"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 23, 2012

OSF 2012: Medea Macbeth Cinderella (and the others) (updated)

How to watch this play: (update 6/27) now that I've seen this wonderful production twice, viewed the videos on OSF's website, and heard several different participants - Bill Rauch, musicians, and actor Tasso Feldman - all talk about it in person, here is some advice about  the ways you might view this complicated but rewarding play:

You can just let it wash over you (don't attempt to follow it; just experience it).

Or you can follow one of the three stories most closely, sticking with that.

Or -- and this makes the most sense to me -- you can see it as a symphony: it's carefully written and orchestrated, with very precise cues and timing, so that one actor's lines in one story are the cue for another actor's lines in another story, just as in an orchestral composition one instrument cues another even as they all play at the same time; themes soar individually, then join with others; and content, sound and movement fuse, ballet-wise, over the whole experience.

And as you let it wash over you like a musical composition yet note the interweaving of stories you know too well to have to think about it much, just know that even if it seems confusing when three streams of dialog all come together at once, at other times, the key parts--the wonderful, classic lines you're intended to focus on--will be clear enough because those parts will stand out like beacons. Just let it happen, but that doesn't mean being passive.

And of course if you don't remember much about Medea or Macbeth (surely we all remember Cinderella well enough), review their outlines by reading the linked synopses. You don't need to know any of the stories by heart, because MMC takes just the main elements of those stories, then uses them in very clear, new ways--but you don't want to miss Banquo's ghost!

There - now you're ready to go :)

What follows is my original review, which refers you to another review with info on the play, followed by some further comments from me - and then that's followed by more from me, in the form of an update, after I saw MMC a second time. This review might be accretional, but then so's the play, in its way...
How's this for lazy: I really liked this review in Blogging Ashland, of OSF's MMC, which just opened in previews last week. Since that review covers just about everything I'd have said, and probably says it better, I'll just link to it here: http://bloggingashland.wordpress.com/2012/04/19/girl-boy-girl/

It was a joy to see one of my favorite actors, Miriam Laube,
 in a major role in this production. She is Medea. 
Next time I see this - and I plan to - I'll try to get a seat somewhere in the middle, because there's so much going on onstage that I think it will be fun to follow the big picture from a center seat next time. There are no really bad seats in the Bowmer, though, so anywhere you sit, you're in for a treat. And you won't catch it all anyway; you're not meant to. I can't wait to see--no, experience--this again.

Well, maybe I'd add one other thing: the performances! The musicians were great, the timing was amazing, the actors were OSF at their best. (And so, of course, kudos to directors and everyone else who brought all this complexity together so lucidly.) The time I saw it, particular standouts were Miriam Laube as Medea (so wonderful to see her again, and in this part), Christopher Liam Moore as Lady Macbeth, Al Esponosa as Macduff, Jeffrey King as Macbeth, Laura Griffith as Cinderella...but wait. It's unfair to single more out: they were all fantastic and when I see this again, I'll undoubtedly be having even more favorites as I track different aspects of the show.

Update 6/15: Okay, the first time I saw this I really enjoyed it--enough to want to see it again--and the second time I saw it I LOVED it! This is a play you should see more than once and it gets better each time.

My friend Paula says, "I think this is going to be my this-season's-Hamlet." She's referring to the great Dan Donahue Hamlet of a couple of seasons back, which was famous for its fans who saw it multiple times. In this production, somehow the synergy of all the juxtaposition had an "order of magnitude" effect on both of us when we saw it again. Paula's seen it three times now and plans on more. I'd like to see it again too.

The first time I saw it, it was great fun just seeing how the structures of the plays overlapped and the lines and situations came together, the characters blending and coming apart again, the emotions of the stories strangely compatible despite the radically different styles and ages of the different plays. The second time I saw it, I was more emotionally moved because I was more focused on the stories--as expressed in speeches which are high points in each play--and less on the spectacle.

