Braced myself for Time to be this year’s Quest or Primas, the deeply felt personal story of injustice and eventual healing, but it ended up feeling more like an advertisement for someone else’s cause, something they’ve believed in so strongly for so long that they think you’ll believe it too after a few simple words. Fox Rich’s husband gets out of jail after 20 years, and while our director was producing a short for the NY Times, she brought out boxes of videotapes from the entire prison sentence and beyond, and a feature was born. Black and white film to smooth out the time jumps, perfect piano and string score tying it all together, decades flashing by in single edits. Today, Fox is a speaker, writer, advocate for prison reform, broadcasting facebook live streams while running her own car dealership and raising a bunch of sons – a documentarian’s dream. Time goes by, forgiveness is found, but the legal system is impersonal and indifferent. Garrett couldn’t come, so she sent two producers for the Q&A, which we stayed for. Black Bear Combo opened, a good time. Hampton (Kevin Jerome Everson) was an unexpected pleasure, a few-minute short spotlighting the vocal talents of a student and/or bus driver, direct to camera.
Tag: true false
Jesa (Kyungwon Song)
Personal/family connection to a religious food ritual. Dad is into it, keeper of tradition, while mom is dismissive of its spiritual benefit, and daughter irreverently documents with a stop-motion food layout.
The Spirit Keepers of Makut’ay (Yen-Chao Lin)
More dreaminess about ritual, so this ties into the program well. But I was focused on the aging treatment of the film, and the registration holes visible on the side. If they’re supposed to be registered, why are they moving around so much?
Dadli (Shabier Kirchner)
Antigua. I know Khalik Allah is in town, wonder if he’s seen this.
Spit on the Broom (Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich)
History lesson from an odd angle, literally dancing their way into the story. All I know is I felt weird when watching this, then after the dance scene (reminding me of Charleston (the city, not the dance)), I felt especially weird, and turned to Katy (in front of the director sitting behind us) and said I’ve seen this before, and she said yeah, we watched the trailer. Anyway, would recommend.
Aurora (Everlane Moraes)
Gorgeous photography of three women from different generations. The middle one is a singer, whose song runs over images of the other two, as if a memory or a dreamed future. I was still a bit freaked out from Spit on the Broom, but this was cool and had a good ending.
Opener Yasmin Williams played something soft, and I think there was a saw, or was that a different musician?
Before actually watching them, I kept getting the two retirement community movies confused in my head, but Some Kind of Heaven only wishes it could reach the same level of emotion and drama as this one. The cutesy setup is an elderly man hired by a private investigator to check on a woman at a Chilean nursing home and see that she’s been well-treated, and this man’s attempts to become a spy and master his mobile technology. We get his lo-fi daily reports, but the doc film crew is there in the home, watching him and possibly undermining the secret mission. Sergio isn’t a perfect spy either, at one point taking a side mission to retrieve family photos for a resident, pulling them straight out of a folder with his employer’s name on it. This made me wonder if it’s all a ruse to get Sergio accustomed to stay at the nursing home, but no, he has a loving family and goes home at the end. Before he goes, he solves the case: there’s no mistreatment by the home, only by the family members who abandon their elders here then never visit. RIP the poet and the romantic. Opener Andreas Kapsalis was our second solo artist in a row, nice acoustic guitar for a morning screening. He’s a talented, thoughtful player, so I wish he was doing something cooler than covering Pink Floyd’s Money, which we’d already heard at the college bar the night before… unless it was meant as a T/F callback.
Straightforward doc, named after the rock club that caught fire during a show, killing 20-some people (including most of the band), leading to massive public protests and a change of government. After 30-some more concertgoers died horribly from bacteria due to lack of care in local hospitals – a real-life Death of Mr. Lazarescu – Nanau followed the story through a reporter for a sports magazine, who does his own investigation, enraged by the corruption he uncovers: the hospitals all used disinfectants that had been diluted unto uselessness. The incoming health minister says he’ll operate with transparency, and he does, to the point of allowing the crew to follow him around. So we follow him for most of the second half of the film, also checking in regularly with a survivor of the fire, whose hands were badly injured. She does fashion shoots, gets robotic hands, and stays frustratingly apolitical. The post-film Q&A was interesting – this was early March, and parallels to more immediate government-botched health crises were becoming apparent. Opener Eli Fola played solo sax , but apparently there was a luggage snafu, he arrived sans equipment, and sax isn’t even his primary instrument… very good improv.
