Saturday, April 19, 2008

HotDocs 2008 #2: Lovers & Losers

Before I begin today’s recap, a little leftover housekeeping from yesterday...

First, in my discussion of Anvil! The Story of Anvil, I completely forgot to mention that the entire band actually attended the screening – along with an audience packed with metalheads – and came onstage after the film to field questions from the crowd...who gave the guys a standing ovation. (It really is fascinating to watch the demographic of the audiences change from film to film.)

Secondly, I wanted to clarify that I am not saying I’m a big weeping mess when I say that some of these films make me cry. I realized last night that I should probably distinguish between what happens to me when I watch a moving or particularly beautiful movie/scene/moment in public (i.e., my eyes tear up a lot, sniffles kick in, maybe a stray tear drifts down my cheek) and what Oprah describes as the “ugly cry” (i.e., sobbing and heaving and gasping breaths). When I’m out at a movie, I prefer to stifle my emotions as much as the “crying” is done internally more than externally. Just so’s you know.

Oh, and one more thing: whyyy must people smoke in line? I think I’ve mentioned this in every fest-related diary I’ve ever written for the ‘Pie...but, seriously, why? Step out of line if you must have a cigarette. We’re all standing shoulder to shoulder, and the rest of us don’t need to smoke right along with you. Many thanks.

Okay, moving two!

Now, when I say the words “prison beauty pageant,” what sort of images spring to mind? I’d be willing to bet whatever you just conjured up in your imagination bears no resemblance to what was featured in my first film of the day, La Corona (The Crown) (6/8), which was the first half of a double-bill screening. Shot at a women’s prison in Colombia, the film showcases the annual beauty pageant that pits cellblock against cellblock. But lest you think the catwalk is packed with beefy butch women in crew cuts and muscle Ts, the inmates competing are stunningly beautiful. Yes, they’ve been convicted of murder or armed robbery or what have you, Directors Amanda Micheli and Isabel Vega do a nice job of profiling the key competitors, and the proceedings have a decidedly upbeat vibe, but it did feel like it went on about four scenes too long – that it didn’t end at its natural conclusion. Instead, a coda involving one woman’s release seems unnecessarily added on, especially since updates on the post-pageant status of her rivals is never addressed. Just a very minor sticking point for me, though.

Part two of the double bill was Searching for Sandeep (6/8), a kind of cross-continental lesbian love story about Poppy and Sandeep, two gay women who meet online, fall in love and try to overcome the physical and cultural differences that separate them. Poppy is an out, gay, white woman in Australia; Sandeep is a closeted, gay, Indian woman, who still lives with her parents and sisters in England. What follows is a tumultuous, and often frustrating, tale of a long-distance relationship peppered with tender moments, honest revelations and Sandeep’s wonderfully sharp and entertaining quartet of younger sisters, who seem like they fell right out of a Gurinder Chadha film.

I followed these two with Nursery University (7/8), which would make for an excellent companion film to yesterday’s Kids + Money...only this time it’s the parents with the money and a preschool system in Manhattan more than eager to take it off their hands. The ratio of children to available preschool slots in NYC is staggering, making it (seemingly) virtually impossible to get your kid into your preschool of choice. The rationale for this insanity – where a year’s “tuition” can run you around $20,000 – is explained by one parent, who outlines the “feeder school” system, where the right preschool gets you into the right kindergarten, which gets you into the right middle school, which gets you into the right high school, which gets you into an Ivy League college and the best. life. ever. The lengths the parents go to are simultaneously hilarious and shocking, and I hope co-directors Marc H. Simon and Matthew Makar are prepared to make a mint off the thousands of desperate New Yorkers who will no doubt snatch up every copy of the DVD of this film in the hopes of getting an inside edge.

Last up was Beautiful Losers (6/8), a film profiling a group of 10 young visual artists, who all came together in NYC in the early 1990s. United by their passion for making art, their do-it-yourself anywhere and with anything initiative, and their collective position on the fringes of the art world – having come from backgrounds of graffiti art, skateboarding and punk rock – they blazed a trail and influenced all manner of popular art thereafter, from advertising to filmmaking. Among those artists featured in the film (for anyone keeping score) are Mike Mills, Harmony Korine, Margaret Kilgallen and Jo Jackson. Their work is exactly the kind of stuff I love – wild, colorful, cartoonish (some) and BIG – and the doc was, as my film-going friend put it after the screening, a really interesting look at a largely unknown chapter in art history. (This same friend has warned me that one of my picks for tomorrow, Song Sung Blue, is I’m bringing Kleenex, just in case.)


Lou said...

MYgod, I love reading your reviews of these documentaries because they open little windows on worlds that feed my curiosity. A prison beauty pageant, that waterfall of colorful faces in the center of the Beautiful Losers poster.

Vickie said...

Thanks, lou!

The beauty pageant doc and the artist doc were definitely educational, and this education is part of the reason I love HotDocs so much.

Coming up later in the week will be films about base jumping, women boxers in the Congo, a Nobel laureate, a reform school in England, a cult in Australia, online gamers, a murder in Fiji, a gay love story in Italy, and female Israeli soldiers. :-D

Linda said...

In the book I just finished reading, World War Z, I'll bet all those rich NYC phancy-pants parents and their precocious little tots would have been some of the first to be eaten by zombies.