"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

Saturday, May 14, 2011

AIFF 2011 Day 2: Letters from the Big Man; The Big Uneasy; "New Directions" panel

The festival ended more than a month ago but it still comes up in conversation around here and I'm still determined to document some of it before I forget too much! We're eagerly awaiting the opportunity to see again (and share) many of these films as they come out in DVD or reappear at the Varsity for regular runs. AIFF broke records again in attendance and number of filmmaker present for panels and Q&As. It was a great year. Here's a list of the awards. 

On Friday morning of the festival (April 8), we started with a Filmmaker Talkback (these are free panel discussions held in the Ashland Springs Hotel, just up the street from the Varsity Theatre). It was titled "New Directions" and included Christoph Baaden (Hood to Coast), Philip G. Fores (Almost Kings), Robert James (Library of Dust), Adam Reid (Hello Lonesome), and Susan Saladoff (Hot Coffee). Great fun to get this background on the details of how the films got made - especially since I expected to see most of them, and all were of interest in one way or another. All very different; all amazing stories--both the films, and how they were made. I couldn't get a ticket to Hot Coffee, but Peggy saw it and maybe she'll comment on it here (hint, hint, Peggy); the filmmaker is an Ashland attorney and I do hope to see the movie soon. I heard it was very good. Almost Kings was also a local story:  the son of a friend-of-a-friend is an Ashland High School graduate who wrote the story the movie is based upon; he produced a trailer and entered it into a Netflix contest, which it won (no doubt because of my vote). We were hoping it would be filmed here, but that didn't prove feasible. I didn't get to see Library of Dust either, but I had seen a news story on it a while back and it made quite an impression on me at the time. Hello Lonesome went on to win the Audience Award, Dramatic Feature, and I'm sorry I missed seeing it. We saw Hood to Coast on Saturday, and it was fabulous.

Next, while Peggy went off to see a screening of Connected (I'd seen that the night before), Jeanie and I went to Letters from the Big Man. In unhurried fashion, it tells a spare story of a woods-savvy young scientist and her budding relationship with a mysterious Sasquatch entity. It takes a rather metaphysical approach to the legendary creature (with a bit of evil-government-plot thrown in, and a misfired romance; these plot elements barely seem to figure, though). It's very atmospheric with gorgeous cinematography of the Southern Oregon mountains, coast, and dark forests. I was happy to hear it had received this year's AIFF Gerald Hirschfeld, ASC Cinematography award -- well deserved. (The assistant cameraman was at the Q&A of the screening I saw, and he said they'd had to walk the equipment in to some remote locations.) 

This is a quirky, one of a kind film that confounds any expectation of pop culture that the mention of  Big Foot might raise. Instead, it brought to mind Kim Stanley Robinson's classy, respectful treatment of a Himalayan "big man" element in the novel Escape from Kathmandu, A sense is conveyed of a wider and deeper mythology (hints are tossed off for the viewer to catch or not, including a reference to the white buffalo in American Indian spirituality, and the interdimensionality that figures in much New Age and new science; in fact, I heard that at a different screening, the Q&A featured an expert in matters Big Foot). 

I suspect that a lot of male type people in the under-60 age bracket will be "bored" by this, as it's not the least bit frenetic or loud or sensationalist. It's one of those films you have to just sit back and take on its own terms. Also, the lead character/heroine (Lily Rabe) is no slasher victim, but a competent, outdoorsy, ungirlish young woman who is one of the few who are not spooked by Big Foot. Either Rabe is very fit and physical in real life, or she did a fantastic job of preparing for the part. Anyway, I liked the film a lot. Here's a link to the trailer. 

Next, Peggy went to see Kinyarwanda (maybe she'll guest-review that here, hint, hint, Peggy--it won a Special Jury Mention for Narrative Feature) while Jeanie and I had fabulous soup at Larks and saw some Ashland spots including the charming Ashland Art Works. Then we all went on to The Big Uneasy, the documentary by Harry Shearer, in the Armory. Even though it had a lot of Talking Heads, they were interesting ones and the chief "heroes" came across as human beings of integrity, struggling at personal and professional cost to find and tell the truth about how the New Orleans disaster really came about - not because of a super storm (Katrina was a Category 3 - big, but not THAT big) but because of sheer human stupidity and greed and incompetence -- in the hope of preventing more of the same. I'm not an engineer myself, but I was certainly aware of the danger New Orleans was in, years before Katrina, because I'd read an article about it (in some magazine like Smithsonian). In fact failure and flooding had been widely predicted for years, yet nobody in a position to do something to correct the problem (from bad levees to loss of wetlands) ever did anything, apparently. Of course, political corruption in Louisiana played a big part in the disaster and the aftermath; but Shearer chose to leave that story to someone else, and  concentrate on the engineering aspects of the situation. In doing so he highlights a big, and neglected, part of the story.

Shearer is a noted humorist, of course; there are a few satirical spots inserted in this film, but they weren't really necessary; the story behind the story is the real interest here. As humans tip the balance of nature through grandiose engineering projects, and through expansion of human habitats into ecologically vulnerable areas, "natural" disasters will only have worse and worse effects if the Army Corps of Engineers (and the corrupt political process underpinning the Corps) continues to destroy nature's own control mechanisms, and to fail to invent better ones. As happened in New Orleans, and might happen in Sacramento, next. 

We are offered a glimmer of hope that the US might start taking advice from Dutch experts who actually understand these things, but it's a thin hope, given a traditional US culture that resists learning anything from beyond its own borders.  As I write this, the Mississippi is flooding again.

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