Back to Main Squeeze on Saturday morning, then our third film of the weekend at the Missouri, preceded by a guy with one of those whirlygig keyboard amps. This doc felt longer than its 95 minutes, but I wouldn’t mind watching it indefinitely. Wide variety of New Yorkers asked about their futures with good photography. I kept feeling that like Treasure Island, a central point of focus wasn’t coming through, but I also wasn’t hoping for a climate change essay doc, so I went with it. Starts to revisit its subjects – somewhat racist ex-cops in a bar, a white couple concerned about media reports of crime, the Afronaut. I need to watch more NYC movies – maybe In Jackson Heights.

Story in Filmmaker:

I’m interested in how power circulates, the ways in which it micro- and macro-confines us and can liberate us . I also think that, sure, we can call all films in some ways political, insofar as they’re made within certain power structures and get launched into the world within existing power structures. They can either reinforce the status quo, because they do very little to shake up our understandings of how the world works, or they can enable us to grapple with things differently … I also dislike message-y films, or whatever you want to call the films that see their role as delivering a particular policy line and/or demanding that people respond in very narrow terms to whatever they’re seeing. I’m much more interested in how cinema can reawaken the senses and our critical capacity to be in the world differently. That, for me, can have longer term results.

Jenn Takahashi opened, promoting her website where she makes fun of things people say on neighborhood message boards, I’m not sure why. My notes say “a variety of weird-tempo rock songs, each better than the last – get the EP” but who was the band? Summer Like The Season? They also say “Katy very tired, did not like movie, then hotel stole her toiletries,” which is accurate, and the Hilton Garden Inn still owes us restitution.

My notes do NOT say anything about the movie, which was a multi-angled portrait of youth at a French water park, mainly memorable for the extremely confident dude who picks up a bunch of girls to meet him after hours.

This was in theaters the week we got back and, as I write this, is still at the Fernbank Imax. Not knowing it’d stick around in theaters for most of the year, it was a hot ticket at T/F and we sat up front crammed into a corner. The picture worked out, but I think the sound was muffled up there. You can easily tell which is the newly-restored 70mm footage, and it’s mostly front-loaded. I’m no fan of the bass-drone dum-dum-dum-dum score, but overall a real good space movie.

A.A. Dowd in AV Club:

Including hindsight recollections would have spoiled the manufactured present tense – the way director Todd Douglas Miller, working with a trove of stunningly preserved archival footage, creates the sensation of experiencing these historic events as though they were happening right before you, not half a century ago.

Really there were only a few crowd-pleasing hits at this year’s T/F, which was interrupted (for us) by a snowstorm and fouled by some too-late nights and difficult film picks. This was one of them, despite being a two-plus-hour crackpot investigation into unprovable murder cases. I caught up with Brügger’s The Red Chapel shortly before this year’s festival slate was announced, and this was the #1 Sundance movie I was pulling for.

Some good uncomfortable laughter, some twisty investigation and humor in construction/presentation offset the ultimate topic: power grabs, espionage, mercenaries, murders, white supremacy, attempted genocide – US and UK governments blatantly destroying Africa’s hopes of self-sufficiency. Göran sparks off the investigation and does all the background research, and Mads provides context, theatrical antics and the overall sense that we can’t tell how much of this is true.

Opener was River Arkansas again, but with new songs, and we grabbed a juice at Main Squeeze beforehand.

“The world has become more Wellesian… things seem exaggerated.” The narration is written as a letter to the late Orson, and I thought this might get too cutesy, then I recalled that I never get tired of listening to Mark Cousins. He emulates Welles’ camera moves as he did in The Story of Film. Welles took a trip to Ireland to paint in the early 1930’s, then Morocco, and Cousins shows the evolution of his sketches, travels to these places himself and films them in the present day. He ties the films to the radio plays, to the paintings, to international politics. It’s a cradle-to-grave career bio-doc like I’ve never seen, integrating the life with the art, half a rich analysis and half a love poem.

Black Sheep (Ed Perkins)

A true/falsey one, with interviews and re-enactments shot in the neighborhood where the story takes place. A British kid is moved into the countryside by his African-born parents where he encounters life-threatening racism and adapts by bleaching his skin, making friends with his tormentors and becoming one of them.

End Game (Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman)

The best of the bunch, focused on patients in varying states of mobility with varying family situations, all with terminal illnesses and only weeks or months to live. This is San Francisco, and the terminal patients are given palliative care (treating only the pain, since the symptoms are determined to be incurable) and told to make their peace. It’s a movie, so you know one of them is gonna beat the odds – they don’t. The directors are old-school – Epstein made The Times of Harvey Milk, and Friedman collaborated with him on The Celluloid Closet, Paragraph 175, and a Linda Lovelace biopic starring Amanda Seyfried.

A Night at the Garden (Marshall Curry)

Stock footage of a well-attended 1939 pro-nazi rally at Madison Square Garden. The movie gives little context, just plays around with slow-motion, inviting us to research the rest, so here goes. As I’m writing this, yesterday was the event’s 80th anniversary, and a few days ago the film was projected onto the side of MSG. The man rushing the stage was a Jewish plumber named Isadore Greenbaum, and the speaker was the German-born Fritz Kuhn, leader of a Hitler-worshipping group called the Bund. In the aftermath, Greenbaum was ordered to pay a $25 fine for causing a disturbance. Kuhn was investigated for stealing from his own organization, arrested at the end of ’39, and would spend the rest of his life in various prisons. Curry previously made a Cory Booker doc, a kart-racing doc, and a look inside the Earth Liberation Front.

