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Film Festival Day 17, 10/08/2014

The final day.

At this point, both the ushers and my bank account start to look a bit more tattered than they were at the beginning of the festival.

I am looking forward to having things in my life other than films, food, and sleep.  The possibility of seeing my wife without having to rush off to another theater certainly sounds nice, and having some time to digest everything I’ve seen is something that I need.

And yet…

I think it’s definitely true that I end up with a lot more to talk about after the film festival than I would after a trip away for the same amount of time.  And I enjoy the chance to think about a wide range of subjects, and try to understand why some things work for me, and why some things fall flat.

I should book my time off for next year.

* * *

Print The Legend was another example of a film that’s not about what it’s about.  Ostensibly, the film is about the 3D printing revolution; but we learn just enough about 3D printing to get a hint of why people are excited by it.  But the film doesn’t care about the benefits of stereolithography vs. extrusion, or about why people are involved in the Maker movement — they are more interested in the personalities a new, disruptive technology attracts, and how the culture of small start-up companies as they grow bigger; and how the entrenched interests react to the new upstarts.

Technology stories don’t need heroes and villains, but people stories do.  Bre Pettis is the charismatic and affable face of MakerBot, claiming that the other founders pushed him to be Steve Jobs so they could be Woz; but as MakerBot moves from a fully open-source project to a closed-source model, and those who joined from the Maker movement get swamped by those for whom this is just another business, those other founders find themselves slowly elbowed out.  One of those who have left MakerBot claims that the problem with the Steve Jobs biography was that it gave tech CEOs permission to be assholes; whether this is true for Pettis depends, I suspect, on how much you believe those who are no longer with the company.

Cody Wilson, on the other hand, is simply a self-publicist who has latched on to something that forces people to pay attention to him — the sexy idea that you can print a gun.  Never mind that it would be easier and cheaper to make a safer gun in a moderately tooled workshop; getting the opportunity to say that everyone should have access to the same weapons the military and police have will make sure that he’ll get to be on TV or in magazines, where he can say something else controversial to keep himself in the news cycle.  Which is not to say that all his observations are wrong; just that he gives the impression that his advocacy for anarchy is less concerned about society, and more concerned about whether or not he can sell some books.

And then there’s the Formlabs guys, who come across as sincere but awkward, and bad at scheduling. 🙂

It made me think a lot about how the culture and processes of Weta Digital have changed over the time I’ve been there.  I don’t think I should publish my thoughts on that in a public forum, however – mostly because they’d be super-boring to people not interested in FX pipelines.  Oh, and professionalism and other nonsense like that.

I enjoyed it, and you certainly don’t have to be interested in 3D printing to be engaged by it.

* * *

The main problem that I had with notes to eternity was the length.  Specifically, it was considerably longer than the time advertised, so that I ended up having to leave before it was finished, which is quite a struggle in the close-set Film Archive seats.  And I actually left it a bit too late, having to run to the Paramount in three minutes, dropping into my seat wheezing seconds after the theater went fully dark.

Apparently, the film-maker had been tweaking the edit until the Friday before the first showing — a real hazard of the digital film age.  In the Q&A afterwards (as reported by my lovely wife), she said that she had been making the film for 10 years, and had been inspired while working for the British consulate in Jerusalem; I had wondered how she had gotten to know Robert Fisk and Noam Chomsky, and apparently she had managed this by dint of writing them letters.

This was a slightly different film from most of the documentaries on the Israeli occupation that I’ve seen.  For one, it was very interesting to see footage of Chomsky’s talks on the subject, and the repeated verbal attacks on him that this prompted — people demanding that he recite the pledge of allegiance to prove that he doesn’t hate America, saying that he is a hypocrite for not giving up his house to Native Americans, or calling him a liar about the text of U.N. resolutions; and then hearing about him being called out by Israel in the U.N.  It was also very affecting to hear Robert Fisk recounting some of the things he’d seen and people he’d talked to in his time in the Middle East; and to hear people like Sara Roy and Norman Finkelstein talk about being Jewish and opposing Israel’s approach.

