By Other Voices firstname.lastname@example.org
‘Dancing With The Wildman
Sundance: Day 4
“This is an early picture of Michael Jackson. When he was black.”
Ran into Ella Taylor as I was finding my seat and she was all about the doc, Long Train Home. And when a critic like Ella is all over a film to that extent, I have to take notice.
PHOTOGRAPH OF JESUS
Laurie Hill’s film short Photograph of Jesusis a fun illustration via cut-and-paste animation (that I’m sure has another more respectful term) about the sometimes very strange and fanciful requests the keepers at a photo archive get. Hence the title. People actually request pictures of Jesus. Other fun requests: Hitler at the 1948 Olympics (think about it) and Neil Armstrong and all the other astronauts in a group photo. On the moon. And all of it plays that much funnier because the guy being interviewed is British. Can’t beat that accent for silliness like this.
SMASH HIS CAMERA
Leon Gast’s Smash His Camera is a profile of the original paparazzo, Ron Galella. For more than 40 years, Galella has photographed celebrities (and stalked them in the pursuit of those photos according to many) paving the way for the behavior of paparazzi and much of the feverish demand for raw celebrity images that tabloid journalism feeds on today.
Gast takes us both on a chronological tour through Galella’s life and career as he shadows him on a few current outings (an event with Robert Redford, a red carpet appearance by Angelina Jolie, etc.) with particular focus on two key events. The first being a court case brought against Galella by Jackie Kennedy Onassis and the second being an incident when Marlon Brando punched him, knocking out several teeth.
The Jackie O section is telling for many reasons, as Galella built much of his career and reputation on the photos he got of her (he describes the moment he got the “windblown Jackie” shot as his great day). He also puts forth the idea to anyone that will listen that they had a “relationship” through the lens of his camera. And, naturally, the trial between the two wasn’t just all-encompassing for the two principals – it was genuinely precedent setting.
In a similar vein, the Brando incident marked another step (infamous as it was) in the celebrity/paparazzi “dance.” Even if you buy in to the explanation of how it all went down and accept that Galella was “innocent of trying to provoke Brando, you can easily see how that was clearly a precursor for the TMZ-style of baiting a celebrity to incite a reaction and create an incident for the cameras.
There is the expected look at the personal side: His romance with his wife, their New Jersey Sopranos-esque house, and his unabashed love for rabbits and bunnies. And there are the dizzying array of photographs through the years with Galella sometimes offering expectedly crass commentary – “This is an early picture of Michael Jackson. Back when he was black.” But Gast also uses his subject as inspiration for a couple bigger picture talking points. A series of talking heads debate the value of what he and his fellow celeb photographers do and discuss their legitimacy as “art. And three of the lawyers that faced off against one another are still ready to start sparring again over the 1st Amendment issues raised by that case. At one point one of them says, “Ron Galella is the price tag for the 1st Amendment.”
This is a “fun” documentary – diverting. It’s like a film version of one of the coffee table books that Galella creates by “harvesting” the 3 million plus images in his archives. Regardless of who you are, it’s damn near impossible not to be compelled to flip through a few of the pages of those things to see what movie star or celebrity images are there. But I also could see the film going through some retooling before it sees a mass audience (if that happens). There is some confusing editing: The Jackie O trial seems to be done, but then it is revived after an extended section having nothing to do with it. But then again, they had a relationship.
SUNDANCE FEVER: Hardcores will probably dismiss it as lightweight. First timers and movie fans will appreciate the counterprogramming.
MULTIPLEX PROSPECTS: It’s possible. A Leon Gast film that is somewhat light entertainment about movie stars and Jackie O. I could see someone giving it a shot around the country.
Sundance went on pause while I watched the football playoffs with journalist-turned-producer Don Lewis(The Violent Kind) and journalist just returned from self-imposed New Zealand exile, Mark Bell. There were also countless other filmmakers and film festival-types coming and going (I’m staying at THAT kind of house), but I couldn’t keep track of what films they were here with and Peyton Manning’s duel with Mark Sanchez AND Brett Favre vs. Drew Brees.
