"Money was maliciously introduced in ancient times as a tool of enslavement" -
Michael Tellinger

"The present belongs to the future and future generations, and all old laws, religious and other, should be abrogated immediately. Free us!" - Vinay Gupta on Twitter

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." - R. Buckminster Fuller

"You find the strangest ways to be positive!" - Diane Duane, Wizards Abroad

Monday, April 26, 2010

Bjarke Ingels: 3 warp-speed architecture tales for the sustainability age

Well, dang and halleluja! Every time I think I've run out of steam and life is about to get boring, some wonderful new thing pops up (or at least, new to me). Here's my latest. This afternoon I was having serial nap attacks so I started channel surfing and happened upon some great architecture documentaries on Ovation channel. The last, and best, was about this guy and it woke me right up and sent me to the Internet to find out more, and I found this wonderful TED talk from last fall. (The Ovation documentary on Bjarke Ingels will be rerun next Saturday and Sunday, May 1 and 2.) In the Wiki article (just referenced) he describes his work as "A pragmatic utopian architecture that takes on the creation of socially, economically and environmentally perfect places as a practical objective." The creativity is awesome.

Where have I been? I need to go back to following architecture and landscape architecture again. Actually, looking at the dates here, I see that Ingels burst upon the scene while I was remodelling the house, and was hitting it big internationally as I moved here and was focused on local life. I'm in love. This time it's for real. In case you've been living in a cave like me and hadn't heard of Bjarke Ingels and his firm BIG, here is a little bit about his work. (Or if this is old hat to you, maybe you need to see this again to get re-inspired about what humans can do besides destroy everything they touch. That is, if, like me, you're inclined to see that side of the coin altogether too much.)

This looks to me how humans should be living now everywhere. And on Mars too, when we get there! The thing is, if the species is doomed to living in a technological jungle and leave the natural world behind (though this is debatable, and probably adjustable once some reasonable parameters have been determined, most people obviously do have this inclination and don't fight it) then we need to bend that talent to better use, and build self sustaining habitats. Thus we'd live the same here, on an asteroid, on Mars, or anywhere else - sustainably. And the minority who are capable of relating in a reasonable and non-exploiting manner to the rest of nature can be free to do so without the hassle of yahoos on snowmobiles or jetskis or whatever. They can do their thing in the urban environment, in yahoo parks, right?

I love this guy and what he's doing. He understands that "sustainable" doesn't mean limited, it means opening up a whole new toybox! I'd love to do a mini version of some of what he's doing right here. In fact, I'd already been envisioning it, and writing about it, for some projects in the community where I live, but failed to succeed in getting my vision across to enough of the others living here to get anything off the ground. (Again, the problem of opening people's eyes to these possibilities. My own situation is the world's in microcosm. But now I'm sounding like one of the outdated rebel architects he refers to.) Maybe if I can get them all to watch this TED talk they'd get it. He'd provide the necessary charisma.

And for a follow-up treat, here's a trailer for a documentary about freerunning and how Ingels is working with urban freerunners! I'd forgotten about this sport; it reminds me of how Kim Stanley Robinson writes about sports (I'm thinking of the outlaw golf game - was it frisbee golf? something, anyway, you don't normally do in the woods while running full speed - in Rock Creek Park, In Fifty Degrees Below, and then there's the extreme sports kid on Mars in one of the Mars books he wrote - oh, and the ice diving game in Antarctica; I'm too beat up to do anything like this now, but time was when I enjoyed a bit of bushwhacking, and my brain remembers the fun it was to run free like that; this is the urban  variety). It's called My Playground: A Film about Movement in Urban Space. It came out last year, apparently, but Netflix doesn't have it. Nor does Amazon, apparently. Maybe the library? Will check now... Above, screencap from the trailer. See the freerunner? Below - yay, I found it on Vimeo. Enjoy!


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Online life: singing in the virtual choir

Had to share this amazing video (here's the YouTube link) - an online choir singing 'Lux Aurumque' by Eric Whitacre. It's a "virtual" choir in that it's on the internet, not in person, but it's a real human activity. Didn't "virtual" mean not really real, not that long ago? I found it through an interesting blog, Emergent by Design - enjoyed the recent posts on pattern recognition and environmental scanning, and on Junto; it's all a piece of the conversation about how the Internet can connect people in new ways, not just in business but socially, to find new solutions to big problems. "Emergent" is a good word for visualizing that process. (Note to self: though this is a sincere attempt to share/interact, is my blog only what Meri calls a "fire hose" if nobody reads it and responds? When a tree falls in the forest...)

The amazing thing about this project from composer Eric Whitacre is how fully realized it already is. It's not just a gimmick, it's really fine music. And with this performance method, it becomes to me a hymn for the potential of what we can do now. And if this intrigues you, don't miss this: it's the conductor/composer's online instruction to the choir (screencap, above right. This one is for Harriet!)

There's a new International Choir forming now - here's the Facebook page.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Two enchantments for Shakespeare buffs: Ruled Britannia and Love in Idleness (book reviews)

As my thoughts turned to the next Ashland delight, some OSF plays, I remembered a couple of Shakespeare-themed books well worth recommending. (These reviews are expanded a bit from what I wrote for SLJ when they first came out. I do appreciate the extra elbow room a blog affords, compared with the strict word counts for a magazine.)

