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 out...like 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 JosuĂ©, 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