Saturday, October 29, 2011

Jason finishes Doctoberfest

I wasn't sure I was going to make it, but I saw everything. And here's the last two.

First, FIRST POSITION. An inspirational and sometimes funny look at young ballet dancers. We follow several young dancers as they compete in the Youth America Grand Prix, the largest youth ballet competition in the world. At stake are not just prizes, but scholarships and (for the older dancers) job offers in dance companies. Through mangled feet, injuries, and somewhat lost childhoods, these kids make magic onstage and hopefully launch a career. We meet Aran, a talented young dancer in a military family (his dad chose a tour in Iraq rather than uproot the family away from any dance school). We meet Gaya, a young girl from Israel who sort of becomes Aran's girlfriend (the scenes of them watching each other dance are really cute). Michaela is an orphan from Sierra Leone, who has to counter racist attitudes that black dancers are all about strength and power with no grace. Joan traveled from Columbia to New York to pursue his dream. Rebecca, the oldest of the main character (a ripe age of 17) is looking to turn pro, just needs a job offer from this competition. And my favorite pair, JJ and Miko, a brother-sister team from Palo Alto. Miko, as her teacher explains, is an excellent student. JJ, on the other hand...well, in his words he's really good at smiling. He's definitely the one who isn't going to continue dancing and won't be competitive, but will have a ton of fun at whatever he does (never lose that, JJ!) We spend most of the moving getting into these kids' lives and setting us up to really care about them. And then the competition. High pressure, and the film builds up the tension just right. We want all of them to win, and the great thing is with multiple age groups and multiple possible positive outcomes (prizes, scholarships, or job offers), it's possible that they all could win, in their own way. But no spoilers here, I won't tell you if they did.

And finally, I ended the festival with a real oddity, BERLIN IN NOVEMBER. This might be the first movie I've seen that isn't actually about anything. Or, at most, it's about how much fun it is to make a movie with all your cool friends. Other people in the audience were grumbling about it afterwards (along the "what was the point?" angle), so it's definitely not for everyone. I think I loved it the moment a train passed in front of the camera and the filmmakers reveled in how you could see their reflections in the train window. The thing is, it's not like the train interrupted the shot, they weren't shooting anything else, it seems the whole point of the shot was to show the reflection of the camera and crew. There are interviews, performances, etc. with friends and apparently strangers on the street. Okay, I don't know who any of these people are, except for Dani Levy (GO FOR ZUCKER, MY FÜHRER), and it doesn't really matter. I guess they talk about Berlin, November, food, annoying tourists (one of the best things about Berlin in November is that there aren't as many tourists). It's really hard to letter to a city? Bunch of friends just screwing around with a camera? I don't know. I'm pretty sure I liked it, even though it kind of dragged on (I dozed off at one point, and don't think I missed anything important). In any case, it was a great oddity to end the fest.

Total Running Time: 183 minutes
My Total Minutes: 253,571

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