Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 10

It's (sorta) all over but the writing now. I'm exhausted, and 3 days behind, but here we go, with 5 movies last Saturday:

First up was a musical documentary program. These traditionally have been a staple of Indiefest, but surprisingly this was one of only two such programs this year. Anyway, it started with the local short, "The New Grass", about the bluegrass and roots music scene in San Francisco. Of course, in San Francisco everything is new, hybrid, and breaks the rules. So this movie gives you a sampler of some groups that have some roots in bluegrass, but really are using it to do their own thing. Pretty cool, I especially like the Pine Box Boys.

And then, speaking of weird new hybrids breaking the rules and doing their own thing, it was "Sleepwalking Through The Mekong". This is a documentary about Dengue Fever, who are, if you believe it, a hybrid surf-music and Cambodian pop cover band. This doc amounts to part road movie, part concert film as it follows them on a tour of Cambodia. I should mention, the founders and all the members except for the lead singer are not Cambodian. Which for me, who missed the Cambodian pop music craze of the 60's (or 70's? I said I missed it!), gives this whole thing a huge WTF feeling. But hey, their music isn't bad (although I freely admit I don't freakin' get it), they're fun people, and they're doing good work in Cambodia, a place that could surely use it. And seeing lead singer (and only Cambodian member) Chhom Nimol reconnect with her homeland is pretty cool, too. Here's a photo of director John Pirozzi and Dengue Fever members Senon Williams (bass) and Zac Holtzman (guitar):

Next up was a documentary of human endurance, "Row Hard, No Excuses". John Zeigler and Tom Mailhot decided to compete as a team in one of the most grueling races ever--a race across the Atlantic ocean...in a rowboat! This is actually an annual thing, although they only did it once. Director Luke Wolbach gave them a camera, and then sort of lucked into footage from several other competitors (thank god for the Spaniards, the only ones who seem to be having fun the whole time). They start out optimistic, but eventually poor currents, reality, age (they're 51 and 41), rashes, and the horrible grueling misery of the journey catch up with them (except, again, for the Spaniards who had a great time even though they finished near the end). A pretty amazing story, and there's one line where they talk about "rabbiting" past a competitor, so that keeps up the bunny theme of the fest.

Then I took a good long look at women's shorts with the program "Real Women Have Nerve"
"Robin Williams Has No Top Lip"--Another ourstage.com vote winner, a recreation of an overheard conversation. The title is a direct line from that conversation. Makes you wonder how you'd speak if you knew someone was recording you.
"The Red Ace Cola Project"--1950's flavor science and feminist workplace politics. Pretty funny.
"How to Be Popular"--Based on a magazine article, a quick mockumentary about the most popular girls in junior high.
"Like a Ship in the Night"--A tragic documentary about Irish women traveling to England to get abortions. Not only is it illegal to get an abortion in Ireland (north or south), it's even illegal to give them any information about how to get one in England. The law is changing somewhat, but so far just baby steps (ummm...pun not intended)
"Sky"--A really cool action short about a Latina who gets involved with some pretty bad drug dealers. Sort of an audition for a feature the filmmakers want to make, and one that I'd like to see.
"Kuna Ni Nanang (My Mother Said)"--Jessica Sison made this documentary about the life and opinions of her 99 year old (at the time, this is year old) grandmother. She's pretty wise, but honestly when I hear a 99 year old woman say "Everyone is gonna die!" is sounds less like the philosophical point that it was intended to be and more like a threat. And that makes me laugh, inappropriately.
"Die Flugbegleterin (The Stewardess)"--A really gross German film (dude, what the fuck is wrong with German people?) about a morbidly obese woman who's fired from her job, then gets liposuction to look hot. And I don't want to tell you where the fat goes.... Too bad it had no subtitles. On the other hand, maybe it's good it had no subtitles.

Anyway, I'm not even going to attempt to name them all, but there were a ton of filmmakers from this program. Here they are:


Next up was one of the craziest fucking things I've ever seen. But first, the short "The Storytellers". It's about the cast of a repertory theater in Oregon. It's kinda interesting, but also goes on too long. And there's an actor named Peter who compares himself to other famous Peters--Peter O'toole, Peter Lorre, Peter Cottontail--hey, another bunny reference!

