Day two of the festival for me. A very ambitious day, as I picked five movies to watch. That’s the most I could fit in for today. I wanted to stay for maybe only one or two movies on Sunday so I could get back home at a reasonable time which meant Saturday was going to be a marathon. I’ve heard of people who do 5+ movies per day at other film fests and they do this for 5+ days. I can’t imagine. While today wasn’t bad, I wouldn’t want to watch five movies in one day very often. The brain can only process so much before the films all start to blur together.
Besides being filled with movies, my day was also filled with a bit of sadness as I said farewell to my trusty companion, a Samsung Tracfone, who died a sudden death. I knew its life was nearly over when he went through the washing machine late last year. The little guy made a miraculous recovery that wasn’t meant to last forever. I’ve since replaced him with his cousin, another, even cheaper Samsung model. Being in Columbia (MO…but still), buying a burner phone and desperately seeking out internet so I can setup the phone with the packaging spread out all over the car didn’t look suspicious at all. If I disappear one day soon you’ll know why – “they” got me.
I didn’t mention this yesterday but I’ve been staying for the Q&A sessions with the filmmakers after each screening. I’ve found this to be well worth suffering through the occasional pretentious comments clumsily disguised as questions from the audience. I would be a nervous wreck if I were these directors, many of whom are getting reactions from a crowd for their film for the first time. They’ve all been incredibly gracious and insightful. I recommend spending the 15-20 minutes after the film for the Q&A.
Now onto the movies I saw…
Only the Young
Confession time. Only the Young was the one movie out of the ten I picked to see at True/False that I was least enthusiastic about. The writeup on it was intriguing enough to get me to commit to it as one of my selections but I feared it might be nothing more than a reality TV show in documentary clothing about spoiled southern California youth that wouldn’t rise above navel gazing. I was wrong, though the first five minutes had me concerned. Once we settle into the lives of the three main teenagers the movie is so sincere it’s hard to find fault. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also beautifully shot, the music is filled with a unique selection of soul music, and the kids are all around pretty amazing. Contrast this doc with another I saw at the festival Friday that had a teen at the center of its story, Me @ the Zoo, and it’s hard not to feel some extra redeeming value in Only the Young. A fantastic film that is neck in neck with The Imposter for me so far at the festival. And unlike Me @ the Zoo, this is one that kids should and can definitely watch.
Searching for Sugar Man
I can’t say a lot about this film without ruining it. The mystery is what happened to singer-songwriter Sixto Diaz Rodriguez who recorded two albums, never went anywhere in the US but became a big hit in South Africa (think South African Elvis). Rumors in South Africa were that Rodriguez committed suicide on stage in a variety of gruesome manners, the worst being that he hit lit himself on fire. That is the setup for this doc and it is a well told story whose only serious problem is a certain subject who makes for a very difficult interview. Director Malik Bendjelloul does his best to work around this and does an admirable job. The story is so well told it’s amazing to learn that the director almost didn’t finish the film due to a lack of funding. He did much of the remaining work on his own, on his laptop, including editing and some animation. Impressive.
The Queen of Versailles
In The Queen of Versailles Jacquie and David Siegel have a BHAG (big hairy audacious goal, for those not in the loop on the Jim Collins/Tom Peters dialect). They want to build their dream home – a ninety thousand foot extravagant monster unlike any other in the world. Jacquie was a former beauty queen and is on her second marriage with David, a rich time share developer. The two have seven of their own kids plus one of Jacquie’s nieces. Things can’t seem to get more surreal from there but somehow they do. Pictures adorn the Siegel household that have David as a king and Jacquie as a goddess and many others that are just as over the top not to mention absurd. Mix in a timeshare business and obscene amounts of greed and it’s hard to imagine this movie stirring up a sliver of empathy, yet it does. There are a lot of interesting characters and sub-plots to follow and at times the film suffers when it breaks away from the story of David and Jacquie. The film is too long as a result. That said, there are some incredible moments captured on screen. Moments that are hard to believe the Siegels would be happy to see on the big screen, but there they are. The Queen of Versailles is definitely a commentary on at least one part of the meltdown in 2008 and succeeds in portraying it through a couple who are oddly out of this world yet somehow also down-to-earth.
Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope
I picked Morgan Spurlock’s latest flick not because I’m a huge fan of his but because I thought Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope could be a lot of fun to watch with a large group of people. I wasn’t disappointed. The room was full of fans of all things Comic-Con. Whenever a favorite hero appeared on screen (Joss Whedon, Stan Lee, Kevin Smith, etc.) cheering broke out. Applause and cheers also came during several moments in the film where the main subjects achieve their stated goal. Laughs were also plentiful. Does all this make for a great doc? Not great, but good. The production value is extremely high. This was likely due to Spurlock’s 150 or so people working on the film, which included 24+ film crews at the convention filming at the same time. We learned during the Q&A, which Spurlock attended, that there have been numerous people trying to get documentaries made about Comic-Con but the show promoters have denied permission until this film. The film chooses several people to follow to the geek mecca in San Diego. These people represent different aspects of the show including aspiring artists, collectors, old-school comic book fans/sellers, and couples who find love connections at the convention. Interspersed throughout are interviews with various celebrities and fans all set to an Apple ad like white background. The style works for the film since it has a high gloss factor to it, including highly stylized comic book animatied transitions and a super hero movie soundtrack. I had a lot of fun watching the film with everyone and it was a nice bonus for Spurlock and two of the film’s main characters to make it for the Q&A.
I can’t say much about the fifth doc I saw since it was a secret screening and the policy at the fest is you can’t write up anything about it. They do this so they can show films that would otherwise not be shown due to restrictions other festivals have on exclusivity to premieres. To some of the larger festivals, your movie is tainted if it’s been shown before. True/False secret screenings get around this restriction by never promoting the movie by name or too many specific details.