Seeing the three plays worked together in this way does bring out the universality of storytelling. We're used to thinking of the ancient Greeks, or the Elizabethans, or even 1960s America, as being very different from ourselves but M/M/C shows the lie in that, just as living in a different culture (if you really live in that culture) teaches us that all humans are the same beneath the cultural differences.

I'm a space fan, so I kind of visualize this play in my mind as three merging galaxies. Medea and Macbeth are spirals, like the Milky Way and Andromeda, whereas Cinderella is M110, an eliptical, and they're coming together in the great cosmic pinball game. As they run into each other and cross through each other, their stars are not altered (as ours and Andromeda's won't be, when we finally cross) yet the shapes of the galaxies are. They remain what they are, and yet they affect each other--and belong together in that moment in time. Well, that's probably a pretty labored analogy if you're not a space fan too. Anyway, it works for me!

One of the things that bothered me at first about the three plays was the difference between the tragedies of Macbeth and Medea, which have a certain emotional similarity if not congruence, and the galaxy of the mid 20th century Cinderella, which seems so vacuous and sweet that there feels like no connection at all - it crosses through the others without ever touching them. Yet, as the play progresses - it does touch them. In the end that dissonance of tone just lends another layer of depth to the enterprise.

The thing I was bringing to the play that was giving me this discomfort (and okay, M/M/C is not really meant to be comfortable, I know, yet...)--the thing that was bothering me, though, I realized later when I thought some more about it, was that the earlier folk versions of Cinderella are very bloody and cruel, and as feminist scholars have shown us, viciously antifemale in their message. Therefore, at first glance the traditional version of Cinderella would seem a better choice to pair with Macbeth and Medea, to go with the great depth and genius and pain of those literary works. But then I wondered if I could have sat through three such tragic entertainments and realized that this version of Cinderella, for all its silly fantasy, still contains the elements of the original story (from a feminist point of view)--prettied up and made to feel happy on the surface, yes, but if you really understand Cinderella the feminist tragedy is still there. It's the one we're all living now, whether or not we know it.

What I came away with most, on my second viewing of MMC, was an appreciation for what the actors were pulling off - all staying in their different styles, there together on the stage. I wonder if any other acting situation requires them to do this. It's not just the costumes that remain in their distinct styles, it's the acting styles too. Saccharine Cinderella and tragic Medea are utterly true to themselves, right next to each other. As the costumes are altered at the end (and I think I missed this element almost entirely the first time around) the actors remain the characters they are, in the styles and periods in which they belong. It's just amazing to watch.

Looking forward to watching it again, and finding out what I see next time.

Finally, parataxis: see "other uses." 

What a wonderful enterprise this is. Thank you OSF!


So now I've seen all the plays currently being staged and enjoyed them all. Some I want to see again, especially Troilus and Cressida, which surprised me in much the same way OSF's Measure for Measure did last year: a whole new understanding of a play I'd never liked before. I'll be seeing that again soon. Would love to see The White Snake again too, but it has a short run and seems to be sold out except for the most expensive tickets. Romeo and Juliet and Seagull both have their strong points and are well worth seeing. And I did at least review Animal Crackers , in this post. Maybe more on the others later, especially those I see again.

The rest of the season's plays will open in June and July. I have my tickets ready!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Remarkable Trees of the World, Butterfly, and If a Tree Falls (book and film reviews)

"The most common form of terrorism in the U.S.A. is that carried on by bulldozers and chain saws." 
--Edward Abbey, 1927-1989 

Julia "Butterfly" Hill in her tree, which she named Luna
(image found at http://hugrevolution.tribe.net/photos/4711e272-6362-4fd1-b0c6-e619dd1995ea )
I have a thing about trees. It goes back to my childhood, when I wandered alone in olive groves and orange orchards, among wild oaks and tall redwoods. I've had relationships with trees everywhere I've lived, probably because I got to know them when I was young. I knew trees as generous, harmless, and dependable sources of delicious food, reassuring shelter, and easy companionship. I understood them better than people, and preferred their company most of the time. Sometimes I still do. I came to understand that trees are badly abused by humans--and there was never any question what side I was on. I've been working on a piece about my personal history with trees; for now, here are some reviews of works that resonated strongly for me:

Remarkable Trees of the World by Thomas Pakenham (Norton, 1998) I was fortunate to review this beautiful book when it was first published (these comments are adapted from that review) and I'm happy to learn, now, that it did find the following it deserved, and raised consciousness among friends and potential friends of trees, even generating a small ecotourism industry for people who were inspired to meet the trees in the book.

Pakenham, a historian who had written extensively on the problem of colonialism, then gained a following of tree-lovers with Meetings with Remarkable Trees (Random, 1998), which featured trees in Britain and Ireland. It was in turn made into a radio and television series which I have never seen.  

In Remarkable Trees of the World, Pakenham sets out to discover more such natural wonders elsewhere. In Europe, North America, Africa, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand, he finds 60 commanding tree presences: giants and dwarfs, Methuselahs, shrines, and what he calls "dream" trees of many diverse kinds. Whether he is meeting baobabs, sequoias, or banyans, the author finds magnificence, beauty, and, sometimes, sadness. He has a genius for communicating his sense of each tree as an individual being, engendering wonder, awe, and respect for it in the reader. 

Pakenham's thoughtful but brisk narratives bring his travels to life, and readers will feel that they are participants in an adventure as he experiences trees, their ecological and historical contexts, and the challenges he faces in creating photographs that can begin to do justice to these difficult and special subjects. The resulting images are truly remarkable, conveying the tactile aspect of bark, the sense of size or majesty, or the rare moment when the light is just right to capture the spirit of the tree.

The book's chapters are further enhanced with historical illustrations (often, views of the same trees in much earlier days) and snippets of poetry ranging from Alfred, Lord Tennyson to Ogden Nash. Pakenham ends his journey with a chapter on "Trees in Peril." This beautiful and unique book is sure to be appreciated by nature lovers. And though it is a highly personal work and not a scientific text, it demonstrates keen and accurate observation; it could serve as an excellent supplement to studies in science, history, and geography.

Two fine documentary films show, from the inside, something of the reality of the people who care enough, and are courageous enough, to put their bodies in the path of the machines of destruction -- and these films expose the true nature of the drivers of those machines, too. I'll only say a little about the films here, because they really are to be seen. They deserve that.

photo from excellent website:
First, Butterfly (1980): This is the story of Julia "Butterfly" Hill, the young woman who famously camped out 180 feet up in an ancient redwood tree for over two years to keep loggers from killing it. 

Filmmaker Doug Wolens covered the story, and gives Butterfly's mission context: the wholesale destruction of the magnificent Pacific rain forest and the culture of Earth First, front-line eco-activists whose individuals and movement supported her. Wolens's previous background was as an attorney and this gave him the tools to make clear the issues, both legal and moral. 

This is a stark, scary, and beautiful story. Many people comment that it shows that "one person can make a difference," but don't expect any cliches here. Remarkably, Wolens edited the film on his home PC. The story is so riveting that I was not aware of any technical shortcomings: the story and the movie, like Butterfly herself, were inspired. It is a story that demands to be known.

This remarkable woman named Butterfly continues to write and represent trees to the human world. 

More recently came a selection at Ashland Independent Film Festival in 2011,  If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (2011). It was nominated for a 2012 Oscar. Its director, Marshall Curry, had won an Emmy and this was his second Oscar nomination. 

The story arc: In December 2005, the FBI arrested several members of a Southern Oregon cell of the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) for a number of high-profile actions throughout the West. The case was headline news for months in Oregon, but this film explores what is really a rather complex tale with much more intelligence and subtlety than has been seen before. 

