Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 5

Another day, another two films at Docfest. Here's last Monday.

First up was the shorts program, Don't Call it Frisco. All local Bay Area shorts.

AHH...SAN FRANCISCO: The poem of the legendary Herb Caen (as spoken by the nearly-as-legendary Peter Coyote) set to matching footage of modern San Francisco, showing not so much how nothing has changed, but how well Herb captured what is so essentially San Franciscan that it will never change.
DEMOLITION: TROLL: I had never even known about the Bay Bridge Troll, a steel figure that kept the old Bay Bridge safe from earthquakes. But with the construction of the new Bay Bridge the old troll had to come out of hiding and find a new home.
DRIVING BART: A 14 year old student films a ride-along with a BART driver, learning they do a lot more than just sit up front and let the computer drive the trains. Especially important when everyone seems to be mad at the "overpaid" BART employees.
JACKIE JONES AND HER DANCING CAT: 83 year old Jackie Jones is a musician and artist performing at the Alemany Farmers Market. To add some interesting visuals to her show (as she says, nobody wants to look at her) she has a wooden dancing cat named Effigy.
LAST STOP SANTA ROSA: A look at Bright Haven pet hospice in Santa Rosa, where an elderly couple cares for dying pets as an alternative to euthanasia.
METHEL ISLAND: On the delta 45 minutes east of San Francisco, there's an island where pretty much everyone is on meth (the name is actually Bethel island, the title is a pun on it.) Here we see some of the residents speak incredibly candidly about their addictions.
PIANO HEIGHTS: This also played at Indiefest, so it's kind of weird to see it repeated. Up at the top of Bernal Heights someone gifted the community a piano. So the plan was a twilight concert up there...until the piano was taken away at about 3-4 pm. So a mad scramble to get a new piano, and a filmmaker who randomly showed up that day makes a perfect, only-in-San Francisco, serendipitous documentary.
PISTOLS AND PORN: From the same director of METHEL ISLAND, we get a brief look at the history and current use of the San Francisco Armory Building, which is now home to (sorry, no link since I'm writing this at work and I'm pretty sure testing that link would get me fired.)
RULES OF THE HOUSE: BURNING MAN GIFT CULTURE: Part of a series on ways different cultures determine value, well-being, and happiness. Here we take a look at the Burning Man culture of gifting, although they get it wrong right away when they say you get gifted coffee--coffee/drinks and ice are the only things you can buy at Burning Man (and there's more if you count the black market in drugs.) Probably interesting to a BM outsider, but kinda reinforces my opinion that there just isn't any good Burning Man documentary--at least not any that portray anything even close to my Burning Man experiences.
SUNNYDALE KIDS: In on of SF's largest housing projects, poor kids live with not a lot of hope or security. And while Ian Glover and Tim Gras admit they don't have any solutions, at least the can give the kids a good time by taking them out surfing.
THE HIGH FIVE: A repeat of a film I saw as SFIFF, the origins of the high five and a brief look at the story of Glenn Burke, the man who (with Dusty Baker) invented (or at least popularized) the gesture. A gay ballplayer who was semi-out to his teammates but not to the public, whose career was cut short by homophobia and whose life was cut short by AIDS. Poignant moment, on his death bed the man who invented the high-five couldn't even raise his arm.

And then to something truly depressing, a pair of films about dying in prison. First the longish (40 minutes) short, PRISON TERMINAL: THE LAST DAYS OF PRIVATE JACK HILL. Jack Hill was a WWII hero, who came home and nursed a pretty bad drinking problem, and the ensuing violence led to him killing a dope dealer who he regarded as responsible for his sons death. He was sentenced to life in prison, and like so many inmates, is approaching the end of his life sentence. And the Iowa State Penitentiary has a unique program of hospice care, paid for privately and staffed by volunteer inmates that allows Jack to spend his last days in some modicum of comfort, surrounded by what friends he has, and his surviving son. A touching story, and I have to say it's pretty ridiculous to see a prisoner who is physically unable to walk being handcuffed (or actually, leg-cuffed) to a hospital bed.

And then the shortish (54 minutes) feature, KILLING TIME, about a whole different form of dying in prison. Elroy Chester is doomed to become Texas' 499th execution. He's guilty as charged, and he admits it. He raped two girls, and then murdered their uncle. Although his friends and family don't believe it (they believe it was consensual sex which quickly turned to a false rape claim when their uncle walked in on them, and in the ensuing fight Elroy killed him in self-defense) but that's almost beside the point here. Elroy admits it in his final statement, and the story is more about the morality of capital punishment. The filmmakers back off and take a somewhat verite approach. There are no big statistics or fancy arguments from politicians, pundits, and other talking heads. The characters are all directly involved. Either Elroy, his victims, or friends and family of either side. While I think it's pretty obvious that the filmmakers are against capital punishment, the movie is more about facing the reality of what it is, taking it out of the realm of political/social theory and placing it directly in the realm of the personal. And that makes it fascinating and important, if not exactly entertaining and pleasant to watch.

Total Running Time: 180 minutes
My Total Minutes: 365,754

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