Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A.C. Pick: Año Uña (One Year)

Año Uña (One Year) directed by Jonás Cuarón is one of the few narrative features screening in this year’s Dallas Video Festival. While they all have exceptional qualities, Año Uña is to me the most distinctive. The opening sequence is white text on a black screen explaining how this peculiar film came about. The filmmaker took a series of still photographs over the course of one year in Mexico. He then found that when he ordered the photos in a certain way, they suggested the narrative that follows. The film then proceeds to flash photos across the screen periodically broken up by title cards. The narration oscilates between English with Spanish subtitles and Spanish with English subtitles. One may feel a twinge of dread at the thought of sitting through eighty minutes of what is in essence, a narrated slide show of stills. But, after only a few minutes of viewing I’m so engrossed in the story and characters that I’m barely aware of the stills. As the narrative progresses the two main characters emerge, a 13 year old Mexican boy named Diego, and a 24 year old American student named Molly. It is the story of an impossible affection. Año Uña is not a heavy plot oriented film, it is centered on small moments that make up larger themes of experience perhaps more heavily felt when traveling abroad or when awakening to one’s sexuality. Maybe this is why it is sometimes compared to the popular American Indy film movement called Mumblecore. The loosely related group of films and filmmakers that make up this movement is also critically praised for their focus on the smaller moments in ordinary lives dealing with themes of twenty-something relationship networks. They strive to highlight the turning moments lived between feeling on top of the world and wishing you were dead ,that run over us on any given day like – like an inconsistent breeze.

The film is in parts a clear homage to the still photographic storytelling used by French New Wave filmmaker Chris Marker in his masterpiece, Le Jette. Then one can also find a clear connection to the stranger abroad themes of Sophia Coppola’s Lost in Translation or perhaps Henry James’ novella, Daisy Miller. Instantly a familiar wave runs through me taking me back to my own travels as a student abroad, to those days of wishing you could freeze experience and as the film says, “live the moment forever.” Cuarón has done a commendable job in marrying the themes of the narrative to the style in which he presents it – still photographs/frozen time.

Finally the way the film was put together is sort of enchanting – backwards, images then story, instead of the other way around. The filmmaker chooses to let you in on his process in the film’s opening. Reminding you that only the story is fictional, the moments and characters are real. This is a perplexing assertion. Every few minutes an image will appear that might take you out of the story for a moment and make you ask yourself about the reality of that photo and how closely it comes to its counterpart in Cuarón’s story. These moments of curiosity or, questions of essential authenticity, are far from distracting, they are rather like catching glimmers of documentary in a narrative, sort of revealing the incontrovertible truths so resonant in our great fictions – maybe this is what makes up great art.

The Schedule is coming

A.C. says,

Bart as usual, is overly excited and has promised you the world on a plate. We have been getting some feverish phone calls and questions from filmmakers wanting to know why they do not see their film on the schedule. Frankie says Relax! The entire schedule is not uploaded - we are still uploading films - I am doing it, one at a time. And I am trying to send out acceptance letters via email first, then the rest of the schedule should start to appear. Please be patient I'm hoping sometime on Friday the task will be complete. I will post on the blog announcing when the schedule is up in its glorious totality.


Dallas Video Festival: The Schedule is Up!

Bart Says:

If you have been keeping up you know that last Sunday was do-or-die day, and indeed the sun came up on Monday and the schedule for the Dallas Video Festival was together. Well, mostly. There were a few things to chase down. Somehow, there are always some titles that I mark to inclue, but that never make it into a box. And somehow, a program is listed twice. So there is a bit of adjusting. We also have to hope that the run times are always right. Every year we get a few titles that are listed as one run time and the dub we get is longer. I am very excited about the schedule, and hey you can go and see it for yourself. There is so much to see.

In the days ahead, AC and I will write about some of the videos we’ve chosen. Also we are going to try something new: since so many people want to know what I think of the work, or why I picked it, we are going to shoot some pod-like video of us talking about the work and we’ll post it on the site. It seems like we should have thought of it years ago. But before I talk about what I am showing, let me give some props to some things I will not be showing.

My friend Mark Birnbaum and KERA blogger boy Manny Mendoza make a really great film called Stop the Presses about the decline in newspapers and what it means to our culture. The films points are amplified almost daily. It really is a great film but with less than half the slots to fill, it is hard to show something that had 3 very successful screenings at the AFI/Dallas fest. (I know they were successful - I was at them all.

Along the same lines, The Fragility of Seconds is a great feature by Matthew Tompkins. If it hadn’t shown at AFI, I would have made room for it, but I would rather show work that you otherwise would never get a chance to see.

There were several other dramatic feature that I wish I could have fit in somehow, in particular Jason Ward’s Between Heaven and Hell and Jon Racinskas’s The Name of God. Both show so much promise, have things to say and include good performances… if I had 4 rooms to program, instead of 2…. I hope they find a way onto a screen somewhere soon.

