Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 10

Okay, it's been good month and a half, I guess I should try to catch up on my blog. Note: the first three shows I wrote up shortly after seeing them. The last two from this post I'm writing much later. With that in mind, let's see if I can catch up.

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A big Saturday to kick off the second weekend of Docfest (again, I missed the first weekend for SilentFest)

The first show started with the short ESPANOMICS, a survey of various Latinas and their challenges coming to the United States and making a living (with hopefully enough left over to send home to their family.) It's about survivors, and the kind of survivors who redouble their efforts to help the next generation have it a little easier.

That was the perfect lead-in to ADIOS AMOR--THE SEARCH FOR MARIA MORENO. It starts out as director Laurie Coyle's story. She was a researcher for a documentary about Cesar Chavez, and kept coming across photographs of this woman organizer with several children beside her. She didn't recognize her, apparently this woman was a leading organizer, but had been mostly written out of history. So she did some digging, interviewed people who identified her as Maria Moreno, who was a leader in the Agricultural Worker's Organizing Committee. She was a pre-cursor to Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, and the reason's she isn't as well remembered (and she wasn't a part of their UFW movement) kind of boils down to internal politics. 

Anyway, after Coyle gets the basics, she is smart to pivot the film from the story of her search to the story of Maria. Her work, how she became something of a travelling spiritual leader after leaving union organizing (she never stopped working to improve people's lives,) her children and grandchildren. And her unfortunate passing in 1989. Much of the last half of the film is told by her children and grandchildren, and gives a beautiful portrait of a mother working to make sure her children didn't go hungry, and along the way decided the best way to do that was to make sure no children go hungry. It's also a fascinating story of how some very important people can still be lost to history, and their lessons lost with them. Thankfully, Maria's story is being recovered.
Maria Moreno, being the leader she was.

Next up was BEAUTIFUL THINGS, really more of an experimental art film than a documentary, it takes us through oil fields, household knick-knacks, big ocean freighters, anechoic chambers, and dumps where trash is burned for energy. With an eerie score and absolutely beautiful cinematography, it takes you on a certain kind of journey. A journey that I'm afraid I wasn't ready for, and definitely wasn't well-rested enough for. Yeah, I snoozed a little in this one. It's actually not a bad movie to catch a few winks in, since you won't miss any of the non-existent plot, and every time you open your eyes you'll be looking at something beautiful. 
Part of the movie that I snoozed through. There were more beautiful scenes, I promise
Then the next show started with a short, CAJUN DEMONOLOGIST. On Friday the 13th, a team of exorcists banish evil spirits from possessed people and haunted houses on the bayou. Needless to say, they don't find anything that can show up on a movie as evidence that demons and evil spirits are real.

That was the lead-in to RODENTS OF UNUSUAL SIZE, the documentary about nutria. Bias alert, I am a Kickstarter backer of the film, and loved seeing my name in the credits. More importantly, I'm very, very proud to be a Kickstarter backer of this awesome film. Nutria are giant 20 lb "swamp rats" and an invasive species. They were originally imported from Argentina in the 30s, as a cheap source of fur to help the local economy. They escaped and grew wild. Turns out with not many predators, the warm, swampy environment was ideal. And it wasn't a problem at first, it just mean all the locals could hunt wild nutria for their fur. Then, in the 80s, animal rights activists' war on fur caused the bottom to drop out of the fur market. It was no longer profitable to hunt nutria. So their population exploded. And they ate all the grassy vegetation--down to the roots. And the lack of those roots holding the soil together contributed to coastal erosion (how do you enjoy those unintended consequences, eco-warriors? The war on fur directly contributed to the erosion of the Louisiana gulf coast!) Now the state of Louisiana has put a bounty on nutria, they'll pay you to kill them. All you need to bring is the tail. Of course, if you want to use all of the animal, their fur is nice, and allegedly they taste like turkey dark meat. They're total vegetarians, so they have very clean, tasty meat. That is, if you can get over the fact that you're essentially eating a giant rat. I could do that, it's just really damn hard to find nutria meat over here.

Anyway, the movie gives you a ton of information, and introduces you to some wonderful people just trying to make a living with what the land gives them. And it's really darn funny and entertaining, too.
Thomas Gonzalez, with his haul. Worth $5 a tail.

Next up was POINT OF NO RETURN, the story of the Solar Impulse fuel-less flight around the world, and the huge team that made it possible. Especially Bertrand Piccard (the Enterprise Captain is allegedly named after one or more of his ancestors) and André Borschberg. It's tense, and emotional times. The plane is extremely fragile, and can only fly in good whether. The Pacific leg was the hardest, both technically and emotionally. They end up making an emergency landing in Japan, and  staying in Hawaii until the spring. Disagreement with the engineers and the adventurers are the central tension in the movie. And the part I was most anticipating--their stop at Moffett Field, where one of my friends who worked for NASA met them. However, that's not in the film, they only show the night landing and the small group there to meet them, not the meet-and-greet the next day with NASA employees. The technology is not practical for commercial flight yet, and a cynic could easily point to the carbon footprint of their support team. But they're not carrying passengers, they're carrying an idea. And an idea can grow and be expanded upon, until it is practical. Here's hoping something like that happens.
Solar Impulse, coming into San Francisco, piloted by Bertrand Piccard

And finally I ended the night with MEXMAN, a movie that starts off about an insanely creative guy and devolves into being about an insane guy. Germán Alonso is a star film student, brash, creative, overflowing with manic ideas. But there are obstacles, both technical and personal, and his big break at a feature film never really pans out. He does some amazing things with puppetry, and that seems like more of a personal creative outlet. But his big vision...well, it goes from how it's hard for him to work with other people, to how hard it is for anyone to work with him. I had thoughts about the confluence of insanity and creativity, but that's not really addressed in the film. Instead, by the end, I got the sense that the documentary crew was just tired of being around him. I know I was. He was, for the record, a little more tolerable during the Q&A.
Germán Alonso, acting crazy. The rest of the film, he wasn't acting
Total Running Time: 428 minutes
My Total Minutes: 483,452
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