Woof, this was bad, but I should’ve guessed from the trailer I saw in NYC with all the “you won’t BELIEVE what happens NEXT”-style quotes in huge print across the screen. A seemingly endless (but only 70 minutes!) string of car crashes and weird happenings captured by Russian dash-cams and ripped off youtube.

“Danger in 200 meters” says one car’s navigation system just before encountering a truck driving slowly in reverse, wiping out all the cars in its path. I rewound a couple times the exploding light poles leading to a blackout after a truck tumbles over. “Fucking asshole,” deadpans the driver witnessing this – there are a couple heroes, but mostly the drivers act annoyed but unsurprised by the damage on display.

Typical/hilarious subtitle:

Quick montages of smashes and explosions are used as buffer material between longer single-take segments. With every new edit, you brace yourself anew for something terrible to happen. Along with Caniba, the other True/False movie Katy wisely avoided, the movie gives us nothing and lets us draw our own conclusions – and at least one person probably died in the making of each. I don’t typically click around youtube looking for the best car-crash videos, so I appreciate that someone has spent the time to curate them for us (and some are incredible) but that’s all this is.

Part of a double-feature of misbegotten True/False movies that Katy didn’t want to watch, with The Road Movie. Katy was right – they were both very bad!

The directors of Leviathan have found themselves a potentially interesting subject: almost forty years ago, Issei Sagawa killed a woman and ate her, got free on insanity, and has lived at home fixating on his naughty self, how awesomely perverse he is, writing about his crime and making a comic book version. He apparently lives with his brother, who complains about the manga (“there’s no reason to publish this”) but reads the entire thing, chuckling to himself. The brother shows home movies of themselves as kids, and more recent movies of himself attacking his arms with barbed wire and shears.

Our sensory ethnographers react by placing the camera too close to focus, creating distorted images with long stretches of silence, making me wonder at times whether the movie was still playing. It’s probably the most experimental movie to play True/False this year, but the experiment doesn’t work for me. Feels like with the camera placement, the blurring and extreme close-up, they’re trying to take us inside the head of a killer, but this killer seems more amused by his own celebrity (this is at least the fourth documentary about him) than anything else, so the movie goes on for long minutes, just staring at his elderly, psychotic face, hoping some insight will arrive.

After another good True/False fest, and a killer first half of the day with Bisbee and Shirkers, we ended on a lightweight heist film, with strong truefalsian elements, but whose protagonists made Katy fully angry. Tim Grierson nailed it in Paste:

Crafted to be a breezy, self-conscious heist film — the characters study Rififi for inspiration, and a key fantasy sequence is scored to the remix of Elvis Presley’s “A Little Less Conversation,” which was memorably used in Ocean’s ElevenAmerican Animals uses a lot of giddy flash to make a sobering point: These callow losers are incredibly privileged white males with little reason to execute this crime except for the fact that they’re bored. But despite strong performances from Peters and Keoghan, who both hook into their characters’ suffocating vapidity, Layton never entirely makes the case that his movie has much more intellectual heft than his protagonists. American Animals is a zippy, forgettable film about dunderheads, which isn’t the same as having a sharp perspective on those boobs.

The real fun comes in the first half as we meet the real boobs via interview footage and see their stories played out – sometimes in multiple versions if the narrators mix up their details – by the great Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) and his wild buddy Evan Peters (Quicksilver in the X-Men movies). Peters flies to Amsterdam to meet Udo Kier and see about fencing some rare books, which they clumsily steal with the help of two more dudes (including Everybody Wants Some!! lead Blake Jenner) in the more sordid second half. Katy wishes we’d closed with the Mr. Rogers movie instead.


Musicians seen this year: Mary Lattimore, Lomelda, Esme Patterson, Nnamdi Ogbonnaya, Burney Sisters, Nevada Greene, Samuel James, The River Arkansas, Ohmme, Molly Healey, Skyway Man,

Food and drink from our old favorites: Craft Beer Cellar, Cafe Berlin, Cafe Poland, Main Squeeze, Nourish, International Tap House, Gunter Hans, Pizza Tree… plus good stuff from Seoul Taco, and next time we’ll skip Flat Branch and not venture into 44 Canteen unless we have no movies scheduled afterward.

