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Silverdocs 2011

Swinging by soon to pick up my pass and am very much looking forward to friends from all over converging in Silver Spring next week. Also very excited about the opening night film, Swell Season. Despite myself I loved Once, the simple love story that inspired the real-life love story between the film’s two stars and which is the topic of Swell Season, so I’m eager to check it out. Somehow all of my writing about film has moved to Facebook in the past few years…indicative of trends in social media, I guess, as well as a change in me. But Silverdocs starts Monday and I’ll be posting reviews and more in this space, so stay tuned. Or just keep catching up with my 140-character facebook status film reviews:

The End of Silverdocs, the End of the World

I was on the programming committee for Silverdocs this year, which has made the question of blogging a bit confusing for me—how do you review an event that you had a hand in creating? My answer for now is to review just those films I hadn’t yet seen in the programming process, those I did not vote on.

One of which was Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World, in which the director continues on the path of the aging artist who no longer has patience for subtlety and now spells out his ideas for you in plain English. Or with a brick over the head. Back in 1971 Herzog made Land of Silence & Darkness, which is about people who are both deaf and blind, and I still think about the scene where the camera just sits, and sits, and watches a deaf-blind woman as she sits on her bed. The silence, to use a cliche AND pun, is deafening, as we watch her and ponder, where *is* she?

In some later films, as his patience wears thin, Herzog’s camera will linger on a person’s face, but in voiceover he’ll *tell* you what he thinks that person is thinking. And in Encounters at the End of the World, in which Herzog travels to Antarctica to photograph the breathtaking ‘ecstatic imagery’ of the landscape and interview its odd inhabitants, all tact is lost and he moves to damping down the sound while a subject is talking and coming on in voiceover to paraphrase and interpret what the subject is saying as he says it. At least he’s not hiding anymore the fact that he often invents scenarios in his “documentaries”; it’s almost as if he’s making a joke out of it. He does it twice in the film and the audience got a hearty laugh out of it. Much of the film is funny, in fact, which is another, more refreshing trait that has emerged in Herzog’s films as he ages. Most of his early films were deadly dramatic and bombastic, but he seems to have embraced the knowledge that enlightenment means lightening up (to quote that mad genius in his own mind, Mike Myers). In interviews he has always been hilarious while at the same time poetic and thought-provoking, and his films now embody that as well.

And nothing is funnier than the exchange in the film between Herzog and a scientist who studies and lives with penguins. “Can a penguin go crazy?” he asks the laconic man. And he clarifies, “I don’t mean that a penguin will suddenly think he’s Napoelon, but do penguins ever just get fed up with their colonies and leave?” And what follows is the most poignant sequence in the film, a film he vowed in voiceover would not be “another penguin film.” We watch a line of penguins waddling toward the sea in the distance, while one stops and seems confused for a moment, and then begins wandering off alone on a path toward the mountains, and as Herzog points out, toward certain death.

The parallel to humans is obvious, as Herzog has throughout the film (and indeed, throughout his career) been interrogating the various weirdos and “castoffs” who inhabit such an inhospitable place. And I think in his youth Herzog would have let that point make itself.

Silverdocs: Dust

A funny thing happened in the screening of Dust, a German film about the infinitesimal particles that we consider insignificant yet battle daily, in futility, to get rid of. I had high hopes for the film, as it seems there is such poetic possibility in this tiny disregarded stuff that is much stronger than us, more ubiquitous, and ultimately even lethal. When the film started, the projectionist had the wrong aspect ratio so the bottom portion of the film was cut off, leaving us able to see only about half the subtitles. We all sat for about 10 minutes wondering what the hell we were watching—we only got about every third sentence, and even then it was just a partial sentence, leaving me puzzled as to whether the film was so poetic I just didn’t get it or if something was missing. After I checked with the theater manager and they resolved the problem, I was glad to see that even with full sentences, the film does attempt poetry, and inspires thought—the images of the obsessive-compulsive housewife wiping down everything in her home, even the inside of her television, in a battle against dust; images of terrifying dust storms about to swallow whole towns in Oklahoma in the 1910s; and the image above, part of a sequence showing the impossibility of ridding the floor of all traces of a pile of red dust. These tiny particles seem to rule the world, even the universe, the film points out. But despite the Godardian narration, which constantly brought to mind the coffee cup scene in Two or Three Things I Know About Her, unfortunately the film is rather heavy-handed at times, forcibly making and repeating its philosophical points and pounding some of the film’s mystery—yes, I’ll say it—into dust. And it didn’t help that some of the more scientific explanations were too technical to be understood by the layperson, or perhaps just too dryly presented, and dragged on way too long. Overall the film provided plenty of food for thought, and I admire the effort and the intention, but would have preferred a bit more mystery.

