Friday, October 15, 2010

Jason goes to Docfest--Opening Night

Last night was opening night of SF Indiefest's annual Documentary Film Festival. I have to warn you all right now that my coverage will not be as complete as previous years. What with Docfest, the Silicon Vally Jewish Film Festival, the Arab Film Festival, and Berlin and Beyond all overlapping, not to mention my volunteer work at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, my rooting for the Quakes (back in the playoff, woo hoo!), and Mill Valley Film Festival and Taiwan Film Days (which I simply won't make it to), as well as other assorted social obligations...well, I'm just way to busy. If all goes as planned, I'll see just over half of Docfest.

But let's not let that take away from the fun of opening night, and the high energy fun of EVERYDAY SUNSHINE: THE STORY OF FISHBONE, about a band that's full of high energy fun. Black punk rockers, unclassifiable funky metal (early record producers didn't know whether they could put them into "black music" or not), and one of the most uncompromisingly democratic groups ever, they let every member do their own thing and somehow it came together great. Or at least, that's what the critics and the bands they inspired (who went on to greater success) all said. They never really reached the success that seemed promised when the group of friends from Los Angeles hit the scene in the 80's. It seems their fatal flaw is refusing to dumb themselves down to the point where they can be easily understood.

The film--narrated by Laurence Fishburne (hey, I just got that, Fishburne/Fishbone)--mixes archival footage (mostly provided by dedicated fans) with interviews from admirers (ranging from Flea to George Clinton to Tim Robbins to Gwen Stefani) and contemporary 'behind-the-scenes' footage of the remaining founding members Norwood Fisher and frontman Angelo Moore. With a 25 year history, including members leaving and a trial for attempted kidnapping, you can't avoid a "Behind the Music" feel, but they take their bruises as a sort of pride, admitted that they (okay, maybe just Angelo) may be crazy, but that's the source of the creative genius.

With a movie like this, it's hard to know when the story is done. Filmmakers Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler spent four years, and it still feels like an unfinished story--obviously because Fishbone is still performing. Here's hoping the end of that story includes the success that seemed inevitable 25 years ago.

By the way, Lev and Chris, along with Norwood and Angelo were there for a Q&A session afterwards, and they were a total trip to meet.

Next up was a documentary that took a long time to really get going, both technically (problems with the media, they eventually gave up and switched to a screener DVD), and cinematically. EAT THE SUN is primarily the story of Mason, a young man in San Francisco who gets involved in the practice of sungazing. That is the spiritual/lifestyle practice popularized by Hira Ratan Manek--better known as HRM, fitting since his followers treat him kinda like His Royal Majesty. Sungazing (or Solar Gazing) is the practice of staring into the sun for 44 minutes a day (starting at 10 seconds, working your way up by adding 10 seconds every day, until you level off at 44 minutes). HRM claims he hasn't eaten solid food in years (even if you pay him a lot of money, he won't eat!), that he gets all his energy from the sun, that teams of doctors have verified his fast for as long as 411 day. Although he does occasionally drink tea, coffee, or buttermilk, he somehow photosynthesizes all he needs to survive (something about direct sunlight stimulating the pineal gland). Many follow his practice, and swear that they have more energy, don't eat (in fact, are no longer hungry), and...I don't know, gain super powers? The downside is they get withdrawn, lonely (not surprising, given how much socialization happens around food). Director Peter Sorcher follows Mason (now up to 30-some minutes of daily sungazing) as he searches for explanations, answers, and some assurance that he's on the right path. At first he seems like an incredibly naive, deluded young man, and the movie is something of a parade of equally deluded sungazers--including an anthropologist who claims to be the inspiration for Indiana Jones and has started a church in (I think?) New Mexico based around solar gazing. But surprisingly, Mason actually is pretty level headed, and medical results showing he is slowly burning his retina (despite feeling no symptoms) leaves him conflicted, as does a meeting with possibly the loneliest solar gazer on earth (he claims he can't be around anyone because his energy is too great. In fact, he eats only to lessen his energy). Without giving away any spoilers, the real gold is when they catch HRM's dirty little secret on camera. Took a long time to get there, but ultimately there was a pretty satisfying payoff.

And that was the start of Docfest 2010

Total Running Time: 186 minutes
My Total Minutes: 211,066
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