Weekly Rochester Events #410: What Do You Think, Descartes?
Thursday, November 16, 2006
So Wednesday was the start of The High Falls Film Festival and I picked up my press kit and pass. When I got home I discovered I was given a "Films Only" pass which excluded my attendance at the parties (fine) as well as the 7 p.m. films and awards shows at the Dryden, the panels, and special events. Through one of the volunteers, I found out that this was not simply a mistake: "bloggers" were given these passes instead of real "Press" passes. Curiously, I have yet to find anyone else who received a "Films Only" pass.
I'm not bitter about it or anything — at best disheartened. First because I requested press access to the festival and was told over e-mail that there was no problem with that — why not tell me up front so I can plan ahead and buy tickets for the events I'd want to see? But second was that I felt unwelcome — as if I was given a not-so-subtle message that maybe I should stop asking for press passes and just stay home instead.
Then I was thinking, well, why? It's probably got something to do with money (although in that case you'd think they'd have requested marketing information to ascertain whether my site — or anyone's publication — warranted the investment) but I suspect it's mostly that I don't play by the rules.
See, when you get a Press pass, you're never supposed to say anything bad about the festival. And by "bad," I mean you can say that a particular film was good or bad, but you can't observe the operations and comment on them. You're not supposed to mention that the way the schedule was created, it sometimes made it impossible to attend more than one film in a night. You're not supposed to point out that the quality of the projection and sound was sometimes lacking.
That's the trouble with people not tied to financial goals: they're not beholden to the system that keeps things running. It's dangerous to have someone running around observing what happens and reporting on it. It works like this: if a publication mentions the Festival, it sells issues, and those sales mean advertisers are interested, and those advertisers pay for the people to go to the festival. Breaking that closed system will break the festival so whatever you do: don't step out of line.
The ironic part of it all is that the Festival is really pretty good. For the most part, the only thing that troubled me was that I think it was less fun than in past years. I can't quite figure out why ... it just feels like the people who are running it don't love films and filmmaking. As though their motives are entirely elsewhere and the fact that films are shown is just a side-effect of all their efforts. I'm sure there's no empirical way to measure that, but there were subtle cues. For instance, event descriptions seemed to highlight famous people and accolades from other sources a little too much. Fortunately, the films I saw were all well-attended: at least the filmmakers got their work seen.
Anyway, Wednesday night I headed to my first show of The High Falls Film Festival, the first short film program. I really liked quite a few of the films. The Girls of Elizabeth Street was quite clever: the camera follows a 10-year-old boy struggling to understand his new sexual awareness while an adult narrator dryly reminisces about the events taking place. Karneval Zvirat (Carnival of Animals) was a completely surreally sexual view of animals and humans. If you'd like to see animated animals cheerfully engaged in atypical relations, then this is the film for you. Happy Birthday didn't disappoint as a disturbingly psychotic symbiosis between a child-molesting older man and the mother of a young girl. The 9:13 was a dark and fascinating portrayal of a clever disturbed man and his dimwitted patsy. It's too bad many of the films were marred by sound levels so low that moving in your seat would drown it out (something that should have been corrected when the master was made) and the picture implied to me they were all dubbed to VHS tape.
I was somewhat disappointed in the "Coffee With..." sessions at The Strathallan (550 East Ave.) as well. The first one on Thursday morning was well-attended and typical of what I have come to expect: there were only a couple filmmakers and around 25 people attending it. The second session on Friday I have come to expect to be more thoroughly attended, and for more of the filmmakers to be available. This time, however, there was only Shirley Knight, actor in Open Window — and she had to leave early. Fortunately all was not lost as Gary Meyer, owner of The Balboa Theater (3630 Balboa St., San Francisco, CA 94121) asked some questions about what draws people to the movie theater. From the comments I heard and my own opinion, I think a crucial part of it all is to do things that you cannot do elsewhere. A big screen is an obvious advantage, but to exploit the presence of the audience (for instance to have a discussion afterward) rather than to hide them would be a plus in itself.
But anyway, back to Thursday: I went to see Shut Up & Sing in the Dryden Theatre at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) I was surprised to find the theater packed — the film was announced as an addition to the festival on Thursday morning. Indeed, quoting my own description, "the film documents what happened behind-the-scenes after a remark by the lead singer of The Dixie Chicks about President George W. Bush shoved the band into the political limelight." However, it was more of a concert film and documents the lack of anything substantial happening behind the scenes, despite efforts of "conservatives" to ruin the band. The strongest impact was that the Dixie Chicks' music began drifting away from the pure country sound they had started with, repelled by the boycott of their music on nearly every country music station.
I had a curious thought the other day — I saw a clip of President George W. Bush when he said, shortly after 9/11, that the terrorists hate us because they hate our freedoms. If I recall correctly, when France stood up and opposed the invasion plans of the United States, some Washington menus (Air Force One, I think) change the name of French fries to "freedom fries." Well, there's a lot of people who were going around those days saying they hate France — but if you can swap "freedom" for "French" when describing fries, then those words are synonymous, and what those people are really saying is they hate freedom. Therefore, people who say they hate France are the same terrorists who are against us. Just something to think about
That afternoon, I headed to see Screenplay Live featuring Maureen Tilyou's script of Beard's Creek, itself a finalist of BlueCat Screenplay Competition. Although it was technically sold out, the final stragglers like myself were permitted in. The screenplay was great — about two boys and a girl growing up with an older sister who's taken on the role of their deceased mother. It's in a poor town and conflict comes from a smooth-talking, immoral con artist, not too unlike the older of the two boys. I really liked it overall and the suspense built tremendously to the climax.
