Monday, June 8, 2015

Jason Goes to Docfest--Day 3

Five shows last Saturday, as the big first weekend begain.

First up was a story of journalism and narcissism, THE DESK. Andrew Goldman used to be the weekly interviewer for The New York Times Magazine (that glossy thing on Sundays with the crossword puzzle in it.) Paul Henry is a morning chat show personality from New Zealand who calls himself New Zealand's biggest celebrity because he apparently has never hear of Peter Jackson. He (Paul) also got himself in trouble over and over again--and eventually fired--for his cackling, racist jokes (the one that got him fired was repeatedly cracking up over Sheila Dikshit's name.) Andrew got in trouble for a mean tweet to critic Jennifer Weiner, and eventually fired over an interview with Diane Von Furstenberg (a seemingly professional but contentious interview, like many he had done in the past an got praised for making the weekly celebrity interview more than just a fawning puff piece.) I should also mention that Andrew Goldman is the director of the movie. And he shows a lot of creativity in blending fact and fiction (he made a short film with Paul Henry mocking both of their firings and their efforts to get Paul a TV show in America. That's the jumping-off point of the film.) Hidden somewhere in there is a solid point about journalistic ethics, entertainment, and advertising. But it's kind of lost in the self-obsessed 'woe is me!' wankery. I would be completely willing to believe Andrew Goldman is a good, professional journalist and interviewer who got a raw deal...if I hadn't seen this movie. If this movie had been made by someone else about Andrew, I have to believe it would've been better. But I also find it hard to believe there's anyone as interested in Andrew as he is in himself, so who else would bother making it?

Then my first shorts program of the festival, Shorts 1: It's An Obsession. Stories about people with strange obsessions.
AMERICAN RENAISSANCE: A look at one of the biggest renaissance faires in the U.S., and the quirky, fun people who...if they don't really bring to life Elizabethan England, they bring to life a charming fantasy world that's maybe just 4-5 steps removed from it.
BELIEVE: A movie that will make you believe in Santa. Santa Cliff Snider, that is, a professional Santa from High Point, NC and an inductee in the Santa Claus Hall of Fame.
DOLPHIN LOVER: Malcolm Brenner, in his own words, describes falling in love with a dolphin and...going all the way with her. He even wrote a book about it (check out the reviews.) It's actually pretty fascinating how he describes their "romance," and the abuse he suffered as a child. But mostly I learned that if you wanna fuck a dolphin the easiest position is to hold it kind of like a guitar.
THE MAN BEHIND 55,000 DRESSES: Paul Brockmann is a WWII survivor who immigrated to America and who has collected dresses for 56 years. Some of them have been worn by his wife. He promises to will them to his daughter (who does not want them) and he's remarkably evasive about why he collects them. This film does get to the bottom of it...maybe.
MARS BARB: Barbara Keith wants to go to Mars. She was one of 200,000 applicants to Mars One (full disclosure--so was I) and made it to the final 700 (I did not.) And while it's getting some negative press right now as a possible scam I still hope it happens (if not with Mars One, with another company with a better plan) and it would be cool if Barbara was part of it.
SPEARHUNTER: Gene Morris is the world's greatest spear hunter. Because if you're the only one to do it, you're automatically the best. Weird thing is, with his spear hunting museum in Alabama (of course) he has actually inspired others to get into the game, and maybe one of his acolytes will surpass him some day. Let's hope not.
UNMAPPABLE: Denis Wood is a cartographer, artist anarchist, teacher, and registered sex offender (he had an affair with a 16 year old male student, and as an anarchist he doesn't give a crap about the law.) It's strange, given all the controversy about him, that his bizarre artistic map experiments (creating a "narrative atlas") are actually the most interesting thing in the film.

Then we saw OMO CHILD: THE RIVER AND THE BUSH, which despite a few technical glitches early on with the projector, ended up being my favorite film of the day (possibly of the festival so far.) In the Omo valley of Ethiopia there live a handful of tribes that only recently came into contact with the outside world. They live according to ancient traditions, and none is more damaging than Mingi. This is the belief that certain babies are born cursed and must be put to death. That could be because the child is born out of wedlock. Or if the elders refuse to bless it. Or if...and this really blew my mind...if their upper teeth come in before their bottom teeth. Pretty much every family in the villages there has lost at least one baby to Mingi. Lale Lubuko is a member of the Kara tribe who got educated and decided to save Mingi children, keeping them in an orphanage, educating them, and most importantly educating the Kara elders and trying to end the practice of Mingi once and for all. And it's his story--specifically told in his words and the words of other Kara, no interference by the westerners filming them--that turns this from a troubling, sad story into an uplifting story of hope. It ends up being a beautiful story about some great people who have cast out their own curse. And if you want to learn more--or more importantly donate and help their cause--you can click here.

And then BARGE, a fly-on-the-wall documentary about workers on barges transporting cargo up and down the Mississippi. We see the beautiful countryside, we see the barges floating by. And we see the men (all men) who work on the barges. Most of them are very hard-working and grateful for the job (and the paycheck, of course.) Some talk about how bored and restless they are at home and how they can't wait to get back on the water. And then there's one guy who has been there a little while but just isn't fitting in. And I'm kind of grateful for him, because he finally adds some story to the film (not that it's much of a story.) As a slow meditation on life on the river, it's a well made film. And I completely blame myself that I couldn't keep interested in it.

And then we had a party. Although Prince doesn't celebrate his birthday, we did. With cake, costumes, and the Music Video Sing-A-Long Show Formerly Known As Prince. And beer, lots of beer (although I must be slowing down because the bartender commented that I didn't drink as much as I usually do. I promise I'll pick up my pace next time.) Oh, and it included the Chapelle's Show clip of Charlie Murphy talking about being schooled in basketball by Prince and his crew...and then eating pancakes.

Total Running Time: 414 minutes
My Total Minutes: 399,312

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