Weekly Rochester Events #306: Blue State Epicureans Head for the Hills
Thursday, November 18, 2004
Ok, so this entire past week was pretty much dedicated to The High Falls Film Festival. I started out on Wednesday picking up my press kit which I was bragging of last week. I gotta say, it was really really cool — I was able to go to anything I wanted to. That night I went to The Little (240 East Ave.) and got to see Still Doing It: Intimate Lives of Women Over 65. It was preceded by Backseat Bingo by Liz Blazer which is an animated short where old people talk about their lives, growing older, relationships, and sex then cleverly and plainly animated. I liked it. Still Doing It was really quite good, amusing touching, and informative — although the subjects represented only a small percentage of the population, the very idea that someone over 65 (or 70, or 80) can (or would want to) have an active sex life is met with tremendous resistance in America.
In the lobby of Little 1, The Integrative Healing Arts Center (36 Winthrop St., formerly Meridian Massage) give free massages ... since I had some time to spare, I thought I'd give it a try. I'm not a huge fan of massage, but this one was welcome and helpful. From there I headed to the opening night party at The Inn On Broadway (26 Broadway St., across East from Scio.) The excellent light bluesy-jazz instrumental band, The Lumiere Gypsy Jazz Trio provided the music. I ran into some old friends from the film community and finished off the night there.
On Thursday, I got up "early" (before noon) to go to the coffee chat at The Crowne Plaza Hotel (70 State St.) Representatives from four of the films were there: Proud (including Lorenzo Dufau who is the World War II veteran on whom Proud is based) July '64, Lipstick & Dynamite, Piss & Vinegar: The First Ladies of Wrestling, and Jailbait. As in past years, the first coffee chat (this one) was in "open" format where everyone tries to get into a circle — and, as in the past, it doesn't work very well since there's too many people. Don't get me wrong: it's still way better than not having it at all.
That afternoon I stopped by The Little for the panel discussion, Restoring NYS to Moviemaking Leadership. This year, the solitary topic of discussion is a new law that allows filmmakers to take a 10% tax credit on some of their production costs ("below the line" costs, for anyone to whom that makes sense) when they make a film in New York. Unfortunately, one of the requirements excludes almost all of Western New York: you must do some of your filming on a sound stage at a facility that has at least one stage larger than 7,000 square feet; Western New York doesn't have any such facilities. The loophole is that warehouses and armories that are often used for moviemaking fit the definition of a sound stage, and there are such places out here.
I took off a few minutes early to get to Blackfriars Theatre (28 Lawn St.) to catch the screenplay reading of Kelsey Simons' In the Lives of Brothers — one of the finalists in Gordy Hoffman's BlueCat Screenplay Competition. I was there because it was an interesting concept and I had never seen a movie screenplay reading (my selection criteria this year included the desire to go to the most unique events.) The story itself is that of two adult brothers: Carlos, a blue-collar worker in the salt mines, and Bobby, a mentally disabled man who is in-and-out of care facilities. When their mother dies, Carlos is left to take care of Bobby and resents the change to his life, but they eventually adapt and develop a closer relationship. The thing I thought so remarkable was that even in the absence of explanatory visuals and moving music, the story was still very warm and touching. Look forward to seeing this sometime in the future ...
After that I went on an unsuccessful hunt for a quiet coffee shop: Spot Coffee (200 East Ave.) was not quiet, and Java's (16 Gibbs St.) was closing up for the private film festival party later, so I ended up back at The Little Theatre Café (240 East Ave.) ... again ... for a coffee and sandwich — it was not only not quiet, but by this time I was also rushed ... ugh.
I was late for Juvies which was an excellent documentary about juveniles who are treated as adults and given devastating sentences. My own philosophy aside (things like, "since you cannot change the past, vengeance only makes the world a worse place to be") I picked up a couple new things.
First, being "tried as an adult" means (among other things) that the defendant is required to make all legal decisions on their own without help from their parents — something that they often have little capacity to fully understand (i.e. how to plead, whether to taking a plea bargain, and the reality of the duration of sentences) even if it's explained by a lawyer.
Second, once found guilty, a perpetrator is often faced with mandatory sentences: in one case (which I gather is not so unusual) Duc, a young man who was driving his friends around when they, as members of a gang shot and killed opposing gang members. His sentence was 35 years in prison: a mandatory 10 years because there were guns involved and a mandatory 25 years because there were gangs involved — even though he was not part of any gang.
