Friday, June 26, 2015

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 14

The penultimate night! I'm almost done.

First up was the dance flick, LORDS OF BSV. BSV = Bed Stuy Veterans, and they're disciples of Brukup, a dance style that...this white boy has no idea how to describe. It's fun, it's awesome, and it should just be watched. Hey, check out this trailer for a taste. Now imagine a feature film of that, and you get to meet all the characters. Wouldn't that be cool? Heck, yeah it was.

And then SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL--THE TRUE STORY OF THE PROCESS CHURCH OF THE FINAL JUDGMENT. Asked--but never really answered--many times throughout the film is "What is the Process?" And it sometimes seemed like a joke, sometimes a dangerous cult, but mostly just a joke. Okay, maybe that's my bias because that's my opinion of all religion, but these people seemed to be more "in" on the joke than most. And then they're called Satanists (because they kind of worship Jesus and Satan) and blamed for inspiring Charles Manson. So I don't know, maybe they're more serious than I think, or this movie makes them out to be. Fuck, I don't know, it was over a week ago and I was tired. I think I enjoyed it.

Total Running Time: 180 minutes
My Total Minutes: 401,809

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 13

A week ago Tuesday, let's go.

First up was FOR GRACE. Curtis Duffy is a renowned chef in Chicago. And he's opening his own restaurant. And we get unprecedented access to every step of the process--designing the dishes, building the kitchen, picking out the chairs. Everything has to be perfect, and is. And suddenly in the middle, we get a flashback to a family tragedy in his past. Kind of jarring, but there was something in the tone that was hanging in the air from the beginning. And that gives a different take on why Duffy went on to become a chef, and colors everything we see afterwards and before. The fact that his restaurant is called Grace isn't just a clever name, it's his driving purpose and approach to everything--especially cooking.

And then the second show was a quartet of short-ish films about animals.

FINDING DONUT is a ride-along with a Russian finder of lost pets. Spoiler alert: Donut is found safe at the end and returned to his owner.

RULER OF THE ROOST is a comic look at man vs. pigeon in Toronto. Very funny.

STEVE SHIRLEY, SHARK TAGGER is a look at a local man who transitioned from sport fishing to wildlife conservationist and tags sharks for study in San Francisco Bay. Very interesting.

And then BREACH was the longest short (at about 48 minutes.) It's a look at Iceland and how they are one of the very few countries that disregards international whaling laws. Yup, Iceland is killing whales and shipping them mostly to Japan for consumption. At the same time, there has been an upsurge in whale watching tours, which makes for a really weird dichotomy as people go to see the majestic creatures, maybe see them get killed, and then go for some whale meat at a local restaurant. Weird, and kind of disturbing.

Total Running Time: 171 minutes
My Total Minutes: 401,629

Jason Goes to Docfest--Day 12

Two more movies last a week ago last Monday, as the final week of Docfest marched on (and I eventually get around to writing about it.)

First up was the short TOMGIRL, an adorable look at a little boy who grows his hair long, occasionally likes to wear dresses, and is generally just a happy little kid.

That was the lead in to THREE TO INFINITY: BEYOND TWO GENDERS. A sort of Genderqueer 101 class, through a cast of friendly and engaging characters it explores the wonderfully complex and fluid world beyond the gender binary. Learn these terms--transgender, agender, gender neutral, gender queer.... Or, you know what, look up all the gender options in Facebook. The multitude of options (looks like they really are trying to get to infinity) can be kind of head-spinning to a neophyte to the topic, but your guides are some friendly, engaging, entertaining people, so just have fun with it. Oh, and the big takeaway--when you ask a transgender/agender/gender queer/etc person what their "real" gender is, what you're doing is asking them to describe their birth genitals to you. And that's a creepy thing for anyone!

Then some interesting art, starting with the short TINY OUT LOUD. Stephanie Rond runs an art gallery. It's in a dollhouse, and it's awesome.

And that lead in to CURIOUS WORLDS: THE ART AND IMAGINATION OF DAVID BECK. Local SF artist is incredibly talented, inventive, and almost unknown. Possibly because he doesn't have a real business promoting him or doing shows in galleries. He makes work on commission and spends his days in his workshop making art, not promoting himself. And his work--it's epic miniatures. Intricate little worlds animated by gears and whimsy, and it's freakin' beautiful. I want one! I want one! I want one! I want one! I want one!

Total Running Time: 179 minutes
My Total Minutes: 401,458

Monday, June 22, 2015

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 11

And the big second weekend finished with a 5 film Sunday

First up was ON HER OWN, the story of a local (Sonoma County) family farm where the family is struggling to survive. Nancy Prebilich runs the farm with her parents, her sister, and her sisters adorable kids. Farming, butchering, selling meat is a way of life for them. And a way of life that is being threatened by an economy that makes it hard to keep up the mortgage payments and her parents failing health. In fact (spoiler alert) they both pass away over the course of the film. So now it's Nancy, her sisters, and the kids. And the sister and kids can't stay there forever, so no you know where the title comes from. Nancy is a likable person and you root for some miracle to rescue her, but the cards are stacked against her--as they are against so many family farms--and eventually the inevitable will happen. A reminder of where our food comes from and the human cost required to provide it so cheaply and readily available everywhere.

Then STINK!, a film about chemicals in our household products. And I don't mean the obviously poisonous products, I mean something as seemingly innocuous as a pair of child's pajamas. Jon Whelan uses his daughter's reaction to the scent of a pair of new pajamas as the jumping off point of his Michale Moore style documentary, wherein he investigates the loophole around not having to disclose what's in the scents added to products. And he sends the pajamas to a lab where it's revealed that at least one of the chemicals is potentially toxic. Now I'm all on board with the goal of the movie--either disclose what's in the products or have them adequately (and independently) tested to ensure they're safe. But instead we have a system where manufacturer's can claim something's a trade secret and not disclose it on the basis of "trust me, it's safe" and regulators can't test if it's safe because they don't know what's in it. That's a fucked-up situation, to be sure. But the movie gets dragged down by Whelan's annoying ambush antics to the point where I don't care nearly enough about the issues because he's just not a likable character to follow. Even the story of his wife who died of cancer doesn't help engender sympathy. And I know I'm a heartless S.O.B. for saying this, but if you keep harping on your dead wife, it's not going to make me like your movie. The movie still has to be...good.

