Monday, April 25, 2011

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 4

Happy Bunny Day everyone! Today I took a break from the drinking and partying and just focused on the movies. I was at the PFA in Berkeley all day,

First up was SOMETHING VENTURED, a well made piece of hero worship documentary about the entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley and the money men who invented venture capitalism and got them started. The story starts with the "Traitorous Eight"--brilliant scientists and engineers working at Shockley semiconductors but totally fed up with their Nobel winning boss' attitude. The story goes that they ended up getting money from Fairchild and founded Fairchild Semiconductors, but the in between step is all about Arthur Rock, the man who is credited with coining the term Venture Capitalism. He was just a junior investment banker when a letter from the Eight passed through his company. No one knew what to do with it, but he saw an opportunity, and after failing to raise money from tons of sources, he connected with Fairchild and the rest, they saw, is history. Arthur Rock shows up again and again in the movie, but the documentary interviews a wide range of VC's and entrepreneurs, the people behind Intel, Cisco, Apple, Genentech, etc. It's mostly adulatory, with the biggest "failure" they profile being the man behind Powerpoint, who sold out to Microsoft (for a lot of cash...but they were offering stock). I can pretty much forgive the adulatory tone, as these men are titans. And mostly it's fun to take a look at the beginning of so many industries (especially talking about how bad Jobs and Wozniak smelled as they were trying to get Apple off the ground). And that reminds me, the film owes a debt of gratitude to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA. I actually have a friend, Chris Garcia, who is a computer historian. And as I always tell him, "You have a totally made up profession. There are only about five computer historians in the world, and you're in the top ten." I suppose that was neither here nor there. Anyway, entertaining movie, although I would've like to have seen more of the failure stories.

The next program started with a short, AGLA√ČE. The title character is a feisty, crippled schoolgirl. A classmate, Benoit, loses a bet and has to ask her out. But she refuses him. You know what's worse than having to ask out the "loser" girl--being turned down by her.

And the feature was CHILDREN OF THE PRINCESS OF CLEVES. The documentary draws parallels between the 17th century French novel The Princess of Cleves and the lives of the school students studying it. I suppose this works a hell of a lot better if you are familiar with the novel. I wasn't, so I was pretty lost. I did gather that it's a story about love vs. courtly obligations, and I got the parallels between the students' desires and their duties of studying for their baccalaureate exams. But as I said before, I was pretty much lost beyond that. I'm happy to acknowledge my shortcomings and say this movie was simply beyond me. Maybe I'm already tired this early in the festival. This doesn't bode well.

Anyway, next up was CHANTRAPAS, a sort of simultaneous love song to the art of filmmaking and a protest anthem against the business side of it. Nico is a young Georgian filmmaker working in the Soviet Union of the 50's/60's (much like director Otar Iosseliani himself). He's full of the rebellion of youth, and of course that gets him into plenty of trouble. And so he runs away, emigrates to France. That's the land of freedom that celebrates cinema and especially directors more than anywhere, right? Well, he runs into just as many obstacles, but now based on commercial and economic decisions. He doesn't have a government censor throwing him out of the editing room, but his meddling producer is just the same. Iosseliani based a lot of this on his own life, and it's too his credit that it comes off as comical but never bitter or shrill. Above all, he's playful, and to me that's best shown in the parallel scenes of his set decorators putting up/taking down an actual film set and putting up/taking down Soviet posters in preparation for a visit from a diplomat. I'm normal one to prefer my satire to be biting, but I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed the more playful tone here. Now I just gotta fall into a lake and find a mermaid.

And finally, the night ended with THE ARBOR. Based on the life and work of Andrea Dunbar, who shook up the Royal Court Theatre with her play "The Arbor" at the age of 17. Set squarely in the lower class street of Brafferton Arbor, Bradford, West Yorkshire, it's a gritty story of teenage sex and violence, based on her life and the things she saw growing up. And then 12 years later she died of a brain hemorrhage in a local pub. She drank a lot, and left behind two daughters and a son (each with a different father). The story of her children, and her complex legacy, is told mostly through actors lip-synching to interviews. There's also some archival footage and a performance of her play in Brafferton Arbor itself, with locals watching. It gives everything an oddly artificial feel, and yet somehow makes that artifice seem essential, like reality would be just too painful (perhaps an explanation of why she wrote "The Arbor" in the first place.) That's certainly true in the story of her eldest daughter, half-Pakistani Lorraine, who fell into a world of drugs, prostitution, and prison. A haunting, but beautifully done movie.

So that was Easter Sunday at SFIFF.

Total Running Time: 388 minutes
My Total Minutes: 233,293

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