Friday, June 14, 2013

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 8

Another night, another two movies. What a great life! Wait, that's not how you spell "I'm so fucking exhausted!"

First up, THE NEW PUBLIC, showcasing the efforts of creating a new public "small school" in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Community Arts and Media Public High School (BCAM for short.) Founder and principal James O'brien has an enthusiasm that's matched by (most of) the rest of his teachers, and by (most of) the incoming freshman class. The movie follows them in their freshman year, and then again in their senior year--the school's first graduating class. We start with the opening months of giddy optimism (More one-on-one communication! Dialogue! Support groups! Let the kids lead the way!) to the realization by the end of the year that maybe a little more structure is needed to actually A) keep the kids from straying, and B) actually meet the state standards and be on track to graduate. We also get an excellent look of how important it is to work closely with involved parents. An emergency PTA meeting decides not to go to full-time metal scanners (interestingly enough, the parents were unanimous, the kids were more conflicted. I don't know if this is kids adjusting to the new normal, or kids answering what they think the adults want to hear.) Anyway, we skip over the Sophomore and Junior years (interesting choice, and I think it ultimately works for the good of the pacing) and see how many things have changed. The staff of 8 in their first year is now up to ~40-50. The kids have grown up quite a bit--some have moved away, some have dropped out, some are dealing with new struggles, and some are doing just fine. Pretty much all the featured kids get enough screen time to shine at least a little bit, but by a wide margin the star of the film is John Dargan. As a freshman, he's a brave, smart, sensitive kid who when asked to make a PSA makes one about not bullying gay kids. He insists over and over again he just thinks it's an important issue even though he's not gay himself. Well, SPOILER ALERT: come senior year he's talking about how he came out the previous year, marched in the pride parade, and how all his teachers came and supported him. He's clearly so likable I'm sure he was the Teacher's Pet in every class he took (even if they didn't show favoritism, he had to be among their favorites.) And a big part of senior year is applying to college and hoping for that thick envelope of acceptance. I think the film actually teases us a bit, showing him picking up the thick envelope and then going through numerous rejections before he finally gets into Connecticut College (where he's studying film, so I expect to see great things from him in the future.)

Then the next show started with the short BRUTE FORCE, a look at the irreverent and hilarious musician who was going to be a star with Apple Records (yes, the Beatle's label.) But he couldn't get his album released, something about censorship over his song The King of Fuh (I think it's because the repeated line "all hail!" kinda sounds like "aw, hell!") Well, he's kinda being rediscovered now, thanks to his Confections of Love being recognized as one of the "best" bad, lost albums of 60s and 70s. Now he's playing again, accompanied by his daughter, Daughter of Force. A really funny guy.

And then the feature, PETEY AND GINGER, a personal work by director Ada Bligaard Søby (who also did COMPLAINT'S CHOIR, playing in this same festival) about her two American friends. Petey Dammitt plays for the Oh Sees (whose music is on the soundtrack) and works in a porn warehouse, where he and his boss package and ship dildos and wonder aloud about who the heck goes on the Internet to buy one single, solitary condom. (I mean, it's weird enough to use the Internet to buy a box of condoms, but to buy one? When they're available...everywhere?) Ginger (who has never met Petey) lives in New York, is a former stripper and a part-time psychic. She does tarot card readings. They're both living the American drea...nightmare, kinda. Selling fantasies, without a nickel to buy their own. It's a look at an alternative way of surviving in America (this is coming from an upper-middle class Silicon Valley engineer) that's as interesting as the people are. Which is important. I found them pretty interesting (Petey more than Ginger, but I think that's just more familiarity with the San Francisco setting), but I can easily understand people who find them annoying. So go into the movie as if you're going to meet some new people, and prepare to either meet some new friends or have a story to tell about the weird people you met.

Total Running Time: 159 minutes
My Total Minutes: 330,651

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