Sunday, February 12, 2012

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 4

Wrapping up the big first weekend, and I feel...like I've survived...so far.

First up was a short documentary followed by a long discussion. The movie was DEFAULT: THE STUDENT LOAN DOCUMENTARY, about the crisis in student loan debt. When I graduated 15 years ago, I had a good chunk of student loan debt (I don't remember the exact amount, but safe to say I went to a fairly expensive private university.) But it was low interest (some even no-interest) with fairly reasonable terms and I actually paid if off early. I, like so many people in this movie, was told that student loan debt was "good" debt and I'll get a good job and I'll be able to pay it off. For me, that was true. But damn, a lot has changed since then--school is more expensive, there are fewer grants, and the loans have worse terms (and no bankruptcy protection! Since I didn't default on my loans, I don't actually know if I was protected back then, but damn!) The thing is, when these students were 18 they were all getting advice from people in my generation or older. For our generations, student loan debt was good debt. But if this movie (and the panel discussion after) is to be believed, not any more. It's eye-opening, but at under 30 minutes it's about the right length to barely start a conversation. I'm sure there's 90 minutes of material that could be in there, like how did the situation get to be like this, or how do we fix it?

But at least we had a panel discussion/extended Q&A with the filmmakers and activists. And that had some interesting bits of extra information, both bad and good. On the bad side, did you know when applying for a job they can ask for your credit report and screen you out because of bad credit (which is often due to student loans?) How the hell do people think you'll pay it off if you can't get a job? On the good side, more and more schools are offering their curriculum online for free (you just need to pay if you actually want to attend classes and get a degree, but the information is free.) Apparently, you can get the entire London School of Economics MBA curriculum online for free. So...if you can prove to a prospective employer that you know your stuff even though you don't have a diploma, you don't need to pay a dime for college. So I guess we got that going for us?

Then next up was a food doc, IN ORGANIC WE TRUST. Despite the title, it really only spends the first part of the movie investigating organic food, framing it with "man on the street" interviews revealing what we know (or think we know) about organic food: It's healthier...not really. But it doesn't use toxic pesticides. It's more environmentally sound...not really, sustainable != organic, although there is plenty of overlap--farmers who care about organic also tend to care about sustainability. Where the movie really takes off is when it leaves behind the questions of certified organic and moves on to the bigger issues--sustainability, local food, diet-related health care costs (that cheap processed food is more expensive in the long run), school lunches, etc. It throws a lot of information at the audience, and for a San Francisco audience it's mostly stuff you've heard before. But it is well put together and a good introduction to the breadth of the issues. And it plays again closing night, Thursday the 23rd, at 7:15.

Next up was a painfully, awkwardly innocent drama, GIRLFRIEND. Evan (Evan Sneider) is a really sweet guy. He loves his mother, loves calling people on the phone just to say hello, loves soap operas, and is ready with a hug for anyone in town. Oh yeah, and he has Down's Syndrome (as does the actor, and he totally steals the show.) He also has a crush on Candy (Shannon Woodward), and plays really well with her son. He even gets along well with her ex, even though he obviously has ulterior motives. And this is really the crux of the movie--this innocent guy who is surrounded by people with ulterior motives. In a way, when he comes into enough money to woo Candy, this makes things worse. She's not interested in him romantically, but she likes him as a friend and is in no position to turn down the money (she's months behind in rent and her ex isn't paying the child support he owes.) So I wrote in the first line of this review that it's painfully, awkwardly innocent. Seeing such a sweet, innocent guy approach the girl knowing his advances aren't going to work is painful. Even more painful is watching him interact with her ex (especially when he explains that she likes it rough, you just know that's not going to end well.) I don't want to get into spoilers, so I won't tell you if it eventually ends well or if Evan is resilient enough to not be corrupted by all the people around him. But I will say that I was definitely rooting for him. GIRLFRIEND plays again Tuesday the 14th at 9:30.

So after all that innocence, I could totally use a good dose of sleaze, and I got just that with THE DISCO EXORCIST. I'm really, really impressed by the trailer--impressed that they could find a couple of minutes worth of footage that didn't have any titties in it! Oh yeah, it's practically porn. It's the story of disco super-stud Rex Romanski and Rita Marie, the satanist chick who he romances and then dumps. But to be fair, he dumps her for his favorite porn star, Amoreena Jones. Also, to be fair, it was pretty well set up that he's a hump-and-dump kinda guy. Anyway, after Rita is embarrassed on the disco floor, she curses Amoreena, and the movie changes from naked, drugged up people everywhere to naked, drugged up, bloody people everywhere. It is kind of a one-note joke, but it is my favorite note ever. And the intentionally cheesy lines, lighting, and dialogue may be off-putting to some, but are totally in keeping with the look of a cheap 70's exploitation flick. It's a nice guilty pleasure. Anyway, that was the last screening in Indiefest, sorry! But I assume it'll be on DVD soon enough. Just keep an eye on their Scorpio Films website.

And finally, I ended the night with a real oddity, FINISTERRAE. I'll start off by saying I'm pretty sure I didn't like it. I was pretty frankly bored a lot of the time, and I know I dozed off in bits (in fairness, I was pretty exhausted. That was the end of a 14-film weekend.) But it's also a film I haven't been able to stop thinking about since. Two Russian ghosts (played by people wearing a sheets with eye-holes) walk across Spain to find new bodies to inhabit. Somehow if they get to the holy city of Santiago de Compostela they will become corporeal. I learned later that first time feature director Sergio Caballero shot the images first and put the dialog in later. So we get ghosts walking through the countryside, often one is riding a horse and the other is carrying a windsock. Or we get a ghost on horseback inside a ring of fire while the other one stands outside. And we get Russian dialog added on whether or not it matches the action (as a side question, why Russian if the film is Spanish? On the other hand, I know a local filmmaker who shot an entire feature in Russian despite not speaking it.) Perhaps it was exhaustion, but the film just didn't catch me in the moment, although I remember laughing at bits of it. But it is certainly a film that I can't help still thinking about. I don't think I've ever been so bored by a movie that had a scene with boobies and a scene in which a hippie gets shot. That was the last screening in Indiefest, sorry! But it is available at least on foreign import (PAL format) DVD.

Total Running Time: 363 minutes
My Total Minutes: 265,220

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