Two of my favorite films from True/False played Saturday morning at Full Frame, and I would have gladly sat through both of them again. You can read my thoughts on The Mosquito Problem and Other Stories and Life. Support. Music. here. Instead, I joined a small audience to listen to filmmaker, Ian Olds, present the three recipients of the second Garrett Scott grant program. The program featured 10-minute excerpts from the 2008 Garrett Scott Documentary Development Grant projects and gave the three young filmmakers a chance to talk about their work, what they have accomplished, thus far, and what they still needed to process and complete their films.
A couple of years ago, Garrett Scott died suddenly at the age of 37. Without any formal filmmaking training, he directed Cul de Sac: A Suburban War Story and also made Occupation: Dreamland with Ian Olds. Shortly upon his passing, his family, friends and colleagues created this grant that recognizes first-time filmmakers. Recipients are selected based on their works-in-progress and get treated to free travel and accommodations at the Full Frame Fest.
First up was Nathan Fisher with his project called The Party After the War. In the largest exodus in sixty years, about five million Iraqis have had to flee their homes since the US invasion in 2003. In an intimate and engaging style, the film tells the story of several refugees from different ethnic, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds, now living in Syria and Jordan. This is an extremely promising and important piece, mostly because it focuses on Iraqi civilians affected by the war in Iraq and their stories of how they had to leave behind everything they've worked for their whole lives--homes, careers, businesses, possessions--all told to a young American man not fighting that war. (Fisher traveled there with just one other friend who acted as interpreter and translator). He said that he wanted to go and see what was happening to the millions upon millions of Iraqi citizens that were displaced and I think the fact that a young American man took it upon himself to buy a plane ticket and just go and see for himself with camera in tow is remarkable. He's done all the shooting, for the most part, and is ready to go into edit and is need of a translator here in New York who speaks fluent Arabic to help him with subtitling. I recommended someone based in Brooklyn that works for another filmmaker friend and I hope she can help.
Next up was Mai Iskander's Garbage Dreams. I met Mai in Utah at the Sundance Producers Conference last summer and was intrigued by this project and very anxious to see some footage. (She makes her living as a DP.) Beautifully shot, again, in intimate verite style, Iskander (who is part Egyptian) tells the story of the Zaballeen or "garbage people," a group of waste collectors in Egypt who earn their living recycling ninety percent of the trash they collect in the streets of Cairo. The film follows some members of this community, now in crisis of losing their livelihood due to multinational corporations, hired by the Egyptian government, moving in and taking over the garbage collection. She's headed back a couple more times to do some additional pick-ups and is also heading into an edit. She's seeking a good composer with which to work and I suggested she talk to Force Theory. It turns out they already knew about the project from seeing a work-in-progress cut from the IFP Market last year and were anxious to talk to her.
Lastly, there was War Don Don (The War is Over) by Rebecca Cohen. The film follows Issa Sesay, a Revolutionary United Front rebel commander in Sierra Leone as he stands trial for crimes against humanity. The film interweaves the story of his rise to power with a many-sided account of a man some condemn as a war criminal, and others praise for persuading the RUF to disarm. They credit him with restoring peace in the nation. However, he was the leader who was responsible for wholesale slaughter of many, many Sierra Leonian civilians. Really interesting project and a very complex story. Cohen was interning in the country at the time doing work for the trial (she's a law school graduate, but not a practicing lawyer) and decided to follow this story. Her 10-minute piece was expertly edited by Francisco Bello.
Next up was the Center Frame screening of Ellen Spiro's and Phil Donahue's Body of War which chronicles a year in the life of soldier, Tomas Young, after he returns home from just five days in Iraq, paralyzed by a bullet to his spine. Wheelchair-bound and rife with medical problems and in much pain, he transforms himself into an anti-war activist speaking out for peace and an end to the insanity in Iraq, with his wife and mother by his side. Spiro and Donahue (brought together by a mutual friend), followed Young over the course of a year, gaining extremely intimate access to him and his family. The story is beautifully crafted and one acquires an emotional attachment to Young very quickly--he's irreverent, angry, emotional, proud and determined, and armed with a wicked sense of humor, besides.
The only really disturbing thing about this piece was the "roll call" of the Senate and the House, interspersed with Young's story. Not only annoyingly disruptive, it was so vastly incongruous in style and sensibility to Spiro's intimate footage, it was quite jarring when that list of names kept appearing (the majority being "aye's" to give President Bush sole discretion and oversight to make the decision to go to war and invade Iraq, a responsibility and a duty that belongs to the Congress, not the executive office as set out by the architects of the US Constitution). It is true that our lawmaking bodies perpetrated a fraud on the citizens of this country by handing over the reins to a war-mongering, lying chief executive, but there could have been a bit more finesse in the way in which this was portrayed. The final scene, however, when the two streams come together, shows a meeting between Young and Senator Robert Byrd, the democratic party leader from West Virginia, the longest-serving senator in US history, his first term begun in 1958. It's very powerful and packs an emotional wallop as the two fighters, one a young damaged war veteran still in his twenties, the other an octogenarian life-long public servant, come together in their common cause and, in unison, read out the names of the "immortal 23" who stood against the war and then, move slowly down a long hallway together away from the camera, Byrd supported by his crutches and Tomas' wheelchair.
Spiro and Donahue did a raucous and impassioned Q&A after the screening, Donahue quite insistent that all of the mainstream media who supported the invasion and all the pundits and "experts" who continue to war-monger and prey on the fears of the American people while our youth, our future, are sacrificing their lives in the name of this massive policy blunder, have much blood on their hands. Body of War opens in New York tomorrow. Go see it.
A quick bite with Yance Ford outside and an impassioned debate about Trouble the Water and Body of War. (I love talking to Yance; she makes me think.) Then I dashed off to see Nanette Burstein's American Teen. Hmm. I kind of hated it and I kind of loved it--how's that for a review?
But I will have to continue the rest of my Full Frame coverage on yet another post because I'm dashing off to Stranger Than Fiction to see Ondi Timoner's Join Us and meet the filmmaker to set up an interview with her tomorrow. My talk with her will be coming up on SIM soon. I'm also very excited to report that I will have an in-depth interview with filmmaker, Laura Poitras, also coming up soon. Be a blogger--meet your heroes.