Monday, November 2, 2009

Jason goes to Docfest--Day...?

Um. The second to last one. I've lost count.

I once again skipped Tuesday (and you'll never know why!), but I was back in action on Wednesday.

First up, THE GREAT CONTEMPORARY ART BUBBLE, probably the funniest movie in all of Docfest. Director Ben Lewis is an art critic who likes contemporary art (defined as post-WWII) but hates what has become of the business. Wealthy collectors bid outrageous amounts for works that will sit in a warehouse rather than be shown. They're treated as investments more than art. Worse yet, art dealers intentionally bid up works to protect the price point of their featured artists. Lewis tackles this world with anger but humor, starting off getting an artist friend of his to modify his car into a rolling work of art. He travels around the world, observing art auctions, pointing out the absurdity of many pieces of modern art--not just the subjects but how so much of it is mass produced by assistants rather than the big name artists themselves. And he compares the world of real estate, finance, and modern art, arguing that they all had the same flaws and are due to the same fate--art is just delayed. The movie does stall a little bit when he tries to make the connection of how a crash in the art market affects ordinary people. Yes, we don't get ridiculous art in our public museums, and yes, the whole of the economy is interconnected so there are ripple effects. But mostly I care completely out of a sense of schadenfreude. I like watching the ridiculous billionaires lose money buying ridiculous and ridiculously overpriced art. And you know what, I still enjoyed it. You don't have to care two bits about contemporary art to really enjoy this movie.

The next program started with the short, THE PHYSICS TEACHER, which I happen to know won the audience award. And this profile of Sohail Khan deserves it just from the charisma of its character. Originally from Pakistan, he now teaches high school physics in Texas, and is a gruff, sarcastic guy who would come off as a total jerk if it wasn't so clear how much he cares about the students and how much they know it.

And that led into the feature, THE PHILOSOPHER KINGS. Director Patrick Shen travels to the greatest institutions in the world--Princeton, Cornell, Duke, even my alma mater Caltech--to discuss the wisdom of real life rather than the esoteric principles studied there. He meets an immigrant from Haiti working to send money back to his family, and an artist pursuing his dream. A man who lost and arm and suffered brain trauma but was back to work within 10 months. A man who miraculously learned to walk again after injuries suffered in Vietnam and his longtime friend and colleague. A woman whose mother died from a hospital accident (double dose of drugs). A mentor in the Duke chapel, a Berkeley man who puts family above everything (after a history of not doing that). Oh yeah, and all these people are custodians, not professors. The film is an epic poem to the dignity of good honest work, the importance of every person, and the idea that prestige is meaningless and no one can take away your dignity but you.

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