Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 12

As my regular readers know, I skipped the weekend shows at Docfest to see The Hitchcock Nine, hence no  posts on days 9, 10, and 11 of Docfest. But now I'm back for another full week, including a final weekend in Santa Cruz. Until then, it's the typical two-movies-a-night grind.

First up was TWO: THE STORY OF ROMAN AND NYRO. There is a moment I hoped would happen in the movie, and the fact that it didn't happen is a little bit of a wasted opportunity. I wanted to see Nyro learn the violin, and I wanted Roman to become a bit of a pyromaniac (not a dangerous arsonist, just a fascination with well-controlled fires.) And then I wanted a scene where Nyro fiddled with Roman burned.* I guess it could still happen in a sequel.

Instead what I got was a portrait of two charming, articulate, and funny young twin boys. And of course, their family--their famous songwriting dad Desmond Child, their other dad Curtis Shaw, their surrogate mother Angela Whittaker, their godfather Jon Bon Jovi, and their various grandparents. The film delves back into home videos and focuses on three main subjects--Desmond and Curtis' friendship with Angela leading to her agreeing to be their surrogate, the reactions of friends and family to Desmond and Curtis' lifestyle (and how they learned from it. I think it was Desmond's father who was surprised he was fertile at all, thinking that homosexuality meant he had insufficient testosterone to conceive,) and how the boys are doing today and what they think of their family. In all, it's an overwhelming positive story (as I'm sure it has been--and continues to be--an overwhelmingly positive experience in their lives,) only punctuated occasionally by the broader political issues. In fact, the absolute normalcy of this family renders the larger political questions kinda...silly and outdated. This family may have been created through extraordinary means, but their love and devotion is the same as any other family.

Oh yeah, the whole family was there for the Q&A, along with the director and DocFest alumna Heather Winters. The big takeaway--Nyro for President 2036! (He said 2035 in the Q&A, but that's not an election year. But at least he knows that's when he'll be old enough to run.)

Then the second film of the night was GIDEON'S ARMY. Before I get to the movie, I have to share a little anecdote. I have a friend who watches almost as many movies as I do. She was there for that screening, and like me she often will pick her festival schedule to maximize the number of movies she can see, without necessarily reading the descriptions in the guide and knowing what the movies are about. After seeing GIDEON'S ARMY, she confessed to me that she hadn't read the guide and assumed it was going to be about those people who put the Bibles in hotel rooms. It's not.

GIDEON'S ARMY refers to the landmark case of Gideon v. Wainright, which established the right to legal counsel in any criminal case (at the state level, counsel in federal criminal court was already guaranteed by the 6th amendment.) The Army referred to in the title are the thousands of public defenders across the country. Tireless, overworked, underpaid, often maligned...but they're an integral part of the justice system. In fact, they're the ones who put the "justice" in the justice system--without them it's just a punishment system. So we follow three young public defenders fighting for justice, and we get a glimpse into the support group that is the Southern Public Defender Training Center (now known as Gideon’s Promise.) They struggle with huge case loads (nobody was handling fewer than 100 cases at a time,) a system that encourages  pleading guilty to something (I knew plea-bargaining was common, I didn't know it was done in as much as 95% of the cases,) and low pay when they have student loans to repay and are seeing their friends make ten times their income working in private firms. It mostly steps around the bigger political issues (e.g., that candidates win elections by being "tough on crime" not "fair on crime" or even "smart on crime"...and I see no way to change that) in favor of worshiping these beleaguered heroes. And that's a good thing. Sometimes you just gotta give respect to the people out there fighting the good fight. I have never (knock on wood) needed a public defender, but I recognize that by making sure everyone gets a fair trial, they are protecting me. By forcing the prosecutors to do their damn job, to prove their damn case, they're making sure some prosecutor won't go after me without some damn good evidence. Which is a good feeling, especially when you're innocent.

Yeah, GIDEON'S ARMY is one of the best of the festival, and it's coming to HBO soon.

Total Running Time: 167 minutes
My Total Minutes: 331,663

*This, of course, is why I should never become a father--I would only want to have children to make puns. Like my secret plan to find, and date a woman named June. Over a few years our attraction grows and we decide to get married. A few more years of wedded bliss and we decide to increase our family. We might have a few sons (whom I'm sure will be great and make us proud) but we really want to have a girl. We finally get a baby daughter with and name her April. We raise her to be a bright, moral, conscientious, politically active young lady. Then wait for a political rally to be in our hometown during February when she is in school. As the date approaches, her mother and I discuss whether she should be allowed to skip school to go to the rally. I voice my opinion firmly and succinctly by stating, "February march? April may, June!" Then I drop the mic and walk out, making it clear I was only in this multiple-decade-long relationship to make that pun.

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