Remarkably, the story came to the filmmaker's attention because one of the accused, Daniel McGowan, happened to be a co-worker in Curry's wife's office at the time of his arrest. Curry set out to understand McGowan's personal transformation and radicalization, and tells of the rise and fall of the ELF cell by focusing on their increasingly dangerous campaigns, the mistakes that unraveled them, and how the FBI finally caught up with them.  

To borrow a phrase or two from the filmmaker's website, this is part coming of age story and part cops-and-robbers thriller. The documentary uses archival footage and exclusive interviews to examine the character of these people and the dynamics of their group, and asks hard questions about environmentalism, activism, American values, and the way the US defines terrorism. 

And finally, speaking of how the US defines terrorism (the key shift: legally it's no longer about hurting people, it's about damaging property - another pernicious wrinkle in the legal shift to corporate personhood), here's a recent interview that refers to this very subject; I just came across it on NPR's website: http://pd.npr.org/anon.npr-mp3/npr/totn/2012/02/20120221_totn_04.mp3 I'm glad someone is still taking about it. I think Marshall Curry is a heroic filmmaker.

(Note: this post, with these reviews, has been in draft form for quite a while. I finally realized I couldn't get a handle on it because I really had three stories going on: my own history with trees; the reviews here; and an essay on civil disobedience and modern definitions of terrorism. These two movie reviews indicate where I'm going with that; my review of We Are Legion does, too. I'm now working on the other two parts...)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

AIFF 2012: Wraps


memories of AIFF2012.
coming up: AIFF 2013, April 4-8!

After a film festival, at least after a fantastic one like Ashland's, I recommend spending an entire day and night sleeping and then a lazy morning the next day, and THEN thinking about writing reviews. That's the point where I am now. It was an amazing festival. Programmer Joanne Feinberg and selection crew outdid themselves once again with the excellence of the selections, and the special events I attended were some of the best-ever. Volunteers made everything flow smoothly and fellow attendees were friendly and interesting to talk to. Easy walking distances to parking, venues, hotel (kudos to Bard's Inn, this year) and a wonderful variety of foods (many reasonably priced) really do make AIFF heaven for the film buff. My only problem: add a bit of socializing to all this, and there is no time for blogging!

This year I saw several films and panels a day. I wouldn't have wanted to miss a single one, and as always, there were others I'd like to have seen as well. Most of these won't be available to see outside of film festivals for months or even years. Many fine films I've seen at AIFF still have not become generally available for borrowing or streaming, and who can afford to buy them all? Not I.

But from discussions I heard, this year filmmakers are finally catching on to how to use the Internet to reach backers and audiences. Just a few years ago, I attended a panel on which not a single filmmaker had a clue about how to use crowdsourcing or streaming. So in this "golden age of documentaries" (as I heard one filmmaker put it this year) we still have a lot to look forward to.

Here's a list of this year's awards: http://www.ashlandfilm.org/Page.asp?NavID=539
Here are some interviews with some of the filmmakers: http://blog.ashlandfilm.org/?p=330

On to AIFF 2013: April 4-8.

AIFF 2012 Day 5: Locals 2, Dreamworld, The Universal Language, Austin Unbound

This post, like the other "day" posts I've been doing during the festival, will be a placeholder until I've caught up on (at least briefly reviewing) all the films I saw, so check back later if you don't see the reviews you're looking for here. I want write something about everything I saw at this year's festival because it was all good. The festival's a wrap, but now comes what's in some ways the best part for me: thinking some more about it all, and writing.

Locals 2: these "locals" programs are just sheer fun, because they're such a variety. They're films by local filmmakers but we have a vibrant culture here, so expect the best.

