Monday, June 10, 2013

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 4

Four more movies yesterday (Sunday), including my first visit to the Balboa Theater. I know, there's a theater in the Bay Area I haven't visited yet? Yeah, it's a bit out of my way, but still (don't tell anyone I've never been to the Vogue or 4-Star either)...

Anyway, the first show at the Balboa was MAGIC CAMP, a documentary about (duh!) a summer camp for kids learning magic. But Tannen’s Magic Camp isn't just any little camp where novice kids learn a few card tricks, this is where some really talented young magicians hone their craft. And it's the camp that graduated David Copperfield, David Blaine, and Criss Angel. There are some very young kids just starting out, but the focus (of the documentary, if not the camp) is the competition among the more experienced kids. Actually, check that, the focus is really on kids dealing with all the ordinary stuff of growing--social awkwardness, homesickness, trying to impress friends, etc. But the audience draw is magic, and the narrative structure is built around the big competition. The defending champ has mad skills but a not-very well worked out stage routine. Contrast that with the young upstart whose technique needs refinement but his stage presence is pretty good (he's a big fan of the elegance of a magic act.) Then there's the female contestant (at least, the only one to crack the top 4) who has a pretty good Wonder Woman act that features jokes about bending forks with her Psychic Metal Skills (think about those initials for a second...) And one of the most interesting guys has Tourette Syndrome and talks rather openly about how he uses magic to escape from his troubles and focus his mind (when he's deep in practice on a new trick, his ticks disappear.) He even talks about a medication overdose that wasn't really but maybe kinda-sorta was a not really sincere suicide attempt. That's actually something that comes up a lot--not suicide, but the idea that a lot of these kids use magic as an escape from the unhappiness in their lives. It actually reminds me of the Ricky Jay documentary I saw at SFIFF, and how he talks a bit about his not-very-happy childhood and the frequent unhappiness in his life. It seems that maybe there's something about the people that are drawn to magic--or at least the people who stick with it. That it's often an escape for some very unhappy people...or that it takes a certain kind of unhappiness to prefer to practice a card move until your hands are bloody with paper-cuts rather than going out and facing the world without magic. I don't want to say that all magicians are kinda screwed up in the head. But I do want to say that if being a little screwed up in the head turns people into great magicians, then good for them and good for all of us in the audience.


Then I saw a short and a feature about time-honored technologies that are too quickly being replaced by new technology. First the short, HOW TO SHARPEN PENCILS. Artisanal pencil sharpener David Rees takes us through the hilarious process of sharpening a standard yellow #2 pencil. From selecting the right tool and the right pencil, to filing the graphite (there's no lead in a pencil "lead," dammit!) to a fine point. This guy knows what he's talking about. He sharpens over 1,000 pencils a year, and has literally written the book on it.

I specifically linked to the hardcover printed version of David Rees' book to tie in with the feature film, OUT OF PRINT, a short-ish (55 minutes) feature about the glorious history and complicated present of the printed word. From the scrolls, to the codex, to movable type and the printing press, and now to e-readers... The movie quickly and breezily ties this in with world history and how humans evolve along with our tools. Books (i.e., the codex--cutting up the scroll into pages and binding the pages together) coincided with the rise of Christianity. Movable type with the spread of the Reformation. There's a reason that the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to "freedom of the [printing] press" (as opposed to wording it as something like "the freedom to disseminate information.")  Where it goes from here...that's a tougher question. Not just for publishers, who are dealing with the technical issues of e-books and proper compensation for the creators of copyrighted works. But for society as a whole--are we reading differently than we were before? Do people sit and read an entire e-book the same way they read paper books? At first impression, the content is the same. But when it's so easy to search the book for the passage you want, or click from the book to online content, is the process of in-depth reading disappearing? The movie makes a compelling case that while access to information is at an all-time high, we've become a population that reads one interesting fact after another without the focus to analyze the facts and formulate them into a coherent idea. And this "short form" reading is damaging to our collective intelligence. Interesting...I guess I should tweet that.

Then I booked it (ha! get it? Booked it! Because I had just seen a movie about books!) over to the Roxie for two more movies.

First up, the most experimental and artistic documentary I've seen so far, ELENA. While most documentaries try to give you information, this one is about creating a mood. It's more like a 82 minute audio-visual poem than what you'd think of as a documentary. But it is based on a true (and very personal) story, so I guess it counts. Elena Costa traveled from Brazil to New York twenty-some years ago, looking to become an actress. He little sister Petra (the director of the movie) was just seven at the time. Her mother always told her she can live anywhere--except New York. And she can be anything--except an actress. So this movie opens with Petra ruminating on that as she arrives at Columbia University to study theater. She talks about how she expects to magically run into Elena on the street, but as their stories blur we learn some shocking things about what happened to Elena. I'm tempted to spoil it...but I won't. I'm not sure that it matters since (as I said) it's not a movie about exposing the facts as much as it is about creating a mood. Me revealing the facts still wouldn't create the mood of melancholy, mystery, and longing. But it's still a pretty powerful reveal, so I'll hold on to it and just encourage you to find it yourself. It's one of those movies where I hate the audience award ballot, because I can't really process my emotional response quickly enough to vote fairly. I should be able to vote based on what I feel the next day, or next week, or even months later if it's one of those movies that sticks with me (feels like it might) instead of voting on my immediate 'I don't know what to make of that' response.

And finally, I ended the night with FUCK FOR FOREST. Yeah, it's kinda exactly what it sounds like. A bizarre Berlin-based charity that raises money to protect Amazon rainforests by selling homemade porn online. I'd include a link, but the corporate IT at work blocked access to the Balboa Theater website, so I assume I'll be fired if I click on any link after googling their name. Anyway...yeah, these are some extreme people, and a pretty extreme movie. You will see naked people. You will see sex. You will (if you're anything like me) get a creepy Manson-family vibe from them. And that's before one guy licks a mixture of menstrual blood and semen off his hands while ranting about how we shouldn't be so uptight about life-giving-fluids. Oops, I mean, !!!SPOILER ALERT!!! on that last sentence. But honestly, I had to balance the disappointment of knowing that in advance with the shock of finding that out, and decided it would be more responsible to let potential audiences knew what they were getting into first.

Anyway, that's what I had to think about on my way home last night, then I had to try to sleep with that image in my head.

Total Running Time: 318 minutes
My Total Minutes: 329,785
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