Ruled Britannia by Harry Turtledove (2003)

In this highly entertaining piece of historical fiction, things have gone a little differently for England. That big storm never blew up, the Spanish Armada won the naval engagement and the war, and now the King of Spain rules Britain. The theater people of the Globe company valiantly go on with the show, but it isn’t easy. 

And then things get even worse, when Will Shakespeare, actor and author of several popular plays, becomes embroiled in treason against the crown (the ruling Spanish one). Given his station in life, he's vulnerable to coercion from loyalist English noblemen, who pressure him to write a play calculated to stir the people to rebellion against Spain. Meanwhile, a Don Juanish Spanish playwright named Lope de Vega, sent to England under orders to sniff out treason and heresy, is really more interested in theater, and is becoming a bit of a hanger-on, spending way too much time underfoot. He commands Will to write a play praising the Spanish monarch.

What ensues is a suspenseful and fascinating tale of intrigue, loyalty, betrayal, and cultural conflict. Caught between two masters, Shakespeare (being Shakespeare) can do nothing less than his best work for both--even though his lively imagination and inquiring intelligence constantly cause him personal and ethical challenges.

The details of daily life, and characters who reflect the cultural attitudes of a different time, drew me into this story. Turtledove is a master of creating an authentic-feeling sense of time and place. But even better, the plot, people, and narrative devices would be comfortable in any of the Bard's own plays: clowns and jesters, high and low comedy, a twin motif, and, perhaps most important, the dialogue--all have a convincing Shakespearean ring.

This complex tour de force brings Shakespeare’s work and times to life, and readers who are carried along will feel, as Will does at the end, well rewarded and well satisfied. But to find out how he pulls off this impossible feat, you have to read the book.

Love in Idleness by Amanda Craig (2003)

The title here is taken, of course, from Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, when Oberon plays his naughty trick with the spell; telling Puck what to look for, he advises:

Yet Mark'd I where the bolt of Cupid fell,
It fell upon a little eastern flow'r,
Before milk-white, now purple with love's wound,
And maidens call it love-in-idleness.
act II, scene 1

In this beguiling modern version of the tale, a group of American and English friends gather at a house in Tuscany to indulge in the idleness of a two-week vacation--and, like Shakespeare's characters, they find more in the way of love than they bargained for. A sophisticated bunch, they are modern royalty of a sort--celebrities in their fields--but they can't seem to jell as a group, and matchmaking efforts fail, too. Married or single, they are all out of step.

The three children in the group--two boys and a girl--squabble like any youngsters; but when, in brief but lovely passages, the author reveals something of their consciousness, they become a link to an underlying magic in the place. Running wild in the countryside, they find fairies who give the girl recipes for potions. The children use the fairy potions to induce the adults to love the right people, but of course these plans go awry because, well, we've all seen the play, and know how these things work, of course!

And so on Midsummer Night, mysterious forces conspire to draw everyone into the woods and keep them all there for too long. Or were they merely lost? Was this really magic at work, or just the effervescence of discovering life's possibilities in a new setting?

This is a bright, amusing story, and for readers who have already succumbed to the charm of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, it will be a special treat. Craig evokes the fey qualities of the well-loved play with many references to characters and situations, and she captures to perfection the quality of a midsummer enchantment.

NOTE: It turns out that this poetically-described flower, love-in-idleness, is the humble pansy! Here's a fascinating account including more lore from Shakespeare. At right is the illo from the site (killerplants.com - don't you love Internet names?), which explains the origins of plant names. The fancy modern cultivars of the pansy have been developed, of course, from various violets or violas including the wild Johnny-jump-up (Viola tricolor), which happens to be in my patio garden right now. Who knew?!

For more fond reminiscences of Midsummer Night's Dream, see http://mypersonalblogccm.blogspot.com/2010/04/of-osf-and-hamlets.html


Monday, April 19, 2010

Of OSF, Rock'N'Roll Fairies, and a Hip Hop Hamlet

(photo, above: "Arriving at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, on a June evening" by John Evans. Althought the link is down right now, normally it can viewed in larger format, and purchased, at this site, where you'll also find a delightful photo essay on Ashland.

UPDATE at end of season: This was my lifetime Hamlet. Here's my last post on it: http://mypersonalblogccm.blogspot.com/2010/09/americas-true-national-theater-hamlet.html

UPDATE 4/26 - well, I saw it last night. It really is a fabulous production of Hamlet. Not to be missed if you have any interest in the play at all. Here's a review that says it all - I agree with all of this! - http://ozdachs.livejournal.com/195703.html I didn't fall in love with this production at first, but maybe it was because I was sitting next to an annoying person who kept dozing off and snoring, and also I was really too far back to see all the facial expressions well. Even so, I was mightily impressed with this version, which seems totally new and fresh. I intend to see this one again at least once, and spring for a better ticket next time! It'll be worth it.

Original post:
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival beckons...

