Friday, March 13, 2015

Jason goes to Cinequest--Encore Day and Closing Night

It's finally over. The writing, that is. Not the beautiful memories.

4 more movies last Sunday, bringing my in-festival total to 58, a new personal best (note: I have surpassed that in a combination of pre-screeners and festival screenings before, but this is a new personal best for movies actually seen in the festival.)

First up was the Chinese business drama FACTORY BOSS. Lin Dalin is the director of a toy factory in Shenzen. They have gone several months with no work...which means no ability to pay his workers. In desperation, he accepts a major order from an American toy company. Which is great, they're going back to work. But to deliver on time he has to cut corners. Too much overtime, insufficient safety measures, etc. He basically turns the factory into a sweatshop--and still can't fully pay his workers until the order is delivered. Well, an undercover reporter exposes him, a woman gets sick on the fumes in the paint shop, and his workers go on strike. We've all seen reports of sweatshop conditions in China and elsewhere around the world. This movie shows it from the factory owner's point of view. And it portrays him as a decent, caring man who is doing what he has to to survive, and to provide jobs for hundreds of workers. And when things finally come to a head...well, he tries to do the right thing, as best as he can. But the truth (that is touched on but passed by quickly) is that it is the big businessman ordering from him--at a major discount and with a short deadline--who is far more insulated from his actions than he should be. Full of plausible deniability, he tries to lay the blame on his assistant (a black man, not to subtly becoming the sacrificial sheep.) I applauded when he stood up and took his boss to task, telling him essentially "You knew how low that bid was, you knew what that meant, and you took it anyway." A fascinating, brilliantly acted story that sheds more light on what exactly "Made in China" means.

Then it was time to see the BARCO Escape Shorts Program. BARCO Escape is a system of screens in a movie theater (can be installed in a regular, pre-existing theater) for creating a more immersive experience. And while I had quietly been mocking it as the return of Polyvision it's a bit more sophisticated than that.

First some thoughts on the technology itself, before getting to the content we saw. This had been set up in Screen 10 of the Camera 12 for basically the whole run of the festival. So I walked past it frequently, noticing how it drastically narrowed the aisles near the front of the theater, and how the extra screens were masked with what looked like fake walls you can lean against but you really can't. The safety officer part of my brain triggered on that. Then when I walked into the theater on Sunday with the two side projectors running, the noise was noticeable. What I'm getting at here is although it's designed to go into an existing theater, it will work better in some than others (and theaters built specifically for it would be ideal.)

The other thing I noticed is that although marketing pictures of the panoramic views on the three screens show them melding nearly seamlessly together, the setup they had there did have black curtains masking a small strip between the screens. The presenter did say that this is a work in progress, and this is definitely something they're looking to improve. So actually I don't want this to sound too much like criticism. I really appreciate that BARCO is doing its R&D in public. Whether that's a smart business strategy we will see.

Finally, just a comment on how I liked watching it. First of all, I always sit in the front row anyway. I'm looking for an immersive experience. And I love that they're looking to enhance the immersion without sacrificing the communal experience of the theater (it would be easy for everyone to just slap on goggles and watch immersive content at home, but I crave the communal theater experience.) The other thing I noticed is that I vastly preferred it when the three screens were showing different content, not when they were forming one panoramic shot. When it's panoramic, I tended to focus on the seams to see how well they "connected" and that's the worst part of the image to focus on (perhaps my background as an image quality expert for a medical company played some part here.) Playing three different (but related, of course) scenes on the three screens made for a much more engaging experience for me. Come to think of it, what if you played three completely unrelated scenes on there? That would make for an interesting experimental experience.