Then I saw MADE IN JAPAN, a profile of Tomi Fujiyama. In case you (like I) didn't know, Tomi Fujiyama is Japanese music star. Well, she's a music star from Japan, but she sings American country music. Seriously, she appeared on the Grand Ol' Opry on a special anniversary show in 1964, where she was the only one to get a standing ovation (and the stage was full of superstars, including Johnny Cash.) She learned while performing in USO shows for the American troops stationed there, and just fell in love with the music. Now over 40 years later, her dream is to come back and play the Grand Ol' Opry one more time. But it's not that easy. To a select few she's a legend, and a beautiful symbol of the universality of the musical style. But too others--particularly those who run the Opry now--she's...too old and forgotten. The one thing they never come out and say, but it kind of hangs there as the elephant in the room, is that she's the wrong race to be playing their music. And now actually I regret bringing it up, because they never made it an issue in the movie, and it might be a product of my biased view of southerners as racist rednecks. So forget I said anything, and just focus on this amazing woman making great music, especially The Tennessee Waltz.

And then THE DECENT ONE, a fascinating, exhausting, and depressing journey into the banality of evil. After the war, soldiers found a safe in Himmler's home full of his correspondence with his wife, Marga. Against orders, they did not turn them over but held on to them. And now they've come to light and form the basis of this movie. Archival footage and the text of the letters are used to describe Heinrich and Marga's courtship, marriage, parenthood. And his exhausting work but high spirits. Or his devotion to good "German" values like order and decency (hence the title.) In some ways it reminded me of Jay Rosenblatt's HUMAN REMAINS, but expanded to feature length and focusing on just one figure. Fascinating.

Then the final show of the night started with the short THE 414S: THE ORIGINAL TEENAGE HACKERS. Named for their Milwaukee area code, these teenage kids were, as the title says, the original teenage hackers. And they found their way into more than a few government computer systems, including Los Alamos National Laboratory. Kind of like the real WAR GAMES (which is referenced in the short.)

That was the lead-in to GTFO: GET THE FUCK OUT, a movie about how hostile the Internet is to women. Going well beyond gamergate, it shows a bleak picture of harassment and threats, from violent to sexual to both and to bizarre ("I'm going to stuff and egg up your cunt and punch it." Really!?) The movie lays it all out in a way that makes it clear that the Internet in general and gaming in particular is not a safe place for women. And it's more than just a little hazing or girls who can't take a joke. It's awful shit and any man with a conscience should be ashamed (even if, like me, you're not a gamer.) And to drive the point home that this isn't just online, my friend texted me later that night that she had two sexually harassing incidents walking home from the movie that night (the Warriors had won game 5 of the NBA Finals that night.) She elaborated that that's actually par for the course, and she only thought about it because of the film.

Total Running Time: 438
My Total Minutes: 401,280

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 10

The big second weekend started with a 5-film Saturday

First up was the short THE CHAMPION. A Chicago taxi driver and family man challenges his passengers to guess where he's from. And that leads to his story as an Iraqi boxing champion. A Christian who refused to join Saddam Hussein's Baath party, he eventually fled, leaving behind his parents and brother. But always looking ahead he found his way to America with a beautiful wife and kids. Good story about a nice guy.

And that was the lead in to QUEEN MIMI, the story of an 88 year old woman who has lived in a Santa Monica laundromat for the past 18 years. She seems to be friends with everyone there, and has a pleasant, friendly demeanor. But that's masking some amount of trauma in her past that she doesn't want to talk about. When her famous friends Zach Galifianakis and Renee Zellweger end up pitching in and getting her an apartment and furniture, respectively, things start to change a bit. She still works in the laundromat every day (except for one interlude where she's hospitalized after a fall) but other secrets from her past come she has a....nah, I won't spoil it. She's a very likable person, and her joy is as infectious as her obvious past trauma is heartbreaking. But this film gives some very nice things to a very nice person.

Then the next show started with LUCHADORA, which I had previously seen at Cinequest. A story of a Mexican female professional wrestler, her triumphs in the ring and her struggles as a single mother. Very cool.

And that led into DEAD WHEN I GOT HERE, the story of an impoverished mental hospital on the outskirts of Juarez, Mexico. In fact, "hospital" is not really the right term, with almost no medicine and mostly the inmates taking care of cooking, cleaning, etc. Particularly, the movie focuses on Josué, a former inmate who now practically runs the place. He showed up at the place nearly dead from drug use, got his shit together, and now...well, now because of his past he doesn't have a lot of other places to go, so he makes the best of his situation. The movie is shot in a verite, fly-on-the-wall style, which gets some good footage but also makes it frustratingly lacking in context. Which is helpfully filled in by a companion website and upcoming book. So...yeah, I suggest you check out the website first, and once you've digested all the information then you're set to watch the movie. Not that it matter, since there's no more screenings at Docfest. But it could always come back, or you could wait for the DVD release.

Then the next show was a duo of medium length shorts about art, starting with ABANDONED GOODS. From 1946 to 1981, patients at the Netherne psychiatric hospital created works of art as part of their therapy, under the direction the artist Edward Adamson. Now they are being collected in an exposition, with interesting questions about outsider art, patient privacy, and the overarching question of all art--what is art?