I can't wait to see this year's "hip hop Hamlet," especially. Here's a kind of fun thing that happened sometime last year, when they announced the names of the plays they'd be doing in the 2010 season. (I wish I could find the correspondence but it's lost.) In one of the OSF emails to members, they invited us to tell them about different film versions of Hamlet. For some reason they were collecting titles. I responded with some I'd seen, but said my favorite was a Soviet version (poster at left) that I'd seen only once, at the AFI theater in DC, back in the Seventies, but still remembered; I'd liked it for its political interpretation of the play. I'd especially liked that Ophelia was portrayed as a puppet of the state (with wonderful puppet music by Shostakovich to underscore the point). It all made a great deal of sense to me at the time, and that Ophelia was the only one I'd ever really believed. (It still makes sense to me as a feminist interpretation.)

It must have been an obnoxiously long email (much like this post, no doubt) because I remember adding that I'd seen a lot of Hamlets but would never forget my first, which I'd seen right here in Ashland at the OSF back in the early Sixties when I was a young teenager! In that one, Hamlet was very physical, portrayed by the actor as quite a lively, frenetic (today we'd maybe even say ADHD-afflicted) adolescent, at least that's how I remember it now, over 40 years later...). The adults in our party debated various Hamlets and universally disapproved this interpretation, preferring Olivier's cerebral, "psychological" version as the gold standard, but I thought this crazy, mixed-up Hamlet kid was terrific.  

I went on to say that in a similar vein, I'd loved 2008's OSF rock and roll/disco version of Midsummer Night's Dream - one of my favorite versions of that play, ever; the audience had been full of cheering teenagers who'd loved it too, and that was half the fun. I told him I hoped they'd keep up that kind of innovation because they'd keep hooking teenagers on Shakespeare - and I knew Shakespeare would have loved their rock and roll version; after all, it WAS a crazy play! 

Below, that production's Rude Mechanicals driving around in their psychedelic, mechanically-challenged VW bus: LOL! So glad I found an image of that.These were some of the only truly sidesplitting Mechanicals I've ever seen, too.

And here are Titania and Oberon, in that production. Fairies rock!

Back to the the correspondence on Hamlets... so the OSF guy emailed me back thanking me for the recommendation of the Soviet Hamlet and said he'd try to find it. Then he added that as for my other comments (on the OSF Hamlet I'd seen as a teenager, and last year's OSF rock and roll MND, and all that) he said something like "you'll never know how happy your comments have made me."

Easing back into life after the Film Festival

RQN. Having recovered from the film festival, and made plans for next year, I've just been updating the blog. Reconfigured some of the features on the left, added new links, and finally got around to reconstituting the lost My Name is Khan retrospective page (link at top). It is now a MNIK/SRK fanpage . If you're curious about Bollywood, or want to see what some of my favorites are, in the SRK fan section at the bottom of the fanpage there are several links to Bollywood item numbers (songs within movies). I'll probably be adding to this page from time to time because it's fun to do and there's always new material. (below, the iconic and longest-running DDLJ) Also, I've consolidated most of my favorite Bollywood/India/Desi Heroes links in a second page, here.
Now out to work in the garden - we're finally having some real spring weather! And this afternoon we reconvene our neighborhood landscaping task force; I'm toying with the idea of a blog about life here at Mountain Meadows. It's kind of a cross between Barbary Lane and Road to Nowhere, depending on what's going on at the moment. With, alas, an occasional detour into bureaucratic dead end hell. But we're stayin' alive. A lot of us aren't quite that old yet, but being here, you do see where we're all headed - no blinders on! What we need is an underground newspaper, which would be a blog these days. Don't worry, Madeline, I won't do that; there isn't much scope for a scandal sheet in this good-hearted community. (Sure, an occasional senior romance blossoms, but they're likely to tell all about it in our newsletter.) Still, there must be something to write about, midway between frustration and vision. We'll see.

Monday, April 12, 2010

AIFF Day Five - Last day and Last Train Home - and It's a Wrap!

Last movie for me: The Last Train Home. Too fitting. This is another great one and I guess it's just a measure of the high quality of the entries this year that this remarkable film seemed to get relatively little buzz. It's yet another unique, fascinating documentary. I loved it for immersing me in another way of life and part of the world. In technique it's different than the others I saw this year (in fact all the documentaries I saw used very different techniques and approaches - could do a thesis just on that; is this a golden age of creativity in documentary-making, or am I just becoming more of a fan than ever?). In some ways it harkens back to the earliest, staged anthropological documentaries, when it shows the family's life, yet it also uses very edgy editing in other places, especially when showing the daughter's adolescent rebellion, both in farm scenes and in the city.

But to set the stage: this is the story of one Chinese family from the provinces: the parents of the children are now migrant workers making clothing for Western countries in a far away city, and have been doing this for years. They go back to the farm to see their children, and the grandmother who still runs the farm and raises the children, just once a year for the New Year festival. Over a hundred million Chinese are in this situation and their trip back home to their villages for the annual get-together is considered the largest human migration in the world. [see recent article on this, tweeted by my niece who works on labor issues] But they are seriously torn by this situation; the children feel abandoned, the hardworking parents are bereft of anything but earning a wage (at presumably slave labor conditions and low reward), and the grandmother - well, she was a fascinating character to me and I wish they'd shown more about how she coped.

The train migration is truly epic - orders of magnitude more crowding than I saw anywhere in India! People really suffered at times, as when a snow storm delayed the train and they had to wait for days, there in their mob, yet they cared for each other too. All this is beautifully filmed. But what really strikes this Western viewer is the incredibly beautiful, seemingly idyllic countryside of the village and farm, once they finally get onto the train, travel thousands of kilometers through mountains, take a ferry across water, and arrive at the ancestral place.

