Monday, October 19, 2009

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 3

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 3

4 more programs on Sunday, starting with a triple bill (2 shorts and a feature) of incredibly personal movies.

JENNIFER: Stewart Copeland made this film about his mother, shortly after her death. She was a schoolteacher, and the movie focuses on one special day when her class got to talk to the crew of the space station.

THE STORY OF MY CANCER: A surprisingly funny story of a mother's (successful) round of chemotherapy to treat Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

And finally, the world premiere of WE SAID NO CRYING. The title is a bit ironic, given there is a ton of crying in this movie. It was directed by Israeli filmmaker Assaf Gafni and follows him and his wife Hila as they try to have a baby through in-vitro fertilization. The movie focuses solely on them (almost always on Hila, since Assaf is operating the camera) no doctors, nurses, etc. shown. They are a very likable couple, and they're love is palpable on screen. The film takes follows them through sadness (failure to get pregnant traditionally), to joy
(IVF succeeds), to tragedy (they have twins, but one fetus is not developing right and threatens the health of both) and beyond, but always stays on their emotionally story rather than the medical side of it. I'm always amazed on the rare occasions when there are filmmakers and documentary subjects brave and open enough to share all the little moments in their life. It's rare (no more than once a year, and regular readers will now how many movies that is) to see such powerful, raw intimacy in a movie. Both Assaf and Hila were there for the screening, and I just have to thank them for sharing so much of themselves with us strangers.

So coming off that, I took a look at the death (or possible survival) of an American institution with I NEED THAT RECORD! The small record store has been a community touchstone in big and small towns across the nation, and more and more of them are closing. Director Brendan Toller does a good job of mixing personal stories of independent record store owners (all of whom have an obvious love of music and most of whom have a pretty wild streak) with interviews of musicians and a history of the music industry and how it got where it is (with enough statistics to make my head spin). There's an obvious animosity towards the major labels who are charged of the crime of knowing nothing about music and caring only about money. But the record stores sort of need the major labels for sales, and the decline of the record stores directly tracks with the decline of music sales overall. Along with the labels and their crappy business sense (letting young artists develop pays off in the long run. Suing fans for downloading music just pisses off your customers. Charging $20 for a CD that took 80¢ to produce is bullshit), big box stores (Wal-Mart is the biggest retailer of CD's, and sell them at a loss to lure people into the store) and media conglomeration (i.e, Clear Channel and the relaxed monopoly rules from the Telecommunications act signed into law by President Clinton) also come under the gun. Coming away mostly clean are the fans themselves. Sure, it's ultimately their buying choices that are directly to blame, but can you blame them for getting the music cheaper elsewhere (and more portable on their IPod)? Perhaps the one bright glimpse is a surprising resurgence of vinyl, at least among collectors (I confess, I knew nothing of this, but the movie says it's so, so it must be true). And perhaps the culture of the indie record store has simply gone online, and depending on your point of view, that might be a good thing. In any case, the movie raises lots of questions and shows the struggle of a lot of really interesting people.

The next film was a rather odd coming-of-age story. OFF AND RUNNING is the story of Avery Klein-Cloud, born (she discovers) Mycole Antwonisha. She's the adopted daughter of two Jewish lesbians. Her older brother Rafi is mixed-race, her little brother Isaiah (Zay Zay) is Korean. And she's the African-American member of this United Nations family. She's in High School, and is a track star. After thinking about it her whole life, she decides to try to contact her biological mother and find out where she's from. She writes a letter and gets a reply (learning, among other things, her birth name). But the letters stop coming, she's feeling abandoned again, and her two mommies are feeling a little rejected by her efforts (although they try to be supportive, fights erupt). To make it worse, Rafi is leaving for college at Princeton so she's losing the brother she used to talk to all the time. Things get pretty tough for her--she moves out of the house (meaning poor sweet Zay Zay has lost both his siblings) and struggles just to survive. She drops out of High School and takes the GED (which she aces, she's not dumb she just has a lot of issues). It's a difficult coming of age, with a lot more complex issues than most people her age have to face. And it's a very well done movie.

And finally, I don't even know how to describe VAMPIRO: ANGEL, DEVIL, HERO. Ian Hodkinson, aka Vampiro, was born in Canada but grew up to become one of the biggest stars of Mexican wrestling. Now he's announced he'll retire. At least, retire as talent so he can become a bigtime promoter, uniting Mexican, Japanese, and European leagues (as he says, everyone but the WWF). The movie cuts between his troubles as a promoter (36 hours to go, and if he doesn't come up with $18,000 the show is off) and his early life. The fame, the fans, the small venues in Ireland and Germany. The really early years living on the streets beating up and robbing pimps and drug dealers (I gotta think there's more to that, but it's somehow appropriate that he later joined Curtis Sliva's Guardian Angels). He even worked for a time as Milli Vanilli's bodyguard. He's still a guy who knows how to put on a show. And even though he's obviously near the end of his career, he has that one thing all showmen need--an undying belief that he is the most interesting person to ever walk the earth. He's a legend in his own mind, for a time a legend to a lot of other people, and for perhaps the final time, a legend in this movie.
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