After watching Boys State and Dope Is Death with Katy, I rounded out the trilogy of True/False catchup movies with one she didn’t want to see.

The concept is based on a Virginia Woolf quote about people looking at the same war images and perceiving them differently. The filmmaker shows a curated set of Israeli/Palestinian youtube scenes to students then narrows down to a single student with Israeli parents who sees unexpected things in the images, sometimes to the point of absurdity, and questions her about her perceptions. It appears to be raw footage shot on cellphones, but she thinks everything here is staged. “They have the kids cry in the background as an added effect,” as if it’s unrealistic that kids would cry on their own while soldiers tromp through their house. The kids’ mom is being “overdramatic” and the soldiers are even criticized for not searching the house well enough. When Israeli kids are just pelting a Palestinian home with rocks, “This doesn’t look good for Israel,” then she self-corrects, imagining an inciting event from before the camera was rolling, “Arabs throw rocks all the time.” In the second half, the director calls her back to watch the videos again alongside her own responses (so, the first half of this movie). “The viewer also has control… Film is only so real, you’re not there.” A good experiment, but I resent having to spend this much time with an overthinking college student.

Portrait of a NYC clinic that sticks pins in your ears to treat stress and addiction. Through interview and archive footage it delves into the history of how Black Panthers and other associated groups studied Chinese acupuncture and brought it back to help their community, then keeps returning from the archives to the present-day clinic and its patients. The founding leader was Mutulu Shakur (below) – I’m behind on the ol’ blog, no surprise, and now we’re watching the new Adam Curtis movie, following the story of Afeni Shakur, so really covering Tupac’s roots this year. The fatal armed car robbery that gets Mutulu imprisoned for life came out of nowhere in this story, and it’s not interested in explaining much about acupuncture itself, more of a history lesson and community portrait.

I can’t tell if the movie pulled a fast one on us when the kid on the poster loses the climactic governor race to a kid we’ve never even seen before by distracting us with the speeches and strategies of the competing campaign leaders. Pretty impressed that the lowest-common-denominator guy lost running on a platform of dick jokes and then confessed to having underestimated the group and turned himself around. Really professionally assembled doc, and for once I mean that in a good way. Ultimately wouldn’t vote for any of these gun-rights Texans for any office, but after avoiding politics-in-movies for the last year, this turned out to be more harmless than we’d feared.

At True/False we saw a couple movies by Everson: the one-take-whatever Partial Differential Equation, and the very great Hampton. So I’m checking to see what else is out there.


Workers Leaving the Job Site (2013)

Silent handheld shot of the titular workers leaving the titular job site. Five minutes in – an edit! But it just cuts to another minute of the same thing. My least favorite film of workers leaving a job site, after the Lumiere and the Kaurismaki – or maybe it’s a tie for last with the Farocki.


Three Quarters (2015)

Silent again, medium shots of two guys doing magic tricks with cards and string and quarters, a hundred times more fun than watching them leave the job site.


Ears, Nose and Throat (2016)

1. Grainy outdoor night photography with fireflies, punctuated by left/right hearing-test tones.

2. Doctor with unsynched sound explains to patient that she has misaligned vocal cords and that’s why her voice gets tired.

3. She’s in a sound booth, unsynched again, telling about an argument she witnessed leading neighbor Chris to kill his friend DeCarrio. We’re outside the booth and I’m wondering if the opening scene was where the shooting happened.

4. We’re in the sound booth with her, hearing the tones she’s hearing.

5. Back at doctor’s office, room tone.

Ohhhhhh wow, DeCarrio was the director’s son, and the sound-booth woman a witness to his murder. That is a hell of a thing to make a film about.


Music from the Edge of the Allegheny Plateau (2019)

Two music performances, living room gospel and pickup truck rap, merged at the end by messing with the sync. The film title plus shots of a woman looking at a hillside through binoculars gives a (geo-)anthropological feeling, like the music is in the land and you can find it if you look hard enough.


Black Bus Stop (2019)

College(?) kids having non-sync discusions with imprecise focus and framing, start talking about a black bus stop and the sound doubles up on itself, cut to night with performance-art stances and choreographed performances and songs, I think all of them school/greek-related… then back to the meta-cacophony about the bus stop. Shot at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, codirected with History Department chair Claudrena Harold.

I know we have to be precious about everything now, and make time in our redlining documentaries for a guy to play a flute solo, but it’s sometimes nice to choose a topic, do the research, and put out a well-edited interview/narrator doc about that topic and how it fit into the history and culture. It’s also nice to take a thing whose name is synonymous with failure and close your doc with women who say they loved the failed thing, and it was the best thing in their lives, and you believe them and it makes you love it too. The topic here was a complex of high-rise low-income housing in St. Louis, which would’ve been great if it’d stayed 1956 forever, but instead turned into a Colossal Youth ghost story mixed with a The Wire crime scene, before being demolished in 1972.

