Tuesday, March 6, 2007

True/False 2007 in repose

(Photo by Parker Michels-Boyce)
True/False Film Festival 2007 (or should that be T/F Zoso?) was an absolute blast. I thought it was going to be hard to top the 2006 festival, but this year more than exceeded my expectations. Time literally flew by; and that's a very good thing, seeing as I got hardly any sleep during the festival... which I made up for today with a 3 hour "I'm completely indistinguishable from coma patients" nap. Ahh... those are the best kinds of naps. I hope that you all enjoyed your weekend as much as I did, and hopefully you can take solace in the fact that T/F is not like the Olympics: the next one is only 365 days away.

On to the recap-


Filmmaker Fete - In a sea of madness and film flinging chaos, the fete was a welcome respite. The food and drinks at Sycamore were absolutely exquisite. I really have to thank the bartenders for mixing some incredibly good drinks (and pull a David/Paul and thank Belvedere Vodka). I'd never had Belvedere before, and this may seem like a shameful plug, but it was pretty good. And the red wine fit in very nicely with the finger-food appetizers. They had great grilled chicken strips on skewers with a tangy, spicy sauce. My mind is drawing a blank as to the name of the sauce, but my stomach knows it was keen. I had a wonderful time talking with directors and festival goers alike. I saw many more recognizable faces than I expected (not to mention the directors that were on stage), and everyone seemed in the mood for good conversation. The director of Banished, Marco Williams, is an extremely nice guy and very easy to talk to. Dinner was especially nice, as I spent the first half talking with long-time T/F fans (the Munstoes), just chatting about life in general. Some of our conversation centered on the festival, but we also trailed off on life's little intricacies. Dinner really got swinging when the Munstoes and I got to talk to our table partners about their film "Buddha's Lost Children". I unfortunately was not going to see the movie, but Mark Verkerk and Ton Okkerse were more than happy to talk about their film. I don't know if it was explained in the film, but the kick-boxer received most of his tattoos after he became a monk. They also said that several other monks had tried to do what the "Tiger Monk" accomplished, but failed. The "Tiger Monk" was well received by the people because of his interesting background and non-traditional style.


Gimme Truth - Ok, so Jeremy and I didn't win. I'm not the least bit depressed though, because the show was AMAZING. John Gotsick aka "Johnny St. John" aka "John Sawyer" (American Shopper) did a supreme job hosting, but the contestants really stole the show. Marco Williams (Banished), Annie Sundberg (The Devil Came on Horseback) and Gary Burns (Radiant City) all came straight from the open bar from the Fete, and spirits were high. The event showed us supposed vegetarian dogs, a quarter scandal, the artfully composed film "lights", submarine-phobia, and others, all interspersed with reactions to Gary's off-the-wall question "what color was the dog's stool?" in response to the vegetarian dog short. When you see it in writing, it might seem more toilet humor than comic genius, but it played throughout the show to a crowd of laughs. I think it was Gary's genuine thought that he could trick the filmmaker with the question that gave it charm. I missed the Trebek intro from the inaugural year, and was initially confused by the printed brochure that announced Doppler Dave would be hosting part of the show, but all it all it was a warm-hearted, comedic, and memorable event.


Manda Bala - I'll be the first to say that I was disappointed in this film. I have to clarify that I had to leave the film about 20 minutes early, so my judgment is not based on the whole. I highly enjoyed the non-linear storytelling element that Jason Kohn used in his storytelling, but that enjoyment was short-lived. I felt that the film made light of kidnap victims, and some of the images shown were unnecessarily grotesque. If Kohn was attempting to capture the chaos and juxtaposition that is Sao Paulo, he did an excellent job. But it was clear that this chaotic storytelling confused the audience, as I would occasionally hear audience members laughing and then stifling their laughter. I'll admit that the interview with the bulletproof car owner had its comical moments, but you'd quickly see video of yet another kidnapping. Crane shots and Hollywood style character intros were interspersed with less than dramatic interviews, followed up by archival video that would never in ten thousand years be shown on broadcast television. Maybe I need to give the film another look, but I left trying to focus more on the interesting storytelling style (like Mulholland Drive or Memento) than the film's content.


