Sunday, November 16, 2014

AIFF 2014: Documentaries In Competition - From Seeds and Shields to North Dakota,Coney Island, Mala Mala, Water, and Dismantling Dams

This is an overview of the documentaries the jury selected to be in competition.

How Do Films Get Selected? 
First the films are selected from all those submitted.  Then a certain number from each category is  chosen to be 'in competition'' meaning these are the finalists eligible for an award in the category.

How Many Docs Are There?
The documentary category has, if I counted right, 20 selected films (5 under 30 minutes and 15 over 30 minutes)  and 7 are 'in competition.'  Five are longer documentaries (77-89 minutes) and  two are shorter (20 and 35 minutes).

Most of the documentaries are from the US.  There's one identified as Puerto Rico/US, one as Switzerland, and two as Canada.  Not all that international this year.  

My Goal Here: I haven't seen the films.  So I'm just trying to give you a sense of what the films are and how they are scheduled.  I'm trying to find  interesting info on the films, but I'm also recognizing that time is ticking and there are other categories and films to cover.  And these are just the films in competition.

The documentary category has been very strong in recent years.  Even though films aren't in competition, it doesn't mean they aren't worth seeing.  

So check them all out. Here's a list of all the documentaries selected for the festival.

1)  Coney Island: Dreams For Sale
Alessandra Giordano
Fri. Dec. 12  7pm    Alaska Exp. Small
Sat Dec.  13 12pm  Anchorage Museum

From the Brooklyn Daily, here's the start of their article on how this film was made:>

"The movie is the first feature-length work by filmmaker Alessandra Giordano, who originally intended to make a five-minute short. Giordano, who hails from Italy, was taking a film course at New York University in the summer of 2008, when the fight over Coney’s future was raging, and a friend suggested that she should visit the area.

“They told me it was a place I would enjoy, a place that’s different and interesting and quirky,” said Giordano.

On that trip, Giordano met one of the main characters of her film, Coney carny Anthony Raimondi, owner of the now-defunct Jones Walk booth Gangster Cigars."
And the trailer:

Adapted from images in Divide In Concord press packet
2)  Divide In Concord
Kris Kaczo
Fri. Dec. 12  3pm Bear Tooth
Sat.Dec. 13  3pm Alaska Exp. Small

From the film's press packet, here's part of the synopsis:

"Jean Hill, a fiery 84-year-old widow and mother of four, wants to ban the sale of bottled water from Concord. Her path begins when her grandson tells her about the disastrous environmental effects of the empty plastic bottles.
Jean presents a bylaw to ban the sale of single-serve plastic bottles at the 2010 and 2011 Town Meetings. After losing by seven votes in 2011, she vows to continue the crusade with neighbor and Harvard Law Grad, Jill Appel. If enacted, the law would be the first of its kind in the world.
But all are not in agreement with the ban. Merchants are wary of the bylaw. Philanthropist, mother, model and celebrity publicist Adriana Cohen takes the fight to the spotlight, calling the ban an attack on freedom. With billions of dollars at stake, The International Bottled Water Association sends in the cavalry."
 The site also includes words from the director, Kris Kaczo:
"The entire documentary was self-funded. It was tough; our van was broken into and died the day of Town Meeting, our hotel almost burnt down and we had two eerie ghost experiences at the Colonial Inn. But we battled on and feel that we honored the story and the town.
Concord is the home of the American Revolution as well as significant literary and environmental movements. Residents are expected to know about Thoreau. A favorite quote became “Heaven is under your feet as well as over your head.” The film is a tribute to Concord. We do not take sides on the ban. Both sides have compelling arguments. "
I'd note that anyone who would like an answer to Adriana Cohen's question, might want to check out the documentary Tapped which was in  AIFF 2009

3) Mala Mala
Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini

Mon. Dec. 8,   8pm Bear Tooth
Wed. Dec. 10  7:30 pm  Alaska Exp Small

From their Kickstarter page:

"As a trans person in Puerto Rico, not only does your experience beg the question “am I Puerto Rican, am I American, or am I both?” but also “am I a male, am I a female, or am I both?” This vagueness, this in-betweenness is what most fascinates us as filmmakers, and with this project we hope to share the stories of people who's voices may not otherwise be near enough to reach your ears.