The Locals program kicked off with a fantastic animated comic, Pizza Deliverance,  "A delivery driver's tale of monsters and mayhem. Written/Drawn by Jake Vian. Video/Score by Cyle Ziebarth." (From the YouTube.) Besides being highly amusing in its own right, the cartoon has a lot to say about the insanity of trying to make a living dealing with the public. In this case, the geography of Oregon has something to do with the challenges, but I identified with it too, after a career indoors in public libraries (which most non-librarians assume are sane, safe places - ha!). Every profession has its monster patrons and special challenges in getting the job done - with rewards at the end if you have the right attitude. Very well done, fun, and funny! Here's the YouTube: see for yourself.

Other Locals in this show: 3:30, Four Daughters, and Pretty Piece of Justice, short fictions which ranged from science fictional irony to intimate drama to humorous fantasy and two documentaries, The Next Best West (with three examples of what people are doing to remediate environmental mistakes of the past) and An Ordinary Life, a wonderful short film on local activist and poet Dot Fisher-Smith. As with several of the films I haven't done justice to yet here, I intend to write more about this one! So check back later. This was a shorter, more film festival-friendly version of the longer documentary, Dot (I intend eventually to add links and more info on all these when AIFF puts the web info back online). Also at this screening event, there were representatives from each of the films for Q&A!

Universal Language, Austin Unbound, and Dreamworld: see them! Check back later for my reviews. Here's an interview (and trailer) with the director of Dreamworld, Ryan Darst. I really enjoyed the Q&A with him and lead actor/writer Oliver Hayes - they really got into it!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

AIFF 2012 Day 4: Locals 1, Love Free or Die, Atomic States of America

More great films, documentaries and shorts today. The trouble with seeing so many movies is that there isn't time to blog about it! I mean, you still have to grab food and drink somewhere, talk to people as you wait in line for the next one, and sometimes make the trek between Varsity and Armory venues, not to mention driving out of towners around. Oh, and sleep. But gradually I'll be adding some comments on each.

So far all the films and events I've attended have ranged somewhere between well worth seeing and off the scale great. I'm doing these daily posts as placeholders until the festival is over, social obligations are met, and I can get back to writing. So check back later for more, if you don't see the review you're looking for here :)

Love Free or Die
This is a fine documentary about the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal church organization in the US. When I was about four years old, my parents had my three older siblings and me all baptized at the same time by an Episcopalian bishop in the church in Folsom, California. It was the closest Episcopal church to where we lived, and the bishop was visiting from Southern California. My parents were atheists (well, as Northwesterners they both had a Cascadian sort of spirituality, but there wasn't a word for it then) and wholly opposed to "organized religion" on a number of highly reasonable grounds; but they finally agreed to have us baptized as a courtesy to my father's mother, who more or less demanded it on her deathbed. (I always had the impression that the important thing wasn't being baptized as such, but being baptized as Episcopalians. My mother suspected it had to do with perceived social status.)

All I remember about the big day was that I got to wear my favorite dress, a red velvet one, and that the Bishop spilled some water on it but I forgave him when he looked into my eyes and smiled apologetically about the spilled water. Later I learned that my mother had only agreed to this baptism incident because this particular man, this bishop, was well loved by people like my parents for his championship of social justice and liberal causes. He probably even defended people accused of being communists, as my parents often were. Anyway, they revered him. And I'll always have a soft spot for Episcopal churches. They were the ones who held the concert for peace during Vietnam, and where I attended a candlelight vigil on the eve of the Iraq invasion.

I mention all this because if that baptism incident were to happen today, Bishop Gene Robinson (the subject of this documentary) would have been my mother's choice as the religious figure she'd trust to imbue an otherwise unwanted act with genuine goodness (or at least, render it harmless) for her children, purely by virtue of his innate benignity. He comes across here as a very sweet human being with a great sense of humor, and this is an inspiring film about him and his struggles to live the spiritual life natural to him in an organized religion adhered to by a great many people who haven't a clue about what real love is. It's also a fascinating political story of the schism between the English and the American Episcopalians (and Americans vs. Americans). With, ultimately, the side of justice winning in a most graceful and (I'll admit it) spiritual way. Finally, and I'll admit this too, it offered me a window into how true spirituality can function even in organized religion.