The King of Kong - Wow. Just WOW. This movie deserved the standing ovation it received. If the crowd is any judge of the public's taste in movies, this is sure to be the next underground hit documentary. It takes a relatively simple story of the World Donkey Kong Champions, delights you with characters that truly are stranger than fiction, quotes much, much funnier than any "Napoleon Dynamite", and leaves you wanting more. It was a real treat to have Steve Wiebe and Steve Saunders in the house to answer questions. I really want to find out if Steve made it to Gunther's games for a game or two... so I might have to make some calls. If this movie comes back to RagTag, you need to see it. And if it doesn't, at least it'll be remade into a movie and have a major theatrical release. I'll be seeing the theatrical version, that's for sure, but I'm buying Seth Gordon's documentary. This is one of those films that you could watch at any time and just smile the entire time. And aside from a small section with "Mr. Awesome" the film should be fairly appropriate for just about any audience. Human triumph, tragedy, small children, and video games. What more could you ask for?


Secret Screening Green - I think I'm under oath not to talk about this film. I will say that the soundtrack was sold out very early after the showing, we had a wonderful show after the film, and the film's principal subjects were very humble and interesting. Check out the message board for more interest on the soundtrack. The message board thread about the soundtrack


The Devil Came on Horseback - I have to take a slightly different stance on this movie than Jeremy does. While I agree with him that the title itself (symbolizing the definition of the Janjaweed) gives you the idea that the film is more of a generalized story, I think it's an acceptable indulgence. The title really did cause me to be instantly interested in the film, more so than a title such as "Darfur: The Brian Steidle Story" would have. (That's a horrible example of an alternative title though). Aside from that slight bit of misrepresentation, I have to applaud what Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg did with this film. I had the fortune of taking a class on the history of modern Africa that was taught by a professor from Sudan. As such, I came into the movie having a good amount of prior knowledge about the horrors of Darfur and war in Africa. What Stern and Sundberg did for this film was tell the American version of a genocide that is affecting the world RIGHT NOW. This isn't a film like "The Invisible Children" or even the big-budget "Hotel Rwanda". Focusing on the life of Steidle and his efforts to educate America about the horrors, the film did more than show that there is genocide; it showed that people in America have only been marginally stepping up to combat it. It's my own belief that when a film is incredibly graphic, people can be very affected and moved by it, but take comfort in the assumption that people in power were also as moved and disturbed, and that it's only a matter of time before the situation is righted. Steidle himself held this belief, thinking that it would only be a few weeks before hundreds of American troops were in the region to play the hero’s role that the people of Darfur need so desperately. By focusing on what has happened since the initial declaration by Colin Powell that Darfur was indeed genocide and noting the failure to provide assistance, I think many more people will be moved to write their senators and act, (that's the belief anyway).

I'd also like to say that Jeremy forgot to mention that the grotesque images were limited almost entirely to still photos. The video could easily have shown much more gruesome video (like Manda Bala) but instead focused on much more emotional interviews with refugees and survivors. Coming out of Manda Bala, using still photos rather than video to show genocide seemed like a conscious thought on the directors' part to highlight genocide in a view much more palatable to viewers, (while still not making light of the situation).


Raiders: The Adaptation - “They did it.” This film recaptured my childhood the way that memories and time never could. Forget the fact that I wasn’t born when Eric and Chris started filming. Forget the fact that I wasn’t in Mississippi. Forget the fact that I never tried to remake Indiana Jones. In another life and another dimension, I was in this film.