Esme Patterson at the Missouri Theater:

We followed up Bisbee with another great one, the story of an indie film shot in Singapore in Summer 1992 that disappeared without a trace, taking a few friendships along with it. Creative punk kids Sandi and Jasmine and their friend Sophie got the support of a French New Wave enthusiast professor/mentor named George, spent the whole summer shooting their would-be classic, then George vanished with the film, which only resurfaced after his death twenty years later, the sound reels having been lost or destroyed along the way. So Sandi uses scenes from the original Shirkers (with added sound effects) to illustrate her story, reassessing the original drive to make this film, what they accomplished, and the aftermath. Sophie is now chair of a film department, Jasmine still holds a huge grudge, and Sandi claims in the Q&A that she doesn’t blame George, which sounds crazy after he ruined their young dreams. There’s some owning up to past misdeeds and betrayals, some exploration of George’s life and his other creative partners (he stole their work, too) but Sandi still respects the guy, and she’s the one in charge of the Shirkers saga now, so perhaps this movie lets him off easy. This was a blast to see from the balcony of a sold-out theater, but we might have been its final proper audience, since it’s been bought by netflix.

Tim Grierson in Paste:

In Shirkers, novelist Sandi Tan accomplishes that trickiest of endeavors, making a documentary about herself that isn’t cloying or cringe-worthy. Quite the contrary, her movie is refreshingly candid and self-critical: She may be the star of the show, but she has a story to tell and the right perspective to frame it properly … the documentary ends up being less about tracking down the film canisters than being an exploration of nostalgia, friendship and the allure of mentors. Tan is lively, self-effacing company throughout — her voice has just the right sardonic tinge — but her visits with Jasmine and Sophia are particularly lovely and illuminating, suggesting how lifelong pals can see us in ways that we cannot.

This feels more mainstream than Kate Plays Christine or Actress without compromising Greene’s interest in blurring the lines of performance, and while bringing up tons of new and timely issues. The photography is very good (some epic travelling shots, most notably when introducing our young star Fernando) and Greene has graduated from filming lone actresses to an entire town. I came in with high expectations and couldn’t be happier – this was the standout hit of True/False.

In July 1917, striking workers in an Arizona mining town were rounded up and herded out of the town, told they’d be killed if they returned. For the hundredth anniversary, Greene films a town-wide re-enactment of the event, as portrayed by locals with hundred-year roots, by ex-miners and their families, businessmen and government officials, and town newcomers. Few had heard of the “Deportation” before the anniversary committee got underway, but as they research their roles it leads to much discussion and some uncomfortable parallels to still-current problems – deportation and communist agitation were rearing their ugly heads again right as filming began. Two brothers whose grandfather exiled their great uncle play opposite sides, a friendly young dude plays an ambivalent miner who gets swayed to become a flag-waving striker, and a descendant of a town leader insists the deportation was right and necessary until the moment when he finds himself rallying his neighbors onto desert-bound railcars at gunpoint. Minds don’t exactly get changed, but people soften their hardline positions. The whole ensemble piece is beautifully assembled and shot in widescreen, cutting between documentary behind-the-scenes footage and staged-reenactment scenes without radically changing the visuals, breaking down the boundaries between them in true Greene-T/F style.

After lunch we went to the Journalism Institute on campus because we heard there was a Strong Island exhibit. It must have been closed on Sunday, but we came across this instead:

Our second Black Audio Film Collective film after Testament, this one a collage-style doc about the 1985 Handsworth riots – with at least one scene from the 1977 Handsworth riots, the country having failed to solve racism during the intervening years. A good mix of music and sounds, collaged like the visuals. Interviews with community members about mistrust of cops because of bad policing, combined with the story of an innocent woman shot by police in her own home give the sense that nothing has changed between Handsworth Songs and Crime + Punishment. Racism remains unsolved.

I’d been wanting to see this for ages, it having appeared on some list somewhere of great films, and am glad I held off on the bootleg VHS copies to see it properly projected in a theater. Not that there are such splendid visuals – it’s mostly news and interview footage – but there’s at least one innovative move in here: lit photographs hung in a dark room, the camera slowly moving through the room in 3D like an early version of the Ken Burns effect.

