Outside is a steady drizzle and rain, gray skies. Inside there’s lots of bars, with Irish music emanating from them and banished smokers standing outside, pint in hand. We’ve been here now 6 days, kept quite busy with workshop. 13 signed on, 12 have stayed. Tomorrow’s the show, and they’re hunkered down behind Macs (equipped with Premiere Pro for Mac, though they also have Final Cut, but choice they made, PC’s sitting at home, is to learn Premiere fast) here, or at home with whatever they have. After a few days of cram lessons on camera, play with digital effects, then hold the damn camera still, they opted to start making their films. While I am not optimistic about any masterpieces showing up tomorrow evening, I am confident they’re all learning a hell of lot in a short time, and hopefully that’ll carry over for them in the future.
Under the Same Moon
Meantime we’ve seen a handful of films. The opening night one, Under the Same Moon, Patricia Riggen (US-Mexico) was an almost OK US-Mexican immigrant film that caught something right, but got balled up in needless scripting contrivances that rang way too coincidental to believe, and had one glaring hole in the story which anyone familiar with El Paso or just the southwest would find unacceptable: a young boy being smuggled under the back seat of a car first isn’t found during a close inspection, and then when the car is hauled away, all windows up, and dumped in a tow-away lot, during day-time, the kid is not baked but emerges unscathed in the night, despite much heavy plot-play with how hot it was on the trip to the border. Well, a locked car in the South West sun is lethal in a short time, as some really stupid parents have found out with their dead kids left 30 minutes to bake during a run into the mall. However the film got a standing ovation, its do-good demeanor covering a multitude of sins. Apparently it was rapturously received at Sundance, the director sold it for three times the cost, and another utterly conventional tear-jerker proves what the movie biz really cares about.
Next we saw Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World, which has been around a while. It was a very nicely done piece, shot at McMurdo Bay in the Antarctica – portraits of the quirky souls who sign up for a year of isolation, six months of night, six of day, at the desolate South Pole. Needless to say those who gravitate to this setting are Herzog’s favorite sorts, eccentrics – be they scientists or artists or roustabouts. His portrayal was loving, amusing, and thought provoking. One of his better ones, of those I’ve seen.
Then Marcella got a bit of baptism under fire, our first real screening of Rant. To 7 whole people…. It was a perfect introduction to festival screenings as what could go wrong, did. The previous film had apparently required unplugging of a scaler in the projection system, and our film was shown in 4×3 format instead of 16-9, so everyone was a bit Giacometti-ized, and to obtain a sort of wide-screen format, the top and bottom were lopped off. The audience saw the middle 2/3rds of the film…. Despite this butchery, they liked it, and my friend Joe Comerford, a filmmaker himself, said he found it very strong. I don’t think he was bullshitting us – it is a strong film, if rather unconventional in its form. It’s now been rejected so far by the Yamagata, Tofi (Poland), and Mexico City doc fest. I hope some doc festival takes it though I acknowledge usually doc film people are not open to dickering with formal and stylistic elements – too “experimental” for them. We’ll see.
Next for me was Sweet Crude, a documentary on oil companies, bad politics, and the Niger Delta. A very nicely done film that spun out of a do-good project about a library (supported by an oil company) and became a deeper investigation into the politics of Nigeria, the complicity of global corporations and, of course, the US. There is a pathetic sequence from TV of President GW Bush meeting the President of Nigeria, a classic example of the insanity of America having ever elected (?) this dufus to office. Appalling. At the conclusion of her shooting, the filmmaker, Sandy Cioffi of Seattle, was stopped on exiting the country and did a five day stint in prison there while her material was confiscated. I recall hearing about it when it happened, and I think got an email asking I sign a net petition for her release. A very nicely done, if utterly by-the-book, documentary that for the most part avoided becoming pedantic. I had known most of the issues previously but gleaned a little bit more from the film.
Then saw a bit of Sokurov’s 1997 Mother and Son, having sent Marcella to see it with the proviso that I didn’t like it, but she should give it a try as a sample of what many people regard as high film art. I saw about 20 minutes this time, and we both left. Sokurov is the Prince of Pretentiousness, and this film for me is an unbearable bit of ponderous artiness, with actors posing heavily, the imagery smeared with vaseline and an anamorphic lens tilting the shots this way and that. The film suffocates itself under its absurd assertions of artfulness – just the kind of thing certain critics like to champion. Having met both Sokurov and Peter Greenaway, they take my prize for most pretentious persons on earth. And the films for me perfectly express their personalities.
We tried another Irish movie, Fathers of Girls, a film taken on by a famous Irish actor (I was told) Ray Winstone, for free, as he must have eyed a one-man tour-de-force show-off piece. Unfortunately his acting wasn’t up to the ponderousness of the piece – daughter OD’s, daddy is wrecked. In this case the film was a wreck.
And last night went to see a so-called US Indie film, Adventureland, produced by Ted Hope ( who used to produce Hal Hartley), and directed by Greg Mottola. It was a very good film, snappily written, well acted, excellently directed, quite funny and enjoyable, and outside of the banking there wasn’t a thing about it remotely “independent” unless showing kids smoking dope is the qualification. A totally conventional coming-of-age film that in no manner pushed any envelope in content-style-cinema or anything else, however well executed it was. Mottola’s film-biz ticket is punched and he can move to Hwd any time he wants. Or he can sit outside and pretend he’s being “indie”.
After that we saw a really excellent Irish documentary, which was far from conventional, though its low-key manner might make one think it was. His & Hers, by Ken Wardrop, examines the lives of women in mid-Ireland. The always static camera shoots home interiors, all clearly middle-class, pristine and clean, the color schemes always a muted one of pastels and sprightly colors. The compositions verge on minimalism, with a consistent use of doors, windows and mirrors to heighten a sense of discreet voyeurism. The women sit in their setting and speak to camera for the most part, freely, without offscreen questions. The basic concept was to coax from a sequence of women, aged just-born to dead, in chronological order, their intimate thoughts as they talked about the men/man in their lives: Daddy, boyfriend, husband, son, daddy in death, husband in old age, and then stranded alone, the sons taking care to the end. You never see or hear a man, until the very end when an old man hobbles by in the background. The film was quite funny, revealing, sad, and thoughtful. It attended to all the women with grace and kindness, though it hardly made them all sweet little ladies – some were acerbic and biting, some wistful, some silly. A wonderful film which owing to its formalist manner is likely to be confined to film festivals. I doubt any US TV would take it on, and certainly theatrical is out of the question. A pity.