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Film Festival Day 2, 26/07/2014

Coordinating groups of people is always a bit fraught — especially when some of them are very young people. Nevertheless, we managed to collect three of my nibblings, get most of their ice creams inside them rather than on them, and sit down for Toons For Tots in a timely manner.

This year wasn’t as good as last year, sadly. Part of that may be because some of these nibblings are growing up – but I felt there wasn’t anything at the level of The Goatherd And His Lots And Lots And Lots Of Goats or Ormie the Pig.  For example, the animated version of I Want My Hat Back was fine, but I didn’t feel like it added anything significant to the picturebook. Then again, it is a very good picturebook. Trampoline was more of a good idea than a fun execution (telling the story from the shapes made while watching from underneath a trampoline). Big Box Singsong: Hair was fine, My Mom Is An Airplane was pretty good, and The Smortlybacks was okay… just not, “Huh, I should hunt up a link and send it to the other nibblings.”

Maybe I need to start taking them to Animation For Kids.

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The Great Museum reminded me a lot of House of Radio from last year — though this focused on the restoration and expansion of the main museum in Vienna, rather than French public radio. But it played the same trick of showing events as they happened, with the only dialogue being people talking to each other, though this film was more focused about what was changing than being a “day in the life” (though that got a good showing too).

It seems like a lot of the work for the majority of people involves walking long distances, carrying things, and holding things in place. One memorable sequence had a guy on a scooter gliding through hallways and past desks for 90 seconds or so, parking, and then picking up his printout.

There were plenty of scenes that will be familiar to anyone who is involved in a bureaucracy (which means that the film should play well in Wellington); for example, the executive who gets hung up in the minutiae of font design. Or there’s the meeting with the greeters where one points out that she’s been there for ten years, and no-one has introduced her to the other departments.

But what I love is knowledgable people being passionate and enthused about stuff. The head of the British Museum being impressed and gushing about an elaborate toy ship that used to have a working band on its deck and firing cannons, for example — that was neat to see. This is one of the reasons that I like the Antique’s Roadshow, I think.

I enjoyed it, but as before, I think I like to be told more than I like to be shown, as a rule.

* * *

Regarding Susan Sontag was a definite change of pace. A much more traditional doco, it did what seemed to be (to someone coming in almost totally ignorant) a fairly good attempt at giving a taste of what this complicated woman was like and about. I liked that they managed to interview so many people in her life, and that they managed to talk to both sides of some of the stories.

Like many intense people, I suspect that she would have been a painful person to love; and I’m not sure I agree with her approach to literary interpretation, though I’m not reading in the same context she was. But I’m kind of curious about what she had to say about pop culture, and I think that it’s good that she’s there as an example of how full a life you can lead. Though her impact wasn’t over-romanticised — one writer, talking about her time in Sarajevo during the war, said something like, “You stop atrocities with armed troops, you don’t stop them by putting on Waiting For Godot.”

I don’t know what this would have been like to watch if I’d gone in having read her books and knowing a bit about her life — but coming as a blank page, I enjoyed it.

* * *

The Film Archive have reorganized their seating, so instead of an aisle down the middle, you walk up the sides. This makes plenty of sense.

Unfortunately, I can’t be so complimentary about the showing of The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, the documentary about Studio Ghibli which shows Miyazaki making what is meant to be his last film, and skirts around the edges of his studiomate and long-time collaborator Takahata not managing to finish his.

Wow, that was a longer initial summary than I meant to do.

Anyway, the lights went down… and then came up. Then they went down again, and the film played for a couple of minutes… and then the narration kicked in, and it became apparent that they had forgotten to turn the subtitles on. So they restarted, after a bit of faffing about, and the wordless intro played again, with many shots of dappled light and picturesque settings… and then the subtitles failed to appear again. So up the lights came, for even longer this time, and we sat through the dappling and picturesque-ness again, which was slightly less evocative the third time through… but finally, success!

Once we eventually got to see it, I enjoyed the documentary very much. I mean, I don’t think I’d like to work under either man, and I don’t think I share Miyazaki’s inherent distrust of technology or the future. And everyone smokes so much! But I did enjoy seeing him work, and make decisions, and because he seemed happy to talk to the camera we got to see much more of him. And his assistant seemed cool.

And I hope I’m that spry, smart ad opinionated when I’m 72.

I wouldn’t mind watching it again. Though maybe not that first two minutes.

* * *

Another complete contrast was 52 Tuesdays. Filmed with non-actors on 52 consecutive Tuesdays, the team played their scenes, then got their scripts for the next shoot the following day, with rehersals on Friday and Monday. They started shooting with six weeks of script written, and the idea they had was that they would maintain that buffer… and anyone who has worked on a film can guess how long that plan survived contact with the enemy. This was the director’s first drama, and you could see some of her background in documentary coming through.

But I’ve been talking about the process, rather than the film itself, which is a bit of a disservice to a very good film. The story starts when the main character, a 16 year-old called Billie (or “Bill”), is asked to move in with her father while her mother goes through the process of gender reassignment. The film explores how Billie’s relationship with her mother changes, and how Billie tries to understand herself.

I enjoyed it, and I think that the odd filming schedule works for it. They do lightly touch on some of the prejudices that someone changing gender faces, but because the film was focused squarely on the family, what we mainly saw was the mum’s internal crises, and the way that her (mostly supportive) immediate family interacted with her. In contrast to many films, it is the women and trans man who gets the most attention; there are a number of men, but they are mostly sketches and cyphers. Though to be fair, most of them get more character development than any woman in your typical summer blockbuster gets.

I liked it, but it won’t be to everyone’s taste.

(There’s also an app where the actress who played the main character asks you a question every Tuesday for a year, and you are meant to take a photo of yourself with your answer.  I’ve go no interest in posting my opinions about random things for the world to see.)

(Yes, I’m aware of the irony.  Shut up.)

* * *

I can’t believe I’m going to make this segue, but — watching The Mule has made me realise that, when it comes to things that I will look away from the screen rather than watch, a man reswallowing baggies of heroin that he’s just… er… “expelled” is pretty high up on the list.

But first, the preceding short. Coconut was basically two mates in a car, being idiots. Not, happily, in a way that hurts anyone else. Well, okay, that’s not exactly true, but close enough. It was relatively innofensive, but I’m not going to bother to try to find a copy to link to.

Then the main feature — in the Aussie film tradition of “amiable drongo gets into a situation over his head, with poo jokes”, it’s the eighties, and a scumbag mate, evil criminal kingpin, and father with a gambling problem conspire to land said drongo in the hands of the Australian federal police with a kilo of heroin in his stomach. All he has to do is avoid pooing for seven days.

It’s a better film than I may have pitched it, with plenty of good turns from various prominent Aussie actors, and some Chekov’s Guns so are so elegantly laid in place that you don’t notice them until they’re shot. Defintely not something I’d necessarily recommend to everyone, but well done.

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