Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Jason goes to SFIAAFF--Tuesday, March 15

And please indulge me, I must start with a little rant about the new audience award voting protocol. For as long as I've been going, SFIAAFF has followed the same protocol as the majority of festivals--rate each film on a scale of 1 (unwatchable crap) to 5 (unforgettable masterpiece). Now I have my beef with reducing all the complicated emotions and reactions I have to a mere number, but I'm generally okay with that (after all, I have this blog to explore and explain my reaction). But this year they've changed to simply voting "Yes" or "No." I suppose I could just drop a racist tweet and be done with it. But the question on the ballots is not, "Did you like it? Yes or No." The ballot specifically asks, "Should it win [the audience award]? Yes or No." Those are very different questions. I can like many (even most) movies, but only my favorite should win. Therefore I should really only answer "yes" for my favorite, and "no" for all others. Problem is, I won't know my favorite until the end of the festival. All I can state early on is my favorite so far. Later on in the festival I'm sure I will vote "no" on a movie I liked more than one I voted "yes" for, simply because I saw an even better movie in between. And that's wrong, it biases the voting towards movies that play earlier in the festival. At least for me, but maybe I'm over-thinking it. I'd be interested in seeing if that's true for others. Hypothesis: movies that play multiple times will have better scores earlier in the festival. Since I don't have access to the ballots, I humbly ask (but don't expect) someone with access to check on that and report back to me.

Anyway, on to the movies, starting with the documentary OPEN SEASON. In November of 2004, Chai Vang, a truck driver and hunter in Wisconsin, shot 8 white hunters, killing 6. His (unsuccessful) legal defense was self-defense, that they were harassing him as he was trying to leave their property (after he unknowingly trespassed), and that one of them shot first (an unproven point). The documentary is a brisk 57 minutes, but packs a heck of a lot in there from both sides. Charges of racism, denials, reaction of the Hmong community, questions of the fairness of the trial (a media-saturated venue, an all white jury), etc. But ultimately it lets the audience decide. Or in my case, it lets the audience be a little overwhelmed and bewildered. Nothing (short of the white hunters shooting first--and at him, not just a warning shot) justifies the murder of 6 people and attempted murder of 2 more. On the other hands, the stories of racism both before and after the incident paint a picture that this sort of incident was inevitable, it was just a question of when. Like I said, the movie is brief, and there's a lot of low-def footage that isn't that great, but easily forgivable. But it is pretty remarkable how much the movie throws at you in just 57 minutes. And it's remarkable how they managed to get extensive comments from all sides in the story. So often these documentaries have a point of view that's determined by who will talk to the filmmakers, and maybe they only have one token dissenting view. It's refreshing to see a documentary that has innumerable interviews from both points of view--something that pretty much all documentary filmmakers claim they want, but so few achieve.

Then after a leisurely beer (I'm finally recovered enough from the Cinequest closing party Saturday night to drink again), I caught the shorts program Play/House. The theme being family life, I guess.
FIRECRACKER: The struggles of an Indian in Texas trying to raise the money to bring his family over to be with him.
ANDY: I saw this at Indiefest. A little boy plays in the mall, helps his mom try on makeup, and has an odd encounter in the bathroom.
ONCE UPON A ROOFTOP: A documentary look at the rooftop shanties and impoverished people living there in Hong Kong.
WITHHOLDING: A double tragedy strikes a family, as an actress arrives at the hospital where her dad is recovering from a heart attack and receives a phone call delivering more bad news. She just has to find a way to deliver the news without further devastating her mother.
TOP SPIN: Ariel Hsing totally kicks ass! She's a 14 (now 15) ping pong phenom, on a mission to crush the competition and be the first American girl to make a living at it.

Total Running Time: 134 minutes
My Total Minutes: 229,234

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