Anyway, now on to the experience. And this is not in order:
Clip of THE MAZE RUNNER: I have never seen THE MAZE RUNNER, but it has been released in BARCO Escape format with selected scenes expanded to three screens. But I didn't think this clip worked all that well. The action was all still on the center screen, with the side screens filling out more of the maze, but not really adding too much.
Red Bull footage of skiing/paragliding: Okay, this was actually really cool, and made great use of both the panorama and the three separate views formats. I could definitely see action sports documentaries being a big use of this format.
Concert/Rave footage: I forget the name of this piece, but it was actually pretty cool. Using the immersive technology (I really need to find another word for "immersive") to put you inside a giant rave. Pretty cool.
BURNING MAN: Interesting footage of that thing in the desert, from building the massive art projects to building the city to the variety of people there to burning it all down at the end and packing the remnants home. A fine film and good use of the format, although I generally don't like Burning Man documentaries. That's just kind of my thing. I've been going to Burning Man every year since 1998--longer than I've been going to film festivals. And Burning Man docs never tell my story. They all tend to be awe-full (pun intended) worship pieces about the great art or mind-blowing experiences. They never tell you about being drunk, dusty, smelling like ass, and feeling even worse while yelling obnoxious things at naked passers-by. You know, my Burning Man.
THE 9TH HOLE: A comedy about a girl going to prom, her dad, and her date. Amusing, and featured my favorite scene in the whole program for using the three screens. Dad and date sitting on couches facing each other on the two side screens, while the middle blank. Elegant use of negative space to show the chasm between the two of them.
WITHDRAWAL: A powerful story of a father helping his estranged daughter kick heroine. As they fight and she goes through the spasms of withdrawal in the center screen, the side screens are used to tell their backstory. It does get a little bit like a flood of information, but that just means it's bound to reward multiple viewings. So...where can I see it again?
CANTEEN: Post-apocalyptic world. Danger everywhere. Nothing more dangerous than running out of water, though. Good use of the three screen format, too.
LADY GAGA AND TONY BENNET IN CONCERT: This was a sneak preview of a feature-length concert film in the works. Great use of the three screens, and with this and her Oscars performance, Lady Gaga seems to be making a strong case that she's a legitimate, serious musician.

So that was really cool, and I'm looking forward to how this concept and technology evolves over time. But I had to run off for my next movie (after another drink in the lounge, of course.)

And that next film, my penultimate film of the festival, was NO EVIDENCE OF DISEASE, the greatest words that a cancer patient can ever hear. The film is an inspirational look at the doctors treating cancer. Specifically, gynecological cancer (you know, cancer of the lady parts.) They're also rock stars, and their band (playing benefits to raise money for GYN-cancer, which receives much less funding than prostate cancer alone...just saying) happens to be called No Evidence Of Disease (which they abbreviate as N.E.D., which must be cool/confusing for anyone in the audience named Ned.) The film also follows several patients, with outcomes ranging from the hoped-for N.E.o.D. to the...not so good. Moving, and powerful, one of the points the movie makes is that a positive attitude is very important to surviving cancer, and these doctors do heroic work fighting it on a medical and spiritual level.

And finally, after one last drink in the lounge, it was off to the closing night film.

After a talk and Maverick Spirit Award presentation to legendary producer Mike Medavoy, we settled in for 5 TO 7. Anton Yelchin plays Brian, a struggling writer in New York. And then he sees Arielle (Bérénice Marlohe) and crosses the street to talk to her. He's immediately intrigued, then quickly smitten, then a bit confused when she says she's available every day from 5 to 7. Turns out that's something of a French/upper class code for "I'm married, but my spouse doesn't mind if I take a lover as long as I come home every night." In this case her husband is the French ambassador, and he has his own lover and she's practically part of the family. And so they start an affair that forces him to break all of his rules, and eventually it gets so intense that he...well he tries to get her to break her rules, too. A smartly written, finely acted story of an intense love affair that has to end eventually leaving only the sweet memories remaining. Kind of like Cinequest.

And then it was all over but the drinking. The after party was at The Glass House, and everybody got 2 drink tickets. But because I know everybody and have something of a reputation everyone was slipping me extra tickets. So I drank until near midnight. Hugged everyone in the room (yes, including Anton Yelchin and director Victor Levin,) had a ton of laughs, took a few flipbook pictures, maybe ate a snack or two. And finally got home a little after midnight, just to go back to work the next day.

And then over the course of the week it finally hit me that it's really, really over. Well, except for writing up the end of it. Which now is...over.

Total Running Time: 346 minutes
My Total Minutes: 390,315

ps: At least CAAMFest started up Thursday, to keep me from getting the film fest DTs.

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