I tried to find out what happened with the English-American split since the end of the movie, but couldn't find anything more on it even with Google. All I know is, in the movie, the Americans won. Funny how a church founded on the issue of divorce then split over the issue of marriage... what is it about religion and sex!?

Update 1/13: Well, sigh, don't know about the Church of England but looks like the Catholics are still circling their wagons over there across the pond: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/jan/02/gay-masses-soho-abolished As they are here. Establishment religion will always dig in where it can, protect its capital and resist change.

The Atomic States of America
This is a very fine documentary film that, as the very best do, pulls together a  whole lot of information from different sources and in different visual styles, and makes it coherent, entertaining, and enlightening. In a time less rich in fabulous documentary filmmakers, this would have been the best. Now it's just another really well done, must-see film. How lucky we are to live in such bad times - so many good documentaries about what's going on! That's all I have time for now, but see if it if you can! Click on the title, above, for a Democracy Now broadcast about this movie from the Sundance festival.

On the same subject, these podcasts on Fukushima, with implications for the rest of the world (including the US situation) are must-listening and feature some of the same scientists seen in the film: http://www.ecoshock.info/2012/04/worst-problems-in-world.html

thumbnails from IMDB site

For more on these, as well as on the short films in the Locals 1 program, including Spirit of Bowmer in the Park, check back later! I'm gradually getting caught up.

This Locals program kicked off with a wonderfully entertaining music video, Don't Eat Something If You Don't Know What It Is. (Link is to the YouTube.) It was made by the sister of the expert on foraging wild foods, and full of Ashland locations! How many do you recognize? (This was half the fun of all these shorts produced locally.)

AIFF 2012 day 3: Talkback, Valley of Saints, Water, Shakespeare High, Ethel

Note: I set up these daily posts as placeholders until the festival was over and I could get back to writing. I'm getting caught up now, so if you don't see the review you're looking for here, check back later. Thanks for visiting!

Valley of Saints
This intimate, quiet, yet suspenseful film was filmed on Dal Lake and in the city of Srinigar in Kashmir. The director, Musa Sayeed (whose parents came from Kashmir) was inspired by the films of Satyajit Ray, as he reveals in this interview-- and it shows, in the best possible way. Like the master, he captures qualities that are so very real that they bring the viewer straight into his story of family, youth, coming of age, love, and connection with place. 

It's sad to see Kashmir so damaged by war and its pristine environment so sullied--indeed, its very life threatened--yet somehow also calming in its acceptance of change. Though the lake is polluted, the film is still beautiful as are the people in it. We've seen Dal Lake in classic Bollywood films, or visited there as tourists, but here we see how people actually live on it. The lake is a character itself, and is the bond that holds the story and characters together.

In the Q&A that followed the screening, it was fascinating to learn details of casting (the lead character is actually a boatman, not a professional actor, something I suspected because of the way he moved  yet found it hard to believe because he was such a natural actor--a credit both to him and to the director) and filming (some shots were done under dangerous circumstances, and all light was natural light). A really remarkable, beautiful film. Valley of Saints won the AIFF jury award, and I was glad that it did.

Valley of Saints was paired with a short documentary, Water, which is also a memorable piece of filmmaking. It simply follows a Tibetan woman on one of her daily treks to gather water. It is hypnotically beautiful and had a very warm reception from the audience. I hope to write a bit more about this when AIFF's film information is back up on their website (they must have taken it all down, before putting it into the Archives).

Shakespeare High

I'm not sure what makes these "school competition" movies so riveting -- the kids with their personal challenges, raw energy and fresh, untested talents; the class and social conflicts between schools; the competition itself; the performances; the film editing that makes a coherent narrative out of a lot of very disparate material -- but they almost always are very entertaining. At best, they're inspiring. This one is both. 

