"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

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Looking back at AIFF 2011: Day One: Louder than a Bomb, A Conversation with Harry Shearer, Orbis Minor and Connected

What with one thing and another - combining the festival with the very welcome company of two old  friends, while under the influence of powerful antibiotics and not anywhere near back to 100% functioning -- I never found the time or energy to write about the festival while it was going on, this year. I did make a start, at the beginning, and this post is derived from that draft.

After this, what I intend to do in some future posts is to offer some brief reviews of the films I saw, because every one of them was remarkable.

Actually the festival started for me a day early, with the arrival at the airport of Jeanie. (What a lovely person she still is; we had a few things to catch up on since it's been over 40 years since we've seen each other.) I happened to have a copy on hand of one of the AIFF offerings, Louder than a Bomb, so we watched that Wednesday night at my place and we both loved it. Chicago high school students in a poetry slam competition; who knew? Outstanding story, compelling poetry, all in all a don't-miss. I thought the narrative could have made it a little clearer what was going on, and with some of the poets I would have liked subtitles, but still well worth seeing. I have a feeling this will be an enduringly popular documentary, even as it catches this current moment in our history.  (I saw this again later with neighbors, and it seemed even more  powerful the second time through. Definitely an outstanding, memorable, inspiring film. It was awarded an AIFF Special Jury Mention for Feature Length Documentary) Here's Roger Ebert's review.

Thursday (Day One of the Festival)  was a great day too. Sunshine, a mini-blizzard in Ashland (Jim Teece's photos on YouTube give some idea what it looked like - they were saying "Sundance revisited"):

And then clear driving to the airport to pick up Peggy; she'd flown on the same flight with a tired-looking Harry Shearer, who was delayed in getting here by plane, on account of the crazy mountain weather (he described the experience with understandable exasperation on his podcast later). Then there was a serious hail storm on the way back to Ashland (scary driving)-- more crazy weather --and finally we got to our first official event, A Conversation with Harry Shearer, at the Armory. (Photo from Shawn Levy's blog.)

Harry Shearer accepting his Rogue Award at AIFF.
It was a very entertaining and often hilarious retrospective of some of Shearer's career highlights (inspiring me to add his earlier films to my Netflix queue - I liked A Mighty Wind the best), and a nice introduction to his new documentary on New Orleans, The Big Uneasy, which promises to be a long-overdue expose of the Army Corps of Engineers. We have tickets to that later. Glad I didn't miss that "conversation"! Later, in his podcast, Shearer said he was disappointed to learn that the Rogue Award didn't mean he was a rogue, it was just taken from the name of our valley; but he's wrong about that; the name is intended to have the double meaning. Too bad he didn't catch that, but someone will probably tell him.

Much to catch up with Peggy in between films, too - hadn't seen her in even longer, and as with Jeanie, it was amazing to explore how two friends in youth could travel on such parallel paths through life that they can get together again decades later and still be on the same page! We all went on to Louie's by the Plaza, to test the fabled Best Hamburgers in Ashland (even my veggie burger was too delicious to seem quite guilt-free), and then finally by myself (while Jeanie and Peggy got caught up at the Columbia Hotel room) to the little Varsity 5 to see Connected: An Autoblogography of Love, Death, and Technology (also sometimes subtitled A Declaration of Interdependence). It was paired with a short documentary, Orbis Minor. That was an inspired pairing; kudos to the programmer. Connected is an interesting personal film with global intentions, exploring the filmmaker's (Tiffany Shlain) relationship with her father, who seems to have been a great one, and what she learned from him about brain science and Life, as two life-altering events struck in the midst of her work making another, less personal documentary about global technological connectedness and the promise it offers. Very entertaining, humorous, touching, and interesting.

Orbis Minor is a 15-minute film by Zach Kienitz, a Montana film school student. It takes a very different view of  technological connectedness (or what it means when technology changes how people relate to their world and to each other). Through a series of long takes, from an unmoving camera set in several different places, it effectively makes the point that while we are caught up in our minds--minds affected by the technology we use so much of the time--the natural world is still very real and moves at its own pace.

The young filmmaker of Orbis Minor was there for an interesting Q&A, and gave me some further food for thought. He asked how long people thought the first shot had gone on, and the answers (after a waggish "one hour," which got a laugh - it did at first seem to last practically forever, just a shot of river water going by) ranged from one to five minutes. I was the one who said five minutes. He said it was only (I think) one minute long, actually. And said that when they showed the film to different age groups, the older people (the age of the audience members who stuck around for the Q&A - Boomers, mostly, like me) tended to be on the "one minute" end of the scale, while the younger audience, say 18-22 year olds, tended to be at the other end, thinking five minutes or more. I remarked that I'd thought it was five minutes and I'm old, but added, "It was just that after Connected, with all those quick cuts, this was an adjustment. But I liked it once I got the idea what was going on."

He said Connected (at somewhere under 90  minutes) had probably 2,000 shots and his film (at about 15 minutes), just eight (I think these were the numbers) of those very long takes. During which, in voice overs, several people from different generations mused about how they felt about the present culture of technological connectedness. This juxtaposition of their thinking and the inescapable visual of the natural world, there on the big screen in front of you and refusing to act like high-speed Internet, creates a very meditative and ultimately thought provoking effect on the viewer. A remarkable short film, I thought.

The other thing I remember about the Q&A, which gave me a personal insight, is that he said that in another study, they tested how many frames people of different ages took to "get" an image. The general idea was that the kids (say, 18-22) got an image in just a few frames, while it took the Boomers many more. I heard some of the other Boomers commenting that no wonder they thought Connected went by too fast, but I have to say I kept up with it just fine. My only complaint is that it repeated the use of some of the shots too many times. Indeed, in that question of how long I felt the first shot of Orbis Minor had taken, I did perceive the second film as an 18-22 would. But though it felt excruciatingly slow to me, at first, I was able to adjust and enjoy it in the same way that my age cohort did, after probably 30 seconds. I have one foot in each world, apparently. Not a bad thing. I don't own a cell phone and don't text, but I do sorely miss my laptop whenever it crashes; I use it for everything from Twitter to blogging, and revel in everything I can do in making connections online. But I also need to get outdoors and just sit and meditate too. If we ever have to go back to doing without all this, I'll be okay with that too, probably.

(Fractal-Tree from http://emergent-culture.com/)
I didn't grow up with this technology the way the kids have, so I don't swim in it the way they do; but I've had to work with it my entire adult life and I enjoy playing with it now, so my own reaction and comprehension times have pretty much kept up with the changes. But then I've always had a bit of a problem conveying my scattershot thoughts to other people, which is why I started writing early on in life. That same characteristic, of having a brain firing in all directions most of the time, has served me well in the new technological environment. Blogging with links and all the rest of the interconnecting stuff enables a much more satisfying, more dimensional kind of writing, for me. What it does for other people... well, I'm not responsible for that. I just do it because I have to. One of the young poets in Louder than a Bomb said something to the effect that once she started writing, the world began to make sense to her. Jeanie surprised me by turning to me then and asking if that's how I felt, and I said yes. What a perceptive and sensitive question for Jeanie to have come up with. 40 years apart, and we still like the same movies, too. Guess I finished this post up in a personal-journal frame of mind... back to the films next time!

1 comment:

Cal Gal 1968 said...

Wonderful and very perceptive comments, Chris. Reading about it brought the whole experience back, just like it was yesterday. I had such a wonderful time. Wish we lived closer so that we could spend more time together.