4 movies Sunday, on what turns out to be the only day of the festival I could really go all out (I'll be out of town next weekend.)
We started out on the border, with a short and feature pairing. First the short, LIFE ON THE LINE, about a family torn apart by the U.S.-Mexico border. Teenager Kimberly Torrez has an American father and a Mexican mother who was living in the U.S. undocumented. When she went back to visit her dying mother, she couldn't return to her family. So they live on the border in Nogales, waiting for her visa, while Kimberly crosses the border twice each day to go to school.
Then the feature again shows life on the border through the eyes of children. OF KITES AND BORDERS shows the work and play of children in Tijuana. The young man who is a guide for illegally crossing the border (because you can get caught a handful of times when you're a minor and it doesn't go on your record, they just send you back to Mexico.) There are the two awesome young boys who wrestle for coins at the border--they dream of being professional luchadores and I'm rooting for them. And there's the little girl who searches for scrap metal in the trash with her father, probably the saddest story. If I recall correctly, she's the one who inspires the title when she talks about flying kites, and how there are no borders in the sky. In between, there are several "slice of life" scenes of children, adults, and kites. The one scene that struck me the most was a teacher talking to a small group of children about the U.S. They all offered up the bad things--the U.S. drops bombs, starts wars, doesn't want them there, etc. Then when asked who wants to go to the U.S., all the hands shot up. That's a weird dichotomy that feels key to understanding what the U.S. means to our neighbors (and, I suspect, to the world.)
Next up was one of the best shorts programs I've ever seen: Art, Activism, and Awe
AMANDA F***KING PALMER ON THE ROCKS: A quick backstage look at the punk-cabaret star, her connection to her fans, her open marriage to Neil Gaiman (they're both too busy to be around often enough,) he kickstarter campaign and the ensuing backlash. All while she's preparing for a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater.
FRANK'S UGLY ART: So named by his uncle, Frank proudly makes some (actually pretty awesome) art on such a shoestring budget he uses cardboard boxes as his canvas. Of all the films in this program, this is the only one I wish was a little longer so I could get more of a sense of who his is and what his art is all about.
INTO THE BLACK: Some fantastic nighttime astro-photography, and the people who shoot it. Absolutely breathtaking.
MOTHER TONGUE: THE ART OF MARK HOSFORD: A look at the introverted screen-print artist of Sugarboy Press and his compelling, disturbing work. The best/worst moment is when he admits a lot of it is autobiographical.
OBEY THE ARTIST: A look at the work and creative process of Shepard Fairey, of Obey Giant and the Obama Hope street art campaigns. Cool guy, cool art.
OVERPASS LIGHT BRIGADE: A look at the Overpass Light Brigade of Milwaukee, WI (I don't recall if that's in the movie, I just Googled it.) A performance art/activism group that spells out messages with bright, lighted letters on the overpasses. Very cool.
THE CROSSMAKER: Michael B. Tantaros is an orthodox Christian and a somewhat obsessive artist who makes intricate crosses out of found materials. Examples here.
JESSICA'S STORY: Her story is one of slavery and sex trafficking, right in the U.S.A. (Los Angeles, to be precise.) A survivor and friend of street-artist Lydiaemily, who paints an enormous mural in her honor (on a corner frequented by drug dealers, who don't like that she's disrupting business.) Inspiring and emotional.
Then it wouldn't really be Docfest without a good pot documentary, and this year that's ONE GOOD YEAR. This isn't really about the question of legalization or medical benefits. It's kind of taken as a given that pot will, eventually, be legal everywhere. Even the police officer featured in the film knows it's inevitable and would rather it be sooner than later. Instead, this is about the growers in (in)famous Humboldt county. The real organic, outdoors, back-to-nature aging hippie growers. And their fears about big commercial growers coming in and ruining the industry (with help from favorable laws written in Sacramento.) But really, the fears of big growers, and the fears of the DEA (operation Green Sweep is still fresh in their memory,) while always there sort of disappear into the background of the movie. Instead the focus is more on the hard, honest work of growing quality marijuana. Fungus ends up being a more pressing villain than the local police, and their struggles are easily the same as any other small, family farmers.
And finally, I ended the night with LOVE ME, a look at the "mail-order" bride industry. As we follow a handful of white, Western men looking for love online on the other end of the world, for the first 50 minutes or so it felt like kind of a creepy advertisement for the service. So it sounds bad to say it, but I was actually pretty happy when some of their encounters turn out to be fruitless, or a scam (to be fair, two did end in marriages, but one really doesn't seem like it should work.) Still, even as the story became more realistic about the results I was bothered by the lack of the women's point of view. We meet them, and we question their motives without really delving into it beyond 'In Ukraine, it's expected that you will be married in your twenties, so a thirty year old unmarried Ukrainian women is desperate.' And that's just not a very satisfying answer. So if you see it, just be aware it's going to be told almost exclusively from the men's point of view.
Total Running Time: 343 minutes
My Total Minutes: 365,574