Jay Meehan: Filmfest 2015
Hello, my name is Jay and I’m a documentary film addict. And there’s no use pretending that my over-the-summer narrative-film rehab has had any healing effect at all. No, I’m a "Doc Head" and there’s no getting around it. Luckily for me and my kind, the 2015 Sundance Film Festival is looming. Soon I’ll be fixin’ my celluloid "Doc" jones and all will be right with the world.
I do have friends, however, that greet the advent of yet another Film Festival arriving on their shores so soon after last year’s quite differently. Theirs is an expletive-rich environment. They would just as soon endure enhanced forms of interrogation (questions posed in Blake Shelton songs???) than put up with "People in Black" and the traffic gridlock they associate with Sundance.
Anyway! After perusing the online Film Guide for SFF 2015, I have identified, if not secured for them a spot in line, several of my Doc ducks. Getting one’s ducks in line has long been one of the first steps, you understand. Although I don’t touch upon all of them by any stretch, here are a few brief glances at the U.S. Documentary competition category at this year’s film fest.
To start with, we have filmmakers Daniel Junge (Oscar winner for "Saving Face") and actor/producer Johnny Knoxville ("Grand Theft Parsons") unveil "Being Evel," their candid look at daredevil Evel Knievel and the at-large cultural appetites that made an act such as his possible.
Next, the famous 1968 debates between liberal Gore Vidal and conservative William F. Buckley Jr. are at the heart of "Best of Enemies," the latest from filmmakers Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville ("Twenty Feet From Stardom"). It’s not unlike being in the delivery room for the birth of highbrow-pundit TV. A must see!
The Film Guide blurb for filmmaker Matthew Heineman’s "Cartel Land" set the hook immediately: "In this classic Western set in the twenty-first century, vigilantes on both sides of the border fight the vicious Mexican drug cartels." My kind of Doc! I have to wonder what the late writer Charles Bowden would have thought of it, however. Hell, he’s probably in it!
My longtime romance with all things Los Angeles will no doubt have me in line for "City of Gold," filmmaker Laura Gabbert’s peek at the journey of cultural critic and culinary geographer Jonathan Gold as he checks the hipness pulse of his beloved L.A.
"Hot Girls Wanted," from Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus, title-wise anyway, is just the kind of film that attracts my inner-rebel reviewer/previewer. Each SFF seems to have a film that my fellow local scribes would just as soon not be seen waiting in line for. Hey, 18- and 19-year-old girls aspiring to the amateur porn industry need love too!
Filmmaker Alexandra Shiva’s "How to Dance in Ohio" follows a group of "young adults on the autism spectrum" as they attempt to hone their social skills at a local nightclub in preparation for the ritual of a "Spring Formal" dance.
Being also a climbing sport enthusiast but certainly not a practitioner, I’ve always found films such as the Jimmy Chin/E. Chai Vasarhelyi doc "Meru" to be especially inviting. Looking for the highly coveted first complete ascent on the Shark’s Fin on Mount Meru, the film follows three elite climbers as they dance with the most notorious as-yet-unbagged big wall of the Himalayas.
Oscar winner Louie Psihoyos ("The Cove") brings "Racing Extinction" to this year’s festival. Scrutinizing issues relating to endangered species and mass extinction are at the crux of this work as the effects of black markets and the human footprint in general are explored. The truth hurts, of course, and I flat-out love the pain films such as this bring to the collective table.
Being a cynical sort, I also find celluloid peeks inside the national security fog machine attractive, not to mention pleasurable. I have a feeling filmmakers Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe and their in-competition doc "(T)ERROR," will pretty much fit that bill and get my radical juices flowing.
It would be the mystery surrounding the plotline of the USA/Mexico collaborative doc "Western," however, that I find most intriguing. Playing their cinematic cards close to their vest, New Orleans filmmaking brothers Bill and Turner Ross have crafted a documentary film that is an at once old-school, and at the same time contemporary, take on the classic narrative Western genre.
That’ll do it for this week. Next week’s column will, no doubt, busy itself with the World Cinema Documentary category. In the meantime, think film!
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.