Silverdocs: Head Wind


Leave it to me to get teary-eyed from a film about Iranians installing illegal Satellite TV dishes. But near the end of this film, which takes an often humorous approach to the proliferation of foreign TV programs and internet access in Iran despite the government’s tireless efforts to prevent it, two of the film’s subjects offer plaintive cries about the way the government’s restrictions are stifling their thoughts, their dreams, their desires. One is a former journalist whose paper was shut down by the government, who now operates a roadside tea stand where he offers free newspapers to his clientele, and the other is an underground rock musician who dreams of playing his music “above ground”, where he can be heard and not have to hide in a hole. The musician says he will continue playing underground, because such agitation, even if futile, is better than apathy. He will continue to play in opposition to the govenment’s plan to separate the people from their desires. (Sniff, sniff.) And the journalist searches the Internet every day for news from around the world, even though most sites he visits are blocked by the government days after he finds them. But he persists, saying that it helps him to still feel like a journalist, and not just a former one.

And yet, the film is not so simplistic as to claim that access to media will cure everything. We see families (who have illegal Satellite dishes installed) eating dinner around a TV set, staring trance-like at images of Christina Ricci and Hugh Jackman and not interacting with one another. And the very image of the technology itself—the crude dishes, the old TV sets, the antennae boosters—is ugly, marring the gorgeous Iranian mountainside.

But there are moments of transcendence. A man riding a donkey down a hill sings at the top of his lungs, as the film cuts to a television set showing a music video for the song he’s singing, offering us the source of the man’s inspiration, his dreams.

It’s Silverdocs Time Again

bf…and I’ll be there. I had the pleasure of previewing some shorts for the festival, the highlight of which is the newest from Jay Rosenblatt, the man who had me bawling my eyes out in the sheep-shearing scene of his Phantom Limb a couple years back at Silverdocs. We also studied a few of his films in my grad school classes, and images from the highly intense Smell of Burning Ants is still burned into my brain. This year’s offering is Beginning Filmmaking, in which he tries, and struggles, to teach his 4-year-old daughter Ella how to make a film. This is a very different film than his others, as it consists entirely of home-movie footage of Rosenblatt himself grappling with a child who clearly has her mind on other things. “I wanna make a movie about me eating a lot of candy,” she proclaims when her dad gives her a camera for her birthday. At every turn Rosenblatt tries to impart his wisdom about camera angles and focus, but Ella more often than not would rather be thinking about fairies. As Rosenblatt gets increasingly frustrated the film seems to transcend its ostensible subject of a father-daughter or teacher-student relationship and becomes a portrait of a man trying desperately to control the uncontrollable. “Listen to me.” “Sit down.” “Pay attention.” “Don’t lick the screen…” and on and on; in one scene the camera even chases Ella down the hallway as she runs from her father. In every scene Ella seems to outsmart her dad, or at least slip from his grasp. “Now, what does focus mean?” he asks her. “I’m out of focus…” she says, crunching on an apple. “What is light?” he asks. She touches his arm very lightly with her fingertip, whispering “this is light.” I stopped thinking of her as his daughter, or even as a child, and began seeing it as the monumental and ultimately futile struggle of head trying to control heart.

Another lovely little short is Shikashika, a dialogue-free film about the process of making Shikashika, or shaved ice treats. The film follows a Peruvian family whose business is selling shaved ice at a weekly market. Each week the entire family climbs a mountain in the Andes, hacks out a large chunk of ice, straps it to a donkey’s back and brings it back down the mountain, and takes it to market, where mom shaves bits off and douses them with sweet fruity syrup for eager customers. With beautiful cinematography, a lyrical structure, a happy family, and the gorgeous Andes, the film, like the shaved ice, is saturated with color.

Stay tuned for the next post, with a few more shorts and a profile of the features I’m looking forward to…

Last Day at Silverdocs…

…I watched the film I was most interested to see, Walking to Werner. It’s about young filmmaker Linas Phillips and his mission to walk 1200 miles from his home in Seattle to Herzog’s home in Los Angeles, an homage to Herzog’s infamous walk from Germany to France to see his dying friend Lotte Eisner. Unfortunately Herzog’s not home, but as they say, it’s all about the journey. He meets a lot of strange persons along the way, as you might imagine, and has his share of hardships and triumphs, freeways and scenic beach roads, ticks and poison oak. It’s an unabashedly sentimental and sweet and inspirational road movie, made by an adorably sweet young man, who is just as adorable and sweet in person. It was very enjoyable to watch, if a bit long, but will certainly inspire you to get off your ass and do something, anything, that you want to do, no matter how ridiculous.

Love Thieves, Hijackers, and Serial Killers

Perhaps it says something about my tastes or my interests that all of the films I’ve seen so far at Silverdocs offer extreme views of womanhood. Last night’s highlight was The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief, a fascinating film about male “Host Clubs” in Japan. There are apparently hundreds of these clubs all over Japan, and the concept is brilliant: men are the product here, women the consumers, and what the men are selling, they say, are “dreams”. Romantic dreams, to be specific. What the women are paying for isn’t sex, but attention. Flirting, touching, snuggling, romantic gestures. The host’s job is to get the girls to fall in love and therefore become repeat customers. They have it down to a science. Women are very “demanding” they say. They need a lot of superficial compliments. But the most fascinating observation they make is that once they reel the women in with compliments, they switch to scolding. And that’s when the women fall in love. We see a host asking a girl why she does such meaningless things, why she lives her life so frivolously, and the girl is completely rapt. And afterward gushes to the camera about how much she loves him. It is a truth that I as a woman was very uncomfortable witnessing. The entire film was uncomfortable to watch, probably moreso for women than for the men in the audience, who seemed to find much of it to be hilarious. I didn’t see many women laughing.

Much easier for women to watch is the story of Leila Khaled: Hijacker. Her world couldn’t have been more different than that of the love-starved women in Osaka. Khaled, who hijacked 3 planes in the 1960s and 70s, had no need for something like a host club, she was too busy being a freedom fighter (terrorist?) for the Palestinian cause and actually altering her beautiful face to avoid capture. And after she was captured, she was insulted when reporters asked her if she had a boyfriend, asked her if she were in love. These things were irrelevant to her. She is now married with children, and encouraged the female director of the film to make babies, but is still every bit the unrepentant soldier. Or terrorist, depending on your view. That’s one of the questions the film poses: what’s the difference between being a terrorist and a freedom fighter? Is the difference simply whether you win or lose?

Meanwhile there’s Only Belle, which is about a female serial killer who emigrated from Sweden in the late 1800s and may have killed more than 50 people (mostly men) in Indiana as part of insurance scams. They found the skeletons of 40 of her victims buried on the grounds of her farm, and eventually just stopped digging–so there may be countless more. She killed several husbands, as well as several of her adopted children, and became a very rich woman after collecting their life insurance policies. And like Khaled, she got away with it all. Like the love theives in Japan’s host clubs, she sold romantic dreams to lonely men, only they paid for it with their lives as well as their money. It was an incredibly creepy film–especially the visit to the site of Belle’s farm, where the family that now lives there keeps finding bones in the ground around the house and the youngest child speaks to several ghosts. The film was a bit heavy-handed with the creepiness, though, which threatened to make it almost cartoonish.

Tonight I’ll be seeing a much more male film–B.I.K.E., about a certain bike subculture in New York City, and tomorrow the film I have been most waiting to see: Walking to Werner. More soon.

Cutest Silverdocs Swag

For the film Muskrat Lovely, which is indeed like a real-life Christopher Guest mockumentary:

Silverdocs Day 2

Last year at Silverdocs there was a wireless connection set up in the Cinema Lounge and that’s where I blogged from. This year I’m still blogging from the Cinema Lounge but the connection this time is a citywide free wi-fi for Silver Spring. I didn’t know my hometown had already made that leap. So greetings from the free Silver Spring wi-fi-enabled Silverdocs Cinema Lounge.
I met Chuck at the screening of What Remains, a film that had me near-tears throughout, mostly just for the portrayal of a good fucking life. It’s about photographer Sally Mann, who lives on a farm in Virginia with the love of her life, taking pictures of her gorgeous kids, gorgeous land…oh and dead decaying bodies. But it’s a portrait of a life lived so fulfillingly that all I could think was geez I have done something wrong in life, why don’t we all live like this?
I also caught La Persona de Leo N., a really lovely little film about a transsexual in Venice, Italy, undergoing his sex change operation. Next I’m off to Muskrat Lovely, the film about the Miss Outdoors Pageant in the Chesapeake area of Maryland which is rumored to be like a real-life Best in Show. I’ll let you know…

Oopsie Opening Night

I was unable to extricate myself from supersoaking my nephew on the front lawn long enough to make it to Silverdocs opening night. Or rather, I decided not to go. The movie was Boffo! Tinseltown’s Bombs and Blockbusters, which had little appeal to me because I anticipated it would feel like sitting through one of my intro film classes. Much as last year’s opening night film about the history of midnight movies. Opening night films are rarely the best films in a fest; rather they are usually the one with the broadest possible appeal. There are many films I’m looking forward to here, but this wasn’t one of them.

But here’s my view from when I showed up to pick up my pass an hour after the movie started.

Anticipating Silverdocs

I was most disappointed to have to miss Walking to Werner at IFFBoston, but am happy to see it’s on the schedule at Silverdocs, so I’ll get a second chance. There are quite a few docs in the lineup that were also at IFFBoston, which shows how impressive the Boston fest has become. In addition to Werner, American Blackout, Fuck, and The Trials of Darryl Hunt all played at IFFBoston. And somehow I managed to miss every single one. Here are some of the others I’m looking forward to: The Great Happiness Space, about a strange brothel in Japan where the clients are women and the service they pay for from their male prostitutes is attention and “love” behavior, not sex. Also looking forward to Only Belle, a terrifying-sounding film about a female serial killer I never heard of (just look at that frickin’ image via the link..*shudder*), Chairman George, about a Greek-Canadian statistican who sings in perfect Mandarin Chinese and who follows his dream by taking off to China to try to perform at the Olympics, Railroad All-Stars, about a soccer team of prostitutes in Guatemala City, Paper Dolls, about four Philipino transvestites who move to Israel and start a drag show, Blood of the Yingahou District, about HIV-infected children in China, a place not usually associated with the disease, and Muskrat Lovely, about the “Miss Outdoors Pageant” in my beloved home state of Maryland.

Also looking forward to lots of great parties and food, if this year is anything like last year’s festival…

Silverdocs Here I Come…Again

Date: Tue, 06 Jun 2006 18:28:23 -0400
From: Public Relations

Subject: Re: SILVERDOCS 2006 Media Accreditation

You are now accredited as press to attend the SILVERDOCS: AFI/ Discovery
Channel Documentary Festival and can pick up your badge upon registration.
All tickets for special events are subject to availability and you will be
notified ASAP regarding your request.


Rebekah Welsh
PR Coordinator
SILVERDOCS: AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival

My Funnyman

Hi. I have zero will to blog these days but thought I’d pop back in to share with you a video that my wonderful friend Seasull made for me at the Comedians of Comedy show at the Paradise. You see, I convinced him and Tangerine to go, then I backed out because … something suddenly came up. So they went to see MY show which featured MY man Zach Galifianakis, a show they would never have gone to without my instigating the whole thing. But despite the fact that I ditched them, Seasull was thoughtful enough (or drunk enough) to push his way to the front of the signing table to get my man Zach to record this special greeting for me. Unfortunately you can’t hear a word of it, but he says something along the lines of “Hi Cynthia, thank you for the awkward conversation, and we really didn’t like you.” This is of course in reference to my awkward, starry-eyed conversation with him and Brian Posehn at Silverdocs.

See my man on video here.

Aside from all this, Seasull and Tangerine said the show was great, so you should check it out when it rolls through your town. Especially if you are looking for a man, as I hear it was a total sausagefest.

Silverdocs Wrapup, Revisited

I know I promised a final Silverdocs wrapup a few days ago but I have had trouble working up the enthusiasm to rewrite it after losing the whole thing through a crack in cyberspace. So I will just post a few points here.

