Back-story catchup (it’s clear what point in time the film crew joined the story) then we follow a court case against a NYC family bank in the aftermath of the financial crisis, from the POV of the defenders. They’re not accused of subprime lending, but selling loans with improper paperwork and taking kickbacks from customers, and the state decided to make a (probably racist) example of them, trying/failing to prove the corruption went higher than some bad-egg loan officers. Good story, decent doc – oscar-nominated alongside Strong Island and Faces Places. Chicago critics gave it their best doc award, so James rewarded them by making his next doc there: the heartwarming success story of, uh-oh, Lori Lightfoot.

Catching up on True/False films past with Katy. From an audition at an Uruguay theater, the filmmakers smartly choose a talkative man reminiscent of F. Murray Abraham. Full of himself (“I know I have certain theatrical talents”) with a wife who describes herself as “more withdrawn” and an extensive home movie record of their early relationship, the movie interviews Aldo and Gabriella with occasional cuts back to the theater, the other interviewees giving their perspectives on the topics of the moment. Gabriella played the submissive wife for 40+ years, then grew into the kind of person who doesn’t like being around Aldo, and divorced him.

Well-structured movie with a worthwhile central couple, but somehow light and unmemorable. It figures that the screenshot I grabbed and the official movie photo used in reviews is from the same scene – it’s the rare time the two of them are seen together, and it’s a nicer image than the airport scene.

Catching up with a True/False film we missed at the fest, with special guest Katy’s Mom. After a traumatic incident, local man Richard invents bulletproof vest, promotes it endlessly by shooting himself and by publishing a newsletter counting the lives he’s saved. He’s not so interested in discussing lies he’s told or lives he’s endangered with a later revision to the vest that simply didn’t work as well, and confronted with Richard’s uncomplicated hero-story version of the truth, Bahrani interviews a “saved” cop who turned on his friend, wearing a wire to prove the company knew they were selling a deadly product. Most upsetting scene is when Richard gets his combat-addled dad to shoot him, most upsetting omission from the film is that Richard also invented explosive bullets to defeat his own vests. Instead of simply nailing Richard, who offered free guns to cops who’d kill the guys who shot them, Bahrani follows a redemption story of the fallen-out friend and his reformed attacker.

Oops, we picked a bum closing film… should’ve caught Hummingbirds on Thursday, and gone home after Mariachi on Sunday. Living Hour was good at least – a chill 5-piece from Winnipeg. Norwegian-Pakistani-Danish filmmaker visits her dad’s family in Pakistan over 15 years, watching her cousins grow up and start their own families and/or die young from cancer. Weak attempt to universalize the story via poetic narration about othering and inbetweenness, really it’s just home movies.

Hopland has previously made her own variation on The Road Movie with On the Edge of Freedom, a portrait of Russian stunt jumpers that’s been described as “a one hour compilation of a bunch of YouTube videos.” The producer worked on a Mads Brügger movie I haven’t seen, and the editor also did Venus.

From the Blue Note balcony, feat. Landlady again. Hand-processed(?) 16mm shot in Coachella Valley, CA. Date palms, fault lines, Salton Sea. Local culture in form of a Scheherazade parade. Interviews with a shopkeeper and the current and former owners of date farms. A sloth, a parrot. A real inventory of things – the look of the film and its location holding all the things together, but just barely.

Landlady aka Abstract White opened with a nice improv set, as we sat down in front at the Blue Note. Solid film, made by professionals, unlike certain other things we’ve seen this week. Fiction about a pregnant teen runaway hoping to become a movie star. Lead actress Camila wants to meet actual pregnant teens and have discussions to understand her character. In the second half of the movie the actually-pregnant kids take over and start playing the roles. Dominican Republic, all lower-class girls whose moms also got pregnant young and were hoping to break the cycle, but it’s established that all the local males are shits. Victoria’s second feature after It Runs in the Family, which she brought back to the fest this year along with a key influence, Makhmalbaf’s A Moment of Innocence.

The Onions opened, incongruously to the film, three goofy white guys playing bright pop songs. Movie starts with a way-zoomed-in cellphone video of a woman disrobing before a Mandela statue. Director’s family is from South Africa, grandma disparages Mandela for ending apartheid. Then we get educational segments on history of the black-only Transkei district, featuring excessively unedited news archives interviewing relentlessly optimistic Black kids and their parents on the eve of integration. Movie goes off the rails with two (not just one!) extended conversations between the filmmaker and her white friends about privilege and prejudice revealed by some minor personal interactions, the visual in these sections just subtitles over an annoyingly dark-grey screen with a couple lines visible on the edges.

Bjork-voiced loop-harpist Moriah Bailey opened, then after the film we saw her again at a free concert in a church. Good crowd response to this one, beginning before the film started when the one-minute fest trailer had no sound so we provided the footstep foley by stomping at our seats. Fun to see the director in person who we’d just watched onscreen too – Ramona might’ve been our True/Falsiest film this year, but this was our True/Falsiest theatrical experience. The three women are Post Office Worker, Poop Scientist, and Lonely Widow Hannah. Maksym and his cameraman “The German” start out in observational mode, then befriend Hannah and the movie becomes about their little community. She cooks for them, they buy her a pig. We also follow the scientist counting cave bats and witness her great triumph in finding bear shit in a field.

Drona opened, singing their earnest young sibling pop in unison. Burak finds a hole in a frozen lake where someone has been net fishing. A person seen only torso-down pulls up the net partway, drops it. Next guy pulls up the net partway, drops it, and so on. Is this a form of forgetting? Many other such forms appear… elephants, who never forget… buildings being constructed and demolished… buried bodies in a shipyard which was once a prison. The most extreme form is when a dead person’s brain is removed during autopsy, as seen via Brakhage film playing on a laptop. The centerpiece scene, a multi-layered couple conversing about their (fictionalized) relationship, each one sharing a dream they’d had, was inspired by a love of DVD commentaries.

Burak is probably the biggest name director we saw at T/F, with his Blake Williams / Bohdanowicz crossover movie currently in Cinema Scope and his Belonging making a splash a few years ago – or maybe he’s a tie with Stratman.

Tension Envelopes (2023, Robert Greene)
A new depopulated Greene short played before the feature – thoughts from within an envelope factory appear as titles over shots of city landscapes. A playful little experiment with some horrors-of-capitalism thrown in.