Movies Are My Wife

Married to the Movies — Mdino's Blog

Indieflix Collection Part Three

Let us delve, once again, into the indieflix collection-that rare archive featuring independent films of every length and type:  From nine minute documentaries to full length horror movies.  There is, in these infinite vaults, everything anyone could possibly want in mostly low-budget productions.  In this post I will focus on short documentaries.

                                                                                 

We begin with RYAN AT THE HOT SHOP.  This eight minute tidbit from 2005 follows master glass blower Ryan Mellinger as he creates a piece of crystal artistry at the Pratt Fine Arts Center in Seattle.  Director Jonathan Locke opens his film with a quote from Mellinger: “One morning I saw the brightest rainbow I’ve ever seen in my life-I wanted to build something out of those colors.  As a former photographer, he comes to this sort of artistic expression naturally.  In further voice over narration, Mellinger discusses the importance of having a talented assistant, and the first time he was seriously burned in a glass blowing accident.  The film’s imagery perfectly captures the colors and textures of this unique artistic process, but oddly, the picture contains no mention of a videographer in the closing credits. 

                                                           

COMING HOME (2006, 15 minutes) is as an opening title informs us, “the story of one Vietnam veteran”.  It is a story with a decidedly different message than most Hollywood films on the subject.  Filmmaker Herbert Sennett, who is also the subject, paints a mostly positive portrait of America’s involvement in the Southeast Asian nation.  What haunts the former army Lieutenant is his belief that our country “cut and ran”  leaving the Vietnamese people essentially helpless in the face of the invading North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong.  The subsequent suffering, according to Sennett “so profoundly effected me that it’s taken thirty-five years for me to deal with it”.  Made up entirely of eight mm footage and still photographs from Sennett’s personal collection, the film presents an argument that many may find offensive and many more, quite possibly, will agree with emphatically.

                                                             

CAT PARENTS (2007, 28 minutes) is director Debbie Eynon Finley’s sometimes loopy, mostly endearing (to cat lovers) salute to those touched individuals among us who treat their cats like children-often adopting the pets in lieu of having human kids.  A follow-up to Finley’s DOG PARENTS, the director/interviewer asks each parent questions like “How is your cat like a child or member of the family?” and “How do you communicate with your cat?”  The latter query prompts one woman to croon “You’re a bucket of love…” to her unfortunate kitty.  As for me,  I communicate with my cat by telling her to behave.  She communicates with me by ripping the stuffing out of the ottoman.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF INDIEFLIX

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July 8, 2010 Posted by | Debbie Eynon Finley, documentary, film directors, Herbert Sennett, indieflix, Jonathan Locke | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

NOAM CHOMSKY AND POWER, DISSENT AND RACISM

The 2003 film ON POWER DISSENT AND RACISM, A DISCUSSION WITH NOAM CHOMSKY, begins with a shot of the earth hanging precariously in space.  The filmmaker, Nicolas Rossier, seems to be telling us something world shaking is about to happen.  When we first glimpse Chomsky, a Professor at MIT, he hardly seems the type to be worthy of the title “Rebel without a pause” bestowed on him by Bono.  His is a decidedly nondescript appearance.  It is the look of an everyman, with the only hint of fire being his modish long hair.  It seems only fair to view the film with an open mind, since Professor Chomsky is often considered by many to be the quintessential radical leftist University hack, a man consumed by hatred for his own country (and strangely enough, Israel). 

At times during the film, it is difficult to digest Chomsky’s words, since Rossier’s approach is so straight forward.  As the title suggests, this is not so much a motion picture as a picture of Chomsky talking.  And talk he does-for nearly 70 minutes, and there is very little to break up the monotony.  The footage of Chomsky being interviewed in his classroom in 2002 is alternated with moments from his 2003 lecture in New York city before the media group Fairness And Accuracy In Reporting.  The topic at both locales is the war on terror conducted by the Bush administration and what the Professor sees as the fascist history of the United States.  He explains that individuals such as Osama Bin Laden hate the U.S. and other western nations  because these powers support corrupt middle eastern regimes that thwart the growth of democracy in that region.  Our support for Israel, Chomsky maintains, is another reason for this unparalleled hatred. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

This potentially heavy subject matter is undercut on at least one occasion during the film when Rossier shows us Chomsky in his classroom discussing Anglo-American military historian Michael Howard’s approach to handling terrorism.  He then cuts to the Professor’s lecture where he says the exact same thing in precisely the same language.  Why show this argument twice?  Though this may be an attempt to emphasize Chomsky’s point, this editing choice only dilutes it. 

It is an interesting moment indeed when Chomsky comments on racism against Arabs, which the Professor claims has always run rampant in America but intensified after 9/11.  Strange, I attended high school with Arab kids in the late 70’s, and so far as I know, they suffered no great torment at the hands of their fellow students.  They seemed to fit in quite nicely.  In fact, when I first encountered them I mistakenly believed they were Sicilian Italians.  Of course, these were Christian Arabs, and it is undeniable that anti-Muslim bigotry has always been with us and has exploded in recent years. 

The final shot of the film is the same as the first: The earth floating quietly (or coldly?) in space.  From the beginning of time until the end of this film, at least, the world has remained constant.  Violent, ugly, the story is the same in every corner of the globe.  Chomsky places special blame on those of us of European ancestry.  Has he forgotten Genghis Khan?  And no one should forget the Cultural Revolution in China, the Sudanese genocide, the Bataan death march and Pol Pot.  Interviewer/director Rossier allows the Professor to do just that.    Perhaps all people are born to be fascists.  With power comes opportunity-to do good or wreak havoc.  The world will usually choose the latter.  It is part of the human condition. 

I watched with an open mind and where did it get me?  I certainly don’t think America is a fascist country, but I am no longer convinced that Chomsky is a loon.  He is ultimately a good and compassionate man who is obviously genuinely concerned about the plight of his fellow human beings.  It is understandable if he occasionally lets his passions get the better of him.  That is part of the human condition as well.

PHOTO COURTESY OF INDIEFLIX

May 19, 2010 Posted by | documentary, film directors, independent film, indieflix, Nicolas Rossier, Noam Chomsky | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

WHOSE WAR?@indieflix.com

There are those who consider all wars to be folly.  The U.S. led invasion of Iraq is one of the most despised military actions of all time and is regarded by many as the ultimate folly.  Filmmakers Demetrios Papigans and Donald Evan Farmer brought together three noted anti-war activists to dissect the motives and consequences of “Mr. Bush’s war”.  The result is the 2006 production WHOSE WAR?, featuring actor Mike Farrell, director Keith Gordon and musician and “satirist” Jello Biafra.  A definite problem with the film is that excerpts from the latter’s concert in California are interspersed throughout the film.  Referring to Mr. Biafra as a “satirist” is using the word so loosely that it drops to the floor like a teen-aged boy’s hip-hop trousers.  That aside, the three men offer some thought-provoking opinions that keep the viewer interested for most of the films 59 minute running time. 

Stylistically, the film is similar to another political documentary WINDOW ON A WORLD (2009), consisting mostly of skillful cross cutting between interviews.  Unlike WINDOW, there is no news footage to bring home the points made by those interviewed.  An interesting choice-not good or bad-just interesting.  Both films are available at indieflix.com.

   

Keith Gordon (A MIDNIGHT CLEAR) and Farrell (TV’s MASH) have well established bon fides in the area of anti-war activism.  I know less about Jello Biafra, except that he was the lead singer of the punk band THE DEAD KENNEDYS.  He seems to be the angriest of the three-railing against the entire “system” that he feels runs America- the corporations, etc…  Gordon and Farrell are examples of pure erudition.  Though early on Gordon does posit the absurd notion that Bush may have invaded Iraq for the oil. 

The belief that Bush used the tragedy of 9/11 as an excuse to trample on civil liberties is presented.  Gordon brings up the patriot act as an example.  But President Bush’s big move, according to all three men, was shifting the blame for 9/11 to Iraq.  After this clumsy (but effective) bit of slight of hand, Bush was able to crush dissent at home and was given the excuse to invade Iraq.  Or so say those gathered for this film. 

As is so often the case with low-budget movies shot on digital video, there is a slight technical problem.  The sound for Mr. Biafra’s concert footage is often so low that I had to turn up the audio during these segments.  This caused me to jump on at least one occasion, when there was an abrupt cut to Keith Gordon’s interview and its much louder audio.

PHOTO COURTESY OF INDIEFLIX

January 24, 2010 Posted by | Demetrios Papigans, documentary, Donald Evan Farmer, film directors, independent film, indieflix, Jello Biafra, Keith Gordon, Mike Farrell | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

APRIL SHOWERS (2009) @indieflix

When it rains it pours, and in April 1999 it rained hard at Jefferson High School.  The fictional stand in for Colorado’s Columbine High and the infamous tragedy that befell its students, faculty and their families is the subject, with a few alterations, of APRIL SHOWERS (2009) by Andrew  Robinson.  Because the scenes surrounding the massacre have such a fierce intensity (and they accost us almost from the beginning of the film) it is easy to praise the picture almost without taking a breath.  But when we do come up for air, we make some observations that color our interpretation of the viewing experience. 

There  are some sound problems, particularly in scenes taking place in a kitchen and on a middle class home’s staircase.  Sound, of course, is the bane of the low-budget filmmaker’s existence but Robinson and his crew do well with their resources overall.  Another problem with the film is an over ripe quality to some of the more melodramatic sequences.  There is the moment in a convenience store  where one student, plagued by guilt over his actions the day of the shooting, almost wigs out in a paranoid breakdown.  It is to say the least, a bit much.  Still other scenes, such as the same student’s suicide, seem terribly contrived.  Nevertheless, it is obvious that this is a pretty good film. 

This version of events, as told by director-writer Robinson, an actual Columbine survivor, focuses mainly on the relationship between Sean (Kelly Blatz) and April (Ellen Woglom).  It is Sean’s realization that April is one of those killed in the attack that provides most of the drama, and some scenes have a surreal quality for which Robinson deserves kudos.  Ironically, in a film with a few sound problems, the use of sound elsewhere is exemplary.  In the frantic moments after the assault, Robinson and his sound designer Craig Polding, have the sounds fade in and out, creating a touch reminiscent of the boxing scenes from RAGING BULL (1980).  It is as though the characters are losing contact with the outside world.  Near the end of the film is another fine touch – this time a visual one.  Sean leaves the church following April’s funeral, photographed in long shot.  The cars are frozen in the middle of the street as if they have all been abandoned-a superb visual metaphor for Sean’s world coming to a stand still. 

The performances are just adequate, but Tom Arnold in a small roll as a beloved teacher, makes a moving impression.  Aaron Platt’s cinematography is at its best capturing images such as the sunset behind the crosses erected in memory of the dead, and elsewhere creates lasting memories. 

APRIL SHOWERS has been given the deluxe distribution treatment by indieflix, meaning it is not only available on the company’s website, but also can be found in video stores and other outlets and has been distributed to theatres.

December 26, 2009 Posted by | film directors, independent film, indieflix, screenwriters | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

WHAT BLACK MEN THINK (2007) @ INDIEFLIX

What do black men think?  What do they really think?  With wit and journalistic skill, as well as a cinematic sensibility rare among documentary filmmakers, Janks Morton explores the possibilities presented by this question in WHAT BLACK MEN THINK (2007) available at indieflix.  The film is an examination of the issues facing the black community with a kino eye view of the African-American male experience.  While Morton does not let white racists and the damage they’ve done off the hook, he places a great amount of focus on the “Great Society” and the “War On Poverty” of the 1960’s.  Morton believes that the liberal policies of the Lyndon Johnson administration led to a dissolution of the black family (most prominently displayed in a skyrocketing illegitimacy rate), which in turn has had a devastating impact on black society as a whole.  To illustrate his point, Morton interviews a wide variety of black political and journalistic personalities.  Here Morton engages not only the liberal establishment figures appearing so often in the media, but more conservative commentators such as Jesse Lee Peterson, Shelby Steele and Armstrong Williams.  This alone sets the film apart from many other dissertations.

 

While pundits such as Peterson decry the “blame the white man” approach taken by leaders like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, Morton resists the temptation to identify completely with one side or the other.  White and black liberals come in for their licks as mentioned, but white mainstream society is under scrutiny for our appetite for some of the more negative media interpretations of black culture, such as gangsta rap and Tyler Perry drag comedies.  Indeed, the penchant of black entertainers to mock black womanhood is one of Morton’s main targets.  Perry and Martin Lawrence among others are brilliantly trashed in a segment in which young black men, one by one, hold up women’s wigs and derisively name the actors most associated with African-American gender bending.  For not only do such interpretations affect the views of the white society in which blacks must live, they also have a profound effect on black attitudes as well. 

Of course, Morton also debunks many myths about black men, including the crazy belief that there are more black men in prison than in college.  This is done in a very cinematic way by innovative staging and editing of man (and woman) on the street interviews illustrating the great chasm between popular belief and actuality.  Many, if not all of these myths, are propagated by the media loose in our land, (black and white), and find popular support among both the right and left.