There, the sculptured mountainsides of terraced rice paddies, the healthy looking farm animals, the corn field heavy with fruit, all seem quite prosperous to me: they grow food; they have animals and water on the family farm (is that what this is? Or are they sharecroppers or something? None of this is explained), they are surrounded by all this beauty and seeming bounty. Nobody seems to be starving. Yet the young people all leave for the city to earn money. (At one point the grandmother says they didn't have enough to eat and they had holes in their clothes, but this isn't really enough information!)

I wish the film had explained the economic situation better. I didn't understand why the family was better off with the parents leaving the farm to send back small wages, or how the one old woman, physically fit though she was, kept everything on the farm going by herself with just two children to help. Psychologically, it was a fine portrait of a struggling, well meaning, but normally dysfunctional family (though much of the interaction was obviously staged). And on the macro scale, it showed a country in economic dysfunction much like our own in the West, following a capitalistic model, the illusion of money, rather than connecting with the real world of resources and life and culture and building on that in a positive, sustainable way.

I kept seeing this as Blakean, in the contrast between the green and pleasant countryside and the dark satanic mills of the city. Are they saying that China is now following the disastrous model of the West in the way that we began the economic journey that now leaves us in crisis? Are they presenting this to the Chinese people as a suggestion to return to the farms? And I was reminded also of our own situation here in the Rogue Valley, and the developing economic model of locally sustainable agriculture. The Chinese farm, if it's anything like typical, looks quite viable to me. Again, why does everyone have to leave, when they have all those riches there?

This film will haunt me for a while until I can puzzle out more about it. All my questions are ignorant and naive, I'm sure - but the film left me with them, and I expect a documentary to present information in a way that I can understand. This is one where I really wanted a filmmaker Q&A because I had so many questions: how were these characters (this family) chosen? How was the filming done in those crowds with, usually, nobody in the crowd seeming to take notice of a camera? Who financed the film, and was there any problem with the Chinese government allowing this depiction of a country not just in economic crisis, but also not providing any of the security and stability a communist system claims to make possible for its citizens? And on and on with the questions!

However, I found a two-part Q&A with the filmmaker on You Tube, from Sundance. Haven't viewed it yet but I hope it will give me the background to the film that I feel I need. Here is Part One and here is Part Two of that session.

Whatever the answers turn out to be, it's a special film and well worth seeing. Thank you AIFF!

It's a wrap! It's been a blast, but now it's over. Neither the cool weather nor the economy dampened the buoyancy of the last five days in Ashland. I don't know how it is at other film festivals, but if you look at this great collection of photos by Rory Finney (the source of the AIFF photos in these posts) you might notice that everyone is smiling. Everywhere. This festival is so well-run and organized and carried out by hundreds of happy volunteers that you simply never hear a complaint. Here's an interview I really liked - this is my favorite of Jim Teece's interviews this year - "It's the complete opposite of the East Coast," indeed! Yep, that's why I live here. Film critic Shawn Levy called Ashland "This most incongruous and delightful of settings" in his blog this year. And here's a really fine account, by a blogger named Todd who visits a LOT of film festivals -- "AIFF 2010: The Ashland Experience."

Here's a roundup of the top winners. There were so many filmmakers here for Q&A's this year! and cast members and critics - everyone is so friendly - it's just the best. I filled out my audience survey at the website, and hope to win a VIP pass next year so I have unlimited access to everything (I can always dream!) (PS - see below for a very fun video of the awards ceremony. You might be surprised by some of it.)

According to an article in the Medford paper, this year exceeded last year's ticket sales by 2,000! Since tickets were running near 100% last year, I don't know how they did that - maybe more screenings at the Armory, which seats 500? Or was it - and Jim Teece deserves a very loud shout-out for this - the wonderful new online ticket order system, which did so much to make ordering, planning, and reading an enjoyable and trouble-free process? Anyway, it was great to hear that because it means we're well set up for the next one. Adios, phir milenge, bon-nit and see you next year, AIFF. It's been great.

Oh, wait - there will be more special screenings throughout the year. Once a month an AIFF benefit screening. Oh, and that's right - I have to work for those vouchers. See you soon - at the office.

I just can't stay away! Here's a vid of the awards ceremony, by Jim Teece, from Facebook page:

AIFF 2010 Awards Celebration from Ashland TV20 on Vimeo.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

AIFF Day Four: Paul Newman, Bag It, Lone Wolf, and The Most Dangerous Man in America!

Today I finally made it to one of the Talk Backs - these are panel discussions featuring filmmakers and I usually try to see them all; really enjoy this aspect of the festival; but for some reason that didn't work out this year. They are held in the beautiful Ashland Springs Hotel just up the block from the Varsity Theater. This one turned out to be a book talk, not a panel, but that was fine with me - nothing a book person likes better than a good author talk and this was a terrific one. Oregonian film critic Shawn Levy talked about his recent book Paul Newman: A Life, together with quite a nice slide show. It was fascinating to hear how he did his research and about some discoveries of new materials he found. I hope AIFF recorded the talk and will put it online...
Lobby of Ashland Springs Hotel. The Filmmaker Talkback events take place in a room on the mezanine, upper right. There's a nice garden up there too. (Oregon State Archives)

Then directly to Bag It, a documentary that doesn't sound too appealing but believe me, it's first rate - had me laughing, crying, then laughing again - extremely entertaining and moving. I will never look at plastic the same way again, and I feel better for it. So will you, or any homo sapiens with a functioning head and heart. It earned a standing ovation from the audience for the filmmaker, who was there for Q&A, and there was much spirited discussion until we were chased out so the volunteers could prepare the venue for the next feature. Here's an intro to the film. It's just a taste; you really need to see the whole thing. I'd recommend this one to absolutely anybody and gave it the highest rating. It must be a frontrunner for the audience favorite award...
PS: I was right about that - it won the audience favorite award for best documentary.

