Monday, May 6, 2013

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 10

I missed a good chunk of  Saturday at SFIFF in order to cheer for my San Jose Earthquakes. After going down 0-2, they stormed back and scored an exciting stoppage time equalizer! Exciting, but we've had too many ties lately, we need to start getting some wins.

Anyway, I did make it up to the city for the centerpiece presentation of INEQUALITY FOR ALL. But before I get to the movie, I have a gripe about how the festival staff handles rush tickets.

The majority of the screenings I've attended have been at rush, but almost all of them have had at least a few empty seats by the time the film plays. That's normal, they have to cut off pre-sales when there are still enough seats left for passholders--Cinevisas, filmmakers, sponsors, etc. I've always assumed there were seats left over at the end because everyone in line for rush tickets got them and there were still leftover seats. Now INEQUALITY FOR ALL was pretty full (including lots of reserved seats for VIPs--sponsors, board members, guests of the filmmakers, etc.) but from my vantage point in front row center there were at least a half-dozen seats available. This includes the seat next to me, and the one 3 seats from me (the guy two seats over had empty seats on both sides. I don't know why, he didn't smell that bad to me.) I assume there were other seats available throughout the theater. However, the staff simply declared it full and cut off rush sales. I know this because a friend of mine was at the front of the rush line when they did that, and they told her there were no more seats available. She was cool about it, but I will not be.

In every other festival I've been to--including previous years of SFIFF--when a screening is nearly full, they will make some announcements. They will ask everyone to move in to the center, making sure there are no empty seats in the center of a row that would be difficult for the late-arriving rush customers to get to. They ask people to raise their hands if they have an empty seat next to them. They ask people to please remove their belongings from neighboring seats unless they're saving it for someone who already has a ticket and is in the building (e.g., they're just at the concession stand or in the bathroom). None of this was done. They simply weren't interested in filling every seat.

Now I assume they didn't make the effort because they were more concerned with starting on time (or near that, almost every screening at every festival starts at least 5 minutes late). But that is misplaced priorities. First of all, it's pretty fuckin' rude to the people who waited for an hour or more in hopes of getting tickets. Maybe not everyone can get in, but they should be given the fair opportunity if there are still seats empty. Second, if the festival doesn't care about getting every dollar it can out of the rush customers, then why the fuck did they jack up the price of my Cinevisa!? Have I been forced to subsidize their ability to shit on the rush line?

Okay, enough griping, on to the movie. INEQUALITY FOR ALL is based on the writing, lectures, and other lessons of Robert Reich, the littlest giant (seriously, he's like 4'9" but packing a giant intellect) in economic matters. Using his UC Berkeley lecture on Wealth and Poverty as a framing mechanism, he answers three big questions--how much inequality is there? Why is there inequality? And is that bad? Spoiler Alert: A lot; many reasons, but mostly the vicious (instead of virtuous) cycle; and yes. Reich is a master at making very complex ideas understandable to the layperson, and his charisma as well as visually engaging graphics tell the story pretty well. Better than I can in my dry-ish text where I'd have to resort to numbers to try to explain it. (speaking of numbers, I could've sworn the scale was off on one of the graphs. They show a line that's supposed to be at 23%, and it was placed between the 20% and 25% divisions, but it looked closer to 20%. Like they graphed 22% and labeled it 23%. But I digress) They pepper his lectures and interviews with personal stories from his life, including how as a Rhodes scholar met the man who would later make his Secretary of Labor--Bill Clinton. He makes a compelling case that even the super-rich would be better off with a slightly smaller part of a rapidly increasing pie rather than a bigger part of a slowly increasing (or even decreasing) pie. To those who have heard Reich speak before (and my knowledge is basically limited to his regular, short pieces for NPR) there won't be a lot of really new ideas. But he does take some time to bemoan how he's been saying this for 30 years and nobody seems to be catching on. Perhaps this movie will change that.

Oh yeah, and after Reich the most interesting person was the multi-millionaire venture capitalist who comes in to echo a lot of Reich's points. One of the most interesting points is how one guy making $10 million doesn't generate nearly the same economic activity as 100 guys making $100,000 each. In the Q&A they mentioned they screened the film to a select audience of multi-millionaires, and the reception was remarkably positive. Perhaps there is still some hope of turning things around, if the so-called "job creators" start actually working in their long-term rather than short-sighted best self-interest. For more information ('s kinda a placeholder now) check out their website here.

After that, I caught a quite, contemplative, and spiritual (that is, if I believed in such things) short and feature pairing. First the short, HOME. A wordless examination of a house becoming a home. We see the inside of a pre-fabricated home. Doors open and clank shut. Perhaps it's haunted? Then, looking out a window, we suddenly see that it's moving. It is being moved on one of those giant trucks, over windy roads, while a brave cameraman stands inside shooting footage, until it is placed on a foundation, the cracks from the move are patched up, and a family moves in. Very cool.

And then the feature INORI. Let me start by saying it was a long, long day and I struggled (and ultimately failed) to stay awake. Not that I snoozed through the whole thing. I awoke fitfully throughout the course of the film, and my half-open eyes were always greeted by scenes of beauty. It starts with a dying goat shedding a single tear, transitioning into a mountain stream (was the stream fed by goat's tears?) We gradually meet the few remaining denizens of a near-empty village. Decaying institutions are being reclaimed by nature, and watched over by the graves of the past. I don't know what to make of it all, but the shot of cherry blossoms blowing over the water might be the most beautiful thing I've seen in the entire festival.

And that was Saturday. That totally happened.

Total Running Time: 168 minutes
My Total Minutes: 326,782

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