Saturday, February 16, 2008

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 8

Like always, I spend Valentine's Day with the ones I love. In this case, three film programs, starting with the shorts program "My American Legacy". Let's go:

"Another Word for Family". A meditation on the racial history of Mississippi. History is another word for family, and in Mississippi that family is a bit dysfunctional.

"El Otro Lado" ("The Other Side"). As in, the other side of the wall being built on the U.S. Mexico border. The camera slides across miles and miles of the wall as voices from either side speak to its meaning.

"Pilgrimage". It's surprising how few people know about the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. Partly because the interned didn't like to talk about it. But inspired by the civil rights movement, they started to speak up, and a new generation is growing up learning about it. Now there's an annual pilgrimage to return to Manzanar, where there's a monument to that sad part of our history. Here's a picture of director Tadashi Nakamura.

"Massacre at Murambi". During the Rwandan genocide, hundreds were killed at a school in Murambi. It was one of the worst incidents in the whole bloody conflict. The American response was poor. Now there's genocide in Darfur. But this will be different, because we've committed to standing up against it. Right?

"My American Neighbor". Russian American filmmaker Irina Patkanian interviews Americans living abroad about their views on America, and compares that to her experiences moving from Russia to the U.S. Partly an examination of America, and partly a statement about how you sometimes need distance to see things clearly (says the guy who sits in the front row for everything). Two parts I particularly liked. First, she talked a lot about how Russians never smile (if you smile for no reason, they think you're retarded), while Americans are supposed to smile (it's the only nation in the world where the pursuit of happiness is a legally protected right). Second, I liked the contrast in the familial patriotic metaphors. Russians speak of "Mother Russia", while Americans speak of "Uncle Sam". I think that says something about the closeness of patriotic ties in each country. Anyway, it was a fascinating movie, and here's a picture of Irina Patkanian:

"What Do We Want, When Do We Want It". An examination of what goes into an activist protest movement, from the point of view of someone who has grown weary and is quitting the movement (although he still agrees with the cause, he's just weary of the activism part). Fascinating.

Next up was the bleak anti-Valentine's feature, "Frownland". It's an hour and a half of painfully awkward conversation, following the life of Keith Sontag, an awkward, stuttering, burbling loser. Pathetically, his job is going door to door asking for charity donations (I think the charity was for cerebral palsy, but I might be remembering it wrong. I know it was some disease). Obviously, if he can't speak well he won't do well at this job. He also doesn't deal well with his roommate or his suicidal friend. Basically he stumbles through a world that is equal parts uncaring and openly contemptuous. And it does it all with the 16mm aesthetic of a gritty 70's movie (George Romero's "Martin" was a direct influence on the look). I have to thank director Ronald Bronstein for introducing the movie well, and letting me know that it's okay to laugh. It's uncomfortable laughter, but it's there. Ultimately, the main character is sympathetic for 90 minutes, but if I met him in real life he'd probably be intolerable after about 5. Here's a pic of Ronald Bronstein:

And to round off the night, as an antidote for "Frownland" we had the cheesy, campy, silly "Sexina: Popstar P.I.". What can I say, it's stupid fun--with boobies! (sadly, they stay clothed, but they're still on display) Sexina is the world's hottest pop star, but at night she fights corruption in the music industry. The evil boss, played by Quahog mayor Adam West, kidnaps a scientist and forces him to make a set of super robots to become the greatest boy band ever, so he can rule the world! Obviously, it's up to Sexina to stop him, just after she makes an appearance at a high school to help an unpopular girl believe in herself--through the power of shopping! Yeah, it's that silly, but it's fun. Here's director Erik Sharkey:

And here's producer/editor Greg Boas and producer Charles Ricciardi (I think. I have in my notes that he's a producer):

Anyway, then I had time for just a couple beers, finally had some filmmakers to drink with (Irina, Ronald, and the Sexina guys were all at the bar), and then caught the BART home.

Now I'm only one day (three movies) behind in my posts, but now I have to go catch the BART back to the city for 5 more movies. Then 5 more tomorrow. And 3 on Monday. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.


Dan said...

In the festival trailers, they have a scene from "Frownland" with a guy that has a lawn mower that wants The Loser to mow grass so he can take a percent. Was that in the version we saw? I went to the bathroom so it could have been in there but this director liked extended scenes.

I didn't "like" that film but it certainly captured the character in all his dysfunction. Someone in the audience claimed the character was inherently sympathetic but I found him apathetic. It was impossible for me to care about that character from a distance. If that guy died, would anyone care?

puppymeat said...

The lawnmower scene was not in the movie. Ronnie shot several isolated scenes that were never put in the movie. He just made that one into a trailer.