At its core, this film is a people piece.  We are interested in the relationship between the internal and external being, the dynamics between performance and gender, and the power of self-discovery." 
Excerpt from an interview with the designer/fashion website Oak:

"OAK: What do you think was the biggest revelation, or biggest thing that you learned about the trans community and yourselves, when you reflect on the entire experience?

DS: One thing for me personally is that I feel so much more confident in terms of how I understand my own gender. I’ve started to look at certain aspects of myself as maybe being a bit feminine, and I love those parts of myself now. And thinking about myself along those lines puts me in a more complex and interesting position than someone who identifies as something that exists inside a box. I think I’ve learned a lot about the ways we can play with, and grapple with, and fuck gender. Deconstructing gender gives us more room to play with it and understand it and have fun with it.

AS: For me, throughout the project, I think [our subjects] didn’t realize we were watching them living [over the course of 2 1/2 years]. It was like studying. I don’t think we normally do that to other people, so it was kind of a privilege being [so present] in these private lives. One thing about it was that we were seeing their transformations. They had something they desperately needed that was either going to lead themselves to killing themselves, or total depression, or to [becoming who they were]. And we were able to meet them on the other side, and see them about to become what they wanted to become. That power of choice was something I really didn’t understand fully until I met them.

DS: During one interview Ivana told us that in school people would ask her what she wanted to be when she grew up and she would always say a police man just to get by. What she actually wanted to say was that she wanted to be a woman when she grew up. That really reminded me that the trans experience is universal in a sense that it’s achieving a goal, and becoming what you want to be. It’s no different than that."

4)  Seeds of Time
Sandy McLeod
Adapted from images at Seeds For Time website
Sat Dec.6  1pm  Anchorage Museum
Thu Dec. 11  5:30pm  Alaska Exp. Small

From the California Academy of Science about McLeod's visit there:

. . . It began in 2007, when McLeod discovered an article in the New Yorker about Cary Fowler, Senior Advisor to the Global Crop Diversity Trust. McLeod was immediately hooked on the story. For the filmmaker, it was time to buckle down and learn about agriculture—both pre- and post-industrialization. “You immerse yourself in the subject,” she explains. “You come to it like an audience member, not knowing much and learning all the time. It was a great learning experience.”

McLeod challenges the audience to think about the industrialization of our food system. “We don’t grow for nutrition to begin with: why? Everything nutritional is taken out, including the antioxidants. Taking out the nutrients can cause the food to go rancid, so then you have to add preservatives. If you just took the whole grain and milled it with all that good stuff still in it, we would have all the nutrients.” She points out that vitamin companies profit from the ‘enriching’ process of reintroducing vitamins, and also reminds us that the entire processed foods industry is not about creating nutrient-rich foods, but about monetizing food production.

These discoveries made McLeod an advocate of sustainable agriculture. She champions the concept of seed vaults—the process of cataloging information about the variety of seeds on the planet and saving physical samples for perpetuity. She discusses the idea of a seed library from which users could ‘check out’ seeds, cultivate the plant, and then re-file the next generation of seeds. “Growing the same things in different environments will help to get some diversity back.” She is also a proponent of citizens getting involved in policy changes that protect seed diversity, limit the amount of food processing, or otherwise help us return to a more robust food systems model. “Resilience is what you need. We cannot sustain this, it’s not sustainable, how do we get it to a place where it supports itself.”
A movie about saving earth's genetic kitchen in the face of climate change.  Nothing too serious here.  You can see the trailer here.

Here's a bit from the director's statement:

"When I met Cary Fowler a whole new world opened up to me. I realized that, although I thought I knew a thing or two about food, the issues that he was grappling with were entirely new to me. And that those issues, largely concerning food security, are issues that anyone who likes to eat should not only know about, but have a say in too.

Cary Fowler is a guy who has almost single-handedly created something of great value for the Global Community. I can’t think of many other global projects that have that kind of absolute value for all of us that the Svalbard Global Seed Vault holds."

More on the Svalbard Global Seed Vault here.

5)  Shield and Spear
Petter Ringbom
Sat. Dec 6  5:30pm Bear Tooth
Sun. Dec 7 1:00pm  Alaska Exp. Large

Excerpt from OKayafrica just before the African premiere of the film in Durban, South Africa July 2014.
". . . In gaining that trust, Ringbom has tapped into many of the important dialogues taking place in South Africa, the result being the coherent and incisive conversation central to Shield and Spear.What do you think?

“In some ways the outsider-ship can work both in your favour and against you,” reflects Ringbom. “I think people are more comfortable opening up to a complete outsider. But there’s a duality to it also, where you encounter that question of why are you coming here and taking our stories? It’s something I thought about a lot. It comes with a responsibility not to be exploitative essentially.”What do you think?

Remaining firmly behind the camera, Ringbom has allowed his accomplished cinematography to tell one story, leaving the rest up to the earnest dialogue of his subjects. Together the two combine effectively in capturing the paradoxes present at the heart of any discussions pertaining to freedom in South Africa.What do you think?

“Something which surprised me the most was how emotional this project would be for me,” admits Ringbom. “Maybe it was due to how inspiring, genuine and open the people I met were. All I know is that I haven’t felt this emotionally overloaded in any other project I’ve worked on.”

6)The Strong People
Heather Hoglund
Sat. Dec. 6  3:30pm Alaska Exp Small   (with White Earth, and other short docs)
Fri. Dec. 12 5:00pm Alaska Exp. Large (with White Earth, and other short docs)

From The Strong People website:
"The Strong People is an award-winning documentary chronicling the largest dam removal project in US history on the Elwha River in Olympic Peninsula, Washington. It is told through the eyes of the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe that has long resided in the area, looking specifically at how these dams have affected the life ways of their people. 
The indigenous Klallam have long had their way of life impeded by the dams’ existence. The disruption the dams caused to the river’s salmon runs were not only an economic disaster for the tribe, who relied on the fish for commerce, but also wreaked havoc on the Klallam’s cultural beliefs, of which the salmon are an integral part."
From what I can tell, Heather Hoagland is working at Wander, Wonder, Wilderness in Boston.  Here's what their website says about Hoagland:
"Heather graduated from Emerson College in 2013. She is currently a freelance documentary filmmaker in Boston. Her senior thesis project, The Strong People, documenting the largest dam removal in United States History, has picked up numerous accolades at film festivals and events worldwide. Heather’s passion lies in creating cross platform projects concerning environmental issues. An avid runner and cyclist in the city, your only chance of seeing her is in brief glimpses as she zips around the city to her next destination." 
Here's the trailer:

7) White Earth
J. Christian Jensen
Sat. Dec. 6  3:30pm Alaska Exp Small   (with The Strong People, and other short docs)
Fri. Dec. 12 5:00pm Alaska Exp. Large (with The Strong People, and other short docs)

This film won  a  2014 STUDENT ACADEMY AWARD Silver Medal in the Documentary category.

From a review by Whitney McIntosh in the Stanford Arts Review:
"Although he initially wanted to interview workers in the oil industry, he met resistance in a suspicious bureaucracy of permission-giving and media-anxiety. He thus “shifted to looking at the way that these industrial processes existed in the landscape,” a landscape both natural and emotional. He said that he “wanted it to be a nuanced, intimate exploration of people, and children,” spurring more prevalent themes of juxtaposing industry against environment, technology against nature. The male oil workers exist in the background, while what are normally peripheral voices of children and family members are brought center stage, and express themselves with remarkable clarity. 
Although Jensen had made plans to focus on a single family, a week before he was to start production, Jensen received a call from the father explaining changed family circumstances and their inability to continue with the film. He recalls, “I had to sort of pivot really quick to do something else. And fortunately I had cast a really wide net when I was doing my research, and I had met a couple children, and there was one child in particular, whose name was James that I met by chance.” We meet James, an adolescent boy living with his father, from the outset of the film. His commentary is unusual and compelling, as he is sharply conscious of the central paradoxes of the circumstances of the town of White Earth, which is slowly growing, but without the infrastructural capacity for this growth."


It's often hard to figure out how to see all the films in competition in a category.  At least the documentaries aren't scheduled at the same time (except the two shorter ones  - White Earth and The Strong People which play in the same program so it's easy to seem them both.)

I've made a calendar of the documentaries in competition.

Click to enlarge

This makes it look easy.  But there are lots of other documentaries you might want to see.  And then there are feature films, animated films, shorts, etc.  But this is a starting point.  Once more, here's a list of all the documentaries selected for the festival.

1 comment:

  1. Steve, I am so happy to see you are blogging AIFF in 2014. You and your readers will be happy to know that the printed schedule in the Anchorage Press will contain film descriptions this year in addition to venues and times. Great job reviewing the docs in competition, we look forward to more blog posts. -- C. Franklin, Docs Programmer, AIFF


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