Seeing the film after interviewing both Chris and Eric was a treat. They really did an amazing job with the film; I can see why Spielberg was flattered. True performers and genuine good-guys, the Q&A afterwards was one of the most memorable and lighthearted experiences in my life. It’s not often that you get to talk to fully-grown men about how they remade Indiana Jones as kids right after you watched their version in full BetaMax glory. I really do think that Chris and Eric are some of the most humble, dedicated, and interesting people I’ve ever met (you’d have to be touring around showing a film you made as kids, living the cult hero life). If you get a chance to see this film and talk to Eric and Chris, take the opportunity. You’ll be glad you did.


American Shopper - “Holy cow, I SHOP there!” Interestingly enough, I was standing in line chatting with the Schnucks’ Manager before the film, blissfully unaware of his role in the film. I have to say that this might be my favorite film of the festival, but it gets major bonus points for being based in Columbia and featuring people and places I’ve met and frequented (met the people, frequented the places, just to keep things straight). Like David and Paul said, it would have been very hard to reject this film, but I don’t think the directors gave the pair much to reject. A perfect blend of fact and fiction in a reality show-meets-“Supermarket Sweep”, the film showed off the best of Columbia. It could have easily made light of the quirky characters and taken advantage of what was on the surface a comical ideal, but masterfully gave the piece deeper meaning by allowing the characters to tell their own stories. Mike, Grace, Wes, the winning couple… everyone in the film had humorous moments but instead of being stereotypical characters (the artsy one, the actor, the cowboy, the Trekkie, the redneck, the drama queen, etc.), we were introduced to the beautiful tapestry of individual lives and the charm of small-town meets big-city Columbia culture. The one question I’ve been asked about this film almost incessantly is “Can it work as a film outside of Columbia?”. This is a hard one to answer, but I think that the directors, producers, and characters in the film really do have a winner here. I don’t think that this will see the success of a “Bowling for Columbine”, “Fast Food Nation” or “An Inconvenient Truth”, but it will grow wings and fly on its right. What is sure to become a cult classic and at least a must-have for all Columbians, this film brought T/F 2007 to close as no other film could have. Everyone keeps talking about how T/F is such a great festival because of the town and the people, and this film captures that belief for all to see on the big-screen of the Missouri Theatre.


It has been a joy working with True/False this year. Everything happened and ended so quickly, but the memories will be with me for years to come. I’ll be back next year, that’s for sure. And thank you Columbia, for capturing my heart and giving me some of the best experiences of my life.


Sunday, March 4, 2007

The Eleventh Hour

As I head into my 7th 20-22 hour day, I'm in dire need of a break. So... tomorrow I'll be posting the recap of my T/F events, thoughts, and reflections, much as Jeremy did.

Be on the lookout for: The Filmmaker Fete, Gimme Truth, Manda Bala, The King of Kong (sweet baby jesus it was amazing!), my very vague and possibly unpublishable thoughts on secret screening green, Devil Came on Horseback, Raiders: The Adaptation (the full film followup!), and the film that took Columbia by storm: American Shopper.

I'll be back soon dear reader... I just need a lot of water and a good amount of sleep to get my thoughts in order.

The Final Recap (*Sniff*)

What? Already? Well... I suppose I'm in denial about my festival experience being over (though there are still films ongoing, and the Buskers will make their valiant last stand at the Missouri Theater later tonight). So before I get into any "best-of" list-making, let me just run down each of the events that I've attended since my last post.


The Show (Saturday night concert @ the Blue Note).

This concert proved something about each of the night's performers:

- Even Casper & the Cookies acknowledge that their name is stupid. But that won't stop them from rolling out their winsome pop stylings.
- Scream Club know how to work a crowd. They had the whole Blue Note posse locked in with waving arms and exuberant chants throughout their blazin', Peaches-inspired hip-hop set.
- The Apples In Stereo's Robert Schneider is the fuzzy-faced patron saint of friendliness. The guy was giving out handshakes, hugs and grins to fans the whole night, thanking them between every song, and just generally being impossibly warm and goofy. He didn't miss a beat when fans started taking the stage for his band's last number, even allowing a rowdy pair to take the mic for the final coda.
- As a band, you do not under any circumstances follow up Mucca Pazza. There are like 30 of those people. And not just that - they are good 'n' crazy. They could take out similar high-population groups like the Polyphonic Spree with a single blast from their Jericho-crushing horn section. MP absolutely owned the joint lock 'n' key throughout their set. The 'fourth wall' between them and the audience was nonexistent, as they paraded out on to the Blue Note Floor, up to the balcony, and everywhere in between - all without collision incidents. Amazing.