Next film was the Oscar-nominated The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. Wow! This too had a standing ovation from the audience and one of the filmmakers was there for a Q&A. It does an amazing job of telling the story and I loved this because though I remember most of the story, in my own memory it was all jumbled up. It was a crazy, chaotic, scary time to be living - much like today. Several times when obvious parallels with recent events are clear, the audience reacted audibly, which shows the filmmakers were wise not to belabor these points; they were made clearly enough that the audience got it with no further push. It also inspired some discussion about what's different now - for instance, we no longer have such an independent press; and the Supreme Court is not what it used to be. This is another one that everyone should see. You can view a trailer at the link, above. This film is fascinating, moving, focused, and true. Just... see it!

Together on the program with the Ellsberg film (AIFF description at link above) was a terrific short, Lone Wolf, which documents yet another Grand Jury abuse - why aren't people more up in arms about Grand Juries? This is about a journalist, Josh Wolf, who comes up against the system and keeps his integrity. As long as I can remember, Grand Juries have been used as witch hunts and as a secret weapon to circumvent citizens' Constitutional rights to due process, freedom of speech, and habeas corpus.

So why is it still going on???? It's like everyone agrees to just look the other way. It's been an elephant in the room at least since the Seventies, when I first became aware of them as our dreaded domestic KGB/Stassi equivalent. Grand Juries are the original Patriot Act, just a wholesale scrapping of everything our judicial system is supposed to protect. I know they have their uses, but why isn't the law changed, so that Grand Juries can't be used in this way? Here's the whole film - it's under six minutes but it's a big subject:  

Not least for the day... seeing some new friends. Nice to share and discuss and explore these films and the social context they are part of, the world as we know it. One of these new friends introduced me to a great Pacific Rim fusion restaurant Dragonfly, just up the hill from the Varsity. And throughout the festival, it's just so fine to be around several thousand others, whether I know them or not, who also appreciate these movies. Which in turn remind me to appreciate the people around me in my life here.

One of the ones that got away because you just can't do it all at AIFF -
 Panel discussion I had to miss - Reel Women - women filmmakers. (AIFF photo on Facebook.)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

AIFF Day Three: Calvin Marshall; For the Love of Movies; Greenlit

PS: I've revised these reviews umpteen times since I first posted them. Not sure why I can't quite get it right faster. Not sure I have, yet! Good thing I'm not boxed in by a daily deadline!

For Day Three of the festival, I had three screenings at the Historic Ashland Armory. I was a little nervous about finding parking - the Armory is the biggest venue for the festival, seating 500 people. The first screening wasn't sold out, but still, it's all on-street, in-neighborhood parking there. Just three blocks south of the Varsity theatre, midway between downtown and the Railroad District - all walking distance - but also a rather blustery morning. So I left home about 45 minutes before the film was scheduled to start and there was parking everywhere. Nobody else showed up for at least another fifteen minutes. Note to self: next time remember that and don't worry so much about parking!

Then waiting in line and hearing what films other people had seen. One that everyone seems to love - real enthusiasm there - is Entre Nos, one of the feature films. [PS: this won the audience favorite award for best feature, and a jury award for best ensemble cast] Another one everyone is talking about is The Adults in the Room, which is felt to be be highly original and well written, and though the production values don't stand up too well (first film; no budget), still worth seeing. I don't have tickets for either but will try to see them later.

Lining up at the Armory on Day Three - from AIFF page - by Rory Finney

Today's menu: first, a fine documentary on the history of film criticism in the US, For the Love of Movies.  I was a little surprised this wasn't sold out, since it was the only showing and I would have thought AIFF would show up in droves for this one. And it comes at a time when professional film criticism is almost gone (few paid positions at newspapers anymore; people like me on the Internet making the old intellectually elitist system obsolete). Still, it was a very respectable crowd, a near-sellout, and afterward the filmmaker (in Q&A) commented that he'd been travelling to festivals with his film for a year and this was the biggest audience he'd had - and then he said our questions were better than those of other festival audiences too. He probably says that to all the audiences, but it was nice to hear. I know I always enjoy the Q's as well as the A's. 

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed this one as it put my own lifetime of reading film criticism into a linear context and it was fun to revisit basically my own intellectual history in a movie about it (a form of naval gazing I guess but what the heck, a festival is about self indulgence). He caught just the moment, for example, when I went off Pauline Kael. The film was very well put together and entertaining. This was interesting - in the Q&A the director talked a bit about copyright and fair use - everything in the film was fair use and he got around paying any licenses. This is a must-see movie for anyone who loves movies and reads criticism; I don't know if it would be equally interesting to a more casual film fan - but maybe; I hope so. It's a piece of our shared culture, nicely served up.

