Monday, March 10, 2014

Jason goes to Cinequest--Day 6

So, with less than 3 hours of sleep, I was up and at it again, having a couple of beers in the lounge before the first movie. The big difference on Sunday was that instead of sneaking an extra beer into the theater, I snuck in Red Bull.

The first film was THE FRONT MAN, a surprising and wonderful long-form documentary about Jim Wood, the front man for The Loaded Poets, still chasing that elusive world-wide fame after 17 years. Actually, the film was shot by his friend Paul Devlin over the course of 13 years so know they're chasing fame for 30 years (and in the Q&A swore they'd keep playing music together until they were physically unable.) And the magic of the movie is really in the under-used long form documentary. Life can't be understood in the moment. There are so many movies that follow people around for a year, and while many of them are great they then end with a little coda about what the people are up to now (after maybe a year of post-production work) and they're completely different. If THE FRONT MAN had ended after a year of filming, it would be a story about Jim Wood, wannabe rock superstar, entertaining guy who never quite made it big, and who jokes around with his loving wife about all the reasons they should never have a baby. But by following him around for so long, it's a story about a loving father who realizes the blessing of being there with his daughter (who turns 10 in the movie) and having a stable day job while still getting all the fun of making music with his friends whenever he can. It's the story of a guy who talks with the people he knows who did make it big and realizes that they envy him because they were on the road when their children were growing up and missed out on the greatest things in life. And that's the kind of story anyone can relate to, whether or not you want to be a rock star, and whether or not you care about someone trying to be a rock star.

And then I took a quick break from the movies to catch a bit of the Day of the Writer. In particular, the pitch session and award presentation for the screenwriting finalists, and the Maverick Spirit Award and interview with Neil Gaiman. I don't how much I can say. He's abso-fucking-lutely awesome. He's very funny, he started by reading a story about adventure (a piece that was rejected by NPR's This American Life, about his grandmother calling everything an adventure while hiding the fact that his grandfather had some real, unbelievable adventures during his military service.) Then he was interviewed by Cinequest's own Vijay Vanniarajan, which I have to say was kind of weird. Because I've known Vijay for years, and he was always kind of this goofy kid who I would joke around with, make fun of, and molest with...overly aggressive hugging...yeah, let's call it that. And there he was talking to a great writer. Gaiman did deftly deflect his first question, which was overly effusive in its praise. Vijay kept it playful, allowing Neil to choose each question from a category--Who are You (as a person, nothing about his work), Body of Work, Writing Process, or Miscellaneous. And Neil was always funny and personable, but also incisive and thought-provoking about how important information is passed on through stories--like legends of the gods becoming angry and making the mountain explode tells us--for centuries after civilizations fall--that you're living near volcanic mountains. Or how scary stories make us (as kids...and I think sometimes as adults) practice being brave, and that practice is so valuable later when you need to be brave for real. Oh, he also answered a question (from the audience, not from Vijay) about his epic mop of hair. That's been my favorite repeating theme of Cinequest this year--meeting people with epic hair.

Anyway, back to that point about kids learning to be brave. That's a perfect lead-in to the next movie I saw, the Filipino production A THIEF, A KID, AND A KILLER. We open with little Maximo, a student returning to class after a period of absence. The lesson of the day is people who are important in your life. So Maximo tells them about Nico, who taught him to pee standing up and how to make sandwiches. When the teacher asks, "Is Nico your father?" Maximo replies, "No, he's a heroin addict who broke into my home and held me hostage...and he was my friend." So...that grabs your attention right there. After a jewel heist gone wrong, skilled thief but born loser Nico is on the run from a gang of corrupt cops along with his cousin Lloyd (who is maybe willing to sell him out to save his own skin.) So, we got the Kid Maximo, Nico is the thief, and the killer is closing in on them. It's a tight little thriller, and a very funny story, made on a shoestring budget when a studio project in the Philippines fell through. And it was good fun, although this was also the time of the festival when my exhaustion was catching up with me and I struggled to stay awake. I bet I would enjoy it even more if I were well-rested.

Then I rushed over to the VIP Soiree, which was the Maverick Chef Event at the Fairmont.

And then a very moving and powerful story, KNOW HOW. It's written and acted by foster care youth in New York, and based on an off-Broadway musical that was the work of the Possibility Project. The stories are brutal. Abused by parents, bullied by other kids in the system, living on the streets, getting high, stealing old ladies' purses... There were several times when I, from my white, upper-middle class lifestyle looked at that and...well, this seems like a weird thing to say but I don't understand why they aren't more violent. At least, I'm sitting there analyzing their situation, seeing that those who have the power to fix things aren't willing to use that power...and I see how tempting it is to think that lashing out is the only thing you can do. And the fact that these kids have found a different way...have found a way to bring their stories to the world and (hopefully) get some reforms implemented (they have shown the film to the director of ACS)...well, that's the power of movies. That's what putting the power of the dominant storytelling form of our time in the hands of people with important stories to tell is all about.

Ya know, it's weird when the standard question from filmmakers afterwards is "did you enjoy it?" and you have to check yourself because these aren't the kinds of stories that you enjoy. You are moved by them, you maybe cry a little, you want to tell everyone to get involved at least by liking their Facebook page. But "enjoy" it? That's the wrong word.

And finally, I ended the night with IT WAS YOU, CHARLIE. It's set over the 40th, 41st, and 42nd birthday in the life of Abner Roth (diminutive Michael D. Cohen, with a pair of the most expressive eyes I've ever seen) and it took me just a little bit to get used to the jumping back and forth in time. But there are plenty of clues, once you're aware enough to see them. Like is he an acclaimed artist (at 40) or is he a sad, lonely doorman on the graveyard shift (at 42.) The film actually opens with a car crash (heard, but only the aftermath is seen) and over the course of the film, while we as an audience learn about what happens, Abner reaches some sort of...well I won't say resolution but he has to come to terms with what happened somehow, get over survivor's guilt, and reconnect with his family. And spritely, cheerful taxi driver Zoe is just the person to help him work through it all. At least, if he can avoid the mysterious men who are chasing him. I really loved this movie, and it makes me keep coming back to something Neil Gaiman said about how stories do something really amazing--they first entertain you, and then they sneak in important information. Whether that information is "those mountains are volcanoes" as in Gaiman's example, or "your family loves you and is important" as in IT WAS YOU, CHARLIE, the mechanism is very much the same.

Then I spent just a little bit of time at the Maverick Meetup at Loft, where I got into a bit of a challenge with head programmer Mike Rabehl over who gives the best hugs at Cinequest. So...look for that competition to continue.

Filmmakers whose films I've added to my schedule through drinking with them: THE DAVID DANCE and CONFESSIONS OF A WOMANIZER. Unfortunately, it's getting late enough in the festival that I had my first drink with a filmmaker whose film I am unable to fit in my schedule (barring an encore day screening) and that was WHITE RABBIT. Fortunately, that was in the pack of press screeners I got, so I will still be able to see it, just not on the big screen.

Total Running Time: 349 minutes
My Total Minutes: 355,599
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