It's about a long-running competition between Southern California schools, organized by drama teachers, in which the kids create their own very accessible versions of Shakespeare plays, performing what seem basically to be skits, without props. It's a creative free for all and some of the results are really quite remarkable.

I believe the director, Mel Stuart, also made The Hobart Shakespeareans, one of my all-time favorite documentaries (that one is about fifth graders).

Director Rory Kennedy and her mom, Ethel Kennedy
(from Sundance site)

This one was an out-and-out audience favorite (it won the Audience Favorite award in the Documentary category). It's a fantastic piece of filmmaking. Director Rory Kennedy is Ethel and Robert's eleventh child, born after he was assassinated in 1968, and an accomplished documentarian (Ghosts of Abu Ghraib and others) but while her other films have been straight journalism, this is a very personal film. It consists almost entirely of family materials and news footage (in her family, the two are one and the same, as she shows) and somehow achieves an unlikely balance between tragedy, humor, hopefulness and despair. The family story she tells also formed the backdrop of our own lives, at least those of us who are old enough to remember it all, and it touched a deeply personal level in many audience members. I won't reveal any spoilers here; it's quite a story, and a beautiful documentary about how people can live their lives, whatever their circumstances.

Programmer Joanne Feinberg introduces the panel for Saturday's Talkback: (r to l) Moderator Ondi Timoner (We Live in Public), Briar March (Smoke Songs), Brian Knappenberger (We Are Legion), Bryan Storkel (Holy Rollers), Till and Turner Ross (Tchoupitoulas), and Drea Cooper (Aquadettes) (photo from AIFF Facebook page)
Filmmaker TALKback: BYOD - Bring Your Own Doc 
One of my favorite things at AIFF is a good panel discussion featuring filmmakers; these "Talkbacks" happen on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday mornings in the Ashland Springs Hotel near the Varsity Theatre. They're free and very often, not sold out. I don't understand this because they're always interesting, and it's a great way to see something about films you weren't able to fit into your schedule, or learn more about the films you did see (or haven't seen yet). This one was filmed and will be presented as an episode of Timoner's BTYOD Web series, I guess. I might add some more comments on this later. It was fun.

AIFF 2012 day 2: Julie Taymor and Bill Rauch - and OSF

Our second day was almost all Shakespeare as we decided to take in a bit of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival too. We started with the Backstage Tour - no matter how many times you take the tour, it's always fun and you learn something new; this time our group was led by longtime OSF actor Mark Murphey (Ulysses in this year's Troilus and Cressida; I'm behind on reviewing that too). Then we saw an affecting Seagull, directed by Libby Appel, on the intimate New Theatre stage (wonderful); after a nice lunch at Lark's it was on to the Armory to see a fascinating "conversation" between OSF's Bill Rauch and stage and film director Julie Taymor. With enlightening footage from four of her plays and films--The Tempest, Titus Andronicus, Across the Universe, and The Lion King--showing how her stage work is transformed to the cinematic medium.

I'm doing these daily posts as placeholders until the festival is over, social obligations are met, and I can get back to writing. So check back later for details :)

Here's some local newspaper coverage of the event: http://www.mailtribune.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20120414/NEWS/204140314

Friday, April 13, 2012

AIFF 2012 Day 1: We Are Legion; David; My Best Day; Little Horses (quick film reviews)

(slightly updated 4/14: I'll keep expanding on these reviews as time permits.)

The eleventh annual AIFF started yesterday and once again it was film heaven. No time for full reviews now as I'm off again soon, but just so I don't get too far behind, these are the films I saw yesterday:

We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists -- see it! Fabulous documentary. The filmmaker was there too for a great Q&A. This film was #1 on my must-see list for this year's AIFF.

What do Internet trolls, lolcats and Wikileaks have in common? A heck of a lot more than I realized. I'm not a tecchie so I've only observed this history in bits and pieces, and it was fascinating to see all the dots connected into a social history of how Anonymous came about. This is a coherent and thought-provoking anthropological record of evolving culture, and a beautifully made documentary film.

