Sunday, April 24, 2016

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 3

A big day of films on Saturday, starting with a bunch of shorts.

Shorts 6: Youth Works. The future of filmmaking, this is consistently one of my favorite programs in the festival.
CHILDREN FOR SALE: Fiona Bock, the 17-year old director and daughter of a prosecutor, has been investigating and exposing human trafficking in the U.S. for five years already. And this isn't poor children from 3rd world countries sold into sexual slavery--these are American kids, shockingly similar to herself.
DOMAR: TO TAME: A horse tamer from Uruguay, performing his craft while expounding on his life and what it means to be a horse tamer.
ELLIOTT: Simple hand drawn animation of an elephant named Elliot, his clever friend's invention, and his adventures meeting a lady elephant name Ellie. A deceptively deep story of love and loss, and how our experiences create who we are.
FRAGILE: Gil Batle was a repeat offender (mostly drug related) Filipino San Franciscan. But art made him popular in prison and is now keeping him out. Featuring his amazingly intricate and evocative ostrich egg-shell carvings.
FROM MY HEAD TO HERS: A story of hair donation, from the donor's perspective and the recipient's perspective. The recipient is a little girl who was born with alopecia totalis, where the immune system attacks hair. A moving story, and also a fascinating look at the process of making high-end, realistic wigs.
I DON'T BELONG HERE: A brief examination of bipolar disorder, and what it means to live with mental illness and trying not to succumb to the undeserved stigma of it.
LUCKY NUMBERS: A comedy of a young man who wins $50 million in the lottery. Well, actually the old man he helps out won, and then was so excited he had a heart attack. Which is kind of the same thing...although it kinda haunts him.
RUN, RUN AWAY: A track and cross-country athlete thinks that by running she can run away from the problems in her life. It's not that easy, of course.

Next up, more shorts. This time the experimental shorts, Shorts 4: New Visions
ABU AMMAR IS COMING: Using a black and white photograph as a starting point, this film examines the history of Bangladeshi fighters in the PLO. Like...were there any or was that just a rumor?
FALSE START: A fossil museum. And a nearly wordless documentary about the talented artists who make the fossils they sell there. Pretty fascinating, and makes you think about authenticity.
MANY THOUSANDS GONE: Rumors persist that the docks where African slaves first set foot in the New World are full of ghosts. 16 mm footage of Harlem, New York and Salvador, Brazil...if they don't show literal ghosts, they certainly evoke some figurative one.
MY ALEPPO: A halting, frequently interrupted personal documentary of Syrian refugees in Pretoria, South Africa. Living in their new home while getting spotty news of their old one.
SEPT-OCT, 2015, CIZRE: Cizre is a Turkish town on the border with Syria. A story of the fighting that erupted there, shown mostly through cell-phone footage from the residents.
UNTITLED: A very short, succinct point a new immigrant to the U.S. makes about what the U.S. appears to be all about--black and white. He's not wrong.

Shorts 4: New Visions plays again May 4th, 8:45 pm at the Roxie.

And then for what may be the weirdness movie I've seen in the festival so far (and I'm including Saturday's late night film, so scroll to the bottom, read that, and then come back here and realize this film was even weirder.) TICKLED is a documentary about the world of competitive endurance tickling. Or, really, it's a story about David Farrier, a New Zealand journalist and co-director of this film. Farrier has, for quite a while, specialized in "news of the weird" kind of stories. Eccentrics who are usually delighted for their small slice of fame. So he finds out Competitive Endurance Tickling, and a site that hosts competitions and posts videos of them--Jane O'brien Media (I'm not providing a link, because...well, read on and find out as much as I can say without spoiling it. Or see the doc either tonight or later when Magnolia releases it.) Anyway, Farrier contacts Jane O'brien Media about doing a story, and gets a surprising reply. See, he's an out, proud gay man, and they don't want competitive tickling videos associated with homosexuality. Which is weird for a few reasons. First, it's the 21st freakin' century and hardly anyone cares anymore (I know, this is an exaggeration, but still...) Second, most people would like the publicity, especially if it appears to be some sort of business. And's a guy shackled head and feet to a bed while 2 or 3 other guys straddle him and tickle him. It's fully clothed and (arguably) non-erotic, but it's about as gay as you can get without actually having gay sex. But lawsuits (or at least threats thereof) start flying, representatives come to meet with him, and the whole documentary changes from a funny story about a quirky sport to a dark thriller about whose really behind it and why do they want him silenced so badly? It get's really scary when we meet former participants. Usually when they were in college, they were offered somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,500 to make a video. And that's easy money...until they no longer want to do it (e.g., they graduate and get a job.) That's when the harassment starts. When one guy asks Youtube to take down his video (and they comply) all of a sudden it's up on every other video site, and e-mails are being sent to his family, friends, employer (he's a high school football coach,) etc. Massive harassment intended to destroy the guys life--and it's successful. With the massive efforts to harass and silence critics, you'd think this was a multi-billion dollar industry somehow. But there's no pay structure for these sites. And now I will visibly struggle with spoilers...I want to tell you whose really behind it, because it's even weirder than a multi-billion dollar industry. ...And I won't tell you. You'll have to see it yourself.  

TICKLED plays again April 24th, 9:00 pm at the Victoria Theatre.

Then I caught a comedy of technology and relationships, OPERATOR. This is part of a new collaboration between the SF Film Society and the Alfred P. Sloan foundation, providing grants for science in the arts--basically giving the filmmakers money to do the research and get the science parts of the film as accurate as possible. Which is cool. Anyway, Joe Larsen is neurotic coder who is working on a project for a lifelike voice to be the automated telephone guide for a health insurance companies phone support. He obsessively keeps data on everything in his life, but that doesn't keep him from having massive, debilitating panic attacks. Nobody helps him more than his loving, empathetic wife Emily. So, when their first prototype is a complete bust, he strikes on the brilliant plan to make Emily the new voice of their system. And it works excellently. In fact, a little too well, as he starts becoming more attracted to the voice of Emily (which he has programmed, so is predictable and never changes) than to the real Emily--who is constantly changing, trying to get out of her frustrating job as a hotel concierge and pushing her creative boundaries as a writer/actress in an experimental performance group. Martin Starr and Mae Whitman are perfect as the leads, expressing the tender, loving side of their relationship as easily as the frustrating, flawed sides. And the supporting cast, from Joe's eccentric co-workers to his ailing mother are also excellent. Overall it's a funny, enjoyable comedy that also has some serious things to say about how technology is changing--or stifling--human relationships.

OPERATOR plays again April 25th, 3:30 pm at the Roxie.

And finally, I ended the night with the second weirdest film of the festival so far (see TICKLED, above,) ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM. Leave it to the Japanese to bring the weird. The moon has been destroyed, save for a small crescent. An all-powerful, tentacled alien is responsible. And he'll do the same thing to the Earth. But first...he's going to teach home room for the misfits and failures of Grade E Class at Kunugigaoka Junior High School. The lesson for the year--how to become an assassin. And if they can successfully assassinate him before graduation, not only will the Earth be saved but they'll be awarded 10 billion yen by the government. And it turns out, he's a fantastic teacher! While dodging knives and artillery, he instills the kids with a love of learning (if only because of how that learning can be applied to assassination.) Throw in some more odd elements like a transfer student who also has crazy tentacle powers, an heavily armed AI "student," and a sadistic alternate teacher, and the wacky, wacky hijinx ensue. And not to spoil too much, but it's all set up for a sequel! Awesome!

ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM plays again April 27th, 10:00 pm at the Alamo Drafthouse.

Total Running Time: 448 minutes
My Total Minutes: 426,565

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