One film down

I’m off to a slow but good start at this year’s festival – I saw the Documentary Spotlight this evening at the Broadway. Sadly, however, I had to miss not only the Q&A but also Robot and Frank later in the evening (oh, the craziness of college.) At least I can see the latter next Sunday!

So, what did I think about the shorts in the Documentary Spotlight program? Some were humorous, some uncomfortable, but with a few hours of reflection, I find myself with a very favorable impression. I’ll touch on each of the films but jump all over the place (i.e. not the order in which they were presented). I’ve got a lot to say tonight – first movie of the year, and all that, I suppose.

Favorite: Into the Middle of Nowhere directed by Anna Frances Ewert: Seriously, so cute. Ewert records a group of young children (3-5 year olds?) going into to woods to play and man, did I want to join them! The strength of personality displayed at such a young age coupled with the perseverance and imagination of youth was enchanting. The action focused on the building and flying of an imaginary plane to imaginary places such as “Smoke Bloke Land,” which isn’t for girls, apparently. Another highlight was an interview with a child who took care of the wildlife: “the giraffes like to eat leaves. The lions… … …they like to prowl about, so I give them prowling lessons.” Or something to that effect. You could just see  him thinking, “and the lions like to eat…small children.” I’m curious about the extent of interaction that the cameramen and director and etc. had with the children. I would watch this again just for the laughs.

Most uncomfortable: Family Nightmare directed by Dustin Guy Defa: This was a compilation of old family footage displaying the distorted holiday celebrations of a dysfunctional family. Clips are pasted together and the audio manipulated or re-recorded or something to create a very jarring portrait. At the end of the film, a dedication of sorts is made from the director to his family, the subject of the film, and you wonder which character the director was (or is.) The baby wielding a knife? The pre-teen sneaking in to watch porn with his uncles? Yeah. Wow. Although not a particularly enjoyably experience, the director effectively transported the audience into the heart of his family.

The compelling character: Aquadettes directed by Drea Cooper and Zackary Canepari: Aquadettes is about a woman with MS who uses synchronized swimming as an escape from her disease and eventually turns to marijuana to control the symptoms. At times I thought it was a bit earnest, and the closing statement was along the lines of, “what is life if you can no longer do the things you love?” However, the protagonist’s description of herself very much resonated with me: “Control is a very important part of my life… I’m Margo ‘Control’ Bouer.” [ETA: you can watch this short here.]

Powerful imagery: The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom directed by Lucy Walker: Personally, I found this to be the most powerful film of the evening simply because I had not seen film footage of the recent tsunami in Japan and I was blown away. The amount of destruction was unfathomable. The photos in the Times simply could not capture the extent of the damage. The longest film of the evening, it got me thinking about how a director decides when the story arc is complete and the film is finished. Personally, I thought it could have been more concise, but I nevertheless appreciated the interviews about the tsunami and Japanese culture.

The other two: Unfortunately, while discussing the program afterwards with a friend, there were two films we were having difficulty recollecting, Stick Climbing directed by Daniel Zimmerman and Odysseus’ Gambit directed by Alex Lora Cercos. They were perfectly good films, but for some reason they didn’t stick with me. Although the former had some lovely scenery, I have one major problem with this type of filming – when I’m hiking and looking about, things don’t blur in front of my eyes and I don’t become disoriented. Either the technology doesn’t exist to really make me see from the eyes of the climber or the director purposely was aiming for this effect, but either way, it doesn’t work for me. I was surprised to see the length of the cast list and it made me appreciate how meticulously arrangement of this film. I didn’t love the editing of the latter, but I enjoyed meeting a character I will likely never have the opportunity to meet in real life. An orphan flight-lifted out of Cambodia to America, Saravuth Inn is now a homeless chess player in New York City. His life philosophy, perspective on America and Americans, and etc. were intriguing.

So that’s it! One day, one film, but much, much more ahead of me.