Saturday, November 18, 2017

AIFF 2017: Docs In Competition - Saving Brinton, Over The River, The Last Animals, The Cage Fighter, Among Wolves, Alphago

Here are the Anchorage International Film Festival in Competition.

Documentaries are non-fiction feature length films.  "In Competition" means, at AIFF,  these films have been selected by the programmers to be eligible for awards at the festival.  Another way of saying that is these are the films that the programmers collectively liked the best.   There are usually other films that appealed more to individual programmers, this list is there collective choices.

 I haven't seen any of these.  My goal here is simply to make it easy for people to know what's coming at the festival beginning December 1.

My experiences is that the documentary category tends to be very strong at the Anchorage International Film Festival.  They're in alphabetical order.

Docs in CompetitionDirectorCountryLength
AlphaGo Greg KohsUSA 1:30:28
Among WolvesShawn ConveyUSA 1:27:00

The Last AnimalsKate BrooksUSA1:31:50
Over the RiverVanina Lappa Italy1:14:00
Saving Brinton Morgan WhiteUSA 1:27:30


Greg Kohs
Showing:  Tuesday, Dec 5, Bear Tooth, 8pm
Sat. Dec 9, Alaska Exp Small 7pm

This appears to be a man against machine movie - can a computer beat the best human go players?

Here's the Director's Statement:  (Watch for the Alaska connection)
"Early in my career I worked at NFL Films. That experience, of being able to see the drama on the field while having access to the people and stories unfolding off the field, has always been a fascinating intersection for me. In my recent film, The Great Alone, I was able to explore the epic scale of the Iditarod through the comeback story of a single competitor. In AlphaGo, the competition between man and machine provided a similar backdrop, albeit with far larger consequences. 
The complexity of the game of Go, combined with the technical depth of an emerging technology like artificial intelligence seemed like it might create an insurmountable barrier for a film like this. The fact that I was so innocently unaware of Go and AlphaGo actually proved to be beneficial. It allowed me to approach the action and interviews with pure curiosity, the kind that helps make any subject matter emotionally accessible. 
Unlike the film’s human characters – who turn their curious quest for knowledge into an epic spectacle with great existential implications, who dare to risk their reputation and pride to contest that curiosity – AI might not yet possess the ability to empathize. ​But it can teach us profound things about our humanness – the way we play board games, the way we think and feel and grow.​ It’s a deep, vast premise, but my hope is, by sharing it, we can discover something within ourselves we never saw before."


Image from Among Wolves Kickstarter page

Among Wolves
Shawn Convey
Showing:  Monday, Dec 4, Bear Tooth 8:15pm 

From the beginning of the trailer, my thought was:  This is not the movie the title suggests to most Alaskans. 

This is a movie about veterans of the wars in the former Yugoslavia, specifically in Bosnia.  Here's elaboration on that from the Among Wolves  website:

"A paramilitary leader at the young age of 20, Lija helped defend the town while neighbors fell to the invading forces. Now he heads the Wolves, a motorcycle club that resembles the stereotype in rough image only. Under his leadership, this wild crew has become a positive force for good with a self-defined humanitarian focus. As their numbers grow, so do their successes, like holding charity events for the neediest in their community and securing badly needed supplies for hospitals in Livno an Srebrenica. 
One mission, though, rich in symbolism, captures their spirit more than any other. On what was once the front line, they now tend to and defend a herd of wild horses that society has similarly deemed expendable. A harsh environment, poachers, and urbanization continually threaten the herd. Stirred by their strength, the Wolves are determined to control their own fate and finally emerge from the shadow of war."


From The Last Animals website
The Last Animals
Kate Brooks
Showing:  Tuesday, Dec 5  Bear Tooth  5:30 pm

This is a movie about how rhinos and elephants are being slaughtered for their horns and tusks.  Hard to watch stuff.  As I wander the internet reading about this film, it's clear it's doing a good job of marketing itself.  The website is slick and full of gorgeous photos. There's even a piece about it in Glamor, not where you normally see stories about film festival documentaries.
"Kate Brooks may be missing the fear gene: At age 20 she was infiltrating state orphanages in Russia to document child abuse, work she published in The Boston Globe and *Newsweek*. By 25 she was capturing the American invasion of Iraq for Time. Ever since, she’s lived in war zones, sending back images of bombings in Pakistan, conflict in Syria, and amputees in Afghanistan.
In 2010 she finally took a much-needed vacation and headed to a national wildlife reserve in Kenya. “I was lounging by an infinity pool,” remembers Brooks, now 39, “and out on the horizon this herd of elephants walked by. It realigned everything inside of me. I left knowing I wanted to give the animals back some of the peace they gave me.” She returned to work, but the memory of those roaming giants stayed with her, and in 2012 she began looking into why such a staggering number—30,000—are killed every year for their tusks. When she learned the reason was related to terrorism, she set out to tell the world. The result is her eye-opening documentary, The Last Animals, which takes viewers on a journey into the violent epicenter of the ivory trade."

I doubt though that it will be screening at the White House any time soon, given that the Trump administration has reversed the ban on importing elephant ivory from Africa trophy hunts.

Here's a bit from Screen Daily:
"What distinguishes The Last Animals from other films on the subject (in particular last year’s Netflix doc The Ivory Game) is the raw urgency of Brooks’ direct conflict reportage: she is a war correspondent who lets us understand that what is happening here is nothing short of an all-out battle. This investigative mission, coupled with her painterly eye, elevates this doc – for the most part – into something filmic, often elegiac, and hopefully galvanising. After all, who are we, she asks, as guardians of this planet, if we allow the slaughter of these mystical, beautiful beasts to continue."

I couldn't find a trailer, but maybe this interview at the 2016 Women in the World Summit in New York City with the director Kate Brooks about the film is a better introduction.


[UPDATE Nov 29, 2017:  I have a new post on this film with a video of my Skype conversation with film maker Vanina Lappa.]

Over the River 
Vanina Lappa
Showing: Sunday, Dec 3, Alaska Exp Small, 4pm
Sunday, Dec. 9 Alaska Exp Small 5pm

I've learned from the director via FB, that this film has been seen in Europe and Kathmandu, the showing in Anchorage will be its North American premiere.

As I looked this film up, I forgot we are in the documentary category.  It has the look of a feature.  But it's not.  Which will make it interesting.

From Film Italy:
"'We are too old, that's the problem. We look at the moon, look at too many things ...'. So it's been said to Angelo, a young waiter who lives in Caselle in Pittari, a small town that lies on a river basin Bussento in southern Cilento, at the foot of a sacred mountain, where there is the St. Michael's cave, inside which , the legend says, there's an ancient guarded secret."
Here's from an Italian review of the movie, you can get the whole review here:
"Angelo, giovane cameriere di Caselle in Pittari, nel Cilento meridionale, vive nel tempo sospