Friday, April 21, 2006

Tribeca II: Domestic documenteries

The Cats of Mirikitani (U.S.A.) - World Premiere.

Directed by
Linda Hattendorf

Jimmy Mirikitani is an old coot who was homeless in the spring of 2001. Linda Hattendorf decided to adopt him and get him back in the system where he could have a house and a home.

He is also an artist who, as the title of the film implies, likes to draw pictures of cats. But primarily, he's a surviver of the Japanese internment camps that were set up during World War II.

He's still justifiably bitter about it. While he isn't talking about or painting about the camps, he's watching TV or walking around outside talking to either Hattendorf or some social worker.

The film isn't all that interesting, as Mirikitani isn't. He might have been made so had Hattendorf tried, but this is nothing more than a glorified home movie, and the journeys of an itinerant artist could have been so much moreso.

A waste of celluloid and potential.

The Hip Hop Project
AKA Word.Life

Directed by
Matt Ruskin

The better part of a decade ago, a Bahamian immigrant and would-be rap star named Chris "Kharma Kazi" Rolle came into the offices of ArtStart, a charity serving impoverished kids with an idea, why not get a bunch of teenagers from the 'hood and teach them how to make it in the music business? They liked the idea, and decided to have the whole process filmed.

This, and an album, is the result.

What Ruskin did was, basically, to follow about five of the nine kids who were working their dream, as well as Rolle, and show what went down.

The kids had it hard, but they all seemed nice enough, and they got lots better as the years went by and they got out of high school and went on to bigger things. It's a nice documentery and worth a look.

A Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus (U.S.A.)

A documentary directed
by Randy Olson

Faith is a powerful thing. Decades and decades after the theory of evolution was proved beyond the shadow of a doubt there are a bunch of religious people who believe the bible trumps a century and a half of scientific research. Apparently, over half the population of the US doesn't believe that the world is billions of years old.

So why are we in this situation? Biologist/filmmaker Randy Olson and his mommy go off to find out.

The center of the controversy is in Kansas where a bunch of really cute and friendly fanatics who control the state school board have been trying to ram “Intelligent design,” the new name for creationism, down the throats of innocent schoolchildren.

So what Olson and Mom do is interview as many people involved in the alleged controversy as is possible, from the lawyers who actually get paid to advocate this, to scientists from Harvard and the University of Kansas, to members of the school boards of the Sunflower state and Dover, Pennsylvania, which was publicly humiliated by the publicity surrounding it's adoption of the ID-curriculum.

While the ID people are clearly wrong and scientists right, the former are portrayed as nicer people and scientists bad at popular communication. That's half the ballgame right there.

The interstitial animation is rather good, and Olsen actually tries to be fair to both sides, which is an almost impossible task.

This is, in fact, one of the better documentaries of the year and should be seen by as many people as possible.

The Sci-Fi Boys (U.S.A.) - World Premiere.

a documentary written and
directed by Paul Davids

Great men sometimes wax poetic about their influences, and this is what that is, a cinematic valentine to Forrest J. Ackerman's “Famous Monsters of Filmland,” the most influential fanzine in the history of cinema.

The film is a cut-and-paste job. Paul Davids has gotten the rights to a whole bunch of interviews with such luminaries as Peter Jackson, John Landis, Stephen Sommers and Steven Spielberg, He also managed to get the rights to a number of the childhood amateur efforts by some of the top special effects artists in cinema.

This is a film for lovers of the genre only, and I'm not exactly sure whether or not it's for them. It's nice to see a bunch of famous men reminisce about the magazine and it's cute to see the animation done by highly talented children back in the late 1950s and early '60s, but exactly what purpose does this film serve?

None really, which is why this film will never actually be seen again outside of a few festivals and conventions.

Al Franken: God Spoke

A film by Nick Doob and Chris Hegedus

Al Franken is a grade-C celebrity who's decided to change his career from comedian and SNL writer to political hack and pundit.

I'm not saying that he's bad at it. He's just as good as many of the right-wing blatherers, heaven knows, and the lefties need a coherent counterweight to the likes of Shaun Hannity and Rush Limbagh heaven knows, and his books are actually quite readable.

So about three years ago, he was first to join up with the new “Air America” radio network, and got to go to the two political conventions.

The film begins in a really stupid way with Franken claiming to be on a mission from God and dressing up as Moses to emphasize the point. This isn't a good way to begin, but it gets better.

We get clips from “Saturday Night Live,” his book tours and stand up acts, most of which is really funny, especially when he does his Stuart Smiley act with Al and Tipper Gore soon after the 2000 election. He also manages to rhetorically beat the crap out of Ann Coulter, who deserves that sort of thing at least once a day.

Where it's weak is when we're backstage and he's just walking around acting peeved, but that sort of “reality” stuff is always kind of boring. When he's on, he's hot, and when he's not, he's not.

Which is why when he goes to the two national conventions the film is so schizophrenic. When he does a radio show with Sean Hannity, he's great, and when he's at a party talking to Henry Kissinger or is being taunted by Republican bigwigs while he's making a phone call, he's rather pathetic.

Of course the film ends on a downer note, as Bush was reelected, and we don't really know if he's going to carry out his threat to run for the Senate in Minnesota, but it's good enough to be a fundraiser for the Democrats. Eh.

Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple

Directed by
Stanley Nelson

Do you remember where the term “drinking the kool-aide” came from? If you're of a certain age, you'd know. It came from the biggest mass suicide in modern history: Jonestown, Guyana November 18, 1978. Every now and again, we have to be reminded about such things.

Over nine hundred people were coerced into killing themselves on that day, and Nelson and his assistant Marcia Smith have used formerly forgotten footage and interviews with both former cultists and relations of them and false messiah Jim Jones to tell the story of an extremely intelligent lunatic and his otherwise sane followers.

Going back to his youth in the suburbs of Indianapolis in the 1930s, we follow Jones from his alienation from his family and friends and his becoming a Pentecostal preacher teaching racial tolerance and his moving to California and how he managed to grow his flock.

It also shows that he was a charlatan, and how gullible everyone was. Even major politicians fell for it, including San Francisco mayor George Moscone, who gave Jones a major city job.

But, of course, the film rightfully focuses on Jones' utopian community in South America, his becoming a megalomaniac, and the events leading to the assassination of Congressman Leo Ryan.

The sad and shocking story of the rise and fall of the People's Temple is one which should be told again and again, just to warn people of what might happen because someone could try it again.

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