Saturday, June 6, 2015

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 2

Two more films last night, as we settle into the long haul of Docfest.

First up was IN COUNTRY, a fascinating but somewhat lacking documentary about war reenactments. Particularly--and I didn't know this was a thing--Vietnam War reenactments, and the people who participate in them. Vietnam seems...too soon to be reenacting. It's not like the Revolutionary War, or the Civil War, where reenactments are the passion of history buffs. These are often coached by and dedicated to living Vietnam veterans. And many of the participants are recent veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan. So they're clearly working something out, and that's the fascinating part. But the film seems stubbornly set on not asking them about what exactly it is they're working out. Which I can understand in a short film--give people a taste and let the audience think for themselves. But by not addressing the elephant-in-the-room question it drags on with just more and more "war scenes" (set in the beautiful Oregon wilderness.) And I don't even think it's about getting the answers, but about showing that the participants are introspective about what they're doing. By not showing that, I really think it shortchanges them. Other than that, the film has a lot of technical merit, using clever editing to compare personal archival stories from Vietnam to the reenactments and to the current action in the Middle East. There was more than one time I had to take a second look to recognize which of the conflicts a scene was talking about. And that was really cool.

And then a short and a feature with experimental filmmakign. In WAKE UP, Erin Babbin explores the legacy from her mother and grandmother, and how she has been influenced both by their artistic nature and by the cycle of addiction that destroyed both of them. Very touching.

And then the feature PAUL SHARITS. I confess I did not know about this guy, but he was a luminary in the avant-garde film scene at the University of Colorado (famous also for Stan Brakhage...and the South Park guys.) He pioneered the techniques of "flicker" films--where individual frames are created to explore and break the effects of persistence of vision that create the illusion of moving pictures. It's kind of like created a novel not out of chapters, or paragraphs, or words, but emphasizing the fundamental unit of the letter (maybe even the pixel that makes up the letter.) Many of his films are shown in the movie, and I feel like I got a crash course in his work (you can do the same thing by looking at his web page.) The film also explores his character as a tortured artist who died too soon (the scene where a friend and colleague describes visiting his house and smelling the dead body two days after he died is...very strange, to say the least. Stranger than his actual films.) On the character side it falls short, at least compared to the avant-garde filmmaking side. Perhaps that's just a function of what interested me more. But I'm pretty sure this will appeal more to filmmakers and avant-garde film fans more than a general audience.

Total Running Time: 173
My Total Minutes: 398,899

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