Jay Meehan: Docs on the brain
I don’t want much! Give me a somewhat surprising take on a train of thought that confronts and then pushes the envelope of my comfort zone to the extent that I might actually learn something, and thereby demonstrate at least a quantum change in behavior, and I’ll be happy.
And that, of course, is what I get, in spades, each and every year from my overall immersion in the Sundance Film Festival both onscreen and from the spot-on performance art that is always part of the package. It brings out whatever elasticity I still have left. It stretches not only my cinematic and artistic vision but also what remains of my consciousness as a whole.
I believe when we parted company last week, we were dipping our collective toe into my favorite end of the pool — documentary films. In fact, as I recall, we totally had our way with the in-competition U.S. documentary category. I suppose, beginning this week with a few of the "World Cinema" docs that caught my eye is a logical place to re-enter the zone.
"The Visit," a quite collaborative entry from Denmark, Austria, Ireland, Finland, and Norway, as they say in the film guide, "documents an event that has never taken place: humans’ first encounter with intelligent life from another world." That’s enough for me. I recognize the "tell." On this one, I’m Danish filmmaker Michael Madsen’s target demographic. I’m all in!
"Sembene!" is an homage to "the father of African film," Ousmane Sembene, from filmmakers Samba Gadjigo and Jason Silverman. This film fits my aforementioned criteria like a glove. Again, it’s another example of why I’m a "doc-head." And the fact that it’s in English with French/Wolof overtones suits me just fine.
I don’t know that I’ve ever heard the native language of the Wolof people previously. I’ve also never heard of Ousmane Sembene before. Can’t wait! This will be like a graduate seminar. Bring it on!
How about a doc on the birth of that fearless environmental activist organization "Greenpeace?" "How to Change the World" takes us from the Vancouver neighborhood where the idea to physically confront those conducting a U.S. atomic test on an Alaskan island was first hatched to the altruistic ragtag bunch inserting their Zodiacs between Russian whaling ships and the targeted marine-mammals-in-question. This one, as they say, is in my wheelhouse!
The legendary history and geography altering 1967 "six-day war" and how Israel ended up with the Gaza and the West Bank plays as backdrop to formerly censored but recently released interview tapes with Israeli soldiers fresh from battle and some life-altering experiences of their own. Sitting in with these men as they hear themselves 50 years after the fact is definitely something I want to do and "Censored Voices," screening in the World Cinema Documentary category, will allow just that.
The relatively recently added "Documentary Premiere" category yet again provides killer fare for the film fest. For obvious reasons, including that of being a ’60s junkie, "The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution" made my list. The title says it all. I can’t get enough of historical docs of this ilk. Go figure!
"Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck" also beckons. As a hook, "the first fully authorized portrait of the famed rock music icon" will most assuredly put me in a seat. What, did Courtney Love or Dave Grohl sign off or was it someone with closer family ties? Even though the word "authorized" seldom works to generate interest on my part, count me in.
Another film in this category harkens back to a most memorable two weeks in my cultural training, as it were. "What Happened Miss Simone?" will, no doubt, revive memories of catching the iconic Nina Simone at a New York nightclub with a couple of fellow G.I. jazz buffs during the summer of ’64.
Although we had sat at a small table next to Thelonious Monk and his piano the evening prior down in the Village, on this night, as the revolving Scotch glasses in front of us would attest, we couldn’t wait to be in the company of the goddess herself. "Rare archival footage? A non-fiction musical?" I’m there!
We’ll end with "DRUNK STONED BRILLIANT DEAD." An apt title for a doc dealing with the evolution of National Lampoon from a hipster magazine to one of the most recognizable brands in high-comedy stage and film, don’t you think? It appears that things were never quite the same once Gilda Radner, John Belushi, Bill Murray, and Chevy Chase got involved. Whoda thunkit?
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.
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