She was wearing stage make-up; but this is Ashland, the land of Shakespearean plays, so one shouldn't be too surprised. However, I was having trouble remembering which Shakespearean play would have a woman in modern make-up and modern clothes. It must have been her obvious anxiety that had caused the case she was carrying to pop open and spray the sidewalk with rusty tools. A beautiful woman made up for presentation was squatting over the sidewalk, frantically scooping iron bits back into a case that would only close if the bits were placed in the exact recesses from which they came. I was going to help but others had leapt to her aid-interestingly, all her saviors were male. All this unfolded within thirty-seconds of parking my car and making my way to pick up my tickets for the 2012 Ashland International Film Festival.
I go every year with Brad, a good friend who loves film with that slightly psychotic intoxication that runs rampant at such events. Usually we score a room downtown, but this year there was no room at the inn. So we camped. We slept six miles out of town in his space-station cozy RV for a few hours between our 14 hours days spent looking at the silver screen. We felt very hardcore and dedicated to the cause. The campground was not limited to nice shiny RVs that cost more than a couple open-heart surgeries and a gold-plated Lexus. Thus the contrast between the moneyed downtown Ashland and the rural mobile villa we occupied was striking. It suited me. On the downtown streets of Ashland my seasoned and occasionally smoke-farty Mercedes diesel loafed conspicuously between SUVs that were fresher than the cup of coffee I was usually holding. Most film festivals are about film. How you got there to see the films ain't important. Ashland International Film Festival, for all its contrasts, puts art above pretense.
And this was all about the films. A well-run festival does the culling process for me. I'm allowed to ignore the things that usually deter me from seeing a film because this film festival's selection system works well. This isn't to say that there were no films that sucked. Many did. But for all the right reasons. They didn't suck because laziness replaced a good script or thought. (Okay one did: Don't make a movie about a motorcycle trip that disregards all the things that have kept me alive for over three decades "in the wind," no matter how big the budget and how "spiritual" you think you are. Seriously.) Most sucked because some aspect of it offended me, which is my fault.
My favorite documentary was LOVE FREE OR DIE, "...about a man whose two defining passions are in direct conflict: his love for God and for his partner Mark. Gene Robinson is the first openly gay person to become a bishop in the historic traditions of Christendom."
GAYBY had 200 people laughing so hard we missed some of what was certainly amazing dialogue between the gay man and the straight woman as they try to have sex.
Kirby Dick is a seminal documentary filmmaker (THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED, INSIDE DEEP THROAT) and his latest, THE INVISIBLE WAR, is about sexual abuse within the military. When a Brigadier General broke down on camera as he spoke of the rape of his daughter by her commander, the room was left paralyzed. You won't see that on Fox News.
Usually I use the word "endure" when I watch yet another doc about our broken healthcare system. However, ESCAPE FIRE took the last act to give us hope-like acupuncture being used to treat PTSD and huge corporations offering employees real incentives for healthy life choices.
Movies like THE AMERICAN DREAM and MAMITAS take us from our protected and privileged white existence into more urban worlds without bludgeoning us with guilt.
DAVID follows a Brooklyn Arab boy who accidently lands in a Jewish summer school, and is done with humor and sensitivity.
YOUR SISTER'S SISTER brings Emily Blunt to the state of Washington for a somewhat different romantic comedy. She's so damn cute, who cares about the plot?
To see more about the films listed above, click on the film title. If any of these look very interesting to you, please email me so I'll try a little harder to book them.
There is this same magic happening at our own local film festivals. We do have a few hosted at the Darkside, including the da Vinci Days Film Festival and Crossroads International Film Festival. At our film festivals as well as the one in Ashland, those who made the films often attend, stand by their product, and answer for it. Many filmmakers should be behind a camera and not in front of an audience. Yes, it's true. Their genius lies in the lens, not in answering questions. But even this kind of filmmaker brings added value to the experience. The filmmakers who know how to work a crowd can often bring the rating of a film up a couple of stars. And this is a competition. So they take it seriously and take the audience seriously. But this is what film festivals are: an inoculation of culture poured into your brain through your eyes and ears. It will prepare me for the pathology that comprises most films turned out by "The Big Movie Machine."
When I left the theater after my first film of the day, the pretty lady who had dropped her tools was holding a microphone and speaking into a camera with urgency, like the camera was about to talk back to her. The news van to which the camera was tethered sprouted a protuberance from the roof that lifted a satellite dish soaring into the air. It spun the scene a little out of orbit-so much media feeding off of itself. So much real film about life outside of our normal existence that it's news worthy enough to be shouted through microwaves from on high. Wild. I took the long way around her to stay out of camera view. I had 15 minutes to get coffee before the next film five blocks away. After driving 200 miles, I had two more films to see before I could rest. And four days to go. Wild.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch....