Saturday night, instead of watching a late show, I found myself at a bar with the visiting judges and the festival’s organizer Danny Lee Ladely, along with his friend, my wife, and another journalist. The two filmmaker/judges were the center of attention, and rightly so. After all, we were here at a film festival, and they had the most experience making movies.
| Jennifer Dworkin and Maureen Gosling talk shop on Saturday night
Maureen Gosling spoke about the failure of critics to provide readers with the back story. She knew of a film made by the first woman Vietnamese filmmaker, on a tiny budget, and nowhere in a certain capsule review were these facts mentioned. Jennifer Dworkin and I countered that a movie has to stand on its own terms. What’s on the screen has to live or die by itself, because the filmmaker can’t always be there to explain the movie. Gosling did get me to concede that a critic reallyshouldtell that sort of a back story if it helps people appreciate of the film. Critics can cast movies in a certain light, to help people see what what may not have been so obvious.
The conversation drifted to how underappreciated editors are (Dworkin is told she thanked hers at an acceptance speech that she was too surprised to remember giving), distribution problems (unresponsive distributors might not allow you to self-promote, even to pick up their slack), movies (Winged Migrationis worth seeing, but forget the narration and the subtitles), Nebraska (the fish are not California fresh, but the beef is right off the hoof), and marijuana laws (Gosling is making a movie on the subject, and Nebraska has relaxed their laws). Plus everyone congratulated Gosling for editing one of our favorite movies about movies,Burden of Dreams, which documents the making of Werner Herzog’sFitzcarraldo.
Sunday, we finally saw the film Dworkin brought,Love and Diane, along with the film that already has distribution,The Slaughter Rule, and a program of short-subject video documentaries.
Love & Diane
Love & Dianeis a documentary about two women, Diane and her daughter Love. Diane survived a crack addiction and started to turn her life around. She managed to reunite her family, including Love, Morean, Taneka, Trenice, and Willie. But Love takes after her mother a little too much. She doesn’t use crack, but she has problems with her temper, depression, poverty, and stick-to-it-iveness. Like her mother, Love decides to have a baby because she wants to feel loved and needed. She brings Donyeah into the world, H.I.V.-positive, and the first of the film’s many conflicts is whether Donyeah will reverse.
The family, reunited under one roof, explodes one night, and Diane calls her therapist for help. Instead of emotional support, the therapist sends social services and the cops, and Donyeah and Willie are taken and placed in foster care until Love completes a season of therapy. Most of the film follows Love’s attempts to win back her son from the system, taking lots of tangents to explore family relationships, bureaucratic red tape, foster families, and how to work with, or at least work, the system.
Dworkin had a surprising amount of access to the subjects, so the lives of the subjects are vivid and clear. The cinematography is often outstanding — even the handheld camera feels like an artistic decision instead of a practical one. And the editing is very good as well — a recognizable pattern emerges: family situations are interweaved with off-screen philosophizing by individual subjects.
I only have two complaints about the movie. One is that the final conflict — will Love get Donyeah back — is not introduced up-front. The movie first looks like it will be about Donyeah’s H.I.V., or that it will simply be a portrait, before it suddenly takes on a focus and a direction. The other is that the film is 2 1/2 hours long. Many of the family fights sound the same, and I think the movie could have conveyed the same story and tone in a shorter time.
The Slaughter Rule
This is one of the few films at GPFF to have distribution. It has played in theaters across the country, and may make it to one near you, according to theofficial web site. It’s a feature film about broken souls in rural Montana.
Ryan Gosling plays a high school senior cut from the football team after they lose funding for JV. He’s approached by local loser David Morse, who is putting together a team for a 6-man football league. In spite of the title and the poster, there isn’t much football in this low-budget drama about loss, regret, and decency.
Gosling’s father died at the beginning, an apparent suicide, while Morse, already burdened with a reputation as the town’s queer and “prevert,” struggles to cope with the accidental death, years back, of a player in his care. Morse’s character is the most interesting part ofThe Slaughter Rulebecause you never know quite how to take him. He’s a little creepy, but that could just be because he’s been hurt so badly.
The Slaughter Ruleis not viscerally moving, but it’s never slow or boring. It’s not a movie you’ll regret seeing, but neither is it worth seeking out.
This five-minute short is part documentary, part personal history, and part comedy. Filmmaker Brian Stockton narrates his great pride in his home province whose rectilinear boundaries refuse to compromise with rivers, mountain ranges or other natural boundaries. Plus, Saskatchewan’s parallels to world-famous Nevada make it all the more noteworthy.Saskatchewanis a light and fun interlude in its program with three serious documentaries.
Down an Old Road: The Poetic Life of Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel
This film won Best Documentary Short at the GPFF. It is a portrait of Okie poet McDaniel, who grew up in the dustbowl days. McDaniel’s poetry is structured, but unmetered and unhrymed, and very down-to-earth. A fellow poet points out she refers not to other poets or romantic ideals but to old men on benches in front of KMart. Interviews, talking heads, archival photos, and footage from a poetry reading comprise this short documentary. The subject wasn’t very interesting to me, buy my wife liked it. We both agreed that, seen in the blur of a film festival,Down an Old Roadis forgettable, and might have benefited from a more explicit structure.
This short documentary follows a homeless man in Columbia Missouri. Kerri Yost follows Billy from place to place, learning how he gets along. Billy is happy to teach us the location of his favorite sleeping place, the value of cigarette butts, and the importance of avoiding the cold. Billy himself is interesting but the movie simply provides him with a soapbox. The movie doesn’t have a voice, nor does it do anything to keep Billy in check. It’s entertaining, but the lack of research or other perspectives make this movie seem too easy.
Frontier Visionary: George Catlin and the Plains Indians
This documentary was made for the Smithsonian. It is a portrait of the life and work of George Catlin, a painter who worked before the advent of photography to capture the likenesses of the Native Americans. Catlin produced hundreds of paintings, most of them portraits, in order to preserve some hint of the noble cultures he predicted would vanish off the face of the earth. The film presents talking-head interviews with scholars, closeups on Catlin’s paintings, and interviews with modern Native Americans. This short movie exists solely for its subject matter. Andy Kukura might as well have been invisible. While a film like this has its purpose (a museum kiosk, maybe?), it lacks the heart and soul to inspire appreciation as a movie.