Then back outside and into the line again to be readmitted on the next ticket, more talking in line and meeting up with three friends. The next film was Greenlit, a short documentary, followed by a good panel discussion on sustainability with the filmmakers and two local sustainability leaders inclucing the lady from the Co-Op who discovered Bag It (and this film?) at some other festival (Toronto?). The film is about the challenges of greening the film industry, one of the top polluters in Southern California and one of the least green of all industries. Or more specifically, an early attempt to conduct a location shoot in a greener manner than usual. The film was The River Why. (That's also on the AIFF schedule but I have to miss it - even had a ticket, but couldn't get there.)

The film itself kind of put me off at first with bratty, sarcastic humor in the form of cheap shots at Al Gore (this always pushes my buttons; the man deserves better and he's on our side, for Pete's sake)... where was I? Still, if that's what it takes to make the mouthbreathers and marching morons in a prospective audience comfortable with the subject, okay (even the self-effacing Gore would probably lend his own image for this use if it served the greater good and who knows, maybe he even did, in this case!)... but anyway, the tone alienated me personally. Let me add that this was only at the very beginning, so if it hits you that way too, my advice is to stick with the movie; it gets better - and much funnier and more substantial as it goes on.

The River Why, the film shoot serving as context for Greenlit
At first, the narrator poses as someone too impossibly backward in knowledge and consciousness to be believed - I know, it's for humor, and she does grow in stature through experience, but still... the more accessible heroine to me is the contractor who is making a living greening-up film shoots; she is very engaging, and open in her attitude. Maybe they deliberately set her up as a shining beacon of sincerity among all the attitude that everyone else hides behind. I liked that. As the narrative of the attempt to green-up the filming of The River Why - and the personal journey of the young filmmaker - progresses, there is plenty of good humor, emotion, and information. Greenlit is quite entertaining and original and witty in a hip, mashup kind of way. I did like it in the end, and would recommend it to a wide audience. It's a very interesting and truthful look at a sustainability path in its infancy, full of mistakes and facing much hostility and even sabotage - basically what we used to call "a learning experience" - so I think Greenlit is valuable for that glimpse into this moment in history, especially.

During the panel discussion that followed, more details emerged, such as union rules that get in the way (requiring plastic water bottles) and unnecessary contract requirements (agents who insist that stars not share a vehicle) - showing the many interlocking areas where changes need to be made, each a new effort in itself. The tangled mess of things as they are, that you always run into when you try to change something. But they also said that the film industry is already doing much better, two years down the road - at least on the studio front; location shoots remain more problematic. Hearing that, it occurred to me that I'd like to see a Part Two of Greenlit - showing how it's done when things improve. That would make a nice feature-length documentary that would be entertaining and inspiring. I'm imagining a future when this new/ancient sustainability ethic has become the norm (again), and we look back at when there was so much resistance to doing the right thing because it wasn't "convenient" and wonder at how fast things changed for the better once the ball was started rolling, by people like these filmmakers.

Off in a half hour for my third outing, Calvin Marshall. [See below for review] This is the only feature film (as opposed to documentaries) that I a have ticket to so far, but I've been wanting to see this one for quite a while. For one thing, I used to be a huge baseball fan and still have an appreciation for the game. For another, this was shot in Ashland (including in the park down the street from here - I actually drove by when they were shooting there, and thought it was a real baseball game, duh) and around the Rogue Valley here, and two years ago AIFF had a panel discussion that I saw, where the filmmakers showed clips of the movie in progress and talked about making the movie locally. This one is sold out.

Tomorrow's another day with three events. It always happens, that with close to 100 films being shown nonstop for the five days, even if you see five films a day you're still going to miss a lot. And my limit seems to be three; more than that and fatigue sets in and I don't enjoy it so much. It's a crying shame that there isn't a better economic situation for independent filmmakers because they make the best ones, and get the least back. Some of the best films of recent years never did make it into distribution. But Internet viewing might be changing that situation; I just hope the filmmakers benefit as well as the viewers.

Oops - there's my ride - gotta go! Forgot to mention the great food at the Armory - Water St. Cafe! Great cafe cup for lunch, and espresso brownies to drool over.

Below: review of  Calvin Marshall. You can see the video trailer at the link here.

Post script: So I made it through Calvin Marshall, and woke up this morning with more cold symptoms. Hit the Airborne, smoothie, coffee, Excedrin, and went back to sleep for an hour. Now up and feeling better! Verdict on Calvin Marshall: not the kind of movie I usually like, but that said, it was very well done. Good editing, music, acting, direction, and, with one exception, scripting. It was an odd combination of sweet (the main character, Calvin, who wants to be a baseball player but doesn't quite have the talent to make it to the next grade, college ball) and disgusting (Coach Little, an abusive alcoholic with what I guess passes, for some audiences, mostly male I assume, for an intrinsic lovable humanity, shown through his soft spot for Calvin).

Here's where I didn't like the movie, and I know, this is just my individual taste, but for me, the intended humor around alcoholism just wasn't funny, whether it was high schoolers just getting started with drinking by running into trees and breaking their noses, or the awful coach destroying his liver night after night in a bar and the odd female characters he seduces (are there really women that stupid?). And then the language - why, oh why does it have to be so foul in so many movies? I really thought he went way over the top, especially since he was supposed to be coaching community college students. Do coaches in educational settings really get away with that much bad language, much less all that outright abusive behavior?

