Saturday, April 22, 2006

Independent Film Festival of Boston 2006, Day 2: The Giant Buddhas, Before the Music Dies

Thursday's movies were an interesting example of the conflicting requirements to make a good documentary: You need to present interesting information, on the one hand, but the how of what you present is just as important as the what. The Giant Buddhas has an intriguing subject, but terribly dry presentation. Before the Music Dies tells me little I didn't know before, but does it in an entertaining, exciting way.

One thing I wonder about the second is how well music distribution over the internet will really work for new bands. That's the new model, giving the music away online and supporting oneself off deluxe CDs, live performances, and the like. It seems to work OK for webcomics, but a thousand fans of a musician distributed across the country aren't likely to go to a concert or gig the way a thousand fans in the Boston area area will.

The Giant Buddhas

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 April 2006 at Somerville Theater #4 (Independent Film Festival of Boston 2006)

The giant Buddha statues carved out of cliffs at Bamiyan were not, according to Thomas Byron, particularly magnificent works of art. He describes them as ugly works created by monks who could barely be called craftsmen. Even if one agrees with that assessment, they were still remarkable in their dimensions - fifty-three meters tall and hundreds of years old. That they were deliberately destroyed by a government looking to eradicate evidence of other cultures is an obscenity, a point which filmmaker Christian Frei makes repeatedly but yet, somehow, never quite forcefully.

It's not quite clear what got Frei fixated on these two statues, which the Taliban destroyed five years ago. The narration is structured initially as letters to Nelofer Pazira, a one-time Afghani refugee living in Toronto, who later tells us she'd seen first them in pictures her father took on his travels, but it isn't really important. What matters is that it sends him around the world, from Bamiyan where he speaks to a man whose family lived in the caves Paris, where a professor of archeology is preparing an expedition to find other Buddhist monuments in the areas. There are also stops in Toronto, China (where he speaks to Buddhist monk scholars and attempts to view a replica), Kabul, and Qatar, where he meets the al-Jazeera reporter who covered the statues' demolition.

Read the rest at HBS.

Before the Music Dies

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 April 2006 at Somerville Theater #3 (Independent Film Festival of Boston 2006)

I strongly suspect that for many people in the audience, Before the Music Dies isn't saying much they don't already know. What passes for mainstream pop music is manufactured pap whose performers don't have the skills for performing live. Relaxation (nearly to the point of elimination) of ownership regulations has sucked much of the life out of commercial radio. Record companies being owned by large media corporations has made artist development and management all about short-term returns. It could very easily become the rantings of a cranky old man put on the big screen, but filmmakers Andrew Shapter and Joel Rassmussen are a little more optimistic than that.

Starting this project after each lost a music-loving sibling who had been very concerned about the direction of the music industry, they start from their home base in Austin, Texas and criss-cross the country talking to musicians, executives, fans, journalists, and others to survey the state of music in America. The underlying message is clear: The traditional infrastructure of the industry has become rigid and corporatized to the point where it no longer serves musicians or enthusiasts very well, but the internet has picked up much of the slack, giving proactive fans and artists the chance to connect like never before.

Read the rest at HBS.

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