Slick and professional, as it should be with its impressive opening production credits, with tight editing. Sets up like it’ll be an exposé of this perfect-seeming Florida retirement community, but I think they needed official community support to film there, and the subversive takedown never comes. Instead, we follow a Boston widow looking for a companion who hangs out with a parrothead called the Margarita Man… a van-dwelling parasite who ends up settling for whatever woman will let him stay with her… and a guy who gets into drugs then legal trouble to the consternation of his wife. Movie is in 4:3 with popping colors, the music too high in the mix where we sat. We thought the whole thing too surface-level, and I found The Mole Agent to be a welcome corrective. Appropriately, slicky professional band Loose Loose opened – Katy appreciated their cornet.
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (Giacconi & Pennuti & Fabbri)
Does different things with colored stage lights, including flashing fullscreen in a mesmeric flicker, story of a musician’s vision loss added at the end to explain the visual scheme.
Secret Screening Short 1
Passing strangely through space and process, works popping into empty spaces, contextual history at the end.
The Sea, The Stars, A Landscape (Alison O’Daniel)
L.A. smog, small groups around the hideous city. Mostly I was engaged by wondering how this short work ties into the filmmaker’s larger project about tuba theft.
Lost Three Make One Found (Atsushi Kuwayama)
Quirky guy drives through Portugal looking for a mythical fountain that can bring peace after a breakup. Funny movie, good translation humor in the subtitles. They interview a hitchhiker about his own life and outlook, then play the interview back for him the next day while filming his reaction – this turns out to have been a genius idea, one of the best scenes of the fest.
Long, and feels long. Few living birds, glimpsed in the distance, two dead ones, some feathers, sounds of owls and peacocks. Life and death of parents and grandparents, becoming trees and birds. Imagery of water, using mirrors and photos, watching a photo develop, brings to mind Strong Island until I realized Oliveira must be an influence. Reversing (adding leaves to the trees), time-lapse (flowers opening). Dad reads the movie’s script and quibbles with the details. They burn their grandparents’ letters, she says they’re the private words of a couple who happens to be their grandparents, but we are free to imagine their words – and so we do. She asserts her right to imagine her own family stories, connects to historical artworks, seeing her family in an unrelated painting. Katy compares to Beaches of Agnes – ways to structure memory, using frames + mirrors, life as theater or frames artworks.
My favorite movie of the fest. Tortoise-lite trio Square Peg Round Hole opened, we both liked. The Butch Jones at Cafe Berlin combines their apples + sausage with pancake/egg/bacon, and is the best conceivable breakfast. Overall a good morning in Columbia.
A constructed doc of real-ish people in a fake bar on its closing night. This movie should have been a dream – arriving in town tipsy and dramamine-woozy, sitting up front at the Missouri Theater for a packed screening of a boozy bar movie, but I probably saw 60% and dozed through the rest. Nobody gets a bloody nose, no pockets are empty, nobody even pays. I’m wary of archness from the very start, the opening titles in a 1980’s TV-sitcom font. We talk about finding truth and empathy in these things, but is it a documentary, or a goof on documentaries, or a fascinating hybrid? Katy is suspicious of the constructed nature of the thing… taking addicts and unfortunates and laughing at them… putting real people in artificial situations, the definition of reality TV (The Real World: Las Vegas Bar). Clunky-sounding indie rockers Cowgirl Jordy opened.
Part three of our True/False Makeup Weekend. A counselor works with imprisoned refugees, while outside, millions of small crabs are freely migrating across the island. It’s a metaphor, you see – an irresistible one, with the bright crabs giving the film more visual texture, something entrancingly alien to cut to between close-shot stories of human suffering.
The movie opens with an escape, a man scaling a fence then hurtling through the woods, a staged version of something we hear about which may not have even happened, since we learn that the authorities are being misleading on purpose. The counselor’s view is that she can’t be helpful from just a single conversation, and there’s no guarantee if or when she’ll get to visit with her patients again. The final scene shows her packing up to leave the island with her family, the whole endeavor possibly a failure.
In an essential article, The Guardian says the filmmaker and counselor Poh Lin Lee are friends, that the film was made from multiple visits over four years, and that interviews conducted on the island were filmed in secret from the government.
Poh Lin uses a tableau of sand and small toy figures to help one woman process her trauma, poetically describing the grains of sand as mountains that have been reduced to their finest form, but mostly she just listens, and listens, and listens. She’s a willing sponge for their guilt, at one point moving over to sit next to and comfort the Syrian man who weeps as he remembers the various separations that have plagued his young life. It comes as no surprise to subsequently learn that Poh Lin is also in therapy.