On Friday Ali and I got lunch at Pomodoro Grill and Wine Bar (1290 University Ave.) Now, I've never been there before but it sure is good — no wonder they're still around. That night I went out to see Air Guitar Nation at The Little (240 East Ave.) I was very impressed. The gist is that there has been an "Air Guitar" championship in Finland for several years, and this film documents the first time Americans sent representatives. The documentary was impressive that it was always respectful — judgment was left entirely to the audience. For me, I found it inspirational to see people do creative works from their heart and spend no effort explaining "why". In a way, the oft-repeated comment was true: that this is the last true art form.
Saturday afternoon I went to see American Blackout at The Little (240 East Ave.). It's a documentary that follows Representative Cynthia McKinney and her political progress starting with the 2000 elections. McKinney, a Georgia Congressional Representative, got things rolling in her town since that was the location of a company called Choicepoint. Choicepoint was a data processing company that analyzed information sent by the State of Florida to purge felons from the voter rolls. Fair enough, until you realize that the list of felons was actually a list of Texas felons, and the criteria for flagging a name was "an 80% match on the last name." Ok, still no big deal, right? Until you realize that this list was simply handed to the Florida Supervisor of Elections, Linda Howell as the final list.
The documentary goes on to produce logical arguments that the 2000 federal election, the 2002 election in McKinney's district, and the federal election in 2004 were tampered with. However, it focuses more on McKinney herself. The thing I found so remarkable was that she would simply speak her mind. Unfortunately, the American reaction to this is to attack the character of the inquisitor — for instance, asking to investigate people who profited from unusual stock trades on September 11 is something one should simply not ask, inviting ridicule from the men on Crossfire.
But the thing about her is that she seems to present her strongest comments when they offer a conclusive truth. I'm not sure how to explain it, and I fear I can't if one hasn't experienced it, but sometimes when you're trying to find the cause of something, one reason jumps out as the right one. There's a visceral fullness to your being to present that information. Like I say, I can't explain it, but in those moments when you utter just the right form of the truth, a cathartic, harmonious warmth — holy even — fills your being and makes you feel that character attacks and such petty schoolyard bullshit are really quite irrelevant.
That night, Ali and I went to the Gala Night Party at Artisan Works (565 Blossom Rd.) I was surprised to find that compared to last year's party, the attendance was much lower. It may have been an illusion from having a bit more space, but I really felt there were fewer people. I found that in the whole festival that the films were extremely well-attended but the parties were not. Then again, I only made it to Gala Night.
On Sunday I went back to The Little (240 East Ave.) to see The Cats of Mirikitani. Filmmaker Linda Hattendorf admitted in the question-and-answer that she started using the video camera simply to have a reason to talk with Jimmy Tsutomu Mirikitani. He was a homeless artist who sold paintings — Hattendorf's eye was first drawn to images of the cats he'd draw. She'd visit him and he'd insist that she kept bringing the camera. Well, a few months later and it was September 11, 2001. Since their neighborhood was inundated by a cloud of toxic dust, she invited Jimmy to stay with her for a while. Slowly the facts of his life came out: he was born in Sacramento, moved to Hiroshima in time to see the city and most of his family destroyed by an American atomic bomb, then he moved back to America, was sent to a Japanese Concentration Camp during World War II, and had was stripped of his citizenship. He worked as a personal chef for a man for a while in New York then, when his employer died, he moved to the streets and was there ever since.
Mirikitani's story is remarkable in itself, but I was fascinated by Hattendorf's underlying motives because the film answers the questions "how" and "why". Often we'll see someone way down the road — someone who has done something remarkable and think they must be some kind of exceptional person. Well, I don't believe in that. I think that anyone can do those remarkable things and it's this kind of film that proves it. When Hattendorf picked up her camera and talked to some homeless artist, the last thing on her mind was that she'd end up living with him, helping to restore his citizenship, and get him into a home of his own. Yet that's what happens. You just have to let it.
I went to The Flat Iron Café (561 State St.) to see the Hot as Fire Spoken Word / Open Mic on Tuesday. It's a really cool place. The open mic was quite good — the performers struggled to put on an air of confidence but their words proved themselves more than anything. I talked with the owner for a bit. He says he's been open for almost 2 years now and is still looking for a way for the venue to make money, but he's got no regrets about it.
And that's what I kept seeing over and over this weekend.
Otherwise ordinary people looked inside themselves and found the voice that said to them, "Yes. This is the right thing to do."
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About the title ... René Descartes was born 410 years ago in 1596 and is known for is Cartesian system of geometry and a philosophy based on "I think, therefore I am."
This page is Jason Olshefsky's list of things to do in Rochester, NY and the surrounding region (including nearby towns Irondequoit, Webster, Penfield, Pittsford, Victor, Henrietta, Gates, Chili, Greece, and Charlotte, and occasionally other places in Monroe County and the Western New York region.) It is updated every week with daily listings for entertainment, activities, performances, movies, music, bands, comedy, improv, poetry, storytelling, lectures, discussions, debates, theater, plays, and generally fun things to do.
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