There are a lot of wrongs that must be righted and more is to be discussed as the director suggests a sequel is in the works.  With Janks Morton at the helm, it is bound to be a riveting ride.

PHOTO COURTESY OF INDIEFLIX

December 11, 2009 Posted by | documentary, independent film, indieflix | , , , , , | 1 Comment

DIARY OF A BAD LAD@indieflix

The documentary filmmaker at the center of DIARY OF A BAD LAD (Great Britain, 2007) is blessed with the unbelievably cheeky moniker “Barry Lick”.  The name is appropriate as he is an unsavory lad indeed, and If you thought the bad lad of the title is the gangster subject of Lick’s latest  film you will be pleasantly surprised.  I say “pleasantly” because DIARY OF A BAD LAD is full of nice touches that make it an even better movie than you may expect.  If the film has a precedent,  it is MAN BITES DOG (1992).  Both are about the “legitimate” media and their exploitation of and complicity in the criminal activities they are supposed to depict without bias.  But “LAD” is good enough to stand on its own, mainly because of the screenplay by Jonathan Williams, who also plays Barry Lick.  It contains several twists and turns, many of them providing revelations about Lick.  We first realize he is a real piece of work when he orders the crew to keep the cameras rolling as they try to hide the dead body of a drug overdose victim.   “It’s the truth” he rationalizes emphatically. 

There is the clever inference that media are essentially prostitution and pornography, revealed in a scene where gangster Tommy Morghen (Joe O’Byrne) brags that he uses hidden cameras to record sex acts at a massage parlor, much as Lick often shoots his documentary scenes covertly.  The director even requests the use of the footage for his film just in case he isn’t able to shoot his own.  Though Williams and director Michael Booth are definitely trying to slam home a point, a couple of scenes of blurred pornography go on much too long and simply bring the film to a dead stop. 

Ah, but I quibble.  Booth’s direction captures a cinema vérité feeling effectively in the faux documentary, and it is often difficult to believe that the actor’s dialogue and interview scenes were scripted by Williams, so natural is the feeling created.   Whether this is due to Williams’ gifts as a writer or to any improvising that may have been done, remains to be discovered.  Something the reader should discover as quickly as possible is the great variety of independent films in the indieflix stable-covering a breathtaking range of styles, genres and subjects.  DIARY OF A BAD LAD is a good place to begin your tour of this eclectic site.

November 13, 2009 Posted by | independent film, indieflix | , , , , , | Leave a comment

independent films at indieflix

Starting a blog can be a tricky affair.  Even if the writer is able to come up with something the first time, he or she can never be certain that a repeat of this success is imminent.  The fact that I have a big mouth does not necessarily translate into having much to say in writing.  Not wishing to concern myself with such matters any longer, I will instead say that I have an aversion to turning my first entry into an advertisement for my own film.  Nevertheless, I will take the plunge (or at least dip my big toe into the pond) and focus on the documentary WINDOW ON A WORLD.

                                                                                                      

Film still for WINDOW ON A WORLD

The short film, a chamber piece actually, features the musings of three men as they address a variety of social and political topics.  From Barack Obama to abortion, along with issues related to racism and gender roles, the men (all caucasian) offer sometimes astute, often amazingly candid insights.  A female viewer of the film remarked that she wanted to slap one of the men.  An unduly harsh response, I thought, but it made me realize I was right to close with the thoughts of a liberated African American woman.  Before we get to that point however, I suggest in the film that the heyday of white male hegemony may be coming to an end.  This opinion is not shared by at least two of the men interviewed. 

The film is highlighted by clips of famous personalities and events, but it is unfortunate the sound in the opening moments proved such a pain.  As it happens the audio for the first minutes of one man’s interview is less than impressive.  Oh, well…these things happen in low budget filmmaking, but Pittsburgh actor Rik Billock, the man in question, is more than up to the challenge and remains intriguing throughout.  The same can be said of the other principals.  Check out the WINDOW ON A WORLD page at indieflix.com and perhaps order a DVD copy. 

While you are there examine indieflix for a wide variety of independent films.  I particularly approve of WHAT BLACK MEN THINK and THE CORPORAL’S BOOTS.  The former is a kinetic documentary-the exact opposite of the approach taken in the more laid-back WOAW.  The latter is a moving, well structured short film focusing on a traveling exhibit of the boots of soldiers killed in the Iraq war.

PHOTO COURTESY OF INDIEFLIX

September 30, 2009 Posted by | independent film, indieflix | , , , , , | 2 Comments