All right, this was the first really long day of the festival (as opposed to just an evening), and it started with a pretty amazing documentary, Killer Poet. Over 40 years ago, Norman Porter killed a man during a robbery in Massachusetts. Actually, his accomplice probably (maybe) did the actually shooting, but he's at least responsible. Later in prison he killed a guard during an escape attempt. Again, his partner did the actual shooting, but he again is responsible. And then he became the model prisoner. And he was transferred to minimum security. And he applied to commute his sentence, and was within 1 vote on the board. And then MA governor Michael Dukakis ran for President, and couldn't look weak on crime. And so Norman Porter walked away from minimum security, and disappeared. About the same time, J J Jameson appeared in Chicago, IL. He had a drinking problem, but still became a solid member of society. He worked in the church, started a day care center in the basement, ran local political campaigns, helped everyone he could, and became a celebrated local poet. For nearly 20 years, J J Jameson was a part of working class Chicago, until MA police discovered (starting with fingerprinting) that Jameson was Norm Porter. The movie interviews people who knew him or his victims at different times, and paints a stark picture of his two lives. Norman Porter/J J Jameson was caught and is now serving his two life sentences plus 3 years for escaping. His story (and he's among the interviews) raises huge questions about the nature of justice, rehabilitation, and how our judicial system handles both. I'm not going to say that Porter does or doesn't deserve to be in jail now. There are strong arguments for either position. But the movie is a well balanced exploration that allows you to draw your own conclusions. It might lean more on the rehabilitation/let-him-go side. That could be because his Chicago friends were more likely to talk, or it might be the filmmakers' bias, or it might be mine. In any case, I think it's a well made and fascinating movie.
Killer Poet was preceded by the short Dear Angela, a touching story of a prison pen pal relationship. Due (I assume) to access issues, it's all told from the perspective of the woman on the outside (the prisoner is also a woman), and what she gets out of the correspondence.
Next was the program of locally made shorts "A Homegrown Variety". Here's the rundown:
Victoria: the documentary story of a piano and the players at a local rescue mission.
Severing the Soul: a history of psychosurgery and lobotomies, inspired by the recent death of Rosemary Kennedy. JFK's sister was mildly retarded, forced to undergo lobotomy, and died at age 86 with the mind of an infant.
Shelf Life: a documentary about a fascinating man. Raymond Bandarhas the world's largest collection of aquatic mammal skulls. Part nut, and part scientific treasure trove.
Lezbro: Don't Cha Know?: a funny documentary/music video about the counterpoints to fag hags.
No Strings Attached: A fun, interesting, intelligent look at the history of burlesque--local and global, as performers prepare for Tease-O-Rama. Awesome.
Then I saw yet more shorts, this time the animated program "Gods, Visions, and Video Games." The movies:
Trepan Hole: weird, snaky claymation dream.
Hunt: What if treats ate teeth instead of vice-versa?
Is There a Pong?: Rant Dog takes on machinima with his own film.
Symphony: adventure of an inkblot through abstract danger land.
Codswallop: Hilarious sequence of simple 2-D half-jokes. Funny, plus a bunny.
The Adventures of Ledo and Ix: Simple 8-bit quest game goes existential. Ledo's the adventurous woman, Ix is the timid boy.
Descendants: CGI story of a flower falling in love with a deer/kangaroo. With the voice of Whoopi Goldberg.
The Bear: Sharp line story of an Englishman surviving a camping trip in the Frnch-Canadian wilderness. Based on a true story.
Almost: Hilarious story of finding love...and a bus.
Undone: Rope-mation story of an old man at sea, fishing hid entire life's memories.
The Yellow Bird: A farmhand shoots off a few fingers. On his way to the doctor, he remembers his life--the good, the bad, and the creepy.
From Burger It Came: A boy recalls to his mom embarrassing childhood memories, like the time he ate an unattended hamburger and thought it gave him AIDS. If you think that's funny, the second time he thought he got AIDS is even funnier.
Next up was the feature doc of the night, but first the short Button Man. An indie film crew pulls together to make an awesome movie. Everything works perfectly, except the camera man who keeps pressing the on/off button exactly wrong.
And then the feature, The Achievers: The Story of the Lebowski Fans. What can I say that isn't summed up in the title? It's about Lebowski fans, and specifically Lebowskifest. I've only seen The Big Lebowski a half dozen times, so I'm not close to the geeks shown in the movie (but I'm proud to say I saw the movie when it was still in its original 6-week flop of a theatrical run). Spurred by the Internet, The Big Lebowski became a cult hit and from the beginning Lebowskifests have drawn larger than anticipated crowds. These are people who dress up not just as the main characters, but as the most obscure references (my favorite, the "Stranger from the Alps", based on a safe-for-TV dub). These people know the finest points of trivia. And for the most part, they hold real (often white collar) jobs and just need a little dude-ness to abide after work some days (oh yeah, if you're not familiar with The Big Lebowski, none of this will make sense). Along with the fans and founders of Lebowskifest, the filmmakers got interviews/footage of minor actors (the guy who played Saddam, a bowler with no lines in the movie, etc), Jeff Bridges, and even the originally dude Jeff Dowd. It all adds up to a funny movie about people who idolize a funny movie.
Then it was time for Indiefest's annual Big Lebowski party to start, but I had to stay behind to watch some Japanese porn. After confusion over witch theater I was supposed to be in, I was lucky to still get my front row center seat in a sold-out Little Roxie. Anyway, this was the first of two Iniefest screenings of Japanese "Pinku" films. "Pinku" basically means soft core porn (lotsa naked people, they show boobies and people having sex, but no explicit genitalia). However many Japanese directors start in Pinku films and as long as they put in the requisite sex scenes, they are pretty much funded to do whatever the hell they want. So these are sort of porno-art-weird indie films. Both films in this program were about an hour long. First was
New Tokyo Decadence: Slave, a serious drama (or as close as Pinku films get, the scenarios still brought laughter). A young lady is brought to masochism by her high school math teacher (Yay math! Not to get off on a tangent...). She funds her college by working in a BDSM club. She starts working in an office and her boss recognizes her as a masochist, and to their mutual pleasure makes her his slave. All is well, until jealousy raises its ugly head. First an incident with a prostitute doesn't go to her liking. Then the boss forces her to seduce the shy guy in the office, but gets upset when she seems to like it too much. Eventually the boss fires her and she marries shy guy. All is good again, but something's still missing.
The second film, S&M Hunter, wasn't as good as the first. A man goes to a sex dungeon to beat up girls. It turns out his hatred of females is because a gang has kidnapped his lover. The gang is female, his lover is male. Enter a sort of superhero--S&M Hunter sports an eye patch and is a wizard with rope. With his coil of rope and a flick of his wrist, he can turn any woman into his slave in seconds. He uses his powers to save the man's lover and conquer all the women. Problem is, the joke wears thin quickly but the movie continues for a full 59 minutes.
And then I made it to the Lebowski party, downed a few (or 5) white Russians before they kicked us out, caught a bus home, and finished drafting these write-ups on the bus.