And the second half expands on the question of "what is art?" with an exposition of the works of famous contemporary artist Jeff Koons, JEFF: EMBRACE YOUR PAST. Shot at the 1992 retrospective of his work as SFMOMA, his work runs the gamut from brand new vacuum cleaners in plastic cases to explicit pornographic scenes of Jeff and his wife at the time Ilona Staller (famous as her porn star name Cicciolina, and also a member of the Italian parliament from 1987 to 1992.) But the highlight of film has to be the interview with Koons' father, which takes place in the men's room of SFMOMA, with people walking in and out, doing their business, washing their hands, and paying no attention (except for the one guy who kind of pushes the door into the camera.) Pretty fascinating look at what the "high art" world considers art.

And the next show was yet another take on art, with Juxtapoz Art Shorts, a shorts program curated by Juxtapoz magazine.
SLANG AESTHETICS: An exposition of the works of Robert Williams, founder of Juxtapoz, and his gonzo comic art.
GONE AGAIN: A tour through a bit of the Olympia, WA home of super-collector Long Gone John. An overflowing explosion of pop and kitsch art.
THE SUCKLORD: A profile on the art and commerce of Sucklord, purveyor of bootleg mashup action figures (among other works) that are available at Suckadelic.
THE MISSION COOL: S.F. ART IN THE 90'S: Like it says, the artist who lived in the Mission District of San Francisco in the 90s. So, of course, they've all been gentrified out of there.
OLEK COVERS THE WORLD IN CROCHET: A Polish artist who...crochets everything, and covers...well, if not the world, at least a lot of cool stuff like the bull statue on Wall Street.
NEIL YOUNG: SPECIAL DELUXE: The rocker and artist about his latest book and art show--all about cool cars.
CHEECH MARIN: DE COLORES DE CHEECH: Cheech Marin explains the origin of the term Chicano (originally a Mexican slur against Mexicans living in the U.S.) and his collection of Chicano art. Pretty cool.

And finally I ended the night with DANNY SAYS. I had never heard of Danny Fields, but apparently he was vital to a whole heck of a lot of rock and roll. A self-professed faggot who just wanted to have a lot of sex with beautiful people, he fell in with Andy Warhol's factory and Lou Reed. He worked briefly for the Doors until Jim Morrison fired him (granted, it was kinda for kidnapping him.) He managed the Stooges, MC5 and the Ramones, but never stayed around long enough to make a fortune with them. He talks a lot about how quickly he gets bored and moves on to something new. But along the way he kept an absolute treasure trove of recorded material (his audio cassette of Lou Reed reacting to hearing The Ramones is pretty fascinating) and through his archival material, his own stories, and the stories of famous people he has worked with, we get a fascinating portrait of a man who was an important part of getting a lot of rock bands started, and really did it for the love of the music instead of fame and fortune.

And that was last Saturday at Docfest.

Total Running Time: 430 minutes
My Total Minutes: 400,842

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 9

I skipped one day of the festival--last Thursday. I apologize, but I had important drinking to do.

But I was back on Friday with two more films, on the night of unusual musical acts.

First up was MICHAEL DES BARRES: WHO DO YOU WANT ME TO BE? Starting with the heroism of his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather which earned him the title of the first Marquis Des Barres, we skip ahead to the modern day, when Michael is a rock star, actor, bon vivant, ex-coke fiend, etc. The title comes from his one bona-fide musical hit, "Obsession" (which he says is not about sex but about cocaine) but the movie encompasses his whole life, including the parts he doesn't really remember and director J. Elvis Weinstein had to fill in for him. All the way from his posh boarding school (where he had to explain that his father was a "man of independent means"...meaning he was a crook who got caught and is in prison) all through his glam rock years and his impressive movie and TV resume. The story is told directly through Michael Des Barres interviews, with other interviews sprinkled in there to corroborate his more fantastic stories and give a rounded view of him as a person. He comes across as an eminently likable guy with an infectious laugh and a lust for life...among other things. But also a genuine people person, the kind of actor you hear about who learns the name of everyone who works on the set and helps everyone out.

And then another eminently likable musician in I AM THOR. John Mikl Thor was a body builder, actor (appearing on stage in What Do You Say To A Naked Waiter?,) and a pioneer of heavy metal "muscle" rock. He had hard-charging songs with an act that featured him blowing up hot water bottles and bending steel bars. Fast forward about 40 years, and he's a kind of dumpy old guy still holding on to his dreams and trying to make a triumphant comeback. And for a while it looks like it will be a sad story of missed glory and not knowing when to let go. But thank god for Sweden, where an international Muscle Rock festival welcomes him back to perform and the crowds go freakin' nuts for him. Seriously, Thor is literally a God in Scandinavia. And it's awesome to see this guy and his band catch a break, play some great shows, and get some freakin' acclaim. And it's got the greatest ending of any movie in the festival (so far.) Actually, including the credits scene, it's got the two best endings.

Total Running Time: 168 minutes
My Total Minutes: 400,412

Monday, June 15, 2015

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 7

Two more movies last Wednesday.

First up was CROCODILE GENNADIY. Taking his name from a popular Soviet cartoon, "Crocodile" Gennadiy Mokhnenko is a self-appointed vigilante in his Ukrainian town of Mariupol. His mission there is to get kids off drugs, and if that means kidnapping them off the streets and locking them in his Pilgrim Republic rehab facility, so be it. It's a kind of tough love where the love is really evident and the toughness is...well, it's just part of life there. Local authorities pretty much let him do his thing (if not helping him directly) and he's viewed mostly as a good guy who cuts through the ineffective bureaucracy and doesn't ask permission to do the right thing. There are detractors, especially when he gets more famous and people question whether he's just doing this for self-aggrandizement. But at least in the movie he's portrayed as mostly positive, if kind of a blunt instrument taking on the problem.

