Another night, another 2 movies, as we're getting down to the final days in San Francisco (still one more weekend in Santa Cruz.)
First up was the short-ish film program Featurettes. Films that are too long to pair with a feature, but too short to be their own feature. But sometimes that 20-30 minutes length is just right for telling your story.
C-ROCK: With a feeling of instant nostalgia, a look at a cliff on the Harlem river with a giant C (for Columbia) painted on it. Or rather, a look at the kids who play on that cliff, and jump off it into the water. Jumps range from 25 to 100 feet in height, and are a test of courage for teenage boys (and a source of entertainment for tourists taking a river sightseeing cruise.) And it's a generational link to their fathers, who similarly jumped from C Rock, and who now are the worried adults who are trying to keep their boys safe. (note, although they do talk about girls jumping from the rock, too, they aren't shown in the movie. Instead, they focus a lot on the proper form for cupping your balls so you don't get hurt when you enter the water.)
STRAIGHT WITH YOU: A movie from The Netherlands about young Melvin from Utrecht. He's 11 years old, is a funny, charming kid. He is friends with a girl who has a crush on him and wrote him a love letter. But he's not into girls. In fact, he learned pretty quickly (after seeing the handsome male star of a soap opera) that he's gay. Even in his progressive country, he's afraid to come out at such a young age. He has come out to his parents and to one friend (so far) who keeps his secret. It could easily get into issues of bullying, family (the scene of his father talking about going from a guy who might have made jokes about "dirty faggots" to someone who would pound your face in for making such a joke is pretty funny,) politics, etc. But instead it just shows a very nice, charming, and likable young man--and that's all for the better.
LIVING INSIDE OUT: "Inside" being inside prison. "Out" being their life once they've served their sentence and get out. "Inside out" has the double meaning that they still have "inside" habits on the outside (like a fear of being touched--nobody touches you casually or for no reason in prison) and how that experience turns them inside-out. Shot in San Francisco, through the eyes of three recently released women. It's an exploration of how incarceration changes a person, and a way to look at the city with new eyes. Even places as close as the 16th Street Mission BART, just a block away (although it was a bit puzzling. It showed a working escalator--I don't remember the last time the escalator from the station to the street worked in the 16th St. BART.)
And then the second show of the night, after a little confusion over what theater I was supposed to be in, I went to the Big Roxie to see the feature PUSSY RIOT: A PUNK PRAYER. I remember when they were all over the news (although I confess I first learned about it by seeing this meme.) The film is an engagingly straight-forward account of the legal trouble of Nadia, Masha and Katia--three members of the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot. It doesn't really get into the other members, I assume for their protection. It starts with footage of their infamous performance in Church of Christ the Savior in Moscow. It then tracks back to the founding of the group and their earlier performances. They were founded in response to Putin once again being elected President of Russia. I assume a full explication of their politics would be complicated and require an understanding of the political situation in Russia. Either that or "Anti-patriarchy! anti-Putin! Anti-authoritarian!" is all they've got. That's probably why Western media has focused more on the free speech vs. censorship angle instead of what they actually stand for. They do, however, make a compelling case that while they are serious about their issues the performances are meant to be fun and light-hearted pranks, shocking but not really meant to offend anyone. Whether they accomplish this is another question, but the prosecution's description of their colorful ski masks as "acidic colored" is a laughable example of how the powers that be have to twist themselves around and exaggerate in order to make Pussy Riot seem dangerous. The best example of this is actually when a Russian Orthodox priest tries to explain what the "Pussy" in Pussy Riot means (it's a tricky word, because it can mean "cat" or "uterus." ...or it can mean other things, I guess. The best translation is probably "deranged vagina." Which inspires me to create my own band.) Things get a little more serious in the trial, as they realize their wacky hijinx will have real repercussions. Even then, there's some tension between wanting to be heroic, symbolic jester-martyrs and not really wanting to go to jail. In the appeal, one girl (Katia, I believe) is set free with a suspended sentence, while the other two remain in jail. In some ways, this looked like a betrayal, but we're not given access to their private discussions (maybe they all talked and agreed that if any of them can be freed it's a good thing.) In any case, I don't know how I'd react in their shoes--I'd probably rather be free. And Nadia and Masha have now hired Katia's lawyer to defend them, so I suspect as much as they can make some political points by being imprisoned, they'd also rather be free.
And now we're really getting down to the end of Docfest. Two more days in San Francisco, and then a bonus weekend in Santa Cruz and I'll finally be able to get some rest.
Total Running Time: 160 minutes
My Total Minutes: 331,823