Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 13

Okay, it's getting to me, I'm exhausted. Of course that didn't stop me from seeing two more movies last Tuesday night, starting with LETTERS FROM THE BIG MAN, a Bigfoot movie that is one of the oddest by virtue of playing it totally straight. Sarah is an artist who has recently broken up with her boyfriend. She takes off, leaves no forwarding address, and takes a job surveying old growth forests (especially their regrowth after a devastating fire) in Oregon. I should start by saying how much I love the Pacific Northwest. I grew up in Bellingham, WA (until my junior high years when we moved to Anchorage, AK) and you'd be hard pressed to convince me there's a more beautiful place on earth than the forests of the Pacific Northwest. So if this movie was just 100 minutes of her sitting in the wilderness with beautiful shots of the forests and streams, I'd groove on it and be homesick for a place I haven't called home in over two decades. But there's also a story, that's a bonus! And that story involves Bigfoot spying on her, a political intrigue involving deforestation and government researchers, and perhaps a new love. There's never a big "wow, we found Bigfoot!" moment, just a series of quiet encounters and gradually acceptance. There's a little pseudo-scientific explanation (which frankly I could've done without) about how Bigfoot can control ultra-low sounds to either terrify enemies or put people completely at ease. It borders on making Bigfoot a metaphor for nature--that depending on how you approach it and your state of mind, it's beautiful and calming or incredibly dangerous (or, for that matter, an economic opportunity). But I decided I prefer to avoid the metaphor and accept Bigfoot as a character like anyone else in the movie, simple but powerful.

And then TABLOID, the newest film by Errol Morris, and perhaps the most controversial ticket in the fest, spurred by the film's subject protesting outside the theater. I have to admit I put this on my schedule as soon as I read the name Errol Morris, and didn't know more about the subject. As fellow blogger/tweeter Brian Darr/@hellonfriscobay put it, that's the right way to see it. So I'll now attempt to describe it without giving anything away:

Joyce McKinney is the star/subject, and some time in the past she was a subject of the tabloids. Mr. Morris got her to talk about it, and the result is his funniest movie far. He also interviews other related characters--her friends, cohorts, tabloid writers, and while everyone gets to spin their side of the story no one really comes off looking good. But it's easy to tell how McKinney got into trouble. She likes talking about herself, she's funny and engaging, and she has a penchant for making quotes that writers can run with. And it seems she might have just done it again on film.

So Errol Morris was there to introduce the film (which he said was his favorite so far. The rest of his films took him some time and distance to appreciate), but he didn't stay for a Q&A. kind of disappointing, but I did have to run to catch a bus to BART to home anyway, so I wouldn't have been able to stay long. McKinney was there, and a small crowd gathered around her (and her doggy, I think she said it was Booger-Lee) to listen to her. I did hear her say how Morris had approached her saying he was doing a series on paparazzi victims for Showtime, and she thought if he used her at all it would be a brief clip amongst several other victims. She never knew he would make a feature film all about her. That appears to be at least part of her anger at the film. Although I have to say in person she was pleasant, engaging, and still way too eager to talk about herself.

Total Running Time: 192 minutes
My Total Minutes: 236,043

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