Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 4

5 more movies on Sunday...instead of sleeping...because I'm a freakin' addict.

First up was YOU MAKE ME FEEL SO YOUNG by Indiefest alum Zach Weintraub (THE INTERNATIONAL SIGN FOR CHOKING.) I get that the title is supposed to be ironic--that "feeling young" isn't about the spring of youth but about the confusion, awkwardness, and general disillusionment of not knowing where your life is going and what you want out of it. Following in the Joe Swanberg tradition of using the actor's names for their characters, Justin Eister plays Justine, whose boyfriend Zach (played by the director) has just gotten a job in a small-town art-house theater. The relocation breaks their comfortable routine, and their relationship slowly deteriorates. Or something like that. It was tedious, I was tired, and I struggled to stay awake. And I was more interested in the art-house theater programming than their relationship, but that's on me.

Then I got into the documentary part of the program starting with HANK: 5 YEARS FROM THE BRINK. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson--along with Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Timothy Geithner--was one of the key figures in the credit crisis of 2007-2009. And this movie, relying exclusively on interviews from him and his wife, is very definitely his story--both the personal story of his life and his view of the economic perils he steered the country through. I will readily confess I don't know squat about the economics involved. Did his maneuvers save the economy? Wreck it? Keep it from getting worse? Create a "moral hazard" re: bailouts? I don't know. I do know that if he's remembered as a "bailout king" he prefers that over being the guy who did nothing as we entered a second Great Depression. But the personal story is the meat of the movie anyway. From his young days courting his soon-to-be-wife Wendy. To sort of falling into a job at Goldman Sachs without knowing a thing about investment banking and working his way up to CEO. To twice refusing the Treasury Secretary job before accepting. And his surprisingly left-leaning views about the hazards of income inequality. And his management philosophy (which boils down to know your strengths and weaknesses, play to your strengths and surround yourself with good people who can cover for your weaknesses.) I still know nothing about the economic questions, but I left the movie with a great deal of respect for him as a man.

Then another documentary on a very different topic. A WILL FOR THE WOODS deals with the subject of green burials. That's being buried with no embalming, in a biodegradable coffin (i.e., untreated wood box) so that your burial has as little negative impact as possible (and possibly a positive one) on the environment. Even cremation and scattering the ashes is seen as not green because of the fuel spent incinerating the body. We see this through the story of Clark Wang, clinical psychiatrist, classical musician, folk dancer, and lymphoma patient. While he loves life and doesn't want to die, he knows it's inevitable and is making preparations for his own green burial. He is even involved in getting Wake Forest to designate a forest as a green burial site. The forest was at least under consideration to be cut down to make room for more traditional grave plots but now is Pine Forest Memorial Gardens and (spoiler alert!) Clark Wang is buried there. Through his story we meet activists and cemetery administrators who are involved in the green burial movement, but really the story is all about him. And I was powerfully struck by how--despite loving life and really wanting to beat cancer and live a long time--he faced death with grace, serenity, and purpose. There can be a spirited debate (but not in this movie) over how much of a positive impact green burials do or can make. For me it's pretty obvious that there's not a downside but I tend to believe (with no data behind me) that your environmental impact is dominated more by what you do in your life than how you're buried. But I felt the greater story was how this cause gave Clack a sense of peace with his own death. Dying is something everyone does, and truly coming to terms with it is something I think is so rare it borders on the magical. And that the green burial movement can achieve that is something pretty great.

Then we returned to the world of narrative, fiction film with Chad's official entry into the 2014 Oscars, GRIGRIS. That's the nickname for the character played by lead non-actor Souleymane Démé. Despite being born with one paralyzed leg, he's a master on the dance floor (the movie was inspired when director Mahat-Saleh Haroun saw him dancing in a club in Burkina Faso.) With his killer moves (including throwing his lame leg around his body) he makes a decent living with tips at the local club. But tragedy strikes when his step-father falls critically ill and needs money for the hospital. So he falls in with a local petrol smuggler, which leads to some disastrous results. He also befriends the beautiful prostitute Mimi who has dreams of being a model (played by real life model Anaïs Monory.) When trouble with the petrol smugglers threatens his life, they go on the run and try to create a new life for themselves. It's a good story with some great performances by first-time actors.

Then, after spending all day in the Little Roxie, I finally got into the Big Roxie...long enough to introduced LOVELESS ZORITSA, the Cinequest hit from Serbia that I brought to the festival. There looked to be a reasonable sized crowd, and I hoped they liked it. Tonight (Tuesday) I'll actually get to see it with the audience and I can see if they loved it as much as San Jose did.

But instead I ran back to the Little Roxie for BLUEBIRD. Lance Edmands' debut feature is a story of a go-nowhere small town in northern Maine, where the paper mill is the major employer and is rapidly downsizing. It's also a story of how interconnected small communities are. Lesley (Amy Morton) is a school bus driver. She takes good care of the kids on her bus, even loaning her wool hat to one who forgot his. But when she is distracted (by the titular bluebird) she fails to notice a boy asleep on the bus and doesn't see him until the following morning. Meanwhile, the boy's mother Marla (Louisa Krause) was at the bar after her shift and didn't show up to pick up her son. Their mutual negligence leads to tragedy, and that's the focus but not the entirety of the plot. There's also worry over the mill closing and costing jobs. There's the ambulance-chasing lawyer. There's a young love/lust story that might derail the life of the one character who seems like she has a reasonable chance of getting out of town and making something of her life. That last sentence sounds harsh--like there's no way to live a worthwhile life in a small town. And that's...well, that's a side of the movie but not all of it. The landscape is also beautifully shot to showcase its stark beauty. I get the sense that maybe, in a different time, different place, different circumstances, there could be some charm to living in this small town. Just not now, not under these circumstances.

And that was the end of the first weekend of Indiefest. Two more weeks to go!

Total Running Time: 445 minutes
My Total Minutes: 350,284
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