Friday, February 22, 2008

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 11

Okay, two last days of Indiefest to write up. 7 last movies. And if I don't finish this before Cinequest, I'm screwed--I'd never catch up. So I'll just power through this.

This is last Sunday, the so-called "Closing Night"...although Indiefest went on for 4 extra days.

First up was the short "Cave Flower". Another movie set in a very specific location ("place" has been a interesting theme of the festival), this time New York. In particular, the fringes of society. A young man lives in an abandoned building and works operating a freight elevator (that's plastered in his and other's lifetime assortment of posters). When the building's main elevator is broken, the "haves" have to take the "have not's" elevator instead, and he gets to meet the rich people who don't even talk to him. But he tries to get up the nerve to talk to the attractive woman who rides his elevator. Pretty good.


Then there was one of the most puzzling movies I've ever seen, "La Trinchera Luminosa del Presidente Gonzalo" (The Shining Trench of President Gonzalo). I thought this was a documentary, but in reading the press kit, I discovered that it is in fact a complete recreation in the day in the life of a group of communist radical prisoners in Peru. I feel a little cheated knowing it's a recreation, because I totally fell for the cinema-verite style. However, feeling cheated is better than the bored/confounded feeling I had while watching it. Part of it might be my fault. It opens with an establishing shot explaining the setting is (or was) a prison in the 1980's. Then it follows the uniformed female members of a communist movement as they go through their day, marching, singing, having grand arguments. So at first I made the leap that while this was a prison in the 80's, it's now empty and become the headquarters of this radical communist group. You see, there's never a shot of a prison guard or anything establishing a prison life. They act like they're free (except bound by dogma). It's only about halfway through that they mention prison, or crimes they've committed, or cellblocks, and I start to realize that they're actually in prison. And then they start saying things so crazy that I think maybe the prison has been converted to a mental asylum. Either way, it's a pretty confusing experience.

And so from that, I went to an absolutely delightful, hilarious experience, starting with the short "Billy and Sally Go Bionic". Billy and Sally are dolls who have fun little adventures. In this one, they get run over by a car, get rebuilt bigger, stronger, and faster, and then get revenge on all their enemies. It's awesome!

And then there was "Finding Kraftland". Richard Kraft is, for lack of a better description, a professional child. Actually, to make money he's a Hollywood talent agent, particularly for movie soundtracks (he reps Danny Elfman and Alan Mencken, among others), and he's probably the only agent who came to the industry as an obsessive fan first. He's also an obsessive collector, a kind of an annoying nutcase, and a weirdly loving father. Not that he was at first, when his son Nicky was born, he split from his wife and she and Nicky went to live in rural Oregon. Later, when Nicky was a teenager, Richard suddenly discovered that Nicky is the most interesting person in the world--probably because they're about the same age emotionally. They start off on an around-the-world trip to find the best roller coasters. This movie started out as a birthday gift (Richard and Nicky's birthdays are just a couple days apart, so they have a giant dual party every year), and they hired Stacey J. Aswad to host after watching her hosting a "top 7 attractions" show at Disney World. Along the way director Adam Shell adds to the story by explaining how Richard's brother died, how Richard devotes himself to a charity to find a cure to that disease (I'm sorry I forget what the disease is). And this gives a very likable face to a weirdly obsessive tribute to American consumerism. Anyway, here's a pic of the filmmakers both of "Finding Kraftland" and "Billy and Sally Go Bionic". The big guy in the middle is Richard, the girl in a white top next to him is Stacey. That must mean the guy on the far left is Adam Shell, and the two on the right (he's in the shadows) are the "Billy and Sally" directors Courtney Branch and Keith Allen?


Next up was a double bill of Americans-in-Afghanistan documentaries, but other than setting they couldn't be more different. "American Hero" is about Greg Shade, entrepreneur and somewhat crazy civilian who travels the world attempting to capture the bad guys. He's in Afghanistan, looking for Bin Laden, and dreaming of the day when he can show up the US government with his catch. Mostly he runs around to villages and hands out wanted posters and t-shirts with Bin Laden's face in the crosshairs. Ummm...dude, you're doing it wrong! He's a cowboy, and an idiot. He was not successful.

On the other side of the spectrum, "A Life in Hashistan" follows Chris Turner over several decades as he visits Afghanistan. He visited first in 1967, as a young wild guy looking for adventures (and drugs). Hash was a main draw there, and over several trips (pun not intended) he documents the life and culture of the Hashshashins (root of the word "assassin", as they were/are legendary mercenaries, and getting high is part of their preparation). He follows these people--the world's largest group of nomads--through the Soviet invasion, the Taliban, and post 9/11 world. And it's interesting how they cling to their traditions (the keeper of the hash is a high religious post) and how he's become a welcome member of their society--once you're invited into their home, they are honor bound to protect you forever (part of why the search for terrorists is so difficult). A fascinating story. Here's a pic of "American Hero" director Daniel Gorman and "A Life in Hashistan" director Tonya Dreher:


And finally, the "closing night" film was Gus Van Sant's "Paranoid Park". Gus Van Sant was/is actually in town shooting his Harvey Milk biopic with Sean Penn, but couldn't make it over for the screening (we were hoping for him until the last minute, but didn't really expect it). So instead, we only got to watch a really good movie. Van Sant, when he wants to, is one of the most meditative American filmmakers working today (or ever), and this is a prime example. It's the story of skateboarders, and takes place sort of on the borderlines between disillusioned youth and dangerous criminal youth. Alex is a skateboarding kid, from a broken home but generally a good kid. He goes to the local skate park, colloquially known as Paranoid Park, with his friend Jared. That's where all the hard-core punk criminals hang out, much more dangerous than his usual crowd. But he's drawn to them, and one night goes on his own and gets involved in the accidental death of a security guard at a train yard. The movie actually starts with the investigation, and jumps back and forth in time. It's also not so much about the incident as about Alex's feelings of guilt and fear, and how he deals with them. He doesn't want to go to jail, but he wants to unburden himself somehow. And the movie is really the story he tells to unburden himself. As I said, it's a very contemplative, meditative film. And as such, it's a much more powerful character study from the inside out. If it were a straightforward, linear action film, it would be much less interesting.

And then I went to the closing night party and drank myself silly. It was good.
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