  • Shorts. I like shorts. Possibly better than features. Because the short format is so useless commercially, it means there are no constraints on the artist and they are free to be as creative/weird/different as they want to be. So you’re far more likely to see something exciting and innovative when watching shorts than when watching features. That said, my favorite short at Silverdocs was Jay Rosenblatt’s Phantom Limb. Have you seen a Jay Rosenblatt film? They are not easy to see, but if you can, see some. Especially The Smell of Burning Ants. But his new one, Phantom Limb, is just as disturbing and emotionally wrenching as his others. There is one scene that I will remember for the rest of my life. The film is a meditation on the guilt he has felt his whole life over the death of his young brother when he was a child. Their parents never talked about it, and he thought it was his fault because he used to tease his brother. The film is very heavy and oppressive…until the sheep-shearing scene. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a sheep sheared (I haven’t) but the sheep is sitting on its hind legs, held between the shearer’s legs as he bends over it and runs the clippers over it. The sheep struggles now and then. In the film, it is one extended take, in slow-motion, of the man shearing the sheep, as a woman in voiceover reads a long list of the stages of grief. It sounds simple, and it is, but I was sobbing by the time the scene was over. Sobbing. The shearing is certainly something the sheep doesn’t want done, but in this context, in slow-motion, with the grief stages being read in voiceover, it gives the impression of someone flailing and struggling with grief while someone holds them, caresses them, forcibly sloughs off their pain and baggage, revealing the pink and tender skin beneath. And the sheep finally totters off, naked and vulnerable, like someone who has been through a particularly gut-wrenching therapy session, newly sensitive to everything around him.
  • My pick for best of the fest would be the same as the jury’s pick: Darwin’s Nightmare. It is an incredibly upsetting film that exposes the way Europe (and Russia, but there didn’t seem to be any Americans) exploits Tanzania for its fish. Perch, to be exact. Tanzania on the one hand is glad that the foreigners want their fish–it’s brought jobs to the area. But the Tanzanians are still starving, they can’t afford the very fish they catch and sell to the foreigners, and the film gets into all of the intricate ways the fishing industry is exploiting and destroying the area. It is a political film that focuses on the small, intimate details more than the big ones: the young boys savagely fighting each other for a handful of rice, in a town overrun by rich Europeans taking fish from their waters. The mother who is grateful for her job of airing out decaying fish carcasses (while standing in a pool of mud and maggots). The prostitutes visited by European and Russian pilots. The prostitute who was killed by one of them. The children in the alleys sniffing glue made from melted fish packaging. It goes on and on and on.
  • A few tips from a panel called “Working the Festival Circuit”. First, and this was actually one tip I knew from working with the Boston Jewish Film Festival: don’t make a film that is 50 minutes to an hour long. It is an awkward length and is difficult to program at festivals. Make a short film or a feature. That said, festivals do often show some hour-long films, but it better be good if it’s going to be that length. A short film can be run in a shorts package or before a feature, but an hour-long film is not going to be run before a feature and is too long to be part of a shorts package. Something to consider. Another interesting point that came out of the panel was some concern among filmmakers that festival programmers get all their films from other festivals and rarely accept films that are blindly submitted, therefore when they send in their $50 submission fee, they are really only subsidizing the festival. This is a legitimate concern that was sort of dodged by the festival people on the panel. I spoke with a festival director later in the week, and he admitted that filmmakers should be concerned. But he added that every programmer would love to get a great film in the mail, submitted blindly. It just doesn’t happen often. This is an interesting issue to me because it is currently a controversial issue in the poetry world as well, where some poets are criticizing poetry contests that they say are “fixed”–you send in your submission fee but usually the prize goes to friends of the judges or well-known poets. There’s a whole website devoted to it.
  • It seemed I gravitated toward foreign films at the festival, and among those there seemed to be a theme of divisions/walls/barriers. First there was Podul Peste Tisa, a Romanian film about a bridge between Romania and the Ukraine that was demolished by retreating Germans at the end of WWII and was never repaired, separating families for as much as 50 years. Some yell across the river to each other as their only form of communication. The film follows the saga of attempts to rebuild the bridge–so much red tape that the bridge, now built, is still closed and no one is allowed to cross. Another film about divisions/walls was Good Times, about the wall built by Israel in Abu Dis, a Palestinian village near Jerusalem. Again this is a political film that focuses on the minutiae: the old muslim women struggling to climb over the first incarnation of the wall which was short and crumbling, the Israeli soldiers haphazardly enforcing the barrier, at times joking with the crossing Palestinians, the shop owners who depend on business from people of both sides crossing the border, and, finally, the silence and desolation after a new 8-foot wall with no breaks is built to replace the old crumbling one.