Then a short and a feature about illegal immigration, starting with the animated short EL COYOTE. It's the brief story of a "coyote"--a man who smuggles people across the border. Pretty interesting.

And that was the lead-in to NO LE DIGAS A NADIE (DON'T TELL ANYONE,) the story of Angy Rivera. She's the daughter of a mother who entered the U.S. illegally with her. So she is also undocumented, although her younger siblings are U.S. Citizens. Growing up, she was always taught not to talk about her status. And she eventually decides to reject that advice and "come out" as "Undocumented and Proud." The parallels (at least in the rhetoric) to the gay rights movement are interesting and unavoidable, but also something they don't really talk about. But she does make for a compelling character and the film makes a strong point that undocumented immigrants remaining in the shadows doesn't help the cause of immigration reform. Her story also highlights some of the fucked-up aspects of immigration law. Not just how it can tear families apart (e.g., if she and her mother are deported, her little siblings might stay behind in the U.S. and enter foster care.) But also--and this blows my mind--the fact that she was abused by her mother's boyfriend in the U.S. actually gives her a special status. Victims of serious crimes in the U.S., if they cooperate with the police, can apply for a special legal immigrant status. And (spoiler alert) she gets that. And is a little conflicted about it. Not just because of how fucked-up it is that that's how she gets her legal status, but also I think because being "Undocumented and Proud" had become part of her identity, and now she's...documented and still proud. And studying in college and hopefully well on her way to helping fix our fucked up immigration laws.

Total Running Time: 184 minutes
My Total Minutes: 400,245

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 6

I'm falling a week behind, so now it's desperation time to catch back up.

Last Tuesday, two more movies.

HOW SWEET THE SOUND: THE BLIND BOYS OF ALABAMA was a beautiful musical tribute to some legends of the Blues. Growing up in a segregated school for the blind in Alabama, the boys learned to play and sing, and that took them out of their bleak existence and earned them a living (and a friendly rivalry with the Blind Boys of Mississippi.) Now they (at least the originals, there's been a lot of turnover) are in their 80s at least, still performing, still winning Grammys, still getting the most out of life. And just generally being awesome. Which is awesome.

CALLS TO OKIES: THE PARK GRUBBS STORY: Then the second show started with a short about a bunch of bored kids in Oklahoma who made and recorded prank phone calls long before The Jerky Boys or Crank Yankers came out. And it's hilarious.

THE SANDWICH NAZI: And then I ended the night with a hilariously inappropriate deli owner. Salam Kahil is a Lebanese emigrant who owns a sandwich shop in Vancouver. He's also been blessed with "9 1/2 inches and no brain." And (at least if he's to be believed) he's had a pretty wild life. But mostly he's just a foul-mouthed comedian who will gladly show you his giant penis, ask about your sex life, talk about getting blowjobs, take you into the back of his shop and point out all the cum stains on the floor...Okay, that's gross enough in any context, but this is a freakin' sandwich shop and he's handling all the ingredients. Think about that for a minute.


Despite all that, he actually comes across as a kind of charming guy, always smiling, and truly not giving a fuck about what anyone thinks of him. And he's pretty generous with free sandwiches for the homeless people who can't pay. So...if you're ever in Vancouver, and need a sandwich, and have a high threshold for getting grossed out, maybe give his shop a try. No, I don't know where it is.

Total Running Time:185 minutes
My Total Minutes: 400,061 (woo hoo! Milestone reached!)

Friday, June 12, 2015

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 5

Last Monday started with a shorts program, Shorts 2: Don't Call it San Fran. Our local shorts.
BALANCING ACT: DeMarcello Funes is the son of African American and Honduran parents. He was the class clown, and now is becoming a professional clown. And tying the history of African American performance into his act.
FRAMED TARGETS: A local artist who uses concentric circles (even when they aren't actually concentric) artist Truong Tran creates an exhibit that highlights how artists have become targets in a rapidly changing San Francisco.
HOTEL 22: I've no seen this for a third time, after Cinequest and SFIFF. And it's still a sobering look at some of the poorest people in one of the richest parts of the country.
MONUMENTING: A look at the art and family business of gravestone carving.
NEW MISSION: A look at gentrification and the loss of community in the Mission District. Which is pretty sobering to watch at a theater in the Mission District.
OAK AND SCOTT: PAUSING AT HIGH SPEED: An intersection in the very center of San Francisco and not quite part of any of the established districts. But one with a long and interesting history. A popular bike route, the sight of a Freeway revolt (when they wanted to criss-cross SF with a network of freeways to enhance transportation,) diversity, gentrification, etc. Fascinating and very well made.
PERPETUAL ED: Ed is a musician facing a death sentence from disease. But he's still a cantankerous bastard who faces death with a wicked sense of humor.
TREASURE ISLAND: People now live on Treasure Island. Decades ago, when it was a naval base, radioactive material was disposed of there. That can't possibly be a problem, can it?
THE TYPIST: The man charged with typing up the discharge papers for gay soliders in the Korean War reflects on his time and on coming out of the closet later. Very fascinating.

Not included in the program, because Indiefest/Docfest is the kind of punk fly-by-your seats operation where things sometimes are missed: THE COLUMBARIUM (which I saw at Cinequest) and SUTRO WANTS MY BODY, which was made by Indiefest programmer Jeff Giordano with longtime Indiefest favorite Vincent Gargiulo (DULUTH IS HORRIBLE, THE MUPPETLESS MOVIE, FANTASTIC) and is available online here. But they might actually get their act together and play it on the big screen next Sunday, so don't click on that link.