A very cool doc is Buskers about street performers. Don’t go “yuck, haven’t we seen this?” It is a student film cliche, but this is made by a street performer, so you get a real inside look and it was made over so many years in so many places, it does what good docs can do: bring you into a sub culture otherwise unseen. If this is what you won’t see at the festival, imagine what you will see.. Stay tuned ….

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Film Festivals: Changing Dates

Forgive me for not posting in the last several days. I have been waiting to make an announcement.

And the announcement is: we have changed the dates of the Dallas Video Festival this year from October 3-5 to November 7-9th.

In the 21 years of the festival we have moved around: October, November, January, March, May, July, and August.. wow writing it out seems odd. We have just missed September, February, April and June. There have been a multitude of reasons for moving over the years. And we have had to change our dates in the past as well. Back in the days when were were at the Dallas Museum of Art , we would always select the dates for the next years festival the day the Fest was over. One year, about a month out, we got a message that there was a wedding booked for the Saturday night of the festival. We were told that although we were on the programming calendar, at that time the catering calandar was the master calender of the Museum.

So what happened this year? Our friends at the Angelika theater wanted our original dates to open a film and we like to accommodate our partners, so we asked the people we had commitments with if they could move their schedules. We have heard back from almost everyone, so we are making the change. And you heard it first here.

It also takes a bit of pressure off me. (I have noticed I have been a bit unpleasant to the people around me.) So I have a draft of the schedule that I work over. Oh, if you were wondering what high-tech programming method I have, I just use a Word document with tables. This process is not about the software but about the story. Putting together a festival program is like editing a film. You have lots of great shorts, film, videos and you have to put them in some order, start strong, build, end strong, develop themes and find connections. All the the same skills as editing a film, or probably editing my sloppy copy. (Thanks Anne.)

There is a place where technology comes into play: controlling the data. Many years ago Darren Deitrich of Emphsys build us a back-end database so that when someone entered the festival online, that data could be massaged, used to make lists, and eventually added into the program book and displayed on the Web site. This would be contact info of the maker, description of the program and my judgments. We were one of, if not the first, to do this, but eventually a service called Withoutabox began doing this for many festivals. Any filmmaker who wants to get into a festival signs up, fills out the info and selects where they want to send it. I had a proposal to do this in 1997 but we were too short-staffed to follow through. I like our data base better. If you are not on Withoutabox, you miss out, but I just find it a pain to work with.


A.C. Pick: Finding Kraftland

Willy Wonka: Do you know what happened to the boy who got everything he ever wanted?
Charlie: What?
Willy Wonka: He lived happily ever after.

The subject of the documentary Finding Kraftland, Richard Kraft dwells on this moment because it is here where Willy Wonka gives Charlie permission…gives us all permission… to indulge in our wildest dreams. This is perhaps the most succinct thesis statement of the film co-directed by Kraft himself.

Finding Kraftland is one of my favorite films in this year’s Dallas Video Festival. It is the portrait of a bizarre and maddening lifestyle. What happens when a stunted adolescent has all the money in the world? What does he do with it? This documentary allows us to peer into the lives of Richard and his teenage son Nicky, two guys who are smart, capable, and totally unabashedly self-indulgent. Richard Kraft has turned self-indulgence and instant gratification into an art form that is both dazzling and mesmerizing to watch. We begin by inspecting his hordes of hilarious memorabilia from classic shampoo bottles to classic fast food statuary. He collects all things pop culture, because he loves them. But he takes it so much further than that. Imagine taking your son on a rollercoaster tour around the world. Richard and Nicky Kraft do it. Imagine throwing yourselves a double birthday party at the Paramount Theater with 750 guests and a recreation of the amusement park that is your life, Kraftland, in the back lots. Richard and Nicky Kraft do it. The moral of the story is, they pretty much do whatever they want, whenever they want. The ladies love them and so will you.

The film isn’t structured like the typical documentary, no surprise since it was initially made as a home movie. In an interview with Kraft he told me, “It was made to show at my son’s 16th birthday party. We got inspired by a promo film we saw in the hotel room at Disney World. We ended up hiring the host of that to do ours.” Then I asked him how long it took for him to make it, once he got the idea in his head. He said “I act fast. From idea to start about a month. Spent about 3 months editing from 7pm to 3am almost every day.” They had to move fast pinned up against the tight deadline of his son’s sweet 16. The film has since gone through a slight re-editing for the festival circuit and has been racking up comedy and documentary awards all over the country.

So what is it about this story that makes it so worthy of our attention? It could be read as an elongated episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, complete with TV-like host. What is so wonderful, so dare I say magical about Finding Kraftland is the opportunity it gives us to glimpse into lives that are literally dripping with joy – to experience a pure joy that comes not from drugs and sex, but from innocent childhood pursuits all grown up. The love affair between the father and son is perhaps what is most breathtaking. I find myself thrust into fits of jealousy when I’m confronted with the ridiculously well-to-do on episodes of MTV’s Cribs. But when it comes to the Kraft boys I find that I feel amazed and proud that humanity is capable of so much wonder and happiness, it’s touching, moving even. I feel like it could inspire us all to search out a Kraftland for ourselves, a place where we are allowed to live life with the extraordinary passion of the children we all still are inside.