Sunday, June 11, 2017

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 11

A big five-film Saturday, so let's jump right in, starting with THE SURROUNDING GAME, all about the game of Go. We get a brief tutorial on the rules and history of the game, and how the very simple rules lead to all sorts of complicated emergent properties. But the drama is about three young Americans attempting to become the first professional players from the West. They're interesting people, a bit maniacal in their pursuits. In fact, that's something that really struck me. I had never played, but I had heard about how it's a beautiful game and even if you lose there's a zen-like appreciation for the beautiful patterns that are created while playing. In fact, the competitors seem to be the least appreciative of the beauty (and it's alluded to in the movie that that's not just an American quirk, the professionals in Asia are all about winning, not beauty.) The people who appreciate the beauty are all the craftsmen. The people who hand craft the game boards and pieces, they're chill. The players...well they live or die based on victories. They aren't supposed to be openly demonstrative, but they say and you can tell that they are ecstatic when they win and crushed when they lose. You know, just like any other sport. 

Oh, and only recently did an AI beat the undisputed human champion in Go. So much of the movie is spent insisting that despite the simple rules it's actually so much more complicated than chess that only the human mind can play it well. And then that's all thrown out at the end. Not in the movie, but in the Q and A, we also learned that some of the AI's winning moves are low level simple stuff that high level masters would mock a student for trying.

Next up was a bit of political campaign docs, starting with the short ELECTION NIGHT. That would be the 2016 American Presidential election night, as seen by nervous patrons and workers in a pub in London. 2 of them were happy with the result.

And that was the lead-in for the feature, NAT BATES FOR MAYOR. Richmond, California is a Bay Area city and home to a huge Chevron refinery. In fact, as a resident of the Bay Area, I only know it as the town around that Chevron refinery (where there was a major fire and shelter-in-place emergency a few years back) that you have to drive through if you want to get to Marin County from the East Bay. Nat Bates is a longtime city council member, and he ran for mayor in 2014. And he supported Chevron. And Chevron supported him--to the tune of $3 million. Allegedly. Unofficially. These were political action committees that can't work directly with the candidate. But his opponent, Tom Butt, isn't exactly squeaky clean, either. He's not in the pocket of Chevron, but he is the old white guy who has a history (alleged) of not taking care of his black or poor constituents. But he is supported by the Richmond Progressive Alliance. But are they the solution, or are they out of touch do-gooders (who hold fundraisers in Berkeley, not even in Richmond) who just want to dictate to Richmond's working class black residents. After all, Chevron does provide a heck of a lot of good jobs, and ~40% of the city's tax revenue...

Okay, I'm not going to pretend I understand the local politics of Richmond. I do know that the filmmakers do an excellent job of neither judging nor praising any candidate. Everyone has their flaws, everyone comes off looking a little dirty. It's kind of the opposite of sausages. The end result might be somewhat unappetizing, but it's pretty interesting watching it get made.

Then for a bit of weirdness with CALIFORNIA TYPEWRITER. A joyful tribute to the typewriter, a machine that is supposed to be made obsolete with computers and word processing. But it still has it's devotees, and maybe it's here to stay. There are celebrity fans, most notably and charmingly Tom Hanks. And there's a repair shop in Berkeley that'll keep your machine working (and it gave the film it's name.) There's an artist who re-purposes typewriter parts into beautiful sculptures. There are writers and musician who write their plays or lyrics exclusively on typewriters, and talk about how it is so much better for their creativity. And there are collectors, especially one who collects antique typewriters, including the early designs that didn't work out (hey, if anyone out there knows of a Sholes and Glidden that the owner is willing to part with, let him know!) And it's all bookended with the very strange story of the Royal Road Test. Chucking a Royal typewriter out of a speeding car and documenting the scattered pieces. Damn, this was a fun movie. Makes me wish I had written this review on a typewriter, then scanned it in and posted the photo rather than this boring, boring text. Best I can do on short notice is use the somewhat typewriter-ish Courier font.

Next up was ALL THE RAGE, the intensely personal story of the work of Dr Sarno. Co-director Michael Galinsky has suffered from back pain on and off for many years. So did his father. So do many people. It's a verifiable epidemic. And many people are getting surgery, taking pills, etc. to deal with it. But Dr Sarno has been treating it for years, as a psychosomatic disease. Of course, first he does search for a physical cause--a muscle tear, a tumor, etc. But unless he finds something, his diagnosis is TMS. From my layman's understanding, the idea is that the unconscious mind creates pain in the body so your conscious mind will focus on that rather than the unpalatable emotions. The treatment is knowledge. Patients swear by it, including such celebrities as Larry David and Howard Stern. It has personally help Galinsky. But the medical establishment dismisses it. Although it's pretty interesting how that might be changing. See, this production, which was started over a decade ago, was put on hold as funding was scarce and other projects took priority. But when stresses caught up with Galinsky and his back pain returned with a vengeance, he returned to Dr Sarno, not just as a patient but to finish the movie. And he found...well, not the establishment embracing him, but a for more allies than he had just a decade ago. And research in the mind-body connection is a hot topic, at least in psychology circles if not in the larger medical community. (The film presents a brief timeline of how thinking about the mind and body got disconnected in the Western world--short version is historically it was a resolution of a power struggle between the church and science.) I'm not qualified to judge the scientific merits of Dr Sarno's theories, although I will say I find them plausible (for what that's worth) and the movie does an excellent job of making the case.

And then I finished the day with ON A KNIFE EDGE. Five years in the life of a proud teenage Lakota, George Dull Knife, as he becomes a young activist in AIM--the American Indian Movement. There's not a lot of hope on the reservation. Jobs are scarce, income is minuscule, liquor is prevalent despite a ban on liquor stores on the reservation (instead, there is a town just outside with--I shit you not--a population of 10 people and 4 liquor stores.) He holds fast to his proud Lakota warrior tradition. But it's tough to stay optimistic. He nearly gets arrested and his truck impounded at a protest (they literally have to pay off the cops, under the guise of paying the tow truck driver who was already on his way to turn around.) And when peaceful means to life up and educate his people fall short, there is a period of disillusionment. It's a remarkable coming of age story, where he is definitely more of a man at the end for dealing with difficult, complicated, desperate issues with spirit and honor. A great movie and a testament to not just a smart young man, but a community that was so welcoming to outsiders to give them such complete access.

And that was Saturday at Docfest. Just about time for 5 more movies today (Sunday.)

Total Running Time: 468 minutes
My Total Minutes: 430,748
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