"King Corn" @ The Bull Pen on Business Loop 70.

What an odd spot for a documentary - a little bullring in the center of the floor, with stadium seating hemming it in from all sides. The room's heaters went on and off sporadically, creating an unstable room temperature. A vertical support beam blocked the center of the projector screen from my vantage point. But hey - the food was free and the film was sharp, so no complaints here. Director Aaron Wolff and stars Curt Ellis and Ian Cheney give us a pointed and at times poignant look at the way the country's shift toward the overproduction of corn has affected our diets, the lives of farmers, and even the stomachs of livestock. Clearly one of the better festival entries that I saw, I anticipate a big campaign for this feature to be in the offing, especially with Congress debating a new farm bill this year.


"The Devil Came on Horseback" @ The Missouri Theatre.

This was the only flick that Mark and I both caught together. Maybe he can weigh in on this feature, too. Really, the horrors of Darfur have reached a boiling point where our nation vitally need documentaries on this conflict to get the information out there to the American public. The title of this particular doc is a bit misleading, in that it promises a more generalized examination of the Arab Janjaweed militias and their barbaric tactics in murdering and displacing hundreds of thousands of black Sudanese.

But really, this is the story of Brian Steidle, an ex-Marine who was sent to Sudan a few years ago to "monitor" the ceasefire between rebel and government forces. This approach has its strengths and weaknesses - undoubtedly this is a powerful film that will galvanize people to action. But much of it really is Steidle just talking to us, so that it takes on more the feel of a polemic than a panoramic view of the origins of what's going on in the region. For example, the rebel Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) and Justice for Equality Movement (JEM) are barely touched on, and when they are, they are only portrayed through Steidle's lens as selfless freedom fighters. Is this really the case? I left wanting to know more - and that's definitely the mark of a good film. In the end, though, I left feeling like this particular feature missed out on an opportunity to educate the public more fully, and instead leaned heavily on the knee-jerk factor of repeated shots of gruesomely mutilated bodies.

All the same, it has inspired to pen some letters to my representatives on the Darfur matter - an act of political participation that I've never undertaken. I'd say, on the whole, it was a worthwhile view.


"Buddha's Lost Children" @ The Missouri Theatre

This feature was for me a necessary uplift after "The Devil' and its blood-splattered desert landscapes. "Buddha's Lost Children" follows of the travels of Thai monk and ex-kickboxer Khru Bah as he and his novice disciples (a group of mostly pre-pubescent boys) travel the heavily forested regions of Thailand, looking to do good by area villagers and learn basic life lessons. It's an absolutely charming cast, led by the gregarious wit of Khru Bah. Watching the emotional maturation of his charges proves a real treat - we see one little fellow go from a maladroit mute to a confident, hard-working achiever. Director Mark Verkerk and his cinematographers take full advantage of the lush jungle setpieces and the rambunctious energy of the novices, tying everything together with a warm sense of humanism - a welcome breather after some of the festival's more relentlessly dreary entries.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

At The Note

Well, folks, I shook Robert Schneider's hand - twice. Essentially my festival experience goes downhill from here. I mean, sure, it's nice to see Schneider's Apples in Stereo play - not to mention Casper & the Cookies, Scream Club, and the hype bullet train that is Mucca Pazza - but nothing replaces that one-on-one connection, however brief it may be. Sure, as per always when I meet a musical idol, I tripped all over myself with "awe-shucks" and boundless praise, but to his credit Mr. Schneider took it all in stride. More of concern to him was the mysterious disappearance of his lucky red space pen - it writes UPSIDE DOWN, people - somewhere amongst his band's equipment. If you see any writing utensil matching the above description, report to the Blue Note post haste.