And then I saw the feature 20 YEARS OF MADNESS. Back in the 90s, some high school friends got together and made a public access TV show called 30 Minutes of Madness. Weird skits, stunts, stupid stuff that high schoolers like, they did it all. And then the moved in together. And then they started fighting, split up, and went their separate ways. One of them--the ringleader, went off and eventually (after some false starts) eventually went to film school and is trying to make this his career. So he heads back home, looks up the old gang, gets them back together, and pitches them on the idea of making a new 30 Minutes of Madness. And you know the saying about the doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? They start fighting again, and the humor eventually gives way to something that's kind of uncomfortable to watch. Frankly, I'd rather go and watch their 90s videos than watch them fight today.

Total Running Time: 170 minutes
My Total Minutes: 399,876

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 4

Ugh, falling behind. 5 more movies on Sunday. Here we go...

First up was the inspiring short, THE LAST MILE. An innovative tech incubator...inside San Quentin prison. Let that sink in for  a minute.... Now realize that inmates in San Quentin have no access to computers, much less the Internet. And yet, it appears to be pretty successful.

That was the lead-in to NATURAL LIFE, an exploration of children who have been sentenced to prison for life. And I mean exploration in the loosest sense of the word--like exploring with no sense of where you started or where you're going. I know the juvenile justice system is fucked up. And I understand that this movie is kind of handicapped in that it couldn't bring cameras into the prison. So phone calls were recorded and some scenes were reenacted in an abandoned prison. But it's still edited with no sense of context, which makes it a frustrating and frankly boring viewing experience. I used the opportunity to take a little nap. My friend next to me told me afterwards that I had the right idea.

Then it was time for the crowd-pleaser of the festival (so far,) HARRY AND SNOWMAN. Harry deLeyer is a Dutch immigrant and WWII survivor. He's also a horseman who got a job in the U.S. teaching riding at a private school. Needing a well-behaved, calm horse for his students he went to an auction, got there late (due to a flat tire) and ended up buying (for $80) an old plow horse that was nearly on the truck to the glue factory. That horse he named Snowman, and the $80 champion became the most famous show horse in the late 50s and 60s. It's an endearing story, and Harry and Snowman captured the attention not just of the horsey world but of the common folk who loved a blue-collar champion. And he kept at it as long as he could, beating much younger riders as "the galloping grandpa." But the movie is really about his friendship with Snowman, a horse he calls his best friend. Even when his wife made an ultimatum (after their daughter was injured in a fall) that he get rid of the horses, he divorced rather than give up Snowman. And now I feel like I've given too much away. But who cares, you can know all that and still enjoy the joy of Harry playing with his best friend.

Then a less upbeat film, PERVERT PARK. Leave it to Sweden and Denmark to make a film about another fucked-up aspect of the American justice system. In this case, the sex offender registry. It's hard for a paroled sex offender to even find a place to live, much less make a living. So Florida Justice Transitions was created--a trailer park far enough away from schools, playgrounds, etc. that sex offenders could legally live there. Although the locals call it the titular Pervert Park and label all the residents baby-rapists. The film takes an intimate, personal approach instead of being a polemic, showing the lives, struggles, and backstories of the residents and letting their lives rail against the injustice of the justice system. Unflinching and often uncomfortable (on both sides--both for what these people did and for how they're treated now) this is a well made and important film. And dare I say it's also pretty entertaining, if you can say that about a documentary about sex offenders living in a trailer park.

I'll leave it to your own imagination if there's a theme developing in the festival, but the next show started with the short TERMS OF INTIMACY. A brief look at professional cuddling. No nudity, no sex, just lying down and cuddling.

And then we went to Denmark for SKIN AND BONES. It's the story of three friends with muscular dystrophy that keeps them confined to wheelchairs. They like to joke, drink, party, go to strip clubs... And it used to be that Danish social services would provide them with prostitutes and helpers for their other needs. But they've stopped doing that. So it's time for them to take a road trip to Berlin, where that service is still provided, before their balls get so big they explode. It's a surprisingly funny and touching (pun intended) story that reminds you that even if someone's body doesn't fully function, their hormones sure do.

And finally, I ended the night with a little burlesque, with US, NAKED: TRIXIE AND MONKEY. An acrobatic comedy burlesque couple act, with Trixie Little and the Evil Hate Monkey. But this isn't just about a funny, sexy, acrobatic act. It's a long form doc (I love long form docs!) over seven years telling their story from being a small, struggling act to become stars. They start out in Baltimore where they seem pretty popular, but they know their acrobatics are not up to snuff. So a planned few months in Vermont attending circus school turns into 2 years. Meanwhile they're touring (both together and apart,) they're working on various acts, they're fighting, they're worrying about whether they can actually make a living at this. That's the heart of the movie, the struggle of creative people to make a living with their creative pursuits, and that's what makes it truly interesting. Although Trixie's tits are nice, too. And if you're into it, Monkey's banana (kinda shown...)

And that was the end of the big first weekend of Docfest.

Total Running Time: 394
My Total Minutes: 399,706

Monday, June 8, 2015

Jason Goes to Docfest--Day 3

Five shows last Saturday, as the big first weekend begain.

First up was a story of journalism and narcissism, THE DESK. Andrew Goldman used to be the weekly interviewer for The New York Times Magazine (that glossy thing on Sundays with the crossword puzzle in it.) Paul Henry is a morning chat show personality from New Zealand who calls himself New Zealand's biggest celebrity because he apparently has never hear of Peter Jackson. He (Paul) also got himself in trouble over and over again--and eventually fired--for his cackling, racist jokes (the one that got him fired was repeatedly cracking up over Sheila Dikshit's name.) Andrew got in trouble for a mean tweet to critic Jennifer Weiner, and eventually fired over an interview with Diane Von Furstenberg (a seemingly professional but contentious interview, like many he had done in the past an got praised for making the weekly celebrity interview more than just a fawning puff piece.) I should also mention that Andrew Goldman is the director of the movie. And he shows a lot of creativity in blending fact and fiction (he made a short film with Paul Henry mocking both of their firings and their efforts to get Paul a TV show in America. That's the jumping-off point of the film.) Hidden somewhere in there is a solid point about journalistic ethics, entertainment, and advertising. But it's kind of lost in the self-obsessed 'woe is me!' wankery. I would be completely willing to believe Andrew Goldman is a good, professional journalist and interviewer who got a raw deal...if I hadn't seen this movie. If this movie had been made by someone else about Andrew, I have to believe it would've been better. But I also find it hard to believe there's anyone as interested in Andrew as he is in himself, so who else would bother making it?

