January 19, 2008

Park City Dispatch. 2.

Brian Darr's found a highlight in the Documentary Spotlight program.

La Corona Do you like women-in-prison films? Sundance has got a doozy in its lineup this year. It's called La Corona, and it's co-directed by Isabel Vega and Amanda Micheli, whose Double Dare introduced us to the backlot world of superstar stuntwomen Jeannie Epper and Zoe Bell. But this is no grindhouse movie for the exploitation crowd (not that there's anything wrong with those); it's the 40-minute closer to the Documentary Spotlight program of sub-feature-length non-fiction films. La Corona came on the screen just before midnight, the last film of the first evening of screenings here in Salt Lake City. I doubt anyone in the audience was checking the time, though. This is one of those shorts you hope might get expanded into a feature, just so you can spend more time with its characters.

Did I mention that La Corona is about a beauty pageant? It just happens to be held in Bogota, Colombia's largest women's penitentiary. Here's the only film I know where you'll see a would-be beauty queen with a disturbing gang tattoo at the base of her thumb. Or one who gives her lesbian lover a smooch just before being paroled. The narrative's preparation-competition-denouement structure may be palatable to audiences used to so-called 'reality' television (will you root for the guerrilla fighter doing 13 years of time, the contract killer in for eight, or the thief, a relative short-timer with a three-year sentence?) But interviews with the contestants and prison authorities aside, none of these women seem to be playing for the camera; they're just doing what they'd be doing if Micheli and Vega weren't around. The pageant is a major annual prison event but there are much bigger things at stake in its inmates' lives.

La Corona declines to show the context of everyday life around the cellblock, before dunking the audience headfirst into the pageant activities. This places particular importance on the film's coda in which winner and runners-up alike are revisited a month after the event. Thankfully it's a sequence no less riveting than the competition itself. The co-directors are willing to let their film brush up against uncomfortable issues such as racism and relations between prison staff and inmates, even when it doesn't delve deeply into them.

The Documentary Spotlight program, reportedly particularly strong this year, contains two more films in the 20-40-minute range: Lauren Greenfield's unsettling piece on materialistic minors in Los Angeles, kids + money, and Tadashi Nakamura's account of an annual Pilgrimage to the Manzanar site of Japanese-American internment during World War II. Both are solid, though both occasionally bothered me with techniques that seemed calculatedly 'hip.' The program is rounded out with three very short films that broaden the scope of the 'documentary' label. My favorite of these is Ken Wardrop's Farewell Packets of Ten, which should be available to view online.

- Brian Darr

Brian found a link for "online" and notes that Farewell Packets of Ten will be screening in Rotterdam.

Also, if you click on kids + money, what you'll be seeing is an abbreviated version - an appetizer.

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Posted by dwhudson at January 19, 2008 5:01 AM


Thanks for the recommendations, Brian. Will keep eyes and ears out for La Corona. Looking forward to your further dispatches.

Posted by: Michael Guillen at January 19, 2008 12:40 PM

Maybe La Corona could double-bill with the recent Spanish documentary Septiembres. What a program that might be!

Posted by: James van Maanen at January 19, 2008 1:50 PM

Thanks! That's a great idea, James! I've been hoping to see Septiembres since reading your recent write-up.

Posted by: Brian at January 20, 2008 1:34 AM