"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

Sunday, April 7, 2013

AIFF 2013: the first four days

Apologies for the long hiatus recently. I've just gone through a rather thorough reordering of my life and now that I"m getting back to normal, I'm not sure what I"ll be doing with this blog, whether returning to it or starting something new. Anyway, here's just a brief report on what I have been lucky enough to see so far at this year's AIFF. I recommend all of them! Every one I've seen so far has had a Q&A with the filmmakers present at the screening. If you love films, the ashland independent film festival (they stubbornly refuse to capitalize their name for some reason) is The Best!

Sweet Dreams: fabulous, uplifting story of joy and recovery in Rwanda 17 years after the genocide. Wonderful women. Beautifully filmed documentary and beautifully told story. There is some footage of the genocide, but it's brief and only presents itself about 40% of the way into the narrative. (I guess they had to provide some information about it, for anyone who doesn't know about it, though that's hard to imagine.) The film is a very affirming look at people at their best, nationally and as individuals, acting with great resilience to overcome and get beyond an unbelievable national and personal trauma. Full of joy, this one is. (I wish the US would take a hint from this and deal with our own Civil War, past and present. The Middle East too.) Must-see!

Gideon's Army: the public defender's role in today's mandatory sentencing-prison industrial complex-student loan scandal-so-called US "Justice" system. Very moving - and a beautiful piece of investigative journalism. It was Gideon who, 50 years ago, won the Supreme Court case that ensured all accused a defense attorney. The mandate was, of course, never adequately funded, and that's just the beginning of what they have work with. Another must-see. The film will, I hope, help to redress a big part of the current injustice.

Jake Shimabukuro: Life on Four Strings: Lovely documentary whose visual rhythms are perfectly matched with the virtuoso music of this ukelele superstar. Must-see! Fascinating, and ultimately very moving, This was paired with another great film, the inspiring and funny 16-minute Slomo.

Casting By: Another must-see, especially by any film buff. A rare glimpse into the history and workings of an important aspect of the collaborative film making process that has been steadfastly unrecognized by the industry and the Academy, clearly because it's been mostly a female-dominated profession.

From Nothing, Something: A Documentary on the Creative Process:  a very interesting and well-made film about creativity as experienced by innovators in several different arts. It was very well received by the audience and I'd say it's well worth seeing, but there were too many talking heads in this one for me; I'd have edited it down to an hour, myself. But others were more enthusiastic about it than I, so there you are. Maybe I was just a little too fatigued when I saw this one to give it my full attention. It was paired with a beautiful, witty short Scottish documentary, Perfect Fit, which alternated between the tough guys who make ballet shoes and the equally tough ballet dancers who wear them to create their ethereal effects.

Redwood Highway: This locally-produced feature film is the only non-documentary I'll be seeing at AIFF this year. It was very well received, which is not surprising since most of the sold-out Armory 550-member audience seemed to have played some part in it, if only to watch some of the filming. But I really did like it as a story of an elderly woman (Shirley Knight) who escapes the gilded cage of a resort-like 55+ community (beautifully filmed, by the way - Mountain Meadows really is that fine, though with a much livelier ambiance than what you see in the move; I know because I lived there several years myself before making my own recent radical change in situation)... who escapes a guilded cage to go on a vision quest of sorts. I'd recommend this to anyone, and the filmmakers expressed a determination to make more films for older actors on themes of interest to seniors. It's about time!

Filmmaker Talkbacks: I also enjoyed the three free Talkbacks (panel discussions): No Borders (though this one could have done with a better moderator, the filmmakers were great when they got a chance to say anything, especially on the topic that was supposed to be under discussion, filming in other cultures); Close up and Personal; and Transmedia 101: The Future of Storytelling. The Talkbacks are a great way to hear from filmmakers whose films you might be missing - and from those you have seen, or will see. And the Transmedia one was a fascinating introduction to a new project of AIFF, joining in some cutting-edge work around storytelling and new technologies.

I didn't see nearly as many titles this year. I skipped the first and last days (on the first day we did see My Fair Lady at Oregon Shakespeare Festival though). "You can't do it all" is a mantra well known to Ashanders. Here are some of the films I won't be seeing, but which I wish I were - either because I saw the filmmakers discuss their work during Talkbacks, or because I heard very good buzz about them from others at the festival. I'll be watching for them. (Several are already in some form of release, since AIFF occurs near the end of the annual film festival circuit; some have been bought by HBO or PBS and are scheduled to be shown there later in the year; but sadly, it's likely that others will be hard to find; Google their websites!):

Aqui y Alla (feature film)
The Moo Man (documentary)
The Forgotten Kingdom (feature film)
William and the Windmill (documentary)
Before the Spring After the Fall (documentary)
God Loves Uganda (documentary)
Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself (documentary)
The World According to Dick Cheney (documentary)
Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago (documentary)
Joe Papp in Five Acts

None of which is to say I wouldn't also be recommending every other choice of programming this year, if I'd been hearing about them too... Independent filmmakers are heroes, every one.