I know, I keep hearing that people use a lot of profanity in some situations, like sports or Hollywood studios, but really, even apart from personal taste it's just so wasteful of language. To me profanity is another form of violence and when overused is just a cheap and easy way to strive for effect and my inner editor gets in the way when it's overdone. So that was very distracting and distancing for me but otherwise, the story was tight and economically told. Considering this is an indie on a low budget (1.5 million) it's a very successful film.

Two things I liked most about the movie: First, the mise-en-scene. For some reason, they decided to set it in what looked to me like the late Eighties or maybe early Nineties. This was shown in many ways and the consistency was interesting. Seeing this in 2010, the era was clear mainly on account of the technology shown: old keyboards and answering machines, clunky telephones, older cars... and what wasn't shown: Windows, little cell phones and texting! (All this about technology is clear now, but I wonder how it will look to the next generation; they'll probably think it's anywhere from 1940 on... just a thought that amuses me.) Anyway, all this - and the small town architecture of Ashland - gave the film a retro feel and maybe it was in this context that they felt the excessive profanity, drunkenness, etc., were fitting. Anyway, the details were consistent and grounded the story in a strong sense of time.

And the other thing I really liked, of course, was the sense of place. It was filmed during the fall and winter in this area and they made good use of the local scenery and people. They used several fine local actors (Ashland is full of them on account of the OSF and the rest of the lively theater scene here) and Ashland looked like Ashland, and even Medford (what they showed of it) looked like Ashland, and they made very good use of our local scenery. I think all the baseball playing was shot either at Safeco Field or down the street from here in the North Mountain Park.

So I watched the whole movie with my mind in an odd sort of reversal of figure and field: with some distaste (for the coarseness) and a distanced appreciation for the technical aspects of the film, and a liking for the theme of the movie, which was about finding the true meaning of life within our limitations, and also what sports ought to be about, and, thank goodness, occasional warmth for some of the characters. But all the while my real focus was on the background stuff, watching the familiar street scene, the park grow autumnal in color and the hills become snowy, reading the local business signs on the fence at the big ballfield, and trying to identify locales that looked familiar. At the small ballfield (the one in my neighborhood) I even got a glimpse of some of my neighbors' houses.

The friend I went with didn't like this one, hands down, because the drunkenness so put her off it. I can understand that; I was just able to disengage from that and look at other aspects and enjoy them apart from the parts I didn't warm to. Though the movie wasn't entirely to my own taste, I have to commend the filmmakers for pulling off a very professional, technically successful, and goodhearted movie on a small budget, and I hope it finds the intended audience and does well and that they make more movies.

AIFF: Day Two... Convention: a different perspective on the 2008 Democratic convention

Saw the excellent documenary Convention yesterday at AIFF.

Varsity Theatre, Ashland, AIFF photo by Rory Finney on Facebook

Unfortunately, Blogger just hiccoughed and lost my entire post! No time to recreate it now because I'm gearing up for a big day of more movies today. I'll just say: this documentary tells the story surrounding the Denver 2008 Democratic convention. It follows several key "characters" involved in pulling the convention off: organizers from the Mayor's office; the staff at the Denver Post; and the demonstrators outside the convention trying to be heard --  with just enough coverage of the convention itself to put the events and people in the documentary in context.

Convention is well worth seeing for its coverage of the demonstrations alone. With the outsiders in the mix, the convention emerges as the truly democratic institution it is supposed to be; what you get in the mainstream media is just part of the story and it comes across as just a staged event. Here is the whole story, from antiwar veterans to rookie reporter. It's all quite fascinating and, despite evidence of a police state and some police brutality, nevertheless a portrait of a democracy working pretty well after all. Pretty much the balm we needed after eight years of bush coup. And a reminder that we as a people, adults doing our jobs whatever they happen to be, are what make the wheels go around.

Lining up at the Varsity Theatre, Ashland, AIFF photo by Rory Finney on Facebook

Think political conventions are boring? Frustrated with the lack of coverage of protests, when you know they are happening? Feel like your voice isn't being heard? See this movie for some welcome perspective on things as they really are - and besides, it's really entertaining! Well done, filmmakers.

NOTE: just found this review on Oregonian critic Shawn Levy's blog - it saves me the trouble of recreating the one I lost - pretty much says everything I'd say, if I were as good a writer as he ;-)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

AIFF Day One - Ashland Independent Film Festival is underway! Reel Injun

As I've said elsewhere (and probably ad sonambulum if you aren't as fanatic about movies as I am) the film festival here is one of my favorite local events. For five days of the year the town goes movie mad and it's film talk nonstop everywhere you go. Here's something I wrote about it earlier.

I only had one ticket for today but it was an outstanding pick! Saw Reel Injun, a fabulously entertaining, moving, and insightful (any more blurby terms I can throw around here? I'm just a bit overwhelmed already) look at a century of film treatment of The People of this continent. (That nomenclature's something I learned from the movie. And I loved the point they made, that Europeans were originally tribal folk too, before we were colonized by this cultural virus that taught us to be something else, and maybe our fascination with The People is simply our way of trying to get back to who we really are. Makes sense to me!) You can see the trailer for the film on the AIFF link above or at the website for the film. This is one great movie. See it!