Third, there was mention of a study that indicated that adolescent brains are not fully developed. It should come as no surprise to anyone who has seen teenagers that the areas of the brain that develop late in puberty involve impulse control: the ability to resist actions for immediate gratification — a quick Internet search revealed a brief article from Psychiatric News about the topic.
After that I called it a night. I caught wind of the party at Java's but I figured it would be another long day ahead.
Indeed it was ... Friday had me up "early" again for the coffee chat at The Crowne Plaza Hotel. This time the structure was more amenable to dialog: the guests and filmmakers in attendance were divided into smaller groups to have discussions and the filmmakers were rotated every half hour or so. You don't get to meet everyone, but a 5 guest to 3 filmmaker ratio is much closer to one-on-one conversations than yesterday's 30 guests to 6 filmmakers. I got to talk with David Hockney: The Colors of Music director Maryte Kavaliauskas, Jailbait director/screenwriter Brett Leonard, July '64 director Carvin Eison, Juvies director Leslie Neale, and Arna's Children (see also the official website) co-producer Osnat Trabelsi.
Later that afternoon, I got back out to The Little to see Lipstick & Dynamite, Piss & Vinegar: The First Ladies of Wrestling, a documentary as described in the title. I gotta say I really didn't like this one ... I like documentaries to be structured to be told as a story, primarily as a chronology unless the subject matter can be told better some other way. In this, though, it seemed to be a jumble of fragments without form — women telling tales of their past as wrestlers inter-cut with past footage which I could seldom tell if it had any bearing on the story being told. In the end, though, I did talk about it a lot, so it can't be entirely bad.
From there I went to see Jailbait. In some ways, it's a fictional twin of the factual documentary Juvies — both deal with similar subject matter of young people being put in jail under California's three-strikes law. Naturally, it's told very differently — for one thing, with the exception of the introduction, it's set entirely within a jail cell without so much as a window. The point is less about changing people's minds about prison and more about exploring the relationship of two men in confinement. It was really quite provocative.
It took tremendous skill to perform the mental shift necessary to go to the party at Golden Port Dim Sum (105 East Ave.) and snack on delicious dim sum treats, but somehow I managed — the things I do for you readers ... I sometimes feel so under-appreciated.
Saturday I skipped out on most of the festival-related activities until the afternoon. The morning played out as usual with fresh foods at The Rochester Public Market (280 Union St. N.) lunch at O'Bagelo's (165 State Street) and groceries at Abundance Cooperative Market (62 Marshall St.) And since it was nice out, all by bike. Unfortunately, I got back to my house at 2:40, and the next event was at 3:30 so I basically unloaded groceries and switched bikes to get to the Dryden Theatre at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) — my first visit all festival.
I got in with time to spare (and thankfully cool off a little) to see Still the Children Are Here which was this gorgeous documentary about the Garos people of the village of Sadolpara in northeast India. They have a traditional culture of cultivating natural varieties of rice, but that lifestyle is changing as they are exposed to modern living. The beauty of the documentary is specifically that it does not pander to the idea that their lifestyle is being destroyed, but rather allows the viewer to live with the Garos and see their perspective. It's about them, and what they share with the rest of us and humanity: husbands tease their wives, a couple older women would rather smoke cigarettes than tend the fields, and the populace questions the wisdom of their leadership. It is only through the filter of our Western eyes that we question whether a Super WalMart would be best for them, and exactly what kind of impact that would have on their culture.
After that I attended the second short film screening — the only one for me at this festival. I liked the first film, Ann Coppel's I Am Ann which was a funny view of "personal empowerment" wherein everyone wants to be Ann (not necessarily Ann, but I'm sure she'll be welcomed to the society.) My experience was tainted when a man and woman showed up after the films had started — as they pondered their seating options, I suggested that there was plenty of space up front, but the woman replied, "I don't want to sit up front." They proceeded to nudge their way past, forcing me and someone else to move our coats off the formerly fortuitously empty seats, so I said, "If you're going to be rude when you show up late, at least have the courtesy to go fuck yourself." Not out loud, of course, but I was sending bad vibes there way the whole 20 minutes they were there until they decided to leave — I was cursed with their rudeness again, but blessed with their ultimate absence. And, while reluctant to admit my prejudice, I'm certain they were suburban fucks who got in their 2005 H2 (idling all the while outside) to discuss how glad they were to vote Bush into a second term as they ran down the homeless five-dollar-joke guy.
