Sunday, October 16, 2011

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 2

The big first weekend begins, starting with GENERAL ORDERS NO. 9. Wow, I don't know what this movie is about. I don't know what the title means, I don't know what the pipe-smoking rabbit on the poster means (although the tagline is "One last trip down the rabbit hole before it's paved over."), and I don't know if this is really a documentary. In fact, I'd characterize it more as a tone poem than a documentary (or even a movie). I do know it's very experimental, using a lot of signs and repetition to drive home the statement that "Deer trail becomes Indian trail becomes county road." It's about Georgia, and about progress, history, and what has been lost. It's got striking cinematography, a hypnotic voiceover, and music that lulled me to sleep a bit too often (at least in the first third). Ultimately, I have absolutely no idea if I even liked it. But I was certainly impressed. A friend mentioned to me that this is exactly what she is afraid TREE OF LIFE would be like (she hasn't seen it). While ultimately I came to like TREE OF LIFE, it was only after thinking about it for a few days. Unfortunately, with the hectic festival pace, I won't be able to do the same for this film. Perhaps this is one to revisit in the hypothetical chance that I have some slow time.

The next show started with the short ROOTS AND HOLLERS, a story of ginseng spanning China to Kentucky. Ginseng is a root that's popular in Chinese culture as a medicine/aphrodisiac. Most ginseng is farmed (oddly enough in Wisconsin), but wild ginseng is far more valuable, currently ~$550/lb (for American ginseng). In China, there's not a lot of wild ginseng left because it has been over-harvested. In America, ginseng grows in Appalachia, and that brings the film to Kentucky. We meet the locals who supplement their income finding and selling (either to local wholesalers, or direct once they get their export license) wild ginseng. For a moment, I confess their southern accent made me think 'redneck hicks' but it quickly becomes clear that these are sharp people who know their business. It's interesting to see how too very different cultures revere this fragile little plant for very different reasons. And before you say "of course, the Americans only revere it for the money" realize that this is supplemental income for people who
love the outdoors and want to make a living on what the land can provide (in the rest of the year they hunt and trap). The big money is in strip mining, which destroys whole mountains of ginseng (and everything else the land can provide).

Then the feature THE GREENHORNS, about young people across the country who have chosen small-scale farming as their livelihood. We meet a lot of interesting people, but it seems to jump around without a whole lot of direction. And I was expecting more about the pitfalls and difficulties first time farmers face. Ultimately, director Severine von Tscharner Fleming tips her hand a bit late into the film, revealing that she is a farmer (and activist). Which confirms what I was fearing--that this is little more than an adulatory advertisement for this kind of lifestyle. Not that it's a bad lifestyle, while I've chosen a different way to make my living I like food and seek out local, organic, sustainable choices. And it's not a really bad movie, I just felt like a better editor could have put a better flowing structure on this and made it much better.

Then the third show of the day, starting with the short JASON MECIER DOES AMY SEDARIS. Jason Mecier is a local artist who does mosaics of celebrities using found/collected objects. His latest series actually invites celebrities to mail him the contents of their junk drawer and he uses that in their mosaic. And he just got Amy Sedaris' junk box, and we get a privileged and humorous look at his process, which ultimately results in this.

As an aside, I have to say that so far this year the shorts and features have been very well matched. And to match this short we have the feature UNLIKELY TREASURES, about collectors. And not just collectors of things that have a market value (coins, rare stamps) but people who feel compelled to collect "worthless" junk--ceramic E.T. figures, buttons, clothespins, staplers. Each collector becomes a curator of his own personal museum, and sometimes those museums get a public display at the City Reliquary in Brooklyn. While the movie doesn't go very far int his direction, there's also a distinct dark side, where collecting becomes problem-level hoarding. One collector mentions that friends who have given up their collections all claim to be much happier afterwards. One talks about how her husband created a spartan "Japanese Room" as a collection-free zone where he could escape. But for the most part, these people seem happy and more or less well adjusted. And who am I to judge? I'm a collector of movie experiences (who obsessively counts every minute he spends watching movies).

Next, Docfest started rocking out with the 25th anniversary screening of the cult classic HEAVY METAL PARKING LOT. Fans (some who look underage) whooping it up and drinking lots of beer in the parking lot before a Judas Priest concert. Wild antics that just look funny today, and Jeff Krulik was there to capture it on video. And while the editing is choppy, that perfectly captures the spirit of the time and place.

Unfortunately, Jeff Krulik's HEAVY METAL PICNIC really needs more editing. The Full Moon Jamboree was a farm party in Potomac Maryland that was so epic it ended up making the evening news. And much of it was recorded using a camcorder and a stolen CBS news microphone. Jeff Krulik and his crew go back to the place and track down a lot of the people who were there. So it becomes not just a look into the crazy metal scene of the 80's, it also becomes a self-conscious nostalgia piece, as people reminisce about how you had to be in the right crowd to get word-of-mouth news, rather than everything posted on Facebook or Twitter. But ultimately it drags on as the same scenes are shown over and over. Example: the CBS news microphone was stolen by a guy who was hired as a security guard. I guess they should have had a guard for him, right?...nice joke, but we don't need to hear it twice. When a bunch of the guys go back to the farm and reminisce, we can have a brief scene of one of them taking a leak. We don't need all of them taking a leak, that just gets tedious.

HEAVY METAL PARKING LOT was 16 minutes, and for what it was that's just the right running time. If you took that same vibe and added an equal amount of "where are they now" footage, you'd have a decent film at 32 minutes. HEAVY METAL PICNIC is 66 minutes, and I think it's about right to call it 50% filler.

And finally, we ended the night with not a documentary, but an 80's New Wave Sing-Along. Free cheap shit booze and a parade of music videos from Devo, The Cure, The Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode, Frankie Goes To Hollywood... I drank 6 or 7 glasses of cheap shit whiskey, and sang and danced and shouted jackass comments like all the rest of the idiots in there. And it was great fun...and yes, I am hung over this morning, thanks for asking.

Total Running Time: 419 minutes (note, based on 120 minutes running time for the 80's sing-along, as listed on the festival website. I don't know if that's precise, but it was pretty darn close)
My Total Minutes: 250,721

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