Then my first shorts program of the festival, Shorts 1: It's An Obsession. Stories about people with strange obsessions.
AMERICAN RENAISSANCE: A look at one of the biggest renaissance faires in the U.S., and the quirky, fun people who...if they don't really bring to life Elizabethan England, they bring to life a charming fantasy world that's maybe just 4-5 steps removed from it.
BELIEVE: A movie that will make you believe in Santa. Santa Cliff Snider, that is, a professional Santa from High Point, NC and an inductee in the Santa Claus Hall of Fame.
DOLPHIN LOVER: Malcolm Brenner, in his own words, describes falling in love with a dolphin and...going all the way with her. He even wrote a book about it (check out the reviews.) It's actually pretty fascinating how he describes their "romance," and the abuse he suffered as a child. But mostly I learned that if you wanna fuck a dolphin the easiest position is to hold it kind of like a guitar.
THE MAN BEHIND 55,000 DRESSES: Paul Brockmann is a WWII survivor who immigrated to America and who has collected dresses for 56 years. Some of them have been worn by his wife. He promises to will them to his daughter (who does not want them) and he's remarkably evasive about why he collects them. This film does get to the bottom of it...maybe.
MARS BARB: Barbara Keith wants to go to Mars. She was one of 200,000 applicants to Mars One (full disclosure--so was I) and made it to the final 700 (I did not.) And while it's getting some negative press right now as a possible scam I still hope it happens (if not with Mars One, with another company with a better plan) and it would be cool if Barbara was part of it.
SPEARHUNTER: Gene Morris is the world's greatest spear hunter. Because if you're the only one to do it, you're automatically the best. Weird thing is, with his spear hunting museum in Alabama (of course) he has actually inspired others to get into the game, and maybe one of his acolytes will surpass him some day. Let's hope not.
UNMAPPABLE: Denis Wood is a cartographer, artist anarchist, teacher, and registered sex offender (he had an affair with a 16 year old male student, and as an anarchist he doesn't give a crap about the law.) It's strange, given all the controversy about him, that his bizarre artistic map experiments (creating a "narrative atlas") are actually the most interesting thing in the film.

Then we saw OMO CHILD: THE RIVER AND THE BUSH, which despite a few technical glitches early on with the projector, ended up being my favorite film of the day (possibly of the festival so far.) In the Omo valley of Ethiopia there live a handful of tribes that only recently came into contact with the outside world. They live according to ancient traditions, and none is more damaging than Mingi. This is the belief that certain babies are born cursed and must be put to death. That could be because the child is born out of wedlock. Or if the elders refuse to bless it. Or if...and this really blew my mind...if their upper teeth come in before their bottom teeth. Pretty much every family in the villages there has lost at least one baby to Mingi. Lale Lubuko is a member of the Kara tribe who got educated and decided to save Mingi children, keeping them in an orphanage, educating them, and most importantly educating the Kara elders and trying to end the practice of Mingi once and for all. And it's his story--specifically told in his words and the words of other Kara, no interference by the westerners filming them--that turns this from a troubling, sad story into an uplifting story of hope. It ends up being a beautiful story about some great people who have cast out their own curse. And if you want to learn more--or more importantly donate and help their cause--you can click here.

And then BARGE, a fly-on-the-wall documentary about workers on barges transporting cargo up and down the Mississippi. We see the beautiful countryside, we see the barges floating by. And we see the men (all men) who work on the barges. Most of them are very hard-working and grateful for the job (and the paycheck, of course.) Some talk about how bored and restless they are at home and how they can't wait to get back on the water. And then there's one guy who has been there a little while but just isn't fitting in. And I'm kind of grateful for him, because he finally adds some story to the film (not that it's much of a story.) As a slow meditation on life on the river, it's a well made film. And I completely blame myself that I couldn't keep interested in it.

And then we had a party. Although Prince doesn't celebrate his birthday, we did. With cake, costumes, and the Music Video Sing-A-Long Show Formerly Known As Prince. And beer, lots of beer (although I must be slowing down because the bartender commented that I didn't drink as much as I usually do. I promise I'll pick up my pace next time.) Oh, and it included the Chapelle's Show clip of Charlie Murphy talking about being schooled in basketball by Prince and his crew...and then eating pancakes.

Total Running Time: 414 minutes
My Total Minutes: 399,312

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 2

Two more films last night, as we settle into the long haul of Docfest.

First up was IN COUNTRY, a fascinating but somewhat lacking documentary about war reenactments. Particularly--and I didn't know this was a thing--Vietnam War reenactments, and the people who participate in them. Vietnam seems...too soon to be reenacting. It's not like the Revolutionary War, or the Civil War, where reenactments are the passion of history buffs. These are often coached by and dedicated to living Vietnam veterans. And many of the participants are recent veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan. So they're clearly working something out, and that's the fascinating part. But the film seems stubbornly set on not asking them about what exactly it is they're working out. Which I can understand in a short film--give people a taste and let the audience think for themselves. But by not addressing the elephant-in-the-room question it drags on with just more and more "war scenes" (set in the beautiful Oregon wilderness.) And I don't even think it's about getting the answers, but about showing that the participants are introspective about what they're doing. By not showing that, I really think it shortchanges them. Other than that, the film has a lot of technical merit, using clever editing to compare personal archival stories from Vietnam to the reenactments and to the current action in the Middle East. There was more than one time I had to take a second look to recognize which of the conflicts a scene was talking about. And that was really cool.