There were so many little interesting bits — the fact that there were Americans calling for Moshe Dayan to take over the Vietnam war after the success of the Yom Kippur war (though who knows how serious they were).  Or the fact that Chomsky is still nervous around Catholics after the vicious antisemitism that he faced growing up, that he never talked to his parents about.  Or that survivors of the concentration camps were viewed as suspicious, since they must have done something shameful in order to have survived.

Even without the bit that I missed, this was a big movie, and a calmly measured one.  The shameful way that Israel has managed to conduct itself towards the Palestinians, and the knots they’ve managed to tie themselves in as a consequence, seem to offer no obvious solutions — and this is a Gordian knot where taking a sword to it may have nuclear consequences.

I thought it was good.  I just wish that the length had been correctly listed.

* * *

I was not in the best shape to concentrate at the beginning of We Come As Friends.  But it was an interesting transition, to plunge straight from one conflict to another — this time, in Sudan, where two Frenchmen flying a small prop-driven plane fly down through the country as the Christian, American-supported south votes to secede from the Muslim, Chinese-supported north; the former rebel leader in a cowboy hat given to him by George W. Bush, the northern leader Omar al-Bashir who has an outstanding arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court for war crimes (an arrest warrant that has apparently increase his popularity).

There were numerous scenes that would be surreal if they weren’t so sad.  The Chinese, playing pool in their bullet-proof safe room after work, wishing for strange new worlds with no inhabitants where they could exploit mineral resources in peace; the Texans on a mission from God, giving solar-powered bibles to the chief of the local tribe and more concerned about making sure that the kids are forced to put on clothes and know that nudity is shameful than making sure they can read; the children bullied at school for wearing native clothes, and being told that only those who come in uniform are really people.

This seems like a situation that will get worse before it gets better, and a large part of that is the number of guns that have been pushed into the country.  But from the airplane, from high above, the line demarcating the old and new countries, the dotted borders between the different tribal groups, all of those things are invisible.  Sadly, invisible is not the same as not there.

A little slow, but good overall

* * *

After bolting my food as quickly as possible, it was back to the Paramount for the silent film Show People.

This 1928 comedy tells the story of Southern belle Peggy Pepper as she stumbles into the role of comedic sidekick, determinedly pulls her way into dramatic divahood (as “Patricia Pepoire”), and then manages to save herself from the wages of pretentiousness in time.  A number of big-name stars cameo, such as Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and (in a neat bit of in-camera trickery) Marion Davies, the actress playing Peggy Pepper — who fails to be impressed by her star power.

Sadly, the print was quite badly damaged in the middle in some sections, and I think a snippet near the beginning may have been lost, as we see Peggy enter with excessive make-up, get confusing directions, and then arrive sans makeup to her comedy debut.  The live orchestra was good, but their playing was not as strongly tied to the action as some other performances I’ve seen.

This was a fun movie to watch, with tonnes of gags that work just as well today as they did then.  It makes me think it would be good fun to try to soundtrack a good silent comedy, though I’m sure that it would be more challenging than I think. 🙂  I’m glad that most of this film has been saved.

* * *

My last film of the festival was the Argentinian Wild Tales, a compilation of six short films about love, revenge, and the injustice of people who tow cars when there’s no way to know that you’re parked in a tow-away zone.  One of the reasons that I enjoyed them is because I could not predict where the story would go, so I am loathe to spoil it for anyone reading.  There are some violent scenes, but nothing too gruesome; mostly, my experience was saying, “hah!” over and over again.

I think it might be easier to make a good short film than a good long one, in that you have to get to the heart of the story more quickly, which gives you permission to draw the characters in broad strokes, and just show the best, most interesting bits.  I wondered whether they’d use the same cast for each story, reassigning the roles in the way that a theater troupe does, but it was a bit more traditional than that, with new actors each time.

Not all of the shorts were as good as the others, but overall it was definitely a high point of the festival, and a great way to end it.

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