The show has yet to begin... Beck's "Mutations" album plays over the speakers, and people are just lounging about right now before things kick off. I certainly need these brief idle moments to collect my breath... and blog, of course. Time for two more quick movie sums?

"Super Amigos" - superheroes are real - at least in Mexican politics. Capitalizing on the popularity of Lucha Libre wrestlers, an assortment of masked do-gooders travel the political landscape of Mexico City, using their bright costumes and winning personalities to draw people to their respective causes. Director Arturo Perez Torres focuses in on five crusaders in particular, stitching their stories together with an entirely appropriate comic book motif. At times, the pace fell off a bit, but overall, it was a fascinating angle to take on the crises that affect not just Mexico, but the continent at large - homophobia, environmental crises, orphans, animal rights violations, and the gentrification of downtown communities.

"Welcome Europa" - welcome, indeed. Director Bruno Helmer's vision of Europe - as refracted through a cast of neglected but determined immigrants - is all grayscale grime, replete with male prostitution, fascist police, and the tears of all the unfortunate souls who came and failed to find the paradise they sought. The film takes of careening all over the European content - Holland, Spain, Germany - and everywhere the same spirit of hopeless struggle pervades. Certainly, not an easy film to stomach - but it's as necessary an exercise as any product at the festival. If documentaries are to be accurate reflections of reality, then idealistic fantasy must be shattered in the process.


Casper & the Cookies have started! Off to film!

The film that I must own

Pierce City, MO... Forsyth, GA... expulsion of blacks and the theft of their land... Investigative Reporting... Archive searches... confrontational interviews... director narration... exhumed bodies... demonstrations in the '80s... compelling stories... breathtaking.

I still can't believe that "Banished" exists... that it's a film... that I had just about the same amount of info as dir. Marco Williams and never made the connections. I felt intricately linked to every minute detail in the film. For you see, just last semester I had been doing my own investigative reporting and newspaper archive searches. Seeing the same microfilms up on the big screen made me jump. "I did that! Oh my goodness, I read about the same type of events! I never knew it was such a trend." I never knew about Pierce City though; the only towns I looked at were Springfield, Moberly, and Columbia. I strongly suggest that every single person take a look at the history of his or her own communities. Maybe it's my age or my naivety that allows me to be ignorant to the fact that entire communities can have segregationist mindsets... I know that there is still racism in America, that there is hate and discrimination and inhumanity. But I always thought that we as a society had advanced beyond that. I was convinced that racism had been effectively rooted out of government, that aside from individuals and small factions of people, on a whole our community at least had some tolerance. Except for the few rogue individuals, the building blocks were in place for a colorless society. Seems I was very, very wrong.

I'll throw this link in here. Missouri Lynchings I came across it in my own research, and it does a good job of listing the lynchings that occurred in Missouri over the past hundred or so years. One in Columbia in 1923...Three in Springfield in 1906, both followed by what can only be described as extreme tension down the "white/black" border. In Springfield, a large majority of families moved out after the lynchings. I never thought about how they would be leaving their land and possessions behind. But the director, Marco Williams, was able to connect the dots and confront the issue of "what happened to the land". The story is nothing short of amazing. 7 acres worth of the Strickland homestead stolen in Forsyth... an unmarked grave and tense community of Pierce City, MO...