  • Grizzly Man. I have surprisingly little to say about this one. I was very excited to see him in person, but I was not bowled over by the film. Treadwell is clearly insane, but I was a bit irritated with Herzog’s treatment of him. Herzog acted as if he knew the man inside and out, kept comparing him to Klaus Kinski on the set of Aguirre the Wrath of God, claimed Treadwell was related to Aguirre–it was as if Herzog was claiming ownership, or paternity, and lamenting his child’s silly attitude about nature, an attitude that got him killed, and if he only were as smart as Herzog he would have survived. But in reality, Treadwell did survive for 13 years with the Grizzlies. That fact is not felt in the film. And he did know exactly how dangerous it was, he said it many times, he told loved ones that if he never returned, it was what he wanted. He had mental problems and couldn’t handle the world of people, and if he wanted to die with the Grizzlies, who is Herzog to say that’s wrong? Or worse, to claim that he didn’t understand the danger of his situation? Herzog’s pursuit of Treadwell and his claims to understand him better than anyone else (his exact words), to have a special bond with him, are much like Treadwell’s claims to know and understand the Grizzly better than anyone else. And both are equally naive, I think. Both overly romanticize their subjects. Treadwell studies and tracks the Grizzly, Herzog studies and tracks what Tarkovsky called the “holy fool”. The film is more like a letter to Treadwell than a work of art, a bit didactic and over the top, and not the mysterious work of art that Herzog’s older documentaries like Land of Silence and Darkness are. Maybe as artists age they don’t have time any more for subtlety.

That’s all I can muster for now, but I’m sure I’ll have Silverdocs spasms here and there in the near future.

Comedian Blogger

Patton Oswalt has a blog. A real live frequently-updated personal blog. He’s the guy on the Comedians of Comedy tour with Brian Posehn and Zach Galifianakis (and also a regular on King of Queens). I learned of the blog when watching the film about them at Silverdocs, where in one scene Brian and Patton are poking around a comic book store in Portland, Ore., and Zach (who was not supposed to be in town yet) suddenly walks by. They ask him how he found them, and Zach says “I read Patton’s blog.”

I’m writing this in the van as we idle in the Comfort Inn parking lot, waiting for everyone to load up. Dave, Brian and Zach went out last night, but Ole Grandpa Oswalt was feeling sleepy-bye and went to bed. Not that I slept, since Comfort Inn fills their mattresses with random pipes, wrenches and geodes.

Later today I will have my final Silverdocs wrap-up post, assuming the Internet Gods don’t fuck me over again and eat my post.

Silverdocs Wrap-Up, Part 1

It was a great gift running into my old friend D at Silverdocs. Not only is it wonderful to have a companion for the week when you are expecting to be solo (especially one who says things like “Oh Ceerock, I’ve missed that laugh…”), but also because it turns out he is now well-connected. After we chatted a bit he stood up and said “Are you ready to meet a lot of people?” And he wasn’t kidding. I met many people and did much more socializing than I would have if I’d been on my own. But the way he introduced me was always amusing. He may be well-connected, but he is not at all wired. He is yet another of my friends who doesn’t understand (or care about) blogs. He introduced me to Eugene Hernandez of indieWire, for example, and I said to him “I’m a blogger.” Simultaneously Eugene lit up and said “Really? Which one? I love bloggers!” while D said “Oh don’t be so modest … she also writes for Cineaste.”

A theme that seemed to emerge at the festival, at least in discussions with filmmakers and film subjects, was art vs. commerce. I spoke to South African filmmaker Khalo Matabane (Story of a Beautiful Country), who told me he had just shot a TV commercial and felt ashamed at how easy it was, how little he had to care for it, and how much money he got for it. I said that many artists use these kinds of commercial projects to subsidize the art that they really care about, and brought in the example of John Cassavetes, the “father” of indie film, who pioneered that business model by taking crappy but well-paying acting jobs in Hollywood to finance his wholly self-made films. But Khalo would not be consoled. “It stamps my soul,” he said.

