Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Independent Film Festival Boston 2012.05 (Sunday 29 April 2012): Fairhaven, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, Girl Model & Keyhole

This is how it starts... I know I'm not going to get a This Week In Tickets post done during the festival, but I figure the next week isn't unreasonable, and then when that week passes I'm barely done writing up February, and before you know it it's Fantasia time and I haven't done one since April...

Well, anyway, time to stop worrying and show off some horrible photography. It's a shame there wasn't a full set - at first, Guy Maddin was going to come with Keyhole, then there was talk of him doing a Skype Q&A, but when the movie ended we just all wound up going home. Sad; having his picture be a photo of a head projected on a screen with a webcam underneath and someone pointing at other people amused me. And I wanted to ask him how excited he was to have the NHL back in his town; one of the most memorable things about when he brought My Winnipeg to the festival four years ago was how thoroughly incensed he was at his hockey team being stolen away and the old arena demolished (in fact, the footage of the new one was all on video, because "it doesn't deserve film!").

IMAG0082, "Fairhaven" writer/director/star Tom O'Brien & producers at IFFBoston 2012
Fairhaven writer/director/star Tom O'Brien & producers

As you might expect, there were a lot of people from Fairhaven, MA, here for this one, although they were much less rambunctious than the previous night's crowd for Booster, although it got off on some amusing tangents.

IMAG0084, "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry" director Alison Klayman and editor Jennifer Fineran at IFFBoston 2012
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry director Alison Klayman and editor Jennifer Fineran

Another thoroughly pleasant pair. Like a lot of documentaries, many of the questions in this Q&A were about what happened to the people involved in the action after the filmmakers stopped rolling, which in this case is pretty much where they were when the film ended. One person raised her hand to mention that she was a Tufts student doing a thesis on Ai Weiwei.

IMAG0085, "Girl Model" (and "Downeast") filmmakers Ashley Sabin and David Redmon at IFFBoston 2012
Girl Model (and Downeast) filmmakers Ashley Sabin and David Redmon

I am quite frankly shocked that the pictures I had from this screening came out this well. I remember it being a little darker and Redmon always looking at the floor so that his hat blocked his entire face.

I mention as an aside in the review that I really hope that when Girl Model does get released on DVD, it's with some sort of commentary or featurette that reflects what they talked about here. Because, contrary to what you may expect after having only watched the film, the project was actually initiated by Ashley Arbaugh, who came up to them after a screening of a previous film to say she had a subject for a documentary for them, though the version she pitched hinted at prostitution and more obviously criminal behavior. Watch the film, and you're likely to wonder why Arbaugh allowed herself to be interviewed or signed a release, but hearing that this movie was in some ways her idea makes things even stranger.

You can still see traces of that initial pitch in some of her interview footage, and it does make me wonder whether the modeling agencies and the like were very careful to keep certain things out of sight. Sabin & Redmon describe Arbaugh as being about as reliable behind the scenes as she seems stable in front of it, apparently misrepresenting who the crew was, craving attention, and flat-out contradicting herself at times. It actually makes an already interesting documentary even more fascinating, but it must have been a bizarre experience to live through.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 29 April 2012 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2012, digital)

If you're going to go through a time of self-doubt or regret, you could find worse surroundings than Fairhaven, Mass. It's got the kind of snow dirt and smoke don't seem to stick to, there are good friends there to support you, and your problems are taken seriously without being blown out of proportion.

Take, for instance, Jon (writer/director Tom O'Brien); a man in his mid-thirties, his job on a fishing boat is steady but makes it hard for him to find time to write, which is his true passion; his girlfriend Angela (Alexie Gilmore) teaches "laughter classes" and talks about open relationships in a way that sounds cool but makes him nervous. His best friend Sam (Rich Sommer) has a great daughter but hasn't really been with any one since divorcing high-school sweetheart Kate (Sarah Paulson), who has since remarried. The other guy they were close with as kids, Dave (Chris Messina), has been away for ten years but has returned for his father's funeral.

There's no terrible, hidden dysfunction underneath the surface here. Characters' issues are pretty much what they appear to be, and the secrets revealed, while not quite inconsequential, are the sort that hang over the characters uneasily rather than ominously. O'Brien seems to have a sense of proportion about things; these aren't the sort of problems that are solved with outbursts, and they're not made so for dramatic effect. A moment which a different film might milk for tension instead has the guys teasing Kate about her new husband being older man, for example, a certain manifestation of Jon's insecurity also manages to serve as a running joke.

Full review at EFC.