While I was watching the film, I couldn't help but think about the fact that all this land once belonged to the Native Americans. At some point, it was stolen, the people forced from their land, and then the law came in and made the theft legal. It happened again... but this wasn't 200 or 300 years ago. It was the 1900s... and the press covered everything. When our government dodges the prospect of reparations for slavery, a rational mind might say "Reparations on the large scale of ALL slavery need careful planning and time to implement". Ok... that argument at least says that you're willing to try. But Williams brings up a much more pertinent, easily digestible situation. 7 acres of land. One family is affected, government records show that a deed had been falsified and the land sold illegally. The man who sold the land was supposed to be the representative on a multicultural council designed to tackle the racial question. (hmm... that's interesting...) Why can't we address that which was so egregiously stolen and these obviously criminal actions? What is stopping Forsyth from mending the fences with one of its old families? Why wasn't it easier for Pierce City to exhume Cobb's body? When is our nation going to step up on a community-by-community basis and stand up for what is right? We can't all wait for the federal government to institute nation-wide changes. And really, how hard is it to take the first step? I know what my first step is: Buying this movie when it's released and showing all of my friends.


It's Day 2 (unofficially day 4) and my count stands at 4 panels and 4 films.

Friday's panels at the Forrest Theatre were absolutely fantastic. It started off with the incredibly moving "Hot Spots" panel moderated by POY's (and Mizzou's) Rick Shaw. I don't think there was a dry eye in the entire house. And how could there be? The vast majority had never been to war-torn areas, and the images and stories behind them struck a chord in your soul. Apparently while our world was focused on Jessica Lynch's recovery, an Iraqi man in the very same ward had just lost 4 of his children... A much more moving story representative of the civilians in the war, but apparently that's not what the public should be interested in.

Unfortunately for the blog, but fortunately for the viewer, I was spending much more time taking the best video possible of Unscripted: Tales of Doc Derring-Do, Rocket Science, and Me and My Shadow. I'll be honest - I really need to watch the video again to get the full effect of their presentations. We will have that video up shortly for everyone to see. (Actually, some of it is already being played on a plasma screen down at Kevin's World, thanks to Jessica Huang... check it out. He's got pancakes even!). We had several camera angles and good audio, so hopefully our video coverage of the event will be akin to actually having been at the panel.

I'm really interested in how the other volunteers feel about T/F. Do you feel that you balance working the festival with experiencing it? Personally, I'm having a blast the entire time. Even though I didn't catch every word to the panels, I know that my video camera did... But even so, there's a small amount of a disconnect. Maybe it's just that I feel guilty that I know each of these films and panels deserve every single bit of attention I can give them, but I was unable to do this as I was frantically trying to keep optimum audio levels, the picture white balanced, focused, and *cross my fingers* artfully composed.

I'll post on here again once we have all the video available, but in the meantime you should check out Lakota Saturday and Sunday from noon-3pm and 6-9pm and check out a Canon handy cam, upload your videos and photos, and talk about your experiences. No need to worry about white balancing with these cameras though. We'll take any and all video you shoot (just don't film the actual movies). We'll give you credit for the video too. So if you just want to walk down the street with the camera, interview a director, or dance a jig and get in a T/F documentary... stop by Lakota.

In Flight

So while I'm here waiting at the Artisan for my Turkey, Apple and Brie Sandwich (yum!) let me launch a quick one-two (sandwich arrives - blogging grinds to a halt) salvo of movie recaps:

The common denominator? The hidden lives of American outcasts

"Running Stumbled" - last night's late showing made for a perfect atmosphere - here's a documentary with the disjointed, horror house feel of a fever dream. John Maringouin takes audiences to the heart of his disabled, pill-addled father's artistic madness, and in so doing drives us to the perilous question: where's sanity, where's insanity?

"Off The Grid: Life On The Mesa" - modern outlaws, middle-aged hippies, burnt out Gulf War vets all find a strange symbiosis out in the middle of New Mexico in an improvised community. Pot is the currency of choice, and guns are a necessary accessory. But don't dismiss this group - they see themselves as hot-blooded patriots who are watching over the last swatch of truly American land. Countless memorable characters emerge - but perhaps none more so than Stan, the Mesa pig farmer who helps teen runaways get back on their feet during their stay in the desert.


That's all I can manage for now... I'm off to "Super Amigos!"