The next day, on the aforementioned comedy panel (which, in in addition to Brian Posehn and Zach the great, included Paul Provenza, Gilbert Godfried, Judy Gold, and Fred Willard), the discussion turned to the commercial success the comedians have had in sitcoms and other TV shows. Posehn (who was on Just Shoot Me and who is possibly the most well-adjusted comedian I have ever seen) saw no problem with the kind of schizo art/commercial approach to work. “You do stand-up to save your soul, and you take other gigs to pay the bills.”

And I previously mentioned Penelope Spheeris’ struggles with her commercial success. She even said in her keynote address that she hates money and doesn’t understand why anyone would want it, it’s only given her more headaches than she had when she was poor. She at times preached the “do exactly what you want and don’t think about money,” gospel, and at other times sounded like a Hollywood pro telling the filmmakers in the audience not to ever start a film before having the money and plan in place for distribution. But even though she seemed pained about her commercial success, the millions it gave her have now positioned her to make exactly the film she wants. Soul-stamp or no.

Silverdocs Winners

Here’s the list of winners at Silverdocs. I am very pleased that Darwin’s Nightmare won the jury prize–it’s a compelling and very upsetting film about the Nile Perch fishing industry and the way it exploits Africans. Though it made me glad to see that at least America isn’t the only asshole country in the world. Europe can be just as bad. More on this film in a bit.
Short Film Honorable Mention
GOD SLEEPS IN RWANDA directed by Kimberlee Acquaro, Stacy Sherman
FLAG DAY directed by Kristy Higby

Short Film Award
POSITIVELY NAKED directed by Arlene Donnelly Nelson, David Nelson

Honorable Mentions, Feature
ROMANTICO directed by Mark Becker
HOME directed by Jeffrey Togman

Sterling Award
DARWIN’S NIGHTMARE directed by Hubert Sauper

More Comedians

I’m just back from the Netflix party at Silverdocs, where I got to shake the hand of my man Zach. Here he is on the panel after the film. Blurry. Netflix provided some financial backing for Comedians of Comedy, so apparently they are getting into the filmmaking game these days. They also sponsored the party for the comedians, which took place at the Silver Spring Moose Lodge, which had authentic Moose members sitting around the bar intimidating all us youngsters. We were also greeted at the door by tattooed men who demanded we sign in to their guest book before entering. And while four of us were sitting around a table, a large man in a cowboy hat walked over to us and reached across the table–far across it–and put his cigarette out on the plate of the guy sitting next to me. Actually he put the cigarette out on a half-eaten pork rib on his plate. Right on the rib. He had finished eating, but that was definitely a marking-my-territory move. He had to reach over the whole table to get to the plate. Then he walked away, leaving the half-extinguished butt blowing smoke into my face.

I skipped the closing night film, which was a documentary about James Dean that I’m sure we’ll be seeing on A&E or some such channel eventually. But I went to the after-party for it, (separate from the Netflix party) which took place at Discovery Headquarters and had all kinds of caviar and cheeses and other fancy stuff I didn’t recognize. No tattooed pissing contests here. This has been a fantastic festival and I’ve met a lot of great people, one of whom is a blogger. I’ll be returning to Boston with many new contacts and some great memories and a lot of films to write about. More to come…

Silverdocs: Closing Night

Comedians of Comedy

I have a thing for funny guys. I always have. So I just watched a film that for me is like porn: The Comedians of Comedy. I am now in love with Zach Galifianakis, who is a fucking genius, and the kind of guy I know I should stay away from but which still unfortunately draws me like moth to fire, flies to honey, insert cliche here. He is at this moment sitting a few yards away from me on a comedy panel along with Brian Posehn and Patton Oswalt, whom I also now have crushes on. But Zach, oh Zach, he’s got the crazy charismatic magic. He does a bit dressed as a white-wigged 18th century dandy who has lines like “Is this thing on? What is this thing?” or “Am I the only one who’s sick of Ben Franklin? Electricity? WHAT THE FUCK IS HE TALKING ABOUT?” I have pictures too, but they’ll have to wait until I can get home and upload them.

The film is no brilliant concert film–in fact I was a bit disappointed that it didn’t get into the darker side of comedy and of comedians. Zach a few times mentions that he thinks he has a mental disorder, that they all do, but the film doesn’t seem interested in getting any deeper than that. I don’t know if it’s because these are just very happy and well-adjusted comedians (there’s no such thing) or that the filmmaker just didn’t want to go there. Probably the latter. But as a showcase for some fantastic and really creative comedians, it’s definitely worth seeing.

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