A rapper named Sloppy moved with his friends to rural Colorado to grow weed and live in a utopian community. We missed the True/False premiere of this, so caught its online 4/20 screening. Katy thought it did not engender empathy… I thought there wasn’t much of interest going on, and the guys aren’t actors so you can hear in their voices the moment true turns into false. Sloppy hasn’t posted a new song in a year, and I forget the other guys’ handles, but maybe that Crestone bologna life hasn’t been good for productivity.

Along with Talking About Trees, we’re catching up with movies we meant to watch at this year’s True/False. We had tickets to see this (plus two shorts) at 10:15pm on Saturday after four other screenings, but ran out of energy. It’s a mid-length movie combining three different kinds of things:

1. Modern news footage of police violence mixed with classic Black Panther film mixed with colorful HD shots of the director herself, posing and walking through the titular garden. This is sometimes set to music by Nelson Bandela (Random Acts of Flyness), and is overlaid with thin strips or entire areas of Mothlight flicker.

2. Concert film of Nina Simone in 1976, playing a rambling but wonderful song called “Feelings.” Incidentally, it seems like her entire persona was copped by Cat Power.

3. Street interviews, the director stopping women in Harlem to ask if they feel safe. The rest of the movie worked beautifully for me – I’d watch those sections all day long – but the interviews weren’t as enlightening. Of the True/False movies we’ve seen in the last 15 months that involve asking New Yorkers about their anxiety, I preferred Hottest August.

And since this was supposed to run at True/False with a couple of shorts, here’s something: a SXSW 2020 selection which moved onto vimeo instead. SXSW was the first fest to be canceled, and it happened while we were at True/False, the last fest to not be canceled. T/F got a last-minute premiere from SXSW on its final night, and I assumed everything else would move online and I’d hold a Quarantine Film Festival, but it turns out, after working hard for years to make your feature film and then getting accepted into fests, nobody wants to premiere on vimeo instead. Amazon’s doing a SXSW thing with only seven features, Mailchimp got all the shorts, and I watched this one then decided to focus on catching up with older films.

Blackheads (2020, Emily Ann Hoffman)

Stop-motion with 2D animation on top is pretty much my favorite thing… relationship-talk with zit closeups is about my least-favorite, so this short is gonna have to meet in the middle. Pretty fun example of displaying your influences – where Gaspar just stacked up his favorite books and movies for the opening scenes of Climax, Hoffman made miniature models of Persepolis and a Miranda July book for her character’s nightstand.

The five members of the Sudanese Film Group in Khartoum reenact scenes from classic movies, pretend to film each other, hold public screenings of Chaplin’s Modern Times – and almost Django Unchained, until the authorities find out.

A warm little movie, slow-paced but engrossing. Played this year’s True/False with director in attendance, but it didn’t fit into our schedule.

Opening musician was Ada Lea, a mumbly solo acoustic guitarist, who may have been missing some instruments or equipment in transit. Opening short was Distancing by Miko Revereza… talking with family about flying direct to Philippines on a one-way ticket, after the events of No Data Plan, which I tried to watch on the flight to Columbia, but it’s hard watching a slow film about transit, while in transit, while on dramamine. In prep for the move, Revereza makes a show of ripping his discs of Casablanca, Chungking Express, a Chantal Akerman, while film clips play on the soundtrack. When the picture glitches out and the A-G tendencies take over, the sound succumbs to the standard practice of taking ugly electric noise and letting it buzz and fuzz for way too long. After this, I was delighted to discover that our feature had the best sound design of anything we saw this week.

Our final screening so we stayed for the Q&A… Hopinka was not trying to manage equal representation and balance between all genders and types of people, but not not doing that either. He’s being opaque about his intentions on purpose, for instance telling us there’s more to the fable he quotes, but he cut it off on purpose, because this is as much of the story as should be told in regular circumstances. “People think that just because knowledge exists, they have the right to know it.” Fighting back against anthropological history with his storytelling methods, long takes as unprivileged participant, brightly saturated colors. I got exhausted with some shots/scenes, but unlike the rest of today’s movies, I felt like I could live inside it for a while, and never wanted to nap. Instead, the Ben Russell-ish handheld camera made me want to go shoot something while playing with the contrast setting… I thought of Katy and drawers, Jonas Mekas (mentioned a couple times this week, including in this film), Shorts Club, diary films, haiku video. Someone lend me a gimbal.