Vikram Murthi:

Akomfrah sought to redefine blackness in British culture for a new generation as a reaction against conservative Thatcherite policies along with the respectability politics of their immigrant parents. In turn, the Collective demonstrated that the best way to examine the noxious ideologies in the culture was to trace their historical lineage. As a middle-aged black woman tells a British reporter, “There are no stories in the riots. Only the ghosts of other stories.”

At great personal risk, the director of this doc embedded himself with a jihadist family, allowing us to see how these people really live, to feel their personal struggles. Unfortunately, my feeling was “fuck this family” (the opposite of an empathy machine) as we watch the creepy-doll-faced oldest son Osama go from beheading and flaying little birds to military camp. His dad gets blown up by a mine and loses a leg, and it’s alarming to see him so quiet and dazed after getting used to him as a blowhard strongman. I guess this comes down on the side of “documentary that might be useful to someone,” not “movie I actually liked.”

After Whose Streets and Kinshasa Makambo and so many others, it was hard to get used to the police being the good guys again. Fortunately, the majority of them are still portrayed as racist villains destroying the lives of poor people, which is very in-character, but our heroes are the NYPD 12, whistleblowers calling out the force for continuing to require arrest quotas after the practice had been banned. At the same time we’re following an ex-cop, a loud, personable P.I. fighting to free Pedro Hernandez, who was arrested on sketchy evidence. It’s easy to undervalue an issues doc with slick visuals following a big news story in the boundary-pushing environment of True/False, but this is a great primer on the issues the NYPD 12 raise, well-paced and informative without ever resorting to narration or interview footage, which seems hard to pull off. It covers why good policing matters, how retaliation silences other cops and keeps the stinking system running (featuring damning hidden-camera footage of the retaliation), and who it benefits: $1 billion of the city budget comes from arrests. The NYPD 12 case is still unresolved at the end, but Pedro was released from Rikers (and in attendance at the festival). This and one of the secret screenings were both about fighting within the system to stand up for the oppressed, both maybe more “useful” than artistic, but important.

The most narratively straightforward film of the fest – it’s a process doc, showing a man at work, effort and result. It’s also the one movie we saw (until American Animals) that you could watch without guessing it’s a documentary, because the photography is so precise. We chose this one as a different view of Congo than the city-set Kinshasa Makambo, not expecting it to be one of the fest’s most beautiful films.

but this was the only scene I could find to screenshot:

Kabwita chops down an entire tree and burns it under a blanket of earth to create charcoal, which he loads into bags, which are strapped to a bicycle, which he walks thirty miles to the city. He stops at his wife’s sister’s place, drops off shoes for his daughter who lives there. Along the way he loses bags when his bike is knocked down by passing cars, and more bags to bandits. There’s no charcoal wholesaler once he arrives – he has to roam the streets to find a buyer. His goal is to make enough to buy medicine for his youngest child, plus sheet metal to make a roof for his new house, but the metal turns out to be far more expensive than he’d imagined. Before the long walk home to start the whole process again, he stops at a prayer tent, the only time he’s allowed some relaxation and release.

I thought Kabwita was a solitary mad genius with his charcoal-strapped bicycle until one amazing shot on the road when we see other men pass by with the exact same rig – it’s a local industry! The economics are different than here, but it’s still upsetting when Katy calculates each bag of charcoal netted him $1.50. Gras won the top prize at Cannes Critics Week, where this played alongside fellow T/F selection Gabriel and the Mountain, and Ava and Tehran Taboo, and one hopes that after his cinematic victory, he sent our man some sheet metal.

Tim Grierson in Paste:

Observation elevated to the level of poetry — but not at the expense of dramatizing Kabwita’s plight — Makala is a powerfully meditative film that’s also highly sensitive to the struggle of those in impoverished circumstances … Work is slow and grueling in the film, and Gras strips it down to its essence, encapsulating a lifetime of drudgery into Kabwita’s arduous journey to the market … With no interest in prettified poverty porn, Gras is drawn to the man’s stoic diligence, and soon so are we.