Ok ... enough of that ... there were actually other films I liked that night. A Single Rose by Hanelle M. Culpepper which was a story of a woman in a relationship based on gifts that goes sour ... I felt that it touched the heart of the blues. For Gracie by Mariko Braswell was a funny tale of elderly friends stealing from garage sales so they can give their friend a funeral ... I give it credit for being entertaining, if a bit lightweight. Ruth Sergel's Belle was, well, as its own tag-line indicates, "a subversive fable of old age & beauty." I assure you, you don't really want to peel back the fiction of old ladies cackling at their boring, well-rehearsed stories — the reality is too lonely to face ... you might as well wait until you're old yourself. Next was the really great Indonesian film, Vanni Jamin's Gembos (The Standoff) which used a steady pace (even a little too slow at times) to tell the tale of an unscrupulous tire repairman versus the protagonist, a fried rice salesman who falls victim to the repairman's vandalism — it serves up hot, steaming bowls of poetic justice. Finally, I want to mention Alexandra Kerry's (yes, John Kerry's daughter's) The Last Full Measure which is an excellent film that subtly shows the horrors of war. A young girl is listless in her life as she fantasizes the return of her father from war, only to watch his health deteriorate — the reality being that he returned in a coffin. ** SPOILERS BEHIND ** [There ... was that helpful?]
Right afterward I went to see Easy. I generally liked it, although I was disappointed by the conventional romantic-comedy structure: Jamie, a witty, single twenty-something is giving up on dating when she finds two men who spark interest for completely different reasons. The script has wit that struck home with me — in fact, there was a repetition of one of my own pet peeves when one character asks another, "are you sure," eliciting a sarcastic reconciling of options (and there was something else and I'll be damned if I can remember — I swear I wrote about it sometime in the past, even.) Unfortunately, it feels like the nearly universal autobiographical film from first-time writers that draws from reality when creativity fails.
On the other hand, I can admit to be completely smitten with the Jamie character ... heck, Marguerite Moreau is the new Rachael Leigh Cook, at least as far as this excitable fanboy is concerned. (Er ... wait ... am I so old that I can't have fanboy obsessions, or just so obscure that I actually wasted a Josie and the Pussycats reference? Naturally, this is all so Ms. Moreau will do a vanity search someday and find this page, and be all, "Ooh ... this guy is so witty" ... uhh ... I mean ... uhh ... this parenthetical is over!)
Anyhow ... I respect that it broke some new ground — the very natural sympathetic/antagonistic role of sisters (or siblings) the specter of the suicidal death of a parent, and a story central to an individual woman (that is, not some easily-pigeonholed stereotype) but I didn't like that the movie wrapped up in a neat little bow. Also, their desire (according to producer Gloria Norris at the question-and-answer afterward) to demonstrate the human diversity of the Los Angeles area is thwarted when one of the only black actors, D. B. Woodside as Martin, Jamie's friend, neighbor, and acupuncturist, is also the only character who smokes pot (well, and shares with her so I guess she does too.) I can respect the filmmakers' desires that he have arbitrary traits — and that pot was chosen in association with meditation, Eastern medicine, and the woo-woo-spiritual nature of his personality — but they might as well have him be a fried chicken aficionado, or love watermelon for that matter — given the context and the stereotyped position of blacks on film.
Overall, I think it was just okay. Not counting the Marguerite Moreau obsession.
Ok ... we're more than halfway there: Sunday. I got up to get to The Little to see the documentary Rolling by Dr. Gretchen Berland which is looks at the world of life in a wheelchair with disturbing honesty. It was shot by (and therefore from the perspective of) three people confined to wheelchairs. For instance, Vicki who, after visiting a friend's party, has her electric wheelchair fail (again) during the trip home in the lift-line van. Company policy prohibits the driver from bringing her into the house, so she bides her time immobilized — on the sidewalk outside her house — for four hours, filming her own terror as she waits for help to arrive serendipitously. The entire film isn't so horrifying, but it also doesn't fill one with hope or pride — our system of dealing with such people is simply broken.