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

* * * (out of four)
Seen 29 April 2012 in Somerville Theatre #3 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2012, digital)

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is an odd duck, even by installation-artist standards. That it's often an affable, upbeat eccentricity may help explain why a government not known for free expression let the outspoken Ai be for so long (along with his international renown). Such an artist in such a situation can't avoid trouble forever, but the type he winds up making tends to be interesting.

The movie opens innocently enough, with Ai in his Beijing home/studio, supervising the fabrication of pieces meant for upcoming shows, talking about art in a broad sense and telling the audience how one of the dozens of cats that share his space can open doors. And while some of his more obviously confrontational pieces (like a "perspective study" photograph of his middle finger and Tienanmen Square) and stances (helping design the "birds' nest" for the Beijing Olympics and then boycotting the games) don't seem to draw a reaction, a seemingly much more innocuous project - documenting the children who died in the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake - gets his popular blog shut down. Ai takes his message to Twitter, but...

It may initially seem like an odd thing for the People's Republic to go to the wall over, both because Ai's actions seem far more humanitarian than political, and because, well, why make civilian casualties of a natural disaster a state secret? As the film points out, there is an underlying cause aside from random tragedy - shoddy construction materials used in many of the area's schools - but both artist and filmmaker are humane enough to not try and score obvious political points from dead children. There's a connection be made between schools literally collapsing and Ai Weiwei's comments about Chinese art schools not teaching artists what they need to know, but director Alison Klayman doesn't push that (if it's even intended). If anything, the intent seems to be to show that Ai's activism springs from concern about his people rather than his government.

Full review at EFC.

Girl Model

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 April 2012 in Somerville Theatre #3 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2012, digital)

When one sees a documentary with a title like "Girl Model" on a festival schedule, it's probably not a bad idea to schedule a little time between it and the next film to wash a bit of the scummy feeling off. What's particularly interesting about this one is that it is that sort of uneasy-making movie without a doubt, but it also presents a bit more complex than just exploitation. Girl Model is not ambiguous, but still capable of leaving the audience unsure about what it has seen.

We start in Siberia - Novosibersk, to be precise - where model scout Ashley Arbaugh is looking for some fresh faces for an agency in Japan. Out of a large crowd assembled by NOAH Models (which has the local market cornered), Ashley chooses Nadya Vall, a willowy thirteen-year-old who has the agency employing Ashley craves. Nadya goes off to Japan alone, despite not speaking Japanese or even English, and Ashley heads back home to Connecticut.

It's not long before filmmakers Ashley Sabin & David Redmon reveal that Arbaugh also modeled in Japan in her teen years, and one hopes that we're not watching history repeat itself. Nadya is a sweet kid who probably thought that she was going to be the plucky heroine in a rags-to-riches fairy tale, and while the audience doesn't witness much in the way of active malice, loneliness and confusion soon take their toll. Redmon & Sabin are pretty hands-off with Nadya and her roommate Madlen, getting a little background information from those around the young Russian girls without doing much to diminish the audience's sense of just how strange this must seem.

Full review at EFC.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 29 April 2012 in Somerville Theatre #5 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2012, digital)

Winnipeg-based director Guy Maddin has never been anything less than unconventional, but some of his more recent efforts have met the mainstream halfway; they were peculiar films but the audience didn't have to take up residence in Maddin's head to understand them. Despite having a few actors that the audience will recognize at the top of the cast, Keyhole is half a step back toward strange, but manages to be more intriguing than confusing.

The cops have got gangster Ulysses Pick (Jason Patric) and his gang on the run, eventually cornering them in his mansion. It's a terrible place to make a last stand, but escape seems to be far from Ulysses's mind; he means to find his wife Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini), who has shut herself in her bedroom since the death of most of their children. That sounds like it should not be difficult, but Ulysses's memory isn't working quite right, and he's relying on a young woman (Brooke Palsson) to show him the way, but she seems both psychic and disoriented, likely as a result of her recent drowning.

That will throw a person, but the lines separating life and death are different in Keyhole's world. The mansion is filled with ghosts, and after the shootout ends, Ulysses asks those who have died to step outside, so that the police can get them to the morgue. Maddin and co-writer George Toles don't specify the rigid rules of a fantasy universe here; while not every interaction between the living and the dead is weighty and symbolic (some are just crude jokes), the basic idea seems to be that death and loss can be handled in many different ways. Sometimes, the survivors can seem more like ghosts than the departed.

Full review at EFC.

1 comment:

Good Gay Films said...

I saw Ai Wei Wei in Beijing before and he's a humble artist with a vision for his country. I would highly recommend this documentary about him.