And then a short and a feature with experimental filmmakign. In WAKE UP, Erin Babbin explores the legacy from her mother and grandmother, and how she has been influenced both by their artistic nature and by the cycle of addiction that destroyed both of them. Very touching.

And then the feature PAUL SHARITS. I confess I did not know about this guy, but he was a luminary in the avant-garde film scene at the University of Colorado (famous also for Stan Brakhage...and the South Park guys.) He pioneered the techniques of "flicker" films--where individual frames are created to explore and break the effects of persistence of vision that create the illusion of moving pictures. It's kind of like created a novel not out of chapters, or paragraphs, or words, but emphasizing the fundamental unit of the letter (maybe even the pixel that makes up the letter.) Many of his films are shown in the movie, and I feel like I got a crash course in his work (you can do the same thing by looking at his web page.) The film also explores his character as a tortured artist who died too soon (the scene where a friend and colleague describes visiting his house and smelling the dead body two days after he died is...very strange, to say the least. Stranger than his actual films.) On the character side it falls short, at least compared to the avant-garde filmmaking side. Perhaps that's just a function of what interested me more. But I'm pretty sure this will appeal more to filmmakers and avant-garde film fans more than a general audience.

Total Running Time: 173
My Total Minutes: 398,899

Friday, June 5, 2015

Jason goes to Docfest--Opening Night

Two weeks of crazy real-life action kicked off last night, starting with Colin Hanks' documentary on Tower Records, ALL THINGS MUST PASS.

Confession, I was never that emotionally invested in Tower Records (certainly less so then most of the passionate crowd that was there.) I always knew it existed, and was a good place to buy music (or more often in my case, DVDs) but I never placed it far above any other outlet. But the movie presents an interesting story of a kid named Russ Solomon who sold records out of his pop's drugstore and built it into a media empire that spanned the globe and topped $1 billion in 1999. Then it went bankrupt in 2006 (which was barely a blip on my personal radar, but apparently was huge for everyone else.) It makes a case that there was more at work here than just the Internet (particularly Napster)--over-expansion into territories they didn't understand, price competition from other big retailers like Best Buy, a foolish strategy of no longer offering singles instead of full albums (leaving a giant opening for iTunes to sell individual songs at $0.99 a pop,) etc. But more than that it was an engaging personal story of rebels and music lovers who created their paradise, were on top of the world for a few decades, and then saw it go bust. At least...mostly. It still exists in Japan!

Running Time: 99 minutes
My Total Minutes: 398,726

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Jason goes to Silentfest--Closing Night

I once again had to work on a weekday, and with the festival now ending on Monday instead of Sunday, that meant I missed another day of matinees. But I was there for the ending, the spectacular BEN-HUR: A TALE OF THE CHRIST (1925): Interesting bit of trivia, the 1959 Charlton Heston remake was directed by William Wyler, who was one of 60 assistant directors for the famous chariot scene in this silent version. The film is a masterpiece, with a far more religious focus than the remake (it's notable that the 1959 version drops the "A Tale of the Christ" from the title.) While the 1959 version has removed as much of Jesus as it can (other than a hand cameo) the 1925 version opens with the Nativity (including the three wise men and the manger,) and all of the religious scenes are given extra emphasis with 2-strip Technicolor. Ramon Navarro gives a soulful, sometimes heartbreaking performance compared to Heston's square-jawed stoic hero. And Francis X. Bushman is fantastic as the villain Messala (another bit of trivia, he didn't want to play the villain until his friend who had played Messala in the stage adaptation told him it was the best role. That friend--William S. Hart.)

Overall, the movie is brilliant. It had a legendarily troubled production (which Kevin Brownlow devotes a chapter to in his seminal work, The Parade's Gone By) and so it was never a possibility for it to make a profit. But it is still an incredible achievement, and a brilliant way to end the festival.

Accompanying one. They actually used a Carl Davis score on a recorded soundtrack. I believe using a soundtrack instead of live music is actually a first for the SF Silent Film Festival. And as much as I love the live music, this soundtrack was pretty fantastic.

Running Time: 141 minutes
My Total Minutes: 398,627

Monday, June 1, 2015

Jason goes to Silentfest--Day 4

A big six-film Sunday. And it's still not over!

First some business, correcting a past oversight. Many (most?) of the films played with a short clip of footage from the 1915 Pan-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. I haven't been saying anything about them. And I still won't say much, beyond that they're kind of cool, and a neat look into what life was like 100 years ago. Also, since I've been recording the running time with a stopwatch (silent film "running times" are notoriously suspect, as it depends on the projection speed) I have included the time of these clips in the total time.

Okay, so the first show of the day, bright and early at 10 am, was a tribute to The Amazing Charley Bowers. I had actually never heard of Charley Bowers, so Serge Bromberg's introduction was invaluable. Bowers (known as "Bricolo" in France) was a genius of the absurd, and created some truly bizarre outside-the-mainstream comic pieces, often mixing stop-motion animation with live action.
A WILD ROOMER (1926): Often Bowers stars as a mad inventor, and in this case he's invented a machine that controls every action in every room of the house, from entertaining babies to shaving adults to cleaning the stove. And to get his inheritance, he has to show off his invention to his greedy uncle.
NOW YOU TELL ONE (1926): At the liars club, nobody has a good enough lie to win. Until they meet Bricolo, who has a fantastic tale of a formula he invented to graft anything on to anything else...and how it has ruined his life.
MANY A SLIP (1927): Charley's inventing services are needed again, this time to solve an epidemic sweeping the nation and invent a non-slip banana peel. After many failed attempts, he discovers the slippery germ that causes banana accidents.
THERE IT IS (1928): When the Frisbie family is flummoxed by the Fuzz-Faced Phantom (bushy-bearded Buster Brodie) Charley MacNeesha (Bowers) of Scotland Yard (actually, a pen of Scotsmen) is called in to save the day.

