January 28, 2006

Park City Dispatch. 5.

Jonathan Marlow, who's probably just landed in Rotterdam even now, sends one last word from Park City.

Sundance 06 One waits with anticipation for the film that makes the whole expedition worthwhile. Failing that "knock it out of the park" moment, we take what we can get. On the Sundance side, This Film is Not Yet Rated by the ever-reliable Kirby Dick satisfies like few other documentaries in the festival (outside of the oft-mentioned Iraq in Fragments and the just-acquired Wordplay). A compelling topic entertainingly told, the film is certain to get audiences motivated to reform the current ratings system. Granted, the studios have no particular interest in changing the system. While I take issue with a few misstatements (Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle's raucous party occurred in San Francisco, not "Tinsletown") and a handful of missing details (I was left wanting a more complete history of the self-imposed self-censorship in Hollywood, starting with full rationale behind the Motion Picture Production Code/Hays Code; at least some mention of Blockbuster and their refusal to stock NC-17 and unrated films; perhaps an interview with the man himself, former MPAA head Jack Valenti), the doc is cunningly constructed for maximum enjoyment. Destined for a television appearance on IFC, it wouldn't be out-of-place on Court TV.

Abduction Meanwhile, on the Slamdance side, another documentary caught me entirely by surprise - Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story. A little-known-in-these-parts story of thirteen (confirmed) Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea (although the actual kidnapped total may be much higher), the filmmakers have exceptional access to the parents of one of the victims as they attempt to pressure the Japanese government to get a definite answer from the Kim Jong Il administration about their daughter's fate. To put it succinctly, this is one of the most emotionally draining docs that I've seen in ages. If someone doesn't acquire this film immediately, I'll have to start a company and do it myself.

Where does that leave us? Still searching for themes? Music documentaries and music performance films are on the rise, selection-wise. In the wake of DiG! two years ago, clearly not all music docs are created equally. On the low end of the spectrum would be the execrable Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man, which intersperses fair-to-middling versions of Cohen classics with contemporary interviews with the great poet/songwriter. Audiences would be better served by seeking out the legendary Ladies & Gentlemen, Mr Leonard Cohen (clips of which briefly appear in the former film). Documentary Competition entry American Hardcore does a disservice to its topic, stringing together poorly photographed segments into a largely incomplete history of the genre. The Beastie Boys performance film Awesome! (etc) features a string of hits cut together from dozens of low-end cameras distributed throughout the New York audience. Fans will not be disappointed. THINKFilm has some craft distribution plans ahead for the picture (which I'm not at liberty to mention). I have it on good authority that Jonathan Demme's latest Neil Young picture, Heart of Gold, is among the best that Park City has to offer. Sorry to have missed it. Sorrier still about Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris which, on paper, looks exactly like the sort of film that I would adore, but the lone industry screening conflicted with the Japanther show across town.

The Darwin Awards Finally, in my earlier plug for the adopted-hometown folks, I failed to mention a few other San Francisco titles that surfaced in Utah (and, if I forget any others, please comment below). Sam Green's fantastic short, lot 63, grave C, which screened locally at the YBCA a few months back, fills in the unknowns behind the man who was knifed at a 1969 Rolling Stones concert at Altamont (documented elsewhere in the Maysles Brothers' film Gimme Shelter). Finn Taylor's latest, The Darwin Awards, is likely hilarious (I wasn't able to catch it before departing for Rotterdam) but had the unfortunate distinction of premiering the same day that the death of one of its stars, Chris Penn, was announced. Meanwhile, it isn't only the screenings that connect the Bay Area to Park City. The panels, too, are populated by Californians. I'll mention only one - "The Culture of Moviegoing" - which featured, among others, CFI/MVFF Artistic/Executive Director Mark Fishkin and critic/UC Santa Cruz teacher B Ruby Rich. I've never had an extensive conversation with the latter, but I couldn't agree more with her statements at this discussion. While the so-called "death of cinema" is once again prematurely pronounced by pundits, we see an industry in its usual cycle of change and revision. Besides, I certainly couldn't complain that she mentioned GreenCine by name (and now I'm doing the same).

Off to the Netherlands. It won't be the same without my regular Park City band of misfits - filmmaker/journalist Shannon Gee, filmmaker/journalist Andy Spletzer - and our occasional hangers-on (in the good sense): composer Stephen Thomas Cavit, journalist/sommelier Jay Kuehner and film editor/screenwriter/journalist Hannah Eaves. Without the crew, I guess that will only leave me time for film-going. Plenty to see at that festival, of course, and the batting-average (to revive the opening cliché) should be much better.



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Posted by dwhudson at January 28, 2006 2:48 AM