From there I headed over to George Eastman House to see the discussion with publicist Lois Smith, her daughter, actor Brooke Smith, and hosted by Rolling Stone film critic, Peter Travers. I had a good time at the discussion, although I think I would like Lois Smith only as long as I agreed with her ... not that it's really going to be an issue, now is it? Immediately after that I went to the Curtis Theatre for the Master Class with Jean-Louis Rodrigue teaching the Alexander Technique. I thought it was a fascinating technique, although we only touched on some of the elements such as dividing our body into the three main solid parts: head, ribcage, and hips. I guess it goes much further and helps to explain how one's body moves and how to have greater control.
I had a break of a few hours before going to see Dorian Blues back at The Little. I went into it with only a cursory understanding of the plot — a gay high school student who comes out to himself but has trouble coming out to his conservative family. It ended up being a witty telling of the story of him and his brother and their comraderie, support, and respect for one another. As I was watching, I noted some upstate New York references, like when Dorian claims how great it's going to be in New York when he goes to NYU and his brother quips that he can't possibly know that since he's only ever been as far as Utica. In another scene, there's a band at a bar and I correctly recognized them (mostly from the lead singer's voice) as Sirsy from Albany. Then I recognized the closing theme as "Run For Your Life" from the NYC band Antigone Rising. As it turned out, the film was shot mostly in Albany. I just thought that was really cool.
Aside from the New York references, though, the film was just great. Given an issue as potentially dramatic as coming out to parents who viciously disapprove, it's remarkable that the resulting film is a quick-witted comedy. Well, mostly ... it has its dramatic moments when necessary. It plays out more like a teen comedy than a social commentary, just as teen comedies should really be ... at least some of them. Does that make any sense at all?
After that, the festival was more-or-less over, but I still had an all-access pass that I used on Monday at The Little for the audience choice winners. I was lucky in that I hadn't seen either one. First was Dear Frankie which is a sweet, heartfelt film. (Well, first-first was the audience-choice short film winner, DysEnchanted which is a witty and funny concept of fairy-tale heroines in therapy.) The gist of Dear Frankie is that a woman who's running from her abusive husband hides that fact from her son by creating a fake, better father through the mail. The twists in the plot only serve to straighten its story-line rather than make it more convoluted.
In all, I really liked it. I was talking with the person responsible for counting votes, and apparently this wasn't thought to be in the running for audience choice, so it was put late in the festival. However, after pulling ballots last night and seeing a bunch of 1 votes (the highest rating, for some reason) in a row, they had to halt plans for the early draft of the press release. I never did find out what the second-place film was that was slated to be the winner.
I also stayed for the winning documentary, Born Into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids which was a tragic and powerful documentary about the children — particularly the girls — born into Calcutta brothels. Photographer Zana Briski at first wanted to photograph the conditions, but found herself trying to help the children get out — and with some success, she gets them interested in photography. This spurs the creation of Kids With Cameras which currently highlights the photography captured by the subjects of the film.
So then I was done! I really was so excited to go through the whole festival and get as much as I could out of it. As I've done in past years, I had a blast. This year the scheduling of films was much better than last year when the schedule was too tight for it to be possible to switch theaters between screenings. It still could use improvement, but it's at least better. The venues for the parties were much much better ... not to disparage the Montage Grille (50 Chestnut St.) but it was just too small for the gigantic opening party last year.
Anyway, I'm tired ... I probably should have started this sooner, but at least I got done with something ... now what was that "going out to see bands" thing like again?
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About the title ... Epicurus was a Greek philosopher who founded his school of Epicureanism around 306 B.C. which taught that it was best to find happiness and avoid pain. [The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 1992, Houghton Mifflin; 1994, INSO Corporation]
This page is Jason Olshefsky's list of things to do in Rochester, NY and the surrounding region (including Monroe County and occasionally the Western New York region) from Thursday, November 18, 2004 thru Wednesday, November 24, 2004.
It is updated every week with daily listings for entertainment, activities, performances, movies, music, bands, comedy, improv, poetry, storytelling, theater, plays, and generally fun things to do.
The musical styles listed can include punk, emo, ska, swing, rock, rock-and-roll, alternative, metal, jazz, blues, noise band, experimental music, folk, acoustic, and "world-beat."
Events listed take place during the day, in the evenings, or as part of the city's nightlife as listed.
Copyright © 2004 Jason Olshefsky. All rights reserved.