Next up was a party for Lewis’ The Violent Kind. Organized by the agency repping the film, it was typical: Free beer, toothpicky things with meatballs on them, and lots of photo ops with the film’s publicist doing yeoman’s work both wrangling and posing the stars and the directors in the thick of celebrating making the finish line and being told over and over again how great they were and how much that particular person loved them. That sort of thing.
After being attending several years now and having gone to numerous parties like these, it’s still a lot of fun to see someone like Lewis get to enjoy that part of the film festival experience. Especially at the Sundance level.
One of the stars, Tiffany Shepis was offering disclaimers about potential strange behavior since this was the first event like this for her since quitting smoking 20 days ago. One of her co-stars, Mackenzie Firgens, returning to Sundance with a film for the first time since Groove in 2000, was marveling that the festival has red carpets now.
TIFFANY: Are WE having a red carpet?
ME and MACKENZIE: (silently nodding)
Instantly, you could see the wheels begin to turn as Tiffany was obviously rethinking the next day’s clothing choice…
CLIMATE REFUGEES – “The Human Face of Climate Change”
Directed by Michael Nash, Climate Refugees is the latest in a series of films imploring us to wake up and smell the incoming tide. The film offers the next logical conclusions and issues that face our world if we accept that global warming does in fact exist. And that is the potential for mind boggling large scale human displacement and migration from lands that will either be under water or uninhabitable due to the lack of water.
Actually, to the film’s credit, it doesn’t just hang its activist hat on the science of global warming. It also throws a bone to those theorists that believe that this is just a cyclical thing – out of our control. And the message to those people is pretty simple: Well, if that’s the case, then we’re screwed that much more because it’ll be harder to correct or fix.
What the film does well is to present in simple terms how the math works: “Climate Change is a threat multiplier. It puts more pressure on areas that are already stressed.” It illustrates this by showing situations that are already dire in areas like Bangladesh and Indonesia, and then follows up with a handy map and arrows showing us the likely destinations of those displaced peoples (for those of us dependent on USA Today-style pie charts). And if that doesn’t get the message across, then maybe a little visit to the Island of Tulalu (which is damn near already completely submerged) or a trip back in recent memory lane to the aftermath of Katrina is in order.
Where I believe the film misses the boat (so to speak) is when it resorts to close ups of threatened or displaced people in the style of one of those Sally Struthers plea for help ads or Sarah Mclachlan animal shelter spots. I don’t think the corporate conservatives, nor the isolationists in our country can be made to care any more just because they see a few sad music close ups of suffering big eyed Africans or Tulaluans with nowhere to go. I have to believe it’ll play like annoying do-gooder liberal muzak to them.
If you are onboard with a film like Climate Refugees you hope that the right messages resonate with its audiences the way it has with you. And one of the final messages within the film is that the likely result of all this displacement and impossible living conditions (if nothing is done to counter where the world is headed in terms of global warming) is that the number of desperate people will increase dramatically, and they will likely fall prey to or under the influence of evil people. Then it becomes an even larger problem that potentially affects us all. It’s tough stuff and ultimately the movie gives some think locally, act globally-type solutions, but it thankfully doesn’t let the viewer off the hook or downplay the difficulty of righting the ship.
SUNDANCE FEVER: This is the kind of doc that always hits a happy spot in Sundance.
MULTIPLEX PROSPECTS: This goes directly to PBS. Not enough of a gimmick to send it to theaters. It’s just straight message/call to action stuff.
John Wildman is the former Head of Press and Public Relations for the American Film Institute. He is noted for innovating film festival public relations through his work as the Director of PR for film festivals such as AFI FEST, the Dallas International Film Festival, the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, and the Feel Good Film Festival (Los Angeles).