Infrequently updated blog of thoughts and feelings whenever I have time to sit down and write. It seems as though I have less and less time to sit down and write these days. That's why this page is static most of the time.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Some of the films I've seen at the festival have been amazing. Kabul Transit was the first standout documentary I saw (outside of the Future Filmmakers Showcase, which had a couple of very good documentaries produced by high school students). The filmmakers took an unusual approach to document their time in Afghanistan, which conveys the fragmented lives of the people they met, but it works on a deep emotional level. You come away with the idea that the residents of Kabul are amazingly inventive, resilient people who will get through their struggle in spite of the "help" provided by the U.S. military and NATO.

Brothers of the Head is an adaptation of the 1977 Brian Aldiss novella that is presented in the style of a documentary, which is entirely appropriate, as it was directed by Louis Pepe and Keith Fulton who have previously made documentaries about Terry Gilliam films, e.g. Lost in La Mancha. The approach works quite well, especially in that they coached their cast individually to create the characters, helping to generate the spontenaiety of the performances. I can't predict the commercial potential of this film, since it will be very difficult to market to American audiences, but folks like me who feel nostalgic for the British punk rock invasion of the 1970's should find it terrific.

I saw two documentaries back-to-back the other day, Under the Rollercoaster, about Mae Timpano, a woman who, until 1988, lived in the house beneath the Coney Island Thunderbolt ride. I thought the idea of a family living in a house like this was made up by Woody Allen for Annie Hall, but he apparently was inspired by Mae.

The Creek Runs Red is a documentary about the toxic mining town of Picher, Oklahoma, one of the Environmental Protection Agency's first Superfund cleanup sites. After decades of cleanup work, the project has done little or nothing to reduce the levels of lead in the town's drinking water and the EPA finally decided earlier this year to simply buy out all the residents with chidren under 6 years of age. Your tax dollars at work.

Last night, we saw This Film Is Not Yet Rated, a wonderful mystery/detective story/expose about the Motion Picture Association of America, the secretive board that assigns ratings to movies. The film reveals that the ratings board is not at all what Jack Valenti has claimed it was for the past 34 years. Valenti has always insisted that the board consists of average parents of small children, but refused to ever identify them. What director Kirby Dick decided to do was to hire a private investigator to find out who these people were. What he discovered is that while the members of the board are indeed parents, only one of them has any children under the age of 20, and that single board member's youngest child is 17 years old. He even found out the names and occupations of the members of the MPAA's appeals board (the body to whom a filmmaker can appeal if they feel his/her film has been unfairly rated). These folks are all men, and with two exceptions, are all presidents and CEOs of theater chains, distribution companies and other major players in the film industry. The two exceptions turn out to be members of the clergy, an episcopal bishop and a representative of the Catholic church. It is both a hilarious comedy and a frightening glimpse into how censorship is practiced in the free world.

During the Question and Answer period following the film, a woman stood up and mentioned that she had actually been on the MPAA board from 1973 to 1977, and described how 20th Century Fox had pressured them to give Star Wars a PG rating instead of a G rating, because at that time, the stigma of a family-friendly G rating might have hurt the film. The studio felt that a G would have discouraged teenagers from going to see it because the lucrative demographic of teenage boys generally tend to avoid seeing movies targeted to smaller children. Valenti's whole argument for keeping the members of board anonymous was to prevent the studios from putting pressure on the board and influence them to make specific ratings decisions.


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