Serge Bromberg didn't just introduce the films, he also accompanied them on piano. This guy can do anything!

Then since Charley Bowers was surreal enough, we went to Avant-Garde Paris for a double bill.
EMAK-BAKIA (1927): Man Ray created this stunning array of seemingly unconnected images. Swirling lights, eyeballs, double exposures, a really freaky trip.

Earplay made it's SFSFF debut with a screeching, discordant score that was perfect for this avante-garde piece.

MÉNILMONTANT (1926): This one had a little more of a storyline, but was still difficult to follow in any conventional sense. In the opening, we see a couple brutally murdered by a madman. Then we follow the lives of their two orphaned daughters (cheating: I had to look up the description online to know that) when they grow up, both fall for the same man, who is a thug. Perhaps it was sheer exhaustion, but I didn't get a lot out of this one. Too bad, it's Pauline Kael's favorite film.

Stephen Horne, of course, did a fantastic job with the accompaniment.

WHY BE GOOD? (1929): Then it was time for a little fun that didn't make me think too hard and featured the beautiful and vivacious Coleen Moore as the aptly-named Pert Kelly. By day, she's a shop girl, and by night she's a hard-partying flapper who wins dance contests. But she is a good girl, no matter how much debauchery is going on behind her (including an infamous cut scene in the Boiler Club where go-go girls are shown simulated roasting on spits.) Neil Hamilton (who later became Commissioner Gordon on the Batman TV series) plays the wealthy son of the shop owner, out on the town for one last night of fun before he starts his very serious job as head of the Personnel Dept. the next day. he falls for Pert, not knowing she's an employee. So when she's 15 minutes late the next day, and he has to discipline her, it gets a bit awkward. And when his father fires her, it gets even worse. The plot revolves around mistrust of each other's character, and Pert having to prove she's a "good girl" (i.e., virgin) so they can get married. But there's also a strong streak of female empowerment running throughout, particularly in Pert's relationship with her mother (Bodil Rosing) who I see as the real hero of the movie.

Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra did a great job keeping it as light and fun as the movie.

NORRTULLSLIGAN (1923): Then this Swedish comedy about four female office workers--Pegg, Baby, Eva, and Emmy--living together and dealing with a man's world, solidarity, worker's rights, love, life, etc. The title translates as Norrtull Gang (or North Gate Gang/League) after the neighborhood where they live. As much as they try to avoid men, their love lives become central to the story, with the "notary" who is always stopping by and bothering them, especially Baby. And Pegg's boss is a bachelor who enjoys the company of a beautiful, happy young woman (or what he mistakes Pegg for, as she was actually suicidal at the time.) Working conditions in the office lead to talk of a strike, which leads to a crackdown from the bosses and prompt firings of anyone who was agitating for a strike. This puts a big dent in the girls' finances, and leads to some desperation, just as Christmas is around the corner. Luckily a Christmas miracle might be in the cards. It was a strange, but fun film.

Of course, because the film was from Sweden we had to have The Matti Bye Ensemble provide the score, and they were brilliant.

SHERLOCK HOLMES (1916): And then this was the advertised highlight of the festival, a recently discovered print of the long-thought-lost first ever feature length film of a Sherlock Holmes story. And starring the legendary William Gillette, who originated the role on stage. This was an Essanay film (so hooray for our local connection!) and was shot in the Chicago studio. But half the cast was actually from Gillette's stage company and the other half (particularly Moriarty and his gang) were from the Essanay cast. And it's pretty clear who knows the material better (Gillette.) In fact, more than a few times I cringed at how comically bad Moriarty's "genius" plans were, and Holmes thwarts him pretty easily. And the feature film had actually been cut into 4 parts and released as a serial in France. This is the version that was discovered and shown last night, and I couldn't help but believe that the original feature version had to be edited a little more fluidly than this. But it was still a good production and it was a treat not just to watch the first Sherlock Holmes feature but a true master of the part playing Holmes.

The Donald Sosin Ensemble (Donald, Günter Buchwald, Frank Bockius, and Sascha Jacobsen) did a great job with the accompaniment.

THE SWALLOW AND THE TITMOUSE (1920): And finally we ended the film with what might just be my favorite of the festival (and this surprised me.) The title refers to the Hirondelle and the Mésange, two barges bringing supplies from Antwerp to places devastated by WWI. It's a tranquil, serene view of life on the river with a husband Pierre Van Groot (restrain yourself from making an I Am Groot joke!) his wife Griet, and her little sister Marthe. In Antwerp they take on a new pilot, Michel. They also take on a little contraband...nothing serious, but a little extra money on the side. This becomes the source of the dramatic conclusion, but that's almost unimportant. I loved that it would show beautiful, tranquil shots of the countryside going by from the boat. Or slow, quiet moments when Michel and Marthe look like they might be falling for each other. In 1920, the acting style was typically more broad pantomime than the beautifully naturalistic acting here. That and the natural, location shooting confused distributors into thinking it looked too much like a documentary, and they refused to play it. It wasn't until 63 years later that this film was rediscovered--all six hours plus of rushes, and cut down to it's lean 79 minute story by editor Henri Colpi. And the end result is a beautiful film that was a few years before its time--and finally shown several decades after its time.

Stephen Horne on piano, accordion, and flute and Diana Rowan on harp provided a score that was as beautiful, natural, and perfect as the movie.

And that was Sunday at SFSFF. But there's more. For the first time they've expanded the program to Monday, and now it's time for me to leave to that.

Total Running Time: 506 minutes
My Total Minutes: 398,486