Monday, May 15, 2006

Study, Work and Play

The Fifth DocFest (San Francisco Documentary Film Festival) started this weekend. I'm not so great with documentaries (as I do have a tendency to nap!), but I am going to see at least five, if not seven of them during this week.

To start with, "Class Act" (dir. Sara Sackner, US, 2006, 90 mins.) profiled Jay Jensen, the infamous high school theater teacher in Miami Beach who has left his millions in life savings to arts education funds. It also profiles the state of arts education in America, which is unsurprisingly bleak. I sort of wish it had focussed more on Jensen as he is a fascinating man and had the opportunity of teaching some fascinating students (i.e. Andy Garcia, Brett Ratner, Debra Zane, etc.). He is charming, had some great stories and I thought it could have stood alone as a tribute to him. However, I do understand how the political agenda worked its way in. I just thought it was 'preaching to the choir' and unnecessary in this instance. Overall, it was nice and painless enough and, no, I did not nap!

"Working Man's Death" (dir. Michael Glawogger, Austria/Germany, 2005, 122 mins.) was NOT part of DocFest, however I am squeezing it in here. (It won the Best Documentary at the SF International Film Festival this year, but I was unable to see it.) This was a particularly GRIM profile of five international work situations: coal miners in Russia, sulfer miners in Indonesia, a slaughterhouse in Nigeria, a dead boatyard/scrap metal operation in Pakistan and a foundry in China. I found the Nigeria section to be EXCEPTIONALLY GNARLY as the slaughtering was quite graphic and the conditions were... poor. The film itself has the look and theme of "Powaqqatsi" but it digs a bit deeper, humanizing it, as Glawogger interviews his subjects. I am guessing from his title that he finds these people to have become numb and souless due to their jobs. Though, I would argue that it is a matter of the chicken or the egg, frankly. Plus, with only a few exceptions (most particularly in the Pakistan section), the interviewees seemed to LIKE their work, which is sort of astounding. It has an epilogue in which teenagers play on a German steel foundry that has been converted to something of an art project/theme park. This only added a surrealism to the argument that is only going to confuse his issues, though he seems to be pointing to a Western mentality that the horrid working conditions we spent two hours watching are unnecessary. I think. I just know I left feeling dirty. (I still stick with my pick for 'Best Documentary' as being "The Bridge".)

Back to the 'real' DocFest with:
"Buffet: All You Can Eat Las Vegas" (dir. Natasha Schull, USA, 2006, 30 mins.) which was really sort of gross to directly follow "Working Man's Death" with. Gluttony can be a GNARLY thing to behold. It can be sort of campy, too, especially since this was set in Las Vegas. The subject was actually sort of intriguing, as it focussed on something that most of us either take for granted or are too awestruck to question: where does all of that food come from and where do the scraps go? Though there were moments that I was visually and morally repulsed, I was none the less completely intrigued!

And finally:
"The Future of Pinball" (dir. Greg Maletic, USA, 2006 (presented as a work in progress), 60 mins.) was a visual time warp through the history of pinball machines and focussed on the recent success and ultimate failure of Williams-Bally, which had 70% of the market until it suddenly went out of business in 2000. In a series of interviews with the engineers and designers of some of the classic machines (i.e. "The Addams Family", "Invaders from Mars" and "Revenge From Mars") you get the sense of overwhelming work that goes into these machines! It is just that amount of work that was quickly killing them. The story of the rise and fall of Williams was fascinating and remarkably touching as the engineers involved in those final days were quite emotional about their work. There is only ONE company making them now: Stern/Sega. Perhaps that is where the 'finished' film will focus on? (I did not stay for the Q&A as it was just too damn uncomfortable in the auditorium at the Women's Building in the Mission district.)

1 comment:

Maxxxxx said...

re "Class Act": "Doobie doobie doo-ooo!"
re "Working Man's Death": "Time for shower!"
re "Buffet: All You Can Eat Las Vegas": "Breakfast? Breakfast?"
re "The Future of Pinball": obsessively rattles his bell toy!