Thursday, February 9, 2017

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 4

The big first weekend wraps up with 5 movies, and a damn good day of films at Indiefest.

First up was #Adulting - shorts about coming of age...or failing to do so
TWINSBURG: Set in the real life town of Twinsburg, OH, during the real life Twins Days festival, twin brothers learn to be a little bit individual. Jerry loves the fun and tradition of Twins Days, but Paul has sort of outgrown it and wants to do his own thing.
BIRDY WOUAF WOUAF: The animated struggles of a newborn birdy whose chirp is more of a bark. It's hard to succeed in the wild when you don't sound right.
HI-GLOW RETRO: A nerd, disco dancing, embarrassment, and teenage masturbatory fantasies.
PIECE OF WOOD: From Egypt, some kids doing skateboard tricks in the mall have a run-in with the security guard. And so they have to pull off their biggest trick ever.
SCENT OF GERANIUM: A Persian immigrant retells her experiences in America through animation.
SNOW CONE: (Also played at Another Hole in the Head last year) A father tries to teach his son how to live like him, just before he goes away to prison. It's not a very good lesson.
THE EMPTY: An animated reflection on life, from birth to dust, through our living spaces.
THE LAST DAYS OF THE CINEMA: From Spain, a story of a free spirited father and his businessman son, the cinema that was their shared ground, and the closing of that cinema. A poignant reflection on cinema as a sacred space, even a sanctuary, and what is lost when it closes.

Then we kept up the coming of age thing by going to Denmark for WHERE THE WINDMILLS ARE. Based on a true story (from the director's childhood,) Thomas is a seventh grader in a small town in Denmark. His divorced parents are both authority figures--his father's a cop, his mother's a priest. And a good kid. Kind of a nerd, stays out of trouble, mostly. But he knows how to make bombs. Little firecrackers, really. His dad taught him. And he's infatuated with school bad girl Vikki. To impress her, and to get in with her group of cool kids, he builds a bomb to blow up their gym teacher's bike. And it works, but that just brings him into a group of bad kids and bullies who demand more bombs--or other extreme, uncomfortable behavior--from him or will make his life a living hell.

As someone who was not popular in school (I'm a nerd whose last name is a slang term for penis) I could easily sympathize with his plight, and his reaction--or non-reaction--to bullying. Anti-bullying campaigns (at least here in the U.S.) make a big deal about how not fighting back makes you the stronger man. And now that I've grown up, I can confirm...that this is kinda bullshit. I didn't fight back against my bullies, and it wasn't from some quiet wellspring of strength. It was a quiet wellspring of cowardice. But it all worked out for me, so I don't have a good answer. And neither does this film, I think. It just does an excellent job of portraying a boy stuck in a bad bullying situation, and what that feels like.

Then the theme of the day--coming of age stories--continued with WEST COAST. This is a comedy from France about some not very cool white kids who fashion themselves after West Coast American gangsta rappers. They are, of course, widely mocked at school. Enough so that they decide to take a bit of revenge at a cool kids party. They just need one of them to steal his dad's gun (oh, his dad is a cop, another recurring theme of the day.) Well, that sets of a wacky string of adventures, as the gun is lost/stolen and they have to get it back. Also, the nerdiest, pimpliest one is on a quest to meet his Internet girlfriend and get laid. Hilarity ensues, and it's pretty awesome.
Then a program that started with a few shorts, all appropriating "found" footage.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE USSR: A montage of old narrative films, news reels (from America and the U.S.S.R.,) and defense educational films. It tells a story--kinda--of a physicist that saves the world from attack.
COUNTER-CHANGE: Leisure Suit Larry 3 game footage becomes a subversive discourse on the nature of love and lust.
BATTLESTAR ABSTRACTICA: BSG - the original series - seen through a kaleidoscope.

And then FRAUD, which if it isn't my favorite film in the festival, it is my favorite to talk about. In our new world of "alternative facts" this film is particularly resonant. Director Dean Fleischer-Camp found a family that has uploaded thousands of hours of home video to YouTube, and with editor Jonathan Rippon turned it into a story. A story of a family struggling with bills, so they burn down their house, take the insurance money, and run away to Canada.

To be clear, none of this happened in real life. And this movie was made with the family's permission, but not with their editorial control.

Nothing new was filmed (although one key scene was heavily manipulated) and so with all "real" footage, FRAUD made it's world premiere last year at the Hot Docs film festival, and is listed as a documentary on IMDb. So there's a double-meaning to the title--is it referring to the fraud the family commits, or the fraud that is the movie itself (passing itself off as a documentary.)  So I see a couple of ways of watching it:

1. Watch it as a narrative, fiction film. In that case, the fact that it was compiled with existing "found" footage is an interesting technique, and brings to mind the question of whether a DJ who is sampling other people's music is a musician himself.
2. Watch is as a documentary (i.e., a real family committing real fraud and leaving clues to it online,) find out you've been lied to later, and then be super pissed off about it. Apparently this isn't an uncommon reaction.
3. Watch it as a meta-commentary about documentaries, remembering that the genre itself goes back to NANOOK OF THE NORTH which was completely staged. One of my favorite documentaries--the Oscar-winning THE HELLSTROM CHRONICLE--is equally fake. And ponder how easy it is to make a real-looking fake documentary, and what it says about our ability to spot a fake.

The editing is pretty choppy (apparently that's how the original footage was, but it serves the end result well) which sometimes make watching it unpleasant and disorienting, but like I said talking about it afterwards is pretty amazing.

FRAUD and the shorts plays again Wednesday, Feb 15th at 9:30

And finally, we ended the night with DOWN UNDER. Set in the aftermath of a race riot on the beaches of Sydney, the film follows the adventures of some truly dim-witted men (literally, the nicest and smartest one has Down's Syndrome.) A group of white guys want to take back their beach from the "lebs" (Lebanese) and "wogs" (somewhat generic term for non-white, I'm not going to delve into the fine distinctions.) And a group of Lebanese immigrants are tired of being pushed around and want their rights. In each group, there is a guy who doesn't really want conflict (you know, the typical stereotype of the "no worries, mate!" laid-back Australian) but is along for the ride out of solidarity and peer pressure from his friends. And wacky hijinx ensue and it's funny as hell. That's the interesting thing, director Abe Forsythe has created a film that doesn't soft-pedal the tense race relations (he opens with actual footage from the actual riot) but is not afraid to laugh at the idiots on both side. And it's brilliantly done.

DOWN UNDER plays again Friday, Feb 10th at 9:30.

Total Running Time: 439 minutes
My Total Minutes: 417,066

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