Lifeboat (Skye Fitzgerald)

Following the (late) captain of a German rescue boat that tries to pick up Libyan refugees from their leaky lifeboats. Spends a couple minutes “putting a human face on the global refugee crisis” by interviewing rescued Libyans, the rest of the time on rescue operations with the crew, and reminds you that the world is completely horrible. Katy said it reminded her of Fire at Sea, which is not a good thing. The director works regularly on issues docs – acid attacks on women, unexploded landmines in Cambodia, the Syrian civil war, and a new one on gun violence.

Period. End of Sentence. (Rayka Zehtabchi)

After the racism, death, nazis and desperation, it was lovely to end on this story of community women outside Delhi working to manufacture and distribute sanitary pads. Much fun is had discussing the forbidden topic of menstruation, and they have dreams of conquering the country and improving women’s lives, but I became annoyed upon realizing that the movie is an advertisement. A feature came out the same year on the same topic, called Padman.

The end of a week catching up with True/False films, beginning with Black Mother. I watched most of this at the airport – inconvenient since I kept having to lift my jaw off the dirty floor. Very happy to learn that Mads has a new shit-stirring movie and we’ll be seeing it next week in Columbia.

“Comedy is the soft spot of all dictatorships.” A group of antifascist subversive Danish comedians takes an official visit to to North Korea with the stated goal of playing Wonderwall with local kids as a cultural exchange. Their purposely terrible musical-comedy act is hijacked by a local cultural director, who “surgically removes” anything cultural and changes their entire act into something just as unfunny but somehow more politically palatable. Meanwhile, Mads has come as a spy, to shine a light on a hated, repressive system. His secret weapon is Jacob, whose physical disability makes his Danish impossible to understand by the censors and translators, but Jacob becomes tormented by all the duplicity. They end up in a parade on national TV cursing the U.S. imperialists, manage to play Wonderwall once, then get the hell out of there.

Ukraine is Not a Brothel (2013)

“Kitty is filming this for some reason.” Fun, newsy doc about feminists in Ukraine who stage topless public actions and usually get arrested, traveling to other countries to protest in India, getting terrorized by cops in Belarus.

“We get money from charitable donations. We don’t know exactly where the money comes from.” The movie takes a turn upon the introduction of Victor, the man in the shadows who organizes all public appearances of this “feminist” group. “Girls are weak,” he says, then “My influence on the girls is the very same as the patriarchal influence against which we are protesting.”

Victor’s expression when asked if he started Femen to get chicks… which he did:


The Face of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul (2015)

A bunch of girls audition to play Ukraine’s first olympic champ. Perfect stepping-stone film between the two features, too short to make much of an impact, though when all the girls are trying to cry it made me wanna cry.


Casting JonBenet (2017)

Casting sessions for each role in a theoretical JonBenet Ramsey movie, shot in Boulder where the murder took place, cutting between actor reactions. After some desperate attempts to connect themselves with the case or the family, some of them start going through their own family traumas.

The would-be policeman-actors run through the investigation, criticizing and analyzing the work of their real-life counterparts two decades earlier. Each family member gets scrutinized. We get numerology, and perverse conspiracy theories playing out like the final scenes of Top of the Lake. My birds got triggered when the JonBenets demonstrated their screaming abilities – I wonder if that’s where I stopped the movie the first time I tried to watch it. Music by Nathan Larson of Shudder to Think! This played True/False in 2017, and is one of the most perfectly True/Falsey movies I’ve seen.

Tao catches up with his old buddy Dong, a former photographer who’s figuring out what to do next while being needled by his family, wishing he could just stay drunk and hang out with his friends and listen to punk rock, dreaming of returning to his pastoral home town far to the north. Dong’s mom works with fabric, dad sells flutes, and Dong is coerced into starting a jade business. This doesn’t work out – Tao films Dong listening to a jade dealer explain what kinds of stones to buy and how to convince customers into spending more than a piece is worth, then venting into the camera later about this business being an elaborate scam, and that’s the end of the jade story. Dong has lived his whole life in Post-Mao China but still can’t adjust to capitalism.

I’m not always clear on chronology or location. We’re in Kunming in 2011 on Dong’s 30th birthday talking about taking a trip to Hailar, then “Spring arrived in 2013,” and Dong is on a train, pointing to cities on the schedule, talking about his parents and his childhood in Hailar. So, we assumed it’s 2013 and the trip has begun, before realizing a few scenes later that it’s still Dong’s 30th birthday and they’ve gone nowhere, will go nowhere (except for the jade expo) until the final minutes of the movie.

Watched because of a specific interest in China this year, to be further explored soon. Kunming is in the far (central) south of the country, and Guangdong (the jade expo, and the beach where the promo stills were shot) is far to the east, on the south side near Hong Kong. Beijing is in the northeast of the country, but Hailar is even further northeast, around the eastern tip of Mongolia, a stone’s throw from Russia. According to the description of his previous film, post-earthquake survival semi-doc On the Way to the Sea, Tao Gu and his family are from Wenchuan, just northwest of Chengdu and not near any of his Taming the Horse locations. I haven’t figured out the part where drunk, crying Dong says he wants to kill himself in Yanjiang where he first saw the sea, since Yanjiang appears to be just on the other side of Chengdu from Gu’s hometown, 15 hours from the nearest ocean.

Punk Rock tells the Truth: