Five years ago, on the eve of the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival’s first screening at the Roxy Theatre, founder Doug Hawes-Davis told himself there was no way he would ever do something like this again. Too much work, not enough budget, limited staff and a festival built basically from faith and a website calling for submissions had taken its toll.
“I just remembering standing in the Roxy lobby the next morning at 10 a.m. figuring, you know what, if nobody shows I don’t care,” says Hawes-Davis. “Worst case, we’ll just show some really cool movies all day. I was over worrying about it. Then seven people showed up for that first screening. We were all high-fiving each other, just ecstatic. We thought that was just incredible.”
As that first day wore on, the crowds increased. By the 4 p.m. screenings, the Roxy was full and by the evening, Hawes-Davis and his staff were having to turn away more moviegoers than they seated in the theater.
“There was a 24-hour period there were I went from saying I’d never do anything like it again to already planning the next year,” says Hawes-Davis. “It’s just grown from there.”
And how. There are numerous ways to measure the growth of the festival from its bootstrap beginnings. For one, it’s gone from selling out the Roxy to selling out the Wilma Theatre, Missoula’s largest movie theater and Big Sky’s home since year two. Major sponsorship from the likes of HBO and Bresnan Communications, and attendance by notable documentary filmmakers such as Steve James (Hoop Dreams) and Les Blank have helped elevate the festival’s national exposure. Case in point, the first year featured 75 films and attracted 14 filmmakers to Missoula. This year, Festival Director Damon Ristau expects more than 75 filmmakers to travel to Missoula in support of 106 films from 40 countries.
“And we continue to see that number grow,” says Ristau, who worked as an intern during the inaugural event. “It’s amazing the interest we get from people every year who want to be a part of it.”
The festival’s steady rise makes for a week of plentiful programming, and if there’s a downside, it’s figuring out how exactly to wrap one’s eyeballs around so much cinema. That’s where we come in. In an attempt to cover as many bases as possible, our cinephiles have sifted through the festival program, worn down their DVD remotes and eaten enough buttered popcorn to clog every possible artery, all in an effort to cull the most compelling stories from this year’s festival. We admit to some bias—we focused on a handful of outstanding local films, a few of the bigger-name filmmakers and topics that spoke to our personal passions—but still branched out to include hand-picked sleepers from every genre and compile themed schedules. Nonetheless, we’re not sure we covered everything. But that’s the fun part; we’ll spend the next week attending more films, debating other folks’ favorites and second-guessing the judge’s selections. So consider this a primer, and maybe we’ll see you in the popcorn line.
The Little Film That Could
Nervous kids are cute. They tend to do things like mumble, fidget, giggle, whimper, scream and, apropos of nothing, spaz out as if on the mother of all sugar highs. Watching such pure displays of unbridled energy—and the brave souls who successfully channel it into a staged theatrical production—is the charm of The Little Red Truck, the well-publicized locally produced film about the feel-good outreach work of our own Missoula Children’s Theatre.
The story is perfect documentary fodder, like Spellbound meets Waiting for Guffman. In a nutshell, MCT sends out a fleet of red trucks to 1,100 communities nationwide every year. When the trucks pull into a small town—say, an Inuit hamlet in northern Canada, or Americus, Ga.—two staffers are faced with the challenge of conducting auditions, choosing a cast as large as 60, introducing the play, ensuring everyone memorizes their lines and blocking, constructing a set, doling out costumes, applying makeup, and directing and/or performing in the final show, all while problem solving all of the inevitable backstage headaches along the way. And here’s the kicker: They have just six days to pull it off, soup to nuts.
With great challenges come great successes, and The Little Red Truck spends plenty of time exposing the virtues of MCT’s efforts. There’s a kid in Arizona who says acting with MCT saved him from gang life. A teacher in Rankin Inlet, Canada, tells the story of a student who couldn’t read until something clicked with the arrival of the red trucks. For that reason alone, she says, the school will always facilitate MCT’s return. Then there’s the young girl in Rankin Inlet who’s legally blind but cast in a major role. The film shows her eventually helping nervous classmates with forgotten lines. Strong stuff, for sure, made even stronger by Rob Whitehair’s beautiful cinematography and wistful soundtrack.
But for all of The Little Red Truck’s charm and Missoula-bred good will, there are a few missteps that standout against stronger films in the festival. Despite clocking in at a long 102 minutes, key segments of the story seem to be missing. There’s the promise, for example, of bated breath and broken hearts when it’s learned that sheer logistics make it impossible to cast everyone who auditions. The staff frets about this awkward part of the process at great length, but the drama of breaking the news, either good or bad, never shows up on screen. There’s also a curious lack of character development among the children; some anecdotes stand out, but the camera doesn’t follow any specific success stories in detail from start to finish. And, finally, the idea for this film originated from MCT’s development director and was produced in part by MCT. Given the extended testimonials and overall congratulatory tone, there’s a hint of infomercial to the proceedings. Even the tension that surely exists in each show—troublesome kids, meddling parents or, even worse, absent ones—are relayed in once-was anecdotes as opposed to captured on film. It was billed as a “warts and all” telling of the tour, but this complexion is Noxzema clear.
The unbalanced tone may not sit right with documentary purists, but in this case to hell with ’em. Most of the hometown audience won’t notice or care, as they shouldn’t. Bottom line, the film and MCT’s work to promote and preserve the arts deserves to be more celebrated than nitpicked. There’s an important mission behind each of those little red trucks, and often a great story in each stop. And for Missoulians watching this on the big screen, there are also a lot of reasons to feel immense pride in the fact that every aspect started right here.
Five Fantastic Local Films (beyond The Little Red Truck)
by Skylar Browning
While The Little Red Truck dominates advance hype and will no doubt draw a huge Saturday matinee audience, we discovered five other local films that deserve just as much attention, if not more. Some have somewhat looser connections to home, but we’d like to call them ours anyway.
Nothing but Net
By Justin Lubke and Shasta Grenier
88 minutes, 2008
Showing: Sunday, Feb. 17, 5 PM
When it comes to needing a testimonial for the virtues of big-time women’s hoops in small-town Montana, it’s hard to do better than the sage words of Phil Jackson, the so-called Zen Master coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and a Deer Lodge native.
“I always say that basketball is a good game and a wonderful thing for a community because it’s a warm place where everybody could go,” he says early on in Class C, “and it wasn’t a church or a bar.”
Jackson appears throughout the film, telling touching stories of his mom’s high school basketball legacy and how her passion prompted him to pursue the sport. But as cool as it is to have a nine-time NBA champion be such an intimate part of this film, the real lasting impression comes from some of the most articulate and grounded high school athletes you could ever find. Class C, undoubtedly one of the best films from this year’s festival, local or not, has scores of these eloquent women offering up profound perspective on the bleak future of their dying hometowns, the potential end to generations of history, and how deep-rooted pride in basketball suspends all of that for at least four quarters every few nights during the season.
“I think one of the things that stood out while traveling on the road filming these teams was the presence of each of the girls,” says co-director Shasta Grenier, a graduate of the University of Montana. “These are high school girls who were able to really articulate and think in a very reflective way about the situations their communities were in, and girls who were actively making choices about the future of their communities.”
Lindsey Tande, for instance, is a senior forward for the Scobey Spartans, a school in the upper northeast section of the state and 224 miles from the nearest mall. Tande breaks into tears at the thought of her town rapidly shrinking and the hard reality of her father’s thwarted desire to pass on the family grocery, a business that’s lasted three generations. “He wishes it so much for us to marry a grocer,” she says, cracking just a hint of a smile through tears.
The four other teams profiled in the film add different views of the same small-town struggle. There’s a team merged from both Reed Point and Rapelje, which are more than 40 miles apart, forcing players to drive two and half hours to daily practice. The Chester Coyotes are playing their last season before being consolidated because the school district is so small. Twin Bridges boasts a population of 409; one player spray paints a key and a three-point line behind her family’s barn for practice. The Rocky Boy Stars continue a long history of championship-caliber teams from Montana’s reservations and take a certain pride in playing “Rez Ball.”
And the hoops are just as compelling as the stories. Four of the five teams make the state’s spirited eight-team tournament, including two in the final, propelling the film to a nail-biting end.
“These are places most people don’t even know exist and would never imagine much of anything happening there, yet hopefully the film shows these are incredible places and important parts of Montana,” says co-director Justin Lubke, a Montana State graduate and former Class C men’s basketball player from Ennis. “After finishing the film we’ve often thought about what would happen if these small towns disappeared. Not only Montana, but this country is founded on small enterprise and small business and small-town pride. When that pride disappears, I wonder: Where does that leave us?”
Getting Eve Off
by Team TED
6 minutes, 2007
Showing: Saturday, Feb. 16, 4:45 PM
To win at the International Documentary Challenge, Missoulians Travis Morss, Eli Hunt, Dave Medina and Patrick Gill had to write, shoot and edit a short non-fiction film in just five days. The quartet did just that last year, taking top honors in the character study division with an up-close look at the unorthodox religious practices of a Missoula prostitute.
Inspired by the Indy’s award-winning 2006 profile of J.C. Nouveaux, Getting Eve Off is built around a simple, revealing interview with its subject. The title refers to Nouveaux’s attempt to right the historical wrongs against Eve with her “Maternal Order of St. Eve” church. Part of her “church” includes a “pay for play” belief system that reasons every time a john pays her for sex it balances out a history of gender inequality.
“When men pay me for sex,” she says, seated alone and noticeably drinking a Bud Light longneck, “that’s monetary proof that the goddess lives.”
Getting Eve Off ends prematurely because of the competition’s compressed schedule, but still manages to provide a thoughtful and fair platform for a complex woman.
Preaching to the Choir
An Audience of One
by Michael Jacobs
88 minutes, 2007
Showing: Saturday, Feb. 16, 6:30 PM
There’s really no way around this one: Richard Gazowsky, pastor of San Francisco’s Voice of Pentecost Church, is nine kinds of wacko. Like, seriously unhinged. There’s probably a more nuanced way of saying that he’s so un-freaking-believable that I actually doubted the authenticity of this film, but the more I think of exactly how boldly misguided he acts in An Audience of One, the less I care to couch him as anything but the minister of Crazy Town.
At the start, Gazowsky’s introduced as the fiery, convincing leader of a church he inherited from his mother. His sermons bring the congregation to tears, the collection plates are usually full and his leadership goes unquestioned. So when Gazowsky hears the voice of God tell him he must make an epic sci-fi religious film—as in, “Star Wars meets The Ten Commandments”—it becomes both his and his people’s mission to carry out the order. After all, they have no choice.
Gazowsky immediately founds WYSIWYG Filmworks, amasses an enormous cast and crew (of mostly family and parishioners), cultivates his script (title: Gravity: The Shadow of Joseph), chooses to film primarily on location in Italy, procures state of the art equipment and, since this is supposed to be God’s vision, decides to shoot on 65 mm film, which is essentially IMAX quality. Never mind that Gazowsky has no idea what he’s doing, or that he’s relying on the miracle of Jesus-loving German investors to pony up the necessary $100 million, he claims he has no choice but to see this project through to its end.
Director Michael Jacobs is there for every predictable—and many not so predictable—fumble, stumble and bumble. An Audience of One has the same feel of a horror movie in that you know bad things are going to happen, but you still wait around to see just how bad they get.
Somehow it’s not all depressing. I spent the majority of the movie jaw agape, mostly laughing at what was transpiring. There are some casualties of Gazowsky’s antics—the hired professionals abandon ship relatively quickly—but the biggest damage seems to be levied on Gazowsky himself. And yet the affable optimist presses on in his quest.
How does An Audience of One connect to Missoula? The sound is done by Sarah Woods, who five years ago was most responsible for pressing Hawes-Davis to start the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. The former Big Sky intern is now pursuing her film career in the Bay Area and can be credited with working on one of this festival’s most bizarre and engaging films.
Shades of Gray
82 minutes, 2007
Showing: Friday, Feb. 15, 9:45 PM
You have to love David Lynch and the omnipresent weirdness surrounding Missoula’s most famous filmmaking son. Take, for instance, this documentary, billed as “an intimate portrait of Lynch’s creative process,” and culled from two years and more than 700 hours of footage shot during the making of Inland Empire. The director/editor of the project is listed as simply “blackANDwhite,” allegedly a real dude. But since most of the film’s footage is of Lynch in his residence, talking directly to the camera or to off-screen assistants, many believe Lynch himself made the film.
Maybe, maybe not.
On the maybe side, there’s the fact that this documentary is content to let its subject just sort of wash over viewers. We see Lynch working on some of his many painting and sculpture side projects. We watch how he directs and gives notes to Laura Dern (he calls her “Tidbit,” which is cute). We witness his frustration when a crewmember flakes out and misses a shoot. We hear him request on the set, as if going through a grocery list, his desire for “a one-legged 16-year-old girl, a Eurasian and a pet monkey.” And, in the most revealing sections, we do a double take when he admits he has no idea what he’s doing with Inland Empire. There’s good stuff in there, but Lynch is never pressed to explain himself or elaborate. He is who he is in safe snippets, comfortably kept, as always, at arm’s length.
On the maybe not side of the who-directed-whom argument, Lynch’s production company, Absurda, did offer up blackANDwhite for interview. We jumped at the opportunity, mostly out of curiosity. So, via e-mail (the unnamed one is, according to Absurda, intensely “anxiety-ridden and shy”) we kicked around what one gleans from essentially living with Lynch for a couple years and making a film about it.
“David’s creativity was the main inspiration for the making of this film,” wrote blackANDwhite. “He is creating from the moment he awakes until the moment he sleeps at night.”
The director went on to explain that Lynch “pretty much let me film whatever I wanted to, knowing that if I captured something which the public should not see I would not let it see the light of day,” and that “David had approval over what I made, but he never made me take anything out.”
As for his secret identity, blackANDwhite would only write that he’s known Lynch “for almost 10 years,” that this was his first film, that he’s particularly interested in photography and electronic music, and he thinks it’s “fascinating” that people believe he’s Lynch.
“Maybe I will tell you one day in the future,” he wrote about why he goes by blackANDwhite, “but for now let’s just say there’s a long story behind it.”
And then he signed the e-mail “mandraKe,” which, according to a quick Google search is either a plant used in Neopagan rituals, a play by Machiavelli, a character in Dr. Strangelove or a monster from the Final Fantasy game.
Much like his film’s subject, blackANDwhite isn’t terribly revealing, but it’s at least mildly amusing to try to figure him out.
Love Story Exposed
by Ian McClusky
57 minutes, 2007
Showing: Tuesday, Feb. 19, 1 PM
Forget 1934. Listening to Charis Wilson in Eloquent Nude, at age 92, it’s hard not to fall in love with her frank, refreshing take on life and art, just as Edward Weston must have done when the two met decades ago. They were introduced just as Weston was emerging as one of the West’s preeminent photographers. He was 48. She was 19. America was stuck in the Great Depression. None of it mattered in their world, as she unabashedly disrobed and he photographed her, redefining his art form in the process. They married and spent 11 years traveling and working throughout the West. She wrote grants. He catalogued images. Sometimes they brought along some guy named Ansel Adams. But in 1945 they separated, and Weston mostly stopped shooting.
What makes Eloquent Nude resonate is the reemergence of Wilson today, just as confident and inspiring in the film now as she was in print as Weston’s muse. She’s candid about posing nude, suggesting Weston was more uncomfortable than she was, and tender in how she recalls their love-at-first-sight relationship.
Director Ian McCluskey, a product of UM’s Environmental Studies/ Writing program and now founder of Portland, Ore.’s NW Documentary, adds to Wilson’s first-person accounts with carefully rendered reenactments. Using two non-actors and authentic props, he recreates some of Weston’s most iconic images of Wilson, including a famous shoot of her sprawled across sand dunes. It works to fill in the blanks between Wilson’s memories and Weston’s images.
Put together, Eloquent Nude melds into a contemplative, expressive look not only at how Wilson and Weston worked together, but how they loved each other.
Art and Music Fill the Big Screen
Art Films Framed on the Big Screen
Thursday, Feb. 14
An in-depth look at the impact of New York City’s biggest–and most controversial—public art project.
Showing: 6 PM (87 minutes)
2nd Verse: The Rebirth of Poetry
The lives of teenagers in San Francisco—one of the most diverse communities in the world—are chronicled through spoken poetry.
Showing: 8 PM (79 minutes)
Saturday, Feb. 16
Blind Faith: A Film About Seeing
A film that reconsiders the notion of “disability” by exploring the creative space between light and dark.
Showing: 4:45 PM (7 minutes)
Bomb It! The Global Graffiti Documentary
This look at contemporary graffiti spans five continents to capture street artists in action, tracing the art form’s rich history along the way.
Showing: 4 PM (93 minutes)
Sunday, Feb. 17
Achieving the Unachievable
A look at how the unlikely pairing of artist M.C. Esher and mathematician Hendrik Lenstra led to the completion of a masterpiece.
Showing: 11:10 AM (52 minutes)
A PBS documentary recounting how American art in the 20th century allowed a nation to re-imagine itself.
Showing: 2:15 PM (112 minutes)
Monday, Feb. 18
Oh My God! It’s Harrod Blank!
Art car pioneer Harrod Blank is profiled in his quest to create an artistic and hopefully environmentally friendly car.
Showing: 7:30 PM (74 minutes)
Tuesday, Feb. 19
The story behind photographer Edward Weston and the relationship with his muse for his famous nude photographs that produced some of the most exquisite images of the century.
Showing: 1 PM (57 minutes)
The Sweet Sound of Music Films
Thursday, Feb. 14
A no-name band gets a record deal with EPIC, only to be dropped the following week. Follow their highs and lows as they question what it really means to be famous.
Showing: 3:45 PM (95 minutes)
Saturday, Feb. 16
Kurt Cobain: About a Son
The tale of grunge rock’s poster-boy as told through 25 hours of previously unheard interviews with journalist Michael Azerrad.
Showing: 8:30 PM (97 minutes)
A Father’s Music
Igor is the son of famous Austrian conductor Omar Suitner, who happens to lead a mysterious double life. Seen through the eyes of a son, Suitner’s separate worlds are revealed.
Showing: 10 AM (105 minutes)
Sunday, Feb. 17
John Hammond: From Bessie Smith to Bruce Springsteen
Wrap your brain around the profound influence of this producer, writer, critic and board member of the NAACP as he helped shape the music business.
Showing: 10 AM (54 minutes)
And You Don’t Stop: 30 Years of Hip Hop
The history of hip hop and its four major elements: rapping, DJing, break-dancing and graffiti.
Showing: 1 PM (42 minutes)
Monday, Feb. 18
I Love Hip Hop in Morocco
A Fulbright scholar ditches his fellowship and instead helps start Morocco’s first ever hip hop festival.
Showing: 12:45 PM (80 minutes)
Sleepers: Ten films worth tracking on your radar
Oh My God! It’s Harrod Blank!
by David Silberberg
74 minutes, 2006
The Gist: I saw Wild Wheels, Harrod Blank’s documentary on “art cars,” projected on a portable screen behind the ice cream parlor where I was working in the summer of 1991. Although the film has haunted my imagination for 17 years now, I can’t for the life of me remember who presented it, except that I recall they were touring by bike, lugging all their reels and projection equipment in a baby carrier.
It could well have been Harrod Blank himself, although now that I’ve seen David Silberberg’s documentary I like to think I would have remembered this one-of-a-kind character: chicken enthusiast, car nut, son of Les Blank, but an overgrown mama’s boy at heart. Oh My God! plies familiar doc territory in the sense that it takes an eccentric human subject and slowly peels away the layers of strangeness like a Bermuda onion. But that’s also the renewable beauty of that kind of documentary; as long as there are eccentric, quixotic dreamers like Harrod Blank, there will always be fascinating movies like this one.
See this if: You’re looking for a movie to make you squirt tears of laughter and love of humanity in all its nutty glory. (AS)
Showing: Monday, Feb. 18, 7:30 PM
Second Chance Season
|Second Chance Season
by Daniel H. Forer
97 minutes, 2006
The Gist: Nick Young’s got game, but the spectacular SoCal high school basketball player is as troubled as he is gifted. His grades and attendance are suspect, his SAT scores are too low to qualify for college athletics and his immense talent has agents prematurely filling his head with thoughts of the NBA. And then there’s the fascinating side story of Young’s older brother, a role model who was killed years ago after being mistaken for a gangbanger. The death still haunts the family, especially when the killer, now out of jail and a seemingly solid member of society, wishes to meet them in person to apologize. The film not only tracks Young’s struggle to stay on track, but also his family’s fight to support him.
See this if: You want an up-close look at true family hardship, And1 Mixtape-style basketball footage, and a heartwarming ending. (SB)
Showing: Tuesday, Feb. 19, 8 PM
Che Guevara: The Body and the Legend
Written by Raffaeli Brunetti and Stefan Missio
57 minutes, 2007
The Gist: Everyone knows that one iconic image of Che Guevara. It’s the same one that glowers out of every Hot Topic and insta-rebel T-shirt outlet in the world. This fearsome countenance—Che Chevara, Argentine revolutionary, Cuban death-squad engineer and Bolivian renegade—is at once the most iconic and most thoroughly appropriated of such portraits in history. And lately, with The Motorcycle Diaries inviting flattering comparisons of Che to Mexican heartthrob Gael Garcia Bernal, frankly, it’s getting easy to forget what the man actually looked like. Which is why it’s so humanizing—and eerie—to see the rare photos of him taken shortly before his death that provide the basis for this filmic memento mori. See Che hours, maybe minutes before his execution, looking up at his captors with a mixture of fear, defiance and earthly resignation. See Bolivian soldiers messing around with his cold, stiff body, eyes still wide open and looking slightly down and to the right.
See this if: You never want to think of Che the same way again. (AS)
Showing: Friday, Feb. 15, 2:45 PM
Conviction: The True Story of Clarence Elkins
by Mike West and Bill Ward
44 minutes, 2005
The Gist: Clarence Elkins was an ordinary, middle class man from Ohio. After his mother-in-law was brutally murdered and niece raped and beaten, the niece told authorities the killer looked like uncle Clarence. Without any physical evidence, Clarence is sentenced to life in prison. The painful fight of family members to free an innocent man turns into years of battle with the justice system.
See this if: If you believe the American justice system is rational and self-correcting, or you already know it’s not. (KB)
Showing: Sunday, Feb. 17, 12:15 PM
by Amy Bench
17 minutes, 2007
The Gist: Totally captivating look at contemporary urban America as seen through Amy Bench’s lens and heard from the ruminations of two residents living in this famous North St. Louis neighborhood. The cinematography is artistically attentive and shot in beautifully rich 16 mm. The narrators’ perspectives—one is a 16-year-old boy who talks growing up in the area, the other an 80-year-old woman who wants nothing more to do with the place—are alternately reminiscent and realistic, sweet and damning.
See this if: You want to see how a lyrical short film should be done. (SB)
Showing: Sunday, Feb. 17, 7 PM
Soldiers of Conscience
by Gary Weimberg and Catherine Ryan
87 minutes, 2007
The Gist: The germ of this documentary is an interesting fact first uncovered by military historian S.L.A. Marshall in his definitive study Men Under Fire: that during World War II, only one in four American servicemen who saw combat actually shot at the enemy. The other three, essentially, managed to avoid or fake it. Subsequent adjustments to basic training techniques brought this ratio up considerably by the time Americans went to Vietnam, but with Americans again involved in a long-term fight the time is ripe to revisit the age-old dilemma of taking lives in war. Soldiers of Conscience treats the issue with balance and sobriety, alternating between interviews with combatants and desultory combat footage, sprinkled judiciously with stills of dead bodies. Earnest and overlong by about a third of its length, Soldiers still makes for thoughtful viewing.
See this if: You want to read the fine print on the cost of freedom, or if you’re simply in the mood for a slow, meditative discussion on the taking of human life. (AS)
Showing: Sunday, Feb. 17, 8:45 PM
A Snowmobile for George
by Todd Darling
97 minutes, 2006
The Gist: Armed with a dry sense of humor, Todd Darling begins his quest for answers to the Bush administration’s massive de-regulation on snowmobile engine emissions. The journey begins in the Sierra Nevada, after Darling, an old-school hippie, purchases a used snowmobile on the cheap for winter transportation. He soon realizes the reason he got a deal is the snowmobile’s engine was banned during the Clinton administration and only recently made legal again. As Darling searches for answers, one of his stops is in the snowmobile capital of the world, aka West Yellowstone, where he shows how the sport has taken over. Although the film focuses on a particular deregulation, the broader impacts illustrate the administration’s neglectful attitude toward the environment.
See this if: You still think there’s nothing we can do to stop global warming. (KB)
Showing: Tuesday, Feb. 19, 6 PM
The Listening Project
by The Listening Project
84 minutes, 2006
The Gist: Limp name, but there’s plenty to stir here as we follow a group of four ordinary Americans traveling the globe to canvass local attitudes toward the United States. On one hand, it’s a typically self-absorbed American thing to do: go around asking people to say what they like and don’t like about us. On the other hand, most of what people have to say should come as no great surprise to us, both good and bad. The good news is that not everyone hates us, and Americans desperate to get the word out that we’re not all miniature copies of George Bush will feel encouraged and vindicated by a lot of what comes bouncing back from these antipodal sounding boards.
See this if: You’re looking for geopolitical silver linings. (AS)
Showing: Wednesday, Feb. 20, 4:45 PM
El Otro Lado
by Anne Wallace
13 minutes, 2005
The Gist: A languorous montage of identical dolly shots, all shot from a vehicle cruising along the seemingly endless wall between the United States and Mexico. The soundtrack is a collection of disembodied voices presented without names or titles or credentials, offering a variety of perspectives on borders, American immigration policy, accidental deaths and preconceptions of what’s on “the other side.” Devoid of people—of everything, really, except the wall, the advertisements papered to it, the occasional memorial and sinister racks of floodlights looming in the background—and with nothing to indicate which side of the wall it features, El Otro Lado is minimalist and downright hypnotic. There’s a little burst of activity toward the end, the only time in the film where the wall actually seems to end up somewhere.
See this if: You’re into staring into the same thing for 13 minutes while letting your mind wander with the narration. (AS)
Showing: Saturday, Feb. 16, at 2 PM
by Miso Suchy
21 minutes, 2007
The Gist: Ukrainian novelist Mykailo Kotsiubynsky, who chronicled life in his country during the early 19th century, wrote about the village of Kryvorivnya in his novel, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors. In 1964, the book inspired Sergei Parajanov’s famous Russian film by the same name. So, Kryvorivnya has legs. Tucked away in the Carpathian Mountains, the village is steeped in native Hutsul culture and essentially stuck in time. Pictograph goes there, mixing Lida Suchy’s gorgeous black-and-white photography with color folk drawings to create a Ken Burns-like look at how life hasn’t changed.
See this if: You’re really into black-and-white photography, really into expert use of sound, really into remote Ukrainian villages or want to see how folks kill time while pigs get it on. (SB)
Showing: Sunday, Feb. 17, 7 PM