Friday, October 31, 2008

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 13

Two more shows...when was this...last Wednesday?

First up was a pretty strange movie, an Israeli documentary thriller "Over My Dad's Body".  Taliya Finkel grew up not knowing if her uncle really was her uncle, or a look-alike planted by the KGB to spy on her father.  That was her father's theory.  He swore his brother wasn't the same man when he came out of prison.  He was always asking strange questions that he should know, his birthmark was gone, etc.  But then again, he was also diagnosed with schizophrenia.  Five years afther her father died (murdered?) she decided to investigate her own uncle, hiring private eyes and documenting the whole journey.  She travels back to the Ukraine to find prison records from when her uncle was in prison, but the records have long been lost or destroyed.  She searches for evidence of the KGB program in the prison, but no luck.  It's a fascinating movie, a fascinating story, but I don't know what to make of it.  I'm pretty convinced that her father was just schizophrenic and was telling wild stories.  She seems to lean towards believing her father, but is very skeptical and doesn't really know what to believe.  This movie may end up haunting me for a while.

Then we moved on to something I'm far more familiar with--arsonists from Cal Tech (full disclosure, I'm from Cal Tech, and was a member of Ricketts Hovse, which were famous for playing with fire up until a guy got burned--after I had left--and fire was essentially banned).  Anyway, that's not really party of the short film "Standard Deviation".  Rather it's about Billy Cottrell, who by all accounts was a brilliant young physicist.  He didn't do well in grade school or high school, because he was often bored, acted out, and pulled all sorts of capers (spray painting a wall with "Fight vandalism in your school" was particularly funny).  But he managed to get into the University of Chicago, where he excelled at physics (he talked as a kid about there being only 9 truly great physicists in the world at any time, and he would be one of them).  And so he won a top doctoral spot in theoretical physics (string theory) at Cal Tech.  And there he became an eco-terrorist, joining (or co-opting the name) of the ELF (Earth Liberation Front), and vandalized and burned a bunch of Hummers.  Then when the police picked up someone else for the crime, he started e-mailing them taunting notes until they did catch him.  I've known quite a few Cal Tech crazyfuckers in my time (I've even been called one myself), but this guy is in a whole different league.  

And that was just the short leading into "The People's Advocate: The Life and Times of Charles R. Garry".  Charles Garry was possibly the most notorious defense attorney of the civil rights movement.  He defended Black Panthers Huey Newton and Bobby Seale.  He pioneered the practice of jury selection, often spending days eliminating prospective jurors from trials.  He was aggressive at challenging the testimony of policemen and other authorities, who up to that point had been given a free ride on their testimony.  Later in life, he represented The People's Temple (of Jim Jones fame), and was actually locked inside a house in Jonestown as the members drank the infamous poisoned Kool-Aid outside (he could hear but didn't know exactly what was going on).  Afterwards, he was never the same, and in 1991 he died of a stroke.  This movie does a good job of introducing the man--faults and virtues--and showing his profound contributions to the legal, political, and social world we live in today.

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