature about developmentally disabled individuals. "Cross Your Eyes Keep Them Wide" is about Creativity Explored, a San Francisco arts institute for the disabled. The artists describe their work and their methods in their own words, and as someone who probably knows less about art than they do, it's pretty interesting.

And then the feature, practically a home movie called "Extraordinary Measures". The Sutton family had 5 healthy, active sons (and some sort of thing about names that start with T) when their 6th, Thad was born. Thad was born with a deformity--a large portion of his skull was missing, and his brain grew in a giant bulb of skin and hair on the outside. His prognosis was not good--he was supposed to be dead in a week. But the family sent him to a hospital in San Antonio (satisfying the Texas theme of the festival), where his conditioned stabilized until they could take him home. They were warned that deformed babies often tear families apart--they require so much work and attention that the other children get jealous. But just the opposite happened. The family of wild boys who were running in all directions suddenly came together and all rallied around their disabled but loving and lovable baby brother. The parents were told they shouldn't have more children, since once you have a disabled child the chance of a subsequent one being disabled skyrockets (particularly for this specific defect). They went ahead and had 2 girls (finally) and twin boys. Then they stopped at 10. Growing up, they always took lots of home video (if I remember correctly, in the Q&A they said that their grandfather was actually the first guy in the neighborhood to own a home movie camera). Now 30 years later (and Thad is still alive), Travis (on of the twins) edits the home movies together and brings them all back together for interviews to make a movie about their extraordinary family. Just what he had already would've been a remarkable movie, but as he's putting it together they get a new tragedy--their father has a heart attack and is without oxygen for several minutes, resulting in some amount of brain damage. It's heart-wrenching, but in a way Thad has already taught them how to deal with this. For the record, although it's not in the film, their dad is fine now. A truly remarkable film. A couple of the Sutton boys came to present the film and do a short Q&A. I know the one on stage right (their left) is Travis, the director, and I believe the guy on the right is Todd, but I couldn't keep all the T names straight:


So then we moved from extraordinary measures to extraordinary accomplishments with "New Urban Cowboy". Michael E. Arth (that's his real given name, it's not a pun on "earth") is a writer, an artist, an architect, and a city designer. His passion is "new pedestrianism"--designing cities that encourage walking and discourage driving cars, creating a friendlier "town square" atmosphere. He was living in Santa Barbara and renting out mansions to celebrities (including Keanu Reeves) when a financial crisis forced him to move out to Florida (that's right, passing through Texas. In fact, I seem to remember he lived in Texas at one point. Or maybe I've started hallucinating Texas into every film). There he bought some nearly condemned buildings in the part of DeLand known as "Cracktown". Nothing but drug dealers and prostitutes there, the cops advised him to get a gun. So, in his words, he got a nail gun, a brad nail gun, and a staple gun--and set straight to work cleaning up the neighborhood and building his new pedestrian ideal city. The area is now known at the 'Historic Garden District', and is the jewel of DeLand. I have nothing more to say, his accomplishment is nothing sort of a miracle. He did it with hard work, courage, and a lot of luck (he likes to tell one story where he was going to confront some crack dealers who were hassling him. As he was walking up with no idea what to say, lightning struck right next to them and they all ran away without a word). Here's a picture of Micheal Arth (who's also credited as co-director) and co-director (and SF native) Blake Wiers:


And here they are again, taking a picture of the audience (I wonder if they got me with my cell phone camera in that shot?)


And my last film of the day was the "Manufacturing Dissent", about the movies, politics, and questionable practices of Michael Moore. The filmmakers Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine are actually fans of Michael's movies and his politics (Debbie's even Canadian), and so they set out to make a movie about him and the controversies surrounding the release of "Fahrenheit 9/11" and his 2004 Slacker Uprising Tour. But along the way, they started hearing some pretty disturbing things about Moore--about how he fabricates stories, treats his employees poorly, denies things he provably said on tape, etc. I've already given my opinion of Moore in my review of "Sicko"--great filmmaker, lousy propagandist (yeah, you got that right, it's the opposite of what most of his critics say). Well, this is a really good film that pretty much uncovers just that. People acknowledge that he's successful as a commercially successful, critically acclaimed, and highly influential filmmaker. But just about every issue he takes on becomes about him, and that's to the detriment of his arguments. To their credit, the filmmakers find friends of Michael who do say some very nice things about him (even a former employee who thought he was a great boss). I'll just say, I thought it was a great film and I'd highly recommend it. But the Q&A afterwards just left me shaking my head. So many people asking why they didn't attack Ralph Nader (my answer: that would be a different film, possibly called "An Unreasonable Man", but I haven't actually seen it). Why didn't they attack George W. Bush as the real divisive character? (answer: that's a different movie, called "Fahrenheit 9/11"). And many people attacking them for not including all the supporting data they had for the claims (two parts they pointed out: first, it wasn't their claims, it was the people they interviewed. Second, that would be a 4+ hour movie and not even Michael Moore wants to watch more than 4 hours about Michael Moore). At one point when someone said how important it was for Moore to be out there creating honest debate Rick actually looked at me in the front row and mouthed "honest debate?" I just had to shrug and shake my head. Anyway, here's a pic of Rick and the faint image of Debbie nearly lost in the shadows:


And that was my Saturday at Docfest, but not nearly the end of my movie marathon.
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