Wednesday, March 14, 2007

It's My Birthday!

Yep, 'tis.

Wish me luck!


Amid a busy period of completing work on programming the upcoming April WRIF (White River Indie Film festivities, which now span almost the entire final week in April), my duties have included writing the synopses for the films we've selected. These include almost all the films I've written about at length on this blog over the past month or two; boiling that blather down, I arrive at:

51 BIRCH STREET: "When it comes to your parents, maybe ignorance is bliss," filmmaker Doug Block says at one point during the multi-award winning 51 Birch Street. This is, literally, the real-life The Bridges of Madison County: Doug and his two sisters help their father clear out their suburban family home after his remarrying only three months after their mother's death (and over 50 years of marriage). In the process, they find their mother's extensive diaries, and therein a doorway to her most personal secrets and the reality of their married life.

ABSOLUTE WILSON: Filmmaker Katherine Otto-Bernstein’s exploration of renowned theater & dance director Robert Wilson's life embraces it all, from his ongoing non-verbal movement & dance therapy work (with brain-damaged children and paralyzed patients) to the theatrical work he is now renowned for. The variety of Wilson’s theatrical creations -- the stark, iconographic imagery and movement; the inventive play with sound & music; the use of color, costume and body language -- are showcased throughout, accompanied by onscreen interviews with Susan Sontag, Philip Glass, Trudy Kramer, John Rockwell, David Byrne, Jim Neu, Earl Mack, and many others.

BAMAKO: Abderrahmano Sissanko's new feature functions on many levels: African agitprop, pragmatic portrait of a world tribunal in a pauper's kingdom, meditation on 21st Century colonization, a sheathed castigation of the World Bank, G8, IMF and the malign influence of Western capitalism -- once this cinematic machete bares its blade, it cuts deep. “It is a work of cool intelligence and profound anger, a long, dense, argument that is also a haunting visual poem.” — A. O. Scott, The New York Times

BRICK: Retrofitting the milieu of Raymond Chandler and Humphrey Bogart crime thrillers to a contemporary California high school, this unique teen noir evokes dark gems like Over the Edge, The River's Edge, Heathers, Kids, and Bully, but trumps them via its complete submersion, sans irony, into its universe. The Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew were never like this: as its oner hero (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) ferrets out his ex-girlfriend’s killer, the 21st Century post-Columbine Bush-era underbelly of youth culture is explored with mesmerizing, gripping immediacy.

DECAY OF FICTION (installation): A compelling meditation on malingering cinematic spirits in Los Angeles's now-abandoned & crumbling Hotel Ambassador. An uncannily shot and edited exploration of the physical (and metaphysical) environment... and all the while, 'ghosts' of performers, diners, thugs, children, hotel staff and various denizens of 1940s movies and the hotel's past rerun their long-past interactions. A brilliant conceit, mesmerizing and completely original.

THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON: Welcome to the life and times of ‘fringe’ cult musician and artist Daniel Johnston! Having recorded himself from an early age (audio diaries, songs, super 8, video), this biographical documentary offers an introspective, incredibly detailed record of his thoughts -- which become even more compelling as it becomes clear that Johnston is wrestling with serious mental problems. A one-of-a-kind portrait of a fascinating and influential 21st Century creator.

THE FOREST FOR THE TREES: A stirring portrait of Earth First activist Judi Beri and the Leftist legal team which represented her (led by the filmmaker’s father, Dennis Cunningham, who also defended the Black Panthers in the ‘60s and ‘70s) in a lawsuit against the FBI launched after Beri survived a mysterious car bomb attack.

GRBAVICA: When uneasy pick-up lines like, “I’m sure I know you” leads to the commonalities of “Maybe you go to postmortem identifications?”, we aren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto. Welcome to Grbavica, a modern metropolitan European city haunted by fresh memories of the Bosnian conflict, experienced via the day-to-day life of traumatized Esma Halilovic and her teenage daughter Sara. A potent, moving drama of Bosnian life in the 21st Century.

THE HAND OF GOD: A fiercely intelligent, introspective, concise and surprisingly comprehensive dissection of the notorious Massachusetts Catholic Church scandal involving priests who were habitual child molestors. Director Joe Cultrera chronicles the case history of his older brother Paul, and the impact Paul's eventual disclosure of abuse (8 years before The Boston Globe ripped the lid off the wider scope of scandal) had upon Paul's entire family and community.

IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS: James Longley's intimate, three-part portrait of the current situation in Iraq as experienced by Sunni, Shiite and Kurd individuals, each in their own corner of their war-torn country, sans polemics other than those manifest on the streets, in garages, in the city centers and mosques. Longley's meditative, poetic exploration of Iraq through the faces, plight and eyes of its people was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Documentary Feature.

JESUS CAMP: Fascinating, compulsive viewing, whatever one's orientation to the subject. Directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady capture the lives of those involved with an evangelical camp (ironically based in Devil's Lake, North Dakota), from the organizers to the parents and attending children, focusing on three of the attendees, Levi, Tory and Rachael. A truly exceptional and timely documentary.

MANHATTAN, KANSAS: NYC-based filmmaker Tara Wray returns to her childhood home in Kansas to reconnect with her mother, seeking some resolution for her difficult childhood and teenage years, and their co-dependent relationship. Unexpectedly, this process proves to have a cumulative, positive impact on both Tara and her mother; a most unusual, provocative autobiographical documentary.

...and so on and so forth. We'll be showing all this, and much more, end of April.

Alas, some of our choices have been, despite the provision to the group of screeners, yanked by their respective distributors, including the excellent Ralph Nader documentary An Unreasonable Man. How unreasonable of them. As one committee member noted, "how Nader-like!" Too bad, but it's still shaping up to be a great festival.

The April event is still coming together, as is the website announcement, but anyone living in the area should keep an eye on
  • WRIF's website for upcoming news, scheduling and announcements --
  • -- hope to see some of you there!

    "I acknowledge that mistakes were made here... I accept that responsibility."

    We've heard variations on that from the President and members of his Administration since the (ongoing) Hurricane Katrina debacle, but "I accept that responsibility" apparently never, ever means really assuming any responsibility in this Administration, unless you're part of the current Walter Reed Hospital scandal, which has military leaders falling on their swords right and left (the better to ensure no blame arrives at the Commander-in-Chief).

    The latest declaration of "I accept that responsibility" followed the revelations from recently-released documents revealing a two-year campaign by the Justice Department and White House to purge federal prosecutors has prompted a fresh call for Gonzales's head.
  • but Attorney General Alberto Gonzales rejected the yowls for his resignation --
  • -- no surprise there.

    The mistakes made he might be referring to most likely be the release of said documents, since "don't get caught" seems to be the only meaningful context for the ongoing Bush Administration troubles. Gonzales added, "I believe very strongly in our obligation to ensure that when I provide information to the Congress that it's accurate and that it's complete," which is disingenuous at best from the man who has so firmly stonewalled Congress every step of the way since his confirmation hearings -- which is, after all, when Congress should have shut this former Bush attorney out. But that would have taken a backbone, and a majority willing to do more than rubber-stamp that process.

    In the meantime, in the face of the South American-touring President's call for more troops, we find out, via
  • homophobic statements from the Pentagon's top general, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Peter Pace,
  • that the military's policy against any gays serving their country has so far resulted in the discharge of "more than 10,000 troops, including more than 50 specialists in Arabic," since President Clinton instituted the "don't ask, don't tell" policy in 1994.

    Hmmmmm, the Pentagon could sure use just about 10,000 troops, especially those 50 specialists in Arabic, just about now -- if they could pull their homophobic heads out of their homophobic asses long enough to think straight (with something other than their little heads).

    The most astounding statement amid the flurry that followed General Pace's mini-screed was no doubt White House spokesman Tony Snow's claim that President Bush "has always said that the most important thing is that we ought not to prejudge one another."

    Huh. When was that? From the man who prejudges everything, to all of us. A love button.

    But let's keep this all in perspective. I mean, it ain't so bad -- I heard last night on German radio news that thanks to Zimbabwe's governing ZANU-PF party's two-year extension (back in December) of President Robert Mugabe's reign and the subsequent atrocities, the life expectancy of the average Zimbabwe woman is now 34 years of age.

    By comparison, we've all got it sweet.

    And in that context, we're all lucky folks. I certainly am.

    I'm 52 as of today -- I've outlived some dear friends, I've got a great job, CCS has reawakened my creative life, I'm happily married, live in a new home, I have friends and family and two incredible now-adult kids I love, and to my mind any day over the half-century mark of life is a day worth celebrating.

    And hey, I've got you, don't I?

    I'm outta here!
    Gotta teach!
    Gotta draw!
    Gotta move!

    [Reminder: I won't be posting regularly again until Monday, most likely. See you here as time permits...]

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