Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 4

Finally going all-out with a 5 film day. Feels good...exhausting and good.

First up was FREE, a documentary about Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company and the students who study dance there. It's actually primarily a violence prevention program, but the movie focuses less on the mission and more on the dance, and especially the hard work of half dozen students they follow around (not to mention the instructors.) With a deadline looming to their big premiere , we see the struggles they go through to perfect their performances and the struggles they go through at home and entering adulthood. It's a beautifully shot, compelling story of some kids who live in a dangerous world, and put their all into the dance--their one oasis of safety and self-expression where they can feel...well, free.

Then a very different documentary, a cult movie journey THE SEARCH FOR WENG WENG. Australian director Andrew Leavold is a cult movie buff/scholar, who is a huge fan of the diminutive Filipino action star Weng Weng. I had heard about his most famous film, FOR Y'UR HEIGHT ONLY back in 2011 when Indiefest played the Filipino exploitation film making documentary MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED! But despite holding a Guinness record for the smallest leading man in a movie, surprisingly little is known about Weng Weng (like, for instance, his real name.) Well, over 7 years Leavold corrects this, and documents his journey. Traveling all over the Philippines and meeting all sorts of interesting characters--from cultural scholars to filmmakers to Imelda Marcos (seriously, he's a guest of honor at her birthday party!) he finally gets some answers. Like his real name (Ernesto De La Cruz) and his relationship with his "adopted" parents/producers, the Peter and Cora Caballes. A fascinating little gem for those who love cult films...and of course I do.

Ever since I learned about it at Indiefest 2011, I've actually been trying to find a good copy of FOR Y'UR HEIGHT ONLY, so it was rather fitting that this was the next screening. Silly, funny, and totally ridiculous, what can be said of this James Bond spoof? Only that having a 2'9" leading man is the least unbelievable thing about the movie. The villains are even more ridiculous, without any business plan beyond 'hooray for evil, we will defeat good!' But through a series of barely held together adventures, Weng Weng thwarts them and saves the day. A scientist is kidnapped in the opening scenes and he doesn't show up again until the end. Most of the movie the evil plots had nothing to do with him...or anything for that matter. And of course there's the reveal of the nefarious baddie, Mr. Giant. The climactic fight with Weng Weng is...well, it happened. That's all. And a good time was had by all.

Then we had a real oddity (and yes, after FOR Y'UR HEIGHT ONLY this was the oddity,) FOR THE PLASMA. In voting for this movie I had to give it both 1 and 5 stars, because it's either brilliant or it pissed me off. A woman accepts a new job helping monitor cameras to watch for forest fires in the woods of Maine. But in the opening scenes, the woman training her explains how she stares at the screens until she starts seeing things differently. Scale and space get distorted, patterns emerge. And she's been using that and focusing on finance as a sort of experiment. Turns out her stock market predictions are perfect, and while she doesn't care about that she's been selling her observations to investors. Her assistant is there to verify her observations, with careful attention to what is in frame and what is not (or rather, not what is not in frame.) So it sets up the audience to actively engage in a new type of watching a movie. To focus on the mis-en-scene, discover how lines cut the screen, etc. To search for patterns, even where there are none. And that's the thing, I'm convinced (beyond an obvious scene of art of frames within frames) there are no patterns in the movie. At least, none intentionally, it's the ultimate 'you see what you want to see' movie that engages the audience in actively creating the film. And I was digging on that the whole time. Until the end, when I started thinking about why I was doing it, and realized that all the film did was flat out ask me to watch differently, and isn't that the laziest fucking way to get your audience to do what you want? So I started getting pissed off. Then I realized it was always my decision, so I was cool with it. And perhaps it's genius in its simplicity. Or perhaps it didn't earn my attention the way it should have. So I spent a couple of days flipping back and forth between loving this movie and feeling used and cheated. And ultimately...I've decided to like the movie, because that's more fun for me.

And finally, I ended the day with a little fucked-up romance with LOVE STEAKS. Clemens is a masseur in a high-end hotel. Lara works in the kitchen. Clemens is shy and timid, not reacting well at all to his female clients who want a little more than just a massage. Lara is an aggressive drunk. They form a badly dysfunctional couple, and create an epic romance that I like to believe will continue battling until they're both dead. And I'm not sure that's a good thing for either the characters or the audience.

And that was the end of the opening weekend of Indiefest. Just under two more weeks to go.

Total Running Time: 427 minutes
My Total Minutes: 382,406

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