Okay, now for the craziest fucking thing I've ever seen. "Urim and Thummim" Todd Walker lays tile in Kentucky. Todd Walker likes to collect bits of junk from the Goodwill store. One time, he picks up this little trinket that looks maybe like a bent up incense burner for 69 cents. He takes it home, and sees that depending on how he looks in it, he can see different visions. He consults various scholars, and eventually comes to the conclusion that he has obtained the biblical relic the Urim and Thummim, a prophetic stone worn under the Jewish high priest's breastplate. Originally it belonged to Aaron (Moses' brother), and is sort of a conduit for receiving messages from G-d. At one point, it's described as a holy magic 8-ball. I don't freakin' believe it. Nor does the director Dub Cornett. But Todd believes it, and so does his brother in law and a small following. The film teases you, never getting a quality shot inside the artifact. Instead they let Todd and his followers tell their story. We might be seeing the start of a cult, but so far it's a cult of nice people who don't really mean any harm.

Apparently this played in Amsterdam where there was a huge argument over whether or not this was a "Borat"-style mockumentary. No less a genius than Werner Herzog stated (and I paraphrase hearsay from Dub Cornett), "All film is a lie. All film is true. All religion is a lie. All religion is true. It's what you bring to it. If you don't understand that, you're retarded!" Now I want to make it a life goal to have Werner Herzog call me retarded. Oh yeah, and I want to look into the Urim and Thummim...and steal it! Here's a pic of Dub Cornett at the Q&A:


Then, for the first time in 3 years, I made it to the Big Lebowski party. It was crowded, but I at least got to have a couple of white russians and hang out with geeks in costume.

Then it was back to the Roxie for "Paranormal Activity". This movie is fucking awesome! On the surface, it's a simple ghost story. A young couple moves into a new house (in San Diego, but that's not really important). All was well until the wife Katie believes the house is haunted, possibly by the same spirits that haunted her as a kid. To assuage her fears, her husband Micah sets up a video camera in their bedroom to watch them while they sleep. This movie is all made of their home videos (new trend hitting the mainstream, what with "Cloverfield" and "Diary of the Dead"?) And it's a slow buildup. There's a good 30 minutes before the first "scare", and that's a door moving 2 inches back and forth. Could be the wind, but all the windows were closed! But the sloooooow buildup continues, and without giving anything away I'll say by the end it was kicking everyone's ass. The slow build is absolutely vital for building up the realism, and although 30 minutes of not much happening might sound boring, it's absolutely vital. I haven't heard real screams like this in a theater in quite a while, and this is a jaded Indiefest midnight audience. Wow!

Now I'm actually a little relieved that I haven't had time to write for a week. You see, something has happened to this movie. It played at Slamdance, where it was bought up by Dreamworks--so they can remake it. With a remake in the works, they don't want people watching this version. It's already been pulled from Cinequest, and they tried to prevent Indiefest from seeing it. I was pissed, and more so after seeing this little buried masterpiece. I've now calmed down somewhat (partly because I know last Wednesday night's screening happened, with a Dreamworks rep in the house), and what I write now is addressed directly to the executives at Dreamworks:

Gentlemen, you've picked up a wonderful property, now please don't fuck it up! I'm not a hard-liner who's against remakes. Honestly, I'm curious to see how you will handle this material (I have a hard time believing a major studio will give the audience enough credit to go 30 minutes just to see a door move back and forth as the first "scare", but we'll see how it goes). I liked the original enough that nothing short of universally awful reviews will keep me from seeing your remake. With that said, please don't keep the original version hidden forever. I'm still displeased you got it pulled from Cinequest. I was looking forward to running around Cinequest telling everyone to see it, now I'll have to run around telling everyone how awesome it was and how they should cry because they don't get to see it. Anyway, I just want to beg you (seriously, I'm on my knees as I type this), please please please pleeeeease! After you've had fun with your remake, please release the original version in some form. Perhaps a special edition DVD with both versions? Because this movie is excellent, and if you hide this away the world of cinema will be missing a treasure. Thank you for listening to me.
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