This screening was in the smallest theatre, the Varsity 5, down the alley in the back of the big theatres. Standing in line, the person behind me was one of the documentary screeners and she highly recommended three other titles out of all the ones she'd seen: 45365, Mount St. Elias,  and For the Love of Movies. Of the three I'll only be able to see one, the latter, as I have a ticket to that, and have conflicts with the other screening times. (Note to self: check Netflix or other, later.) Then in the theatre I sat next to an interesting friendly fellow film fan named Mary, who knows some of my neighbors, and she recommended some more documentaries. That's so Ashland! I'm in documentary heaven and will be through Monday - if I last that long. This afternoon I also saw the doctor again, who had some ideas about this cold/asthma thing that keeps hanging on, so I hope it helps me get through the movie marathon I'm throwing myself into.

That's the alley on the right - smaller theatres (AIFF photo on Facebook)

The weather is always unpredicable here, as we're in the mountains, and in April you just never know. As I left home, the sun was shining. When I got to the theatre ten minutes later, it started hailing! Just gently, though - more like snow of unusual mass. When the movie let out, the sun was out again. There's snow on the hills around town but the valley floor is free of it. At this point in the year, the trees are in blossom, the bulbs are blooming, and everything is really greening up - and it can be springlike and balmy one day and cold and rainy the next (with outbursts of bright sun in the middle). Bring and jacket and a hat!

Oh, and maybe a mention of city parking would be in order too, as long as I'm playing tour guide. You can almost always find a parking space on the street in Ashland within walking distance of just about anywhere, but my favorite place to park, being lazy and willing to spend literally a buck for convenience, is the city parking garage. This photo by Rory Finney on the AIFF site shows happy filmgoers (I should probably recognize them) in the alley where you line up for the smaller theatres. See the stairs, and the building above? That's city parking. Guess what it costs? $1 all day until 6 pm. $2 for a little longer, and the whopping charge of $3 until 2 a.m. Eat your heart out, LA! DC! New York! Even when all the theatres are running and full (remember, all the OSF theatres and the Cabaret are also within a block of here), you can usually get a spot there. And for more free parking, there's a good-sized city parking lot a couple of blocks in the opposite direction.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Geotourist home town

I can't help myself. I must boast a little. Lovely! My home town, Ashland, OR (in the mythical State of Jefferson) routinely shows up in "Top" lists, but it's about time we were recognized for our sustainability consciousness! Check out this site. It's part of a larger look at the Central Cascades region and is a joint project of National Geographic Society, Oregon and Washington states.

Unfortunately they take the easy way out and just refer you to the town's website, so the geotourism trail kind of peters out at that point among all the other stuff going on around here. But they're right, the town is active in co-creating sustainability culture. (For a more focused approach to this aspect of Ashland, this article, which I wrote about a year ago, looks at Ashland and my neighborhood, Mountain Meadows, as a low-carbon-footprint-friendly kind of place to live.)

Also, the site's Festivals feature just points to the Shakespeare Festival here; the OSF is fabulous, of course, and it is taking big strides to become more green in how it does business. It goes on for most of the year; check out this story! But there are a host of other wonderful destination events here throughout the year as well - including a highly regarded film festival, AIFF, my own favorite off-Bardway event. In fact, it's coming up this week! On Saturday there will be a panel discussion and a documentary on making green movies, matter of fact, among many other interesting offerings. I'm working very hard to get rid of the remnants of my cold and be in shape for the marathon of unbridled film buffism that takes the town over for the five days of the festival. And don't get me started on the jazz, art, and everything else all over town year round.

The photo of the charming Palm Motel, showing a glimpse of its extensive gardens, is from a fine blog I just came across, written by visitors to Ashland. These people definitely "get it" about my town. They mention some more of my own favorite spots, including Standing Stone Brewery, which is one of our top sustainability-conscious businesses. I tried to comment on the post to compliment the author, but the site was glitchy and wouldn't let me.

The Geotourism project covers a pretty big geographical area, but I was pleased to see some other Rogue Valley favorites of mine of mine, including the  Rogue Creamery, a gourmet's local treasure. It also highlights the Applegate Interpretive Center, a small but very fine little museum of local lore, geography and history just off the Interstate (5). Every time I've visited it, the other visitors have included people from other countries who'd somehow found their way to there and seemed to be glad of it, as well as American descendents of Oregon Trail pioneers exploring their roots. If you're interested in harrowing pioneer experiences Applegate Trail story is epic, and the Center tells it beautifully. The docents are great and you're likely to hear some good stories from them and the other visitors. It's also really neat how the Center came to be developed and built; ask them about it.

I think this NG/State project is a great way to point people in the direction of sustainability and relatively harmless tourism. If this kind of thing is done throughout the country, it could bring like-minded (and potentially like-minded) people together and have a synergistic effect, speeding up the right kind of change and co-creating culture around these values. I hope so!
City of Ashland in summer, from Chamber of Commerce photo found on blog cited above.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

I have blogger bug too

First a cold, and now this! My Blog has been acting crazy since yesterday and I don't trust it, so I closed it for now. Will reopen for business soon. (No, this isn't April Fools.)

Update: well, now it seems to be working again. Will reopen but keep under observation!