I haven't been to the Santa Cruz Film Festival since...[looks up his records]...2007. And even then I only made it down for one movie. Mostly that's because of a combination of A) it's kind of a long schlep down there, and B) it used to be in the spring, and butted up against the big San Francisco International Film Festival, which took all my time and energy. Well, two things happened in the past year that made me give it another look: A) it moved to the fall, which...is still heavy with lots of mini-festivals (e.g., 3rd i, the SFFS Fall Season, Jewfest South, etc.) but doesn't have the the big dog dominating the calendar, and B) Jeff Ross, the impresario or Indiefest, joined their team as director. Now he doesn't really do any programming of the movies, but he puts on a darn good festival and I like to support his work (and I'm looking forward to the Lebowski Party on Saturday).
Anyway, after fighting a little bit of traffic down from Palo Alto after work, I made it there with about 15 minutes to spare before the opening night film, GOODBYE GAULEY MOUNTAIN: AN ECOSEXUAL LOVE STORY. Beth Stephens and her wife Annie Sprinkle travel to West Virginia (the state where Beth was born and raised) to protest mountain top removal (MTR) by coal mining companies. But they're not your typical eco-warriors. Annie is a former sex worker/current sex educator and they are both "Ecosexuals." That is, they take tree-hugging a bit to the extreme side. They don't think of "mother" Earth, but instead take the Earth as a lover, engaging in the sensual delights of nature (I've never seen so many vaguely erotic shots of tomatoes in my life.) And they ceremonially marry various aspects of nature--the water, the sky, and in this instance the Appalachian Mountains. That's the climax of the movie, and it's pretty fun, but the journey there is even more interesting. They meet a variety of locals, including legendary (and recently deceased) Keeper of the Mountains Larry Gibson. He's an inspiring guy and a lot more should be devoted to him in another movie (sadly, he's not around to give any more interviews).
The movie played to a very like-minded audience in Santa Cruz, and of course I'm like-minded as well (fuck MTR! I don't care if half the electricity in the U.S. comes from coal. It shouldn't, and even so we used to be able to extract coal without blowing up entire mountains.) But for my money the best scene of the movie was when they had a surprisingly agreeable conversation with a guy (the boyfriend...or husband? I wan't quite sure...of Beth's childhood friend) who considers himself a tree-hugger but still supports MTR. It's in no small part because his livelihood depends on it, and his argument eventually devolves to 'In The Bible, God gave man dominion over nature' but it felt like the one time the thesis of the film (MTR is bad, and here's a creative way to combat it) was challenged. This is my personal taste, but I'd rather see a film that challenges my beliefs than one that reinforces them.
Running Time: 70 minutes
My Total Minutes: 341,346