Into every life a little rain must fall. Both literally and figuratively, in my case. Monday was nasty, weather-wise. Damp, cool, grey and raining. More like fall than late spring. And the sun hasn’t been shining all that brightly on my HotDocs experience so far, either.
Before I go too much further, I just want to say that instead of writing this post this morning, I wrote it yesterday, for posting today. This is a crazy busy day for me, and I wanted to make sure I delivered. My promise is, after all, a post every day.
So as of yesterday morning, Tuesday, August 30, I’d seen five films. Seven, really, if you count two short films before a couple of main attractions. So I’m halfway done. I’ve loved one (Anita). I’m ‘comme ci comme ca’ about another (Ballerina). One was very charming and I enjoyed it (Cutie and the Boxer) and the rest, well …
Let me just say this about that …
B O W W O W !!!!
The minute I read the write-ups for this year’s HotDocs films, “Tough Bond” was one of my first picks. Shot over a three-year period, the film makers followed four glue-sniffing Kenyan kids in their quest to survive. The African draught resulted in animals dying, no food and many human deaths. As the tribal villages began to disappear and community bonds dissolved, the youth turned to the streets which have, in turn, exploded into slums.
This is an important story, one we cannot ignore, one we cannot turn our backs on. Which is why I wanted to see the film, which was shot, directed and edited by a California-based, non-profit film collective, Village Beat. In all honesty, although the movie was a bit lacking, it’s not what I’m disappointed about. Frankly, I wish I’d never stayed for the Q&A.
What did me in were the two film makers. Or, more to the point, their lack of a plan or a purpose. One question they were asked was if it was difficult for them to spend so much time with these kids, who were obviously starving. The answer shocked me. They said it was very difficult and at one point they considered giving them some food; but didn’t, because if they had, their film would no longer have been authentic.
Better to let them stay hungry?
They are also hoping people who have seen the film will donate money. But no mention was made as to what the money would be used for. At one point they said they’d thought of building a school, but had abandoned the idea. They’re currently considering starting a radio station there, instead.
“Why?”, I’d like to know. How will that help? What good will that do? These people have no food. They have nothing. No animals. No shelter. No jobs No schools. No medicine. Nothing.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting this is a scam. But it is a squandered opportunity. And that frustrates me. Disappoints me. And pisses me off. There are so many organizations they could have aligned themselves with. They could have a established a foundation with a real purpose. And that, in combination with a film that tells a powerful story might really have begun to do some good.
My first film Monday night, “The Women And The Passenger” is from Chile. Essentially we are watching, and listening to, four chambermaids who work in a motel where couples rent rooms by the hour. The ‘twist’ is, despite the tawdry reality they’re faced with daily, a world of quick, paid-for sex, the women haven’t lost their faith in love. The story could have been sweet. It could have been interesting. It could have been enlightening.
Instead, it was boring, boring, boring. And monotonous. As they cleaned the rooms (not very thoroughly, I might add), they talked. Nothing particularly insightful was revealed. Neither was it particularly amusing. It went on and on. And it felt a hell of a lot longer than forty-five minutes.
No, I didn’t stick around for the Q&A.
But the ‘piece de resistance’ was the fifteen-minute, American-made short, “Dear Valued Guests”. It screened before the Chilean film. I have to say over the years I have seen my fair share of lousy movies. But this one takes the cake. The location is downtown Columbia, Missouri where The Regency Motel was demolished to make way for “revitalization”.
Yes, it could have been a very cool story. Old buildings are being torn down to make way for new, modern towers in most big cities; and with them goes a lot of history. Much can be lost, actually, in the name of progress. So this film could have told a wonderful story. Instead it wandered, endlessly. For a brief moment, we met a long-time resident, who talked about why she liked living there. And then, for what seemed like way too long, we watched members of an art collective transform one of the floors into an installation, which was open to the public the night before the demolition. I’m still trying to figure out what the point of it was.
And then we saw a lot of rubble. The motel was no more. What could have been a tribute, what could have made a strong political statement about urban revitalization, did nothing of the kind. It was nothing more than a quarter of an hour of visual rambling.
There went a quarter of an hour I’ll never get back.
Do you want to know what really disturbs me about my HotDocs experience so far? The lack of standards. Both on the part of the film makers and also those on the HotDocs selection committee. I’d like to know how some of these movies are making the cut. Great film making has little to do with how much a film costs to make. First and foremost it’s about the ‘idea’. Then it’s about the story. And telling it well.
Film festivals should be about the best. The ‘number’ of films you show doesn’t matter. It’s the quality of them that counts! I hope they’re more selective next year.