I was first aware of the digital "Anonymous" movement during the runup to Occupy, last year, and had to do a little homework at the time (view V for Vendetta --itself based on an earlier graphic novel I'd also missed--and review the history of Guy Faulkes, which in turn led to a reexamination of OSF's earlier play Equivocation... It's all related) just to find out what those masks were about. (I'd heard of the raids on corporations before that, which were spectacular but seemed to be harmless, but hadn't connected them with the masks.) It turns out that this is just the most recent face, and one facet, of a very large story, and this documentary challenges and clarifies on many levels. And now I'm seeing connections between the government prosecutions of hacktivists and the environmentalists of last year's If a Tree Falls too (reviewed that here). What would we do without documentary journalism?

Over the years on the Internet I'd been aware of trolls (evil) and hackers (more than one variety; some of them the hope of the world, it seemed to me) including most recently Anonymous and now hacktivists, but this film shows how it all connected, grew, and morphed over time into a global underground, the kernel of what is perhaps the only thing that can really bring about the kind of change the world needs today. This is a very timely and very much needed history and perspective on a phenomenon that until now has been treated only according to the needs of the few, in the media. Certainly for anyone who still doesn't get why Internet freedom is perhaps the single most important issue of our time, and why all the current powers that be are scrambling so desperately to curtail and control it, this documentary might give a much needed perspective. And as a documentary film, it is a brilliant work of editing, bringing together so many disparate elements into a truly coherent narrative showing many dimensions of a very complex human culture. (August 2012: they announce new website. It has timeline and other info.)

The short film it was paired with, Tiffany Shlain's A Declaration of Interdependence, is great too - like me you might already have seen all or parts of it on the Internet (I followed Shlain's work after last year's wonderful Connected, and this is part of it) but to see it with an audience is an experience of a different sort and not to be missed. It is the best face of people, expressing through the Internet a new culture of global connectedness.

The next film we saw is also about interdependence and connectedness in a human community, this one a city neighborhood. The feature film David (trailer at that link) is fabulous -the story of the son of a Brooklyn imam and his encounters with a Jewish boy. Again, the filmmaker was there for Q&A and the story of how he made the film was as interesting, in its way, as the film itself. Can't say enough about this one and don't have time right now, but see it!

I think it was just a measure of how many outstanding films AIFF had this year, that this one didn't win some sort of top honors. It was very popular with audiences and I'm sure the jury appreciated it too. It's one of those movies that you want to share with everyone you know.

My Best Day: another winner! Loved this quirky, totally original feature film by Erin Greenwell. It's the story of a young woman seeking connections with her biological family, but in the course of a day (and with a little help from her friends) she gets far more than she bargained for. To say more would be to give away the surprises, but the charm of this one, for me, was in the wonderful characters and ensemble performances (it received a "special mention" from the jury for that) and most of all, for me, in its nonchalant portrayal of small town lesbian dating relationships as part of the social fabric of the town. Nicely done. Simply delicious! Here's an interview with the filmmaker, Erin Greenwell.

It was paired with another delightful short feature, Little Horses, by Levi Abrino. This is a very touching and well directed and filmed tale that's also set in a small town, showing a family in the process of readjusting to the new dynamics of parenthood (and son-hood) when the father becomes a stepfather. So much story is told, so much character shown, in such a short time, and in such a touching way--and of course who can resist the charm of "little horses"!? This won the jury prize for best short feature film, and I'm not surprised.

I'm writing this on the morning of Day Two. Today we're making a bit of a detour to the OSF (Oregon Shakespeare Festival, down the block from AIFF) to see the backstage tour and then Seagull. Followed by lunch, and then a conversation at the Armory between one of AIFF's awardees, Julie Taymor, and OSF's incomparable Bill Rauch.  What a town!