I swore I wouldn't stay at the Hilton again because it's so bloody far from all the action, but filmmaker and friend, Lucia Small, graciously allowed me to crash with her which was awfully generous, and after a couple of days those shuttles turn into moving filmmaker lounges and I always make new friends on it, so it wasn't too bad. The first day I rode in with filmmaker Yung Chang, director of the breathtaking Up the Yangzte, who had also just arrived. I met this talented sweetheart of a guy in Amsterdam at the IDFA last fall and spent many a night partying on his houseboat there so it was great to see him again. He could only stay a brief time before heading off to Doc Aviv in Israel--he's on the equivalent of the rock star world tour for his film which will have its New York theatrical debut at the IFC Center on the 25th of this month. His film was awarded two honorable mentions at the fest this year, one for The Charles E. Guggenheim Emerging Artist Award and one for the Spectrum Award.
Upon arriving at the Civic Center, I headed to the press desk to get checked in and met the always graceful-under-pressure press director, Samantha Coles, with whom I'd been corresponding for a while. I brought her the copies of the Cinema Eye Honors program guide she requested, got my tickets and hit the theaters.
Jesse Epstein has been making a series of shorts about body image and the third is called 34x25x36 (a still from the film pictured above; apparently an inch got added to the waist since the trailer upload on Facebook), an eight-minute field trip to the City of Industry in Los Angeles where we visit the Patina V mannequin factory where the "perfect" female body is created --over and over and over again. Epstein takes different approaches in this multi-part exploration. This verite-style piece, shot on different formats, consists of the fanciful philosophies of a mannequin designer, who pontificates on the comparison of these mass-produced "goddesses" and the worship of other holy figures. (I won't talk about the accompanying feature that screened directly after 34x25x36 because it was horrendous; the subject matter warranted a really interesting and evocative treatment. This was neither. I can't say anything nice, so I won't say anything at all--thanks, Mom.)
The rest of the evening was given over to opening night festivities in Fletcher Hall, the grand theater attached to the Civic Center. After welcoming remarks from Elizabeth Edwards and Ariel Dorfman's lovely tribute speech to Nancy Buirski (see last post), Peter Askin's Trumbo screened. I really liked this film. I found it very moving and well-crafted with beautiful readings from Christopher Trumbo's play about his father, Dalton (pictured left in a photo taken by his wife, Mitzi). Writers and poets are my heroes. But a filmic treatment of a literary figure can be problematic, for obvious reasons. One has to get mighty creative to lift brilliant prose or verse off the page and onto a movie screen and avoid any kind of cliched biopic. Like the play, the film is an homage to this electrifying personality. Fantastic archival footage, clips from the films he wrote (both credited and non), Super 8 home movies and staged monologues from some of today's most brilliant thespians like Donald Sutherland, Liam Neeson (it was weird to hear him without his entrancing Irish lilt), Joan Allen, David Strathairn and the crackling Nathan Lane, who delivers a tour de force performance with his reading of a letter Dalton wrote to his son on the subject of masturbation--all combine wonderfully well in breathing life into Trumbo's searing prose. It was hugely entertaining and inspiring.
The next morning, despite a severe lack of sleep (which would continue to elude me over the course of the whole fest--thus no writing during), I got myself to a 10:30 screening of Hugo Perez' Neither Memory Nor Magic. Why it screened in the cavernous Civic Center, I have no idea, but it was a bit disheartening for the filmmakers to see that the vast space was only taken up by a few stalwart audience members. I met the talented Perez at True/False last month and was really looking forward to seeing this film--again, I'm the audience. The film portrays, in memoriam, the life of Hungarian poet (and Holocaust victim), Miklos Radnoti, whose achingly beautiful verse transcends the tragedy of his short life. This is a gorgeous film, wonderfully edited by Francisco Bello (his Academy Award-nominated short, Salim Baba, was also playing at the fest) and artfully and lovingly crafted with deep reservoirs of both deep grief and soaring inspiration--words and images collide to create a collage of an artist's quiet life mixed with one of the most horrific events in recent history. And because this film is told in such a hauntingly quiet way, the devastation is all the more heartrending. The last shot of Radnoti's widow sitting silently in the apartment she and the love of her life shared before he was carted off to a labor camp in Serbia, staring at his portrait as we listen to some of his final words left me both bereft and, strangely, joyful. It is a story of transcendence and legacy and, most of all, love. There would only be one other film I saw this weekend that would move me so deeply--more on that in a bit.
I honestly can't remember what the hell I spent the early afternoon doing, but I made it back into the theater in the late afternoon for Trouble the Water, grand jury prize winner for documentary at Sundance and a much-anticipated film to see. I was not disappointed in the film. It was a good film and it had moments in it, like all the Katrina films I've seen thus far, that left me feeling sucker-punched anew at the callous and disgusting way the citizens of that city were treated. There was one scene, in particular, where they play a recording of a 911 call made by an elderly woman all alone in her house. She's calling for someone to come to her rescue. The call is played over footage, shot by Kimberly Rivers Roberts, of the rapidly rising water. When told, politely but bluntly, that there would be no help coming for her anytime soon, the woman says to the operator, "That means I'm going to die." And the woman on the other end of the line confirms that fact by simply saying, "Yes." I thought I was going to throw up. I wrote about my problems with this film a bit in my last post when I linked to AJ's compare-and-contrast post on this film and Axe in the Attic, but suffice to say, there are ethical issues that present themselves here in the making of this documentary that will garner further discussion down the road.
I caught the last part of the Center Frame screening of The Black List, directed by renowned portrait photographer, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders. I did enjoy it, but it got rather boring pretty quickly since it was a series of static interviews, one after the other, conducted by critic Elvis Mitchell with twenty prominent African-American citizens. Highlights, for me, were the interviews with comedian Chris Rock, statesman Vernon Jordan, writer Zane and the Reverend Al Sharpton. It was a very appreciative and enthusiastic audience, cheering, clapping and whooping when they heard something they liked.
I got sidelined on my way to that night's party by a triumvirate of female directors. Margaret Brown (The Order of Myths), Lisa Jackson (The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo; Lisa, eerily, also appears in Ed Pincus' Diaries, which was also playing at the festival) and Irena Salina (FLOW: For Love of Water) were all on the same delayed flight and had just landed for the first time in Durham. Margaret yelled out, "Are you Pamela?" (weird) and being that I was, indeed, her, I said, "yes." They were totally disoriented and hungry and tired so I accompanied them over to the filmmaker check-in and then took them to Piedmont, a local restaurant with mighty fine food; they also host the annual filmmaker/press breakfast. Of course, it was packed, but we saw friends getting quietly drunk at the bar, so visited and ate a little something before heading over to the party. By Friday night, most everyone was in town so it was fun saying "hey" to old and new friends and eating some of Giorgio's good chow while listening to the guys from the Squirrel Nut Zippers. A fine evening complete with pissing-down rain and thunder storms. Having gotten kicked out at exactly one past midnight into that nasty stuff, we retired to a local bar to drink some more until we were kicked out of there, too. When I arrived back at the Hilton, another filmmaker gathering was in full swing in the lobby, but I intrepidly headed towards my bed since it was closing in on 4:00 a.m.
I didn't sleep a wink.