Docs in Sight
In memory of Garrett Scott R.I.P. (1968-2006) – The Rail community mourns the tragic loss of a great friend and filmmaker. Please take the time to read our tribute to him in the Express section of this issue.—WC
Brooklyn Underground Film Festival April 19 – 23 at the Brooklyn Lyceum; www.brooklynunderground.org
The 4th year of the BUFF continues to sustain an array of underserved films, and the festival’s profile continues to grow here in the County of Kings (as for the Brooklyn International Film Festival, who knows what they’re all about?). Last year the BUFF premiered excellent films like Mardi Gras: Made in China (which opened March 24th at Cinema Village) and Casuistry: The Art of Killing a Cat. Here’s a preview of a few of the features in this year’s festival:
Super Happy Fun Monkey Bash – A variety of wacked-out segments from Japanese TV: doesn’t that alone sound worth it? Mostly it is (although it seems the filmmaker can’t let go of some that are too long – as if he’s baked, laughing, and just can’t make that edit). Within this array, there are some real gems though: a whole narrative with freaky mannequins and a little “Mikey” who grows a flower in his crotch; a predilection for big foam sets with actors playing food; skinny naked oiled men with tape on their crotch; instructional calisthenics with a banana between your legs. Can you dig it?
The Empire in Africa – Phillipe Diaz’s film portrays the grisly reality of the decades-old conflict in Sierra Leone, the poorest country in the world and rife with mind-boggling shifts in allegiances, corruption, and extreme brutality on all sides. The film pulls no punches in showing the horrors that come with anarchic conflict: people are shot, tortured, and beaten in front of the camera, including a young boy abused by the soldiers of the ECOMOG, the military group supported by the UK and other western nations. In fact, the main power of the film is to peel back the convenient message perpetuated by the UN and the western media that the rebels are the only ones hacking off arms and committing atrocities. The filmmakers deserve kudos for not holding back on the most graphic of footage and the BUFF gets credit for showcasing such an intense film. But it’s a shame, maybe even pathetic, that while many Americans find random brutality and torture palatable in films like Hostel and The Hills Have Eyes, they would shun seeing the truly gruesome reality depicted in this film.
Lifelike—Unfortunately, would think that a film about taxidermists would be a bit more, well, gross. This Canadian production (that suspiciously smacks like it was made to go on the CBC) shows us a slice of the modern taxidermist technique, more high-tech than you probably thought, if you ever thought about it, which you probably shouldn’t. There are no Norman Bates’ here; even when one guy is arranging a small dog to dry freeze the Canadians seem, well, so nice.
High Score – For those of you who may miss the simplicity of the 1980s arcade game, there’s someone out there that would probably make you hate it if you hung around him too long. High Score follows Portland resident Bill Carlton as he attempts to break the world record of 80 million points for Missile Command while the highest score he’s ever achieved is closer to 30 million. By the way, 80 million takes days on end without a break. Unluckily—or luckily—for him, it’s not the man in the man vs. machine battle that seems to fail but the machine itself.
Sir No Sir! opens April 19th at IFC Center
A history lesson that is way overdue. Sir No Sir! finally tells the comprehensive story of the movement of enlisted men during the Vietnam War who militantly protested and agitated against it. Many deserted, while some fragged their superior officers. The film thankfully goes beyond academics and pundits to interview scores of Vietnam vets who are eloquent about what they did and where they stood with astounding stories that even those most versed in American radicalism may not know. One particularly poignant scene dissects the myth of the hippies who spat on returning GI’s yelling “baby killer,” the kind of BS that is still repeated ad infinitum within the right-wing punditocracy and Hollywood. Sir No Sir! should become required viewing for any student of war, politician, citizen and vet.
Yang Ban Xi: The 8 Model Works opens at Film Forum on March 29th
This strangely effective film tells the story of the Yang Ban Xi, the operatic communist propaganda films that were the only kind of art made during China’s Cultural Revolution. Under the direction of Madame Mao (Jiang Qing) one of the Gang of Four, the Yang Ban Xi had the oversaturated colors, birdlike ballet movements and “workers rise” librettos (in one, landlords are led off the stage to execution) that make them not only a concentrated cultural timepiece, but an aesthetically beautiful one. The filmmaker attempts to bypass the traditional doc narrative and while interviewing some of the main actors the film often meanders to scenes of modern China – choreographed hip hop dances, hip discos – a risky technique, but one I give the filmmaker kudos for trying out.