Thursday, May 2, 2013

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 7

One week into the festival. Low on sleep, and we're only halfway through. This is the part where I begin to doubt myself. By midway through the weekend I'll see the light at the end of the tunnel. By this time next week I'll be sad that it's all over...but looking forward to the next big event. Maybe the noir films at the Roxie.

Anyway, two more shows last night, starting with a beautiful and emotional tribute to Les Blank. For those who don't know, Les Blank was a prolific and talented filmmaker who specialized in the sublime beauty of human joy and what inspires it (especially food, music, people, movies, etc.) Sadly, he passed away just under a month ago (on April 7th.) The film world, and the Bay Area have lost an essential voice. But we celebrated his career with this trio of rarely seen

CHRISTOPHER TREE (aka SPONTANEOUS SOUND, 1972...or maybe 1967? IMDb/the SFIFF website say something different than Blank's website): The closest thing to a conventional "experimental" film (I think there's a bit of experimentation in all of Blank's work, but this is closest to what people think of when they think of an experimental film) in the program. No narration, no explanation, no credits at all. Christopher makes music in the middle of a forest with a variety of instruments, but mostly with a huge collection of gongs. The camera maintains a distance, sometimes zooming in and sometimes pulling back behind the trees, to create a voyeuristic state of discovering a man performing to no audience.

CHICKEN REAL (1970): A commissioned industrial film for Holly Farms chicken. Focusing on two of Les Blank's passions--food and music. Hordes of people at a picnic downing mouthfuls of succulent chicken, before we go through the state-of-the-art (for 1970) process at the chicken hatchery all the way through to the "dis-assembly" line. They might have commissioned a standard industrial commercial film, but they got 100% Les Blank style.

SPEND IT ALL (1972...or 1971, another discrepancy on the year. Since Blank's website seems to list the earlier years, this might be the difference between when it was made and when it was first screened to the public): A beautiful, engaging, and loving look at the lives and passions of French-speaking Cajuns in the Louisiana bayou. Again, heavy on food and music, and it has that certain...Les Blankiness about it. He truly knew how to get people to reveal himself. He's never mocking people (even when they're funny.) He's never engaging in mindless hero worship (even when his subjects are freakin' awesome people!) He's getting them to tell their own stories, in a very warm and human way. They're a people who appreciate the enjoyment of life--they work hard enough to enjoy life, but not so hard that they make more money than they can spend--hence the title.

As a bonus, this opens with a very brief history lesson on how the Cajun people came to be. The original French settlers in the Americas set up a colony in what is now Novia Scotia, and called it Acadia (so they were Acadians.) When the English moved in on their territory, they gave the Acadians a choice--renounce their French Catholicism, join with the English, and help fight against England's enemies, or be driven from their territory. Those who agreed became the French speaking Novia Scotians, those who didn't were taken by slave ship to various ports along the coast from Boston to Georgia. They were pretty universally not accepted by the other settlers, and were driven from town to town until they settled in the bayou. "Acadian" became corrupted to "Cajun" and over 200 years they lived mostly in isolation, although their culture welcomed and was enhanced and enriched by other various outcasts--especially runaway slaves. They were very welcoming, and there's something very..."Prend moi tel que je suis" about it.


And then I continued the documentary night with the feature documentary BLACKFISH, about the mistreatment and violent incidents around orcas (killer whales) in captivity. The film opens with a chilling 911 call from SeaWorld Orlando with the words, "A whale has eaten one of the trainers." What follows is an exposé on the industry of orca shows that ultimately makes you sympathize with the orca in the incident. It shows how social, familial, and friendly orcas are in nature (there are no cases of orcas attacking humans in the wild--or so the movie claims). How families are torn apart so that the babies can be stolen for the shows (a simple matter of shipping costs, the babies are easier to ship). How non-family groups of orcas can often get violent with each other, leading to bloody "teeth-raking" attacks (and how the attacked orca can't leave the way-too-small tank and just go to another part of the ocean to avoid them). How the "trainers" are not really marine biologists, they just need to be good swimmers with the guts to get in the water with the orcas and the gutlessness to repeat the company line to the customers (example: They'll say orcas in the wild typically live up to 25-35 years, but ones in captivity live longer due to the great veterinary care. In fact, orcas in the wild have lifespans comparable to humans--up to 100 years for females, usually 50-60 years for males). That's probably the biggest takeaway I got--the "experts" at SeaWorld (and other aquatic parks) are lying to you in order to take your money without you noticing the cruelty. Look, I've seen the shows before. I didn't notice the cruelty before, I just noticed the beautiful, majestic creatures. I've also seen them in the wild, and let me tell you they're 1,000 times more majestic out there. Damn, and I always assumed FREE WILLY was just trite, sentimental claptrap. I might actually have to watch it and give it a chance now.

Total Running Time: 153 minutes
My Total Minutes: 326,254
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