Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 10

Five more movies last Sunday, plus a few shorts.

First up was "Bunnyland". That title is a semi non-sequitur, in that Bunnyland is a small part of it. A more descriptive title would be "Johnny Tesar is Fucking Insane". But "Bunnyland" is a fine title, because...I love bunnies! Johnny Tesar describes himself as "the last Indian put on the Trail of Tears" (we take his word that he's really an Indian). He lives (or lived, he's moved out of the area) near a small mountain town of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. He's an amateur archeologist, amassing a giant collection of "artifacts" (maybe just rocks) showing a long lost culture in the area, including evidence of elephants (rocks carved to look like elephants--or maybe just a big coincidence). He had the great idea to create Bunnyland golf course--a mini golf course with bunnies hopping (and pooping?) all over it. His business partner screwed him out of his half, and the next season 73 (out of ~100) bunnies turned up dead. Johnny suspects dogs, because dogs were always a problem there. His ex-partner suspects Johnny, because they were beaten with a baseball bat. He was never convicted (or even tried), but he's the only suspect in some peoples' minds. I should mention at this point that the movie interviews a lot of people who defend Johnny and swears he's a sweet, kind man. So I don't really know what to believe. Anyway, Johnny went on to build rental cabins. But not entirely to code--he snatched the ends of logs used when making log cabins and glued them together with spray foam. They were fully furnished, including washer and dryer. But again, not up to code. So when one of them caught on fire and killed the woman living in it, he was pretty screwed. Lost all his land (which the owners now claim they can't sell because it was worthless for building on in the first place), and has since moved away from town. His newest business--making and selling Gun-Tees, t-shirts with graphics of a shoulder holster with a gun in them. I don't know who freakin' buys them. But there, I might drive a little business to his site.

Here's the man who started out researching the legend he heard about the bunny mini-golf and all the dead bunnies, but ended up meeting Johnny Tesar, director Brett Hanover:


Next up was the political conscience program, starting with the short film "So the Wind Won't Blow it All Away". This is a sad and touching short about Katrina. But specifically about an overlooked demographic of victims--children who lost their parents in Katrina. Some live with extended family (aunts, uncles, grandparents), some high school students have become the de facto heads of households, taking care of their little siblings. Very sad.

Then the feature was a mix of comedy and activism, "Considering Democracy: 8 Things to Ask Your Representative". Keya Lea Horiuchi traveled the world, asking people what they thought of America. What do they like about us, what don't they. Is freedom and democracy really sprouting all over the world. Do people really want American-style democracy? She gets a wide range of responses, and edits it together with supporting statistics showing how our lifestyle, health care, tax system, etc. differs from the rest of the world. It's all done very playfully, and the end result is a bit of fun that also makes you think. Just one quibble--in world maps she highlights the US in red (and sometimes other countries if they share something in common with America). I don't have a complaint about the color, I have a complaint that Alaska isn't colored the same way. But maybe the AIP will like that.

Keya Lea Horiuchi was at the screening, and the Q&A was very engaging, but for some reason I don't have one of my signature blurry filmmaker photos of her. Maybe the light was actually so bad I decided I couldn't get the shot. Anyway, thank you to Keya for making the movie and being there for the screening.

The next program started with another short (this was sort of the day for movies with shorts before them. There aren't many in the program, but I seemed to see the most last Sunday). That short was "The Good Mother of Abangoh", a wonderful triumphant story of Jane Mankaa, a poor girl in Cameroon who decided she wanted to help the homeless children. So she joined the convent, became a nun, and opened an orphanage that is wildly successful and gives so many poor children a chance at a better life. She's an inspiring person, and is doing great work

Then there was "This Dust of Words", by director Bill Rose. A few years back Rose directed a similar documentary about the loss of genius, called "The Loss of Nameless Things". I saw it at Cinequest in 2004, and here's what I wrote about it back then:



25 years ago, Oakley "Tad" Hall III was an up andcoming playwright on the verge of greatness running a community theater inLexington, NY. Then a mysterious fall from a bridge and the resultingmassive head injuries destroyed his carreer, and for all intents andpurposes, the man he was. His IQ went from over 200 to 6 (he has sinceworked it up to a modestly respectable 75). No one knows what exactly happened on the bridge except Oakley, who is too brain-damaged to remember, and the mysterious man from Seattle who showed up that summer, ran to the barn/theater to announce that "Oakley's gone off the bridge!"and disappeared the next morning, never to be seen again (some suspectfoul play). The director, Bill Rose, spends the first 1/2 of the moviefocusing on Oakley's once-promising career, interviewing those who knewhim best, mostly actors from his Lexington Community Theater troup. Thenext 1/4 of the movie is dedicated to the events after his fall, and hisstruggles to even make a living and to learn to be a writer again. And it's only at about the 3/4 point that he brings out the interviews with Oakley from today. An interesting directorial choice, but I think appropriate. There are so many ways this story could've gotten off onto tangents, and Bill Rose does an admirable job of keeping the story focused and the narrative moving forward. As I said, Oakley today has an IQ of around 75, which means he's functional, but nowhere near the genius he was. At the same time, there's been renewed interested in his last play,"Grinder's Stand", based on the last days of Merriweather Lewis. SoOakley gets to witness his last great work finally get performed, and getthe recognition he deserves, even if he's no longer the man who wrote it. As a final note, Oakley still writes, or tries to. And it's that unquenchable artistic drive that's the most powerful part of the movie. He gets up and writes every day, even when finishing a single sentence isa challenge. Even when he has to read what he wrote yesterday before hestarts because he can't remember it. His current work-in-progress isbased on the life of Alfred Jarry, an obscure absurdist French playwrightwith whom Oakley identified both before and after the accident (after the accident, he also identifies with Jarry's lead idiot king, Ubu).
It's called "Alf and Me, and auto/biography of Alfred Jarry".

Well, "This Dust of Words" has a similar theme, in that it's about a brilliant young person who somehow goes wrong and doesn't live up to her promise. Elizabeth Wiltsee had an IQ of 200, she learned to read (English) by age 4, and learned to read Greek by age 10. She was an exceptional student at Stanford, where she studied English under professor John Feltsiner (the movie title comes from her thesis). And then...she disappeared, went crazy, and ended up homeless in Watsonville, CA. And then this movie turns into a story not just about her, but about the town, and how it rallied around the poor homeless (and sometimes mute) woman, taking care of her in the two places she was most comfortable--the church, and the library (which now has the Elizabeth Wiltsee memorial reading room). In 1999, as she appeared to be getting better, she abruptly told people she was "going home" and walked away. 60 miles away and 7 months later, her body was found in the San Luis Reservoir. It's unknown if it was a suicide or accident (there was no evidence of foul play). A tragic end to a promising but tragic life.

Here's a pic of director Bill Rose and professor John Feltsiner, who came up from Stanford for the show:


Next up was the gleefully goofy road trip movie, "Head Trip", starring and co-directed by Burning Man co-founder and general weirdo John Law. He and co-director Fletcher Feudjohn are part of the Cyclecide travelling bicycle rodeo. They and a gang of fellow SF artists travel from San Francisco to New York in a bus towing three doggie heads from the defunct SF chain of Doggie Diners (the first love of Zippy the Pinhead). In between mechanical breakdowns (which are excuses to do impromptu acts of random weirdness) they visit odd roadside attractions along the way--like Cadillac Ranch or the guy who makes gigantic recycled metal sculptures. In New York, they do a show and parade down the street with the doggie heads. A fun time is had by all. I don't know what it means, and who really cares? Here's John Law and Fletcher Feudjohn at the Q&A after the film:


And here are the doggie diner heads outside the Roxie. I'm proud to say I rubbed their noses for luck (mostly luck in not getting run over in the street while rubbing their noses):


And the final movie was another road trip film, but first a couple of shorts. "Aunty Betelnut" is a quick, funny interview with a group of Papua New Guinean women, living in Sydney, chewing betelnut. Betelnuts are mild narcotics, creating a sense of euphoria, and responsible for a charming, funny film. The second short was "Sunlight and Babies", an interesting look at the trucking industry and truck stop culture, reaching well beyond the stereotypes, and talking about the importance of trucking in our economy. Particularly interesting use of anonymous CB radio "dialogue".

Then the feature was "The Long Haul", the road trip of Martha and her wife Lavonne as the pack up their Airstream trailer and head out from the east coast to their new life in Sacramento, CA. There's really not much of a story. They freak out about the drive, they drink, they bicker, they drink, they freak out about camping in the south, they drink (I could really go for a drink after this movie). But they're a hilarious, enjoyable couple, and the movie moves along briskly (a lot of the footage is shot from a camera strapped to the passenger side window). A nice, fun way to end a long day of movies.

Here are Martha and Lavonne (and I apologize, I don't remember which is which) and director Liz Welch Tirrell (far right) at the Q&A:


And one last thing, since this was a day with lots of shorts before the features, I looked back and realized there's one short I saw earlier and forgot to blog about (other than all the Current TV shorts):

"I'm Like This Every Day" played before "Bigfoot: A Beast on the Run". It's a wild, funny, kinda scary look at horror fan and metal musician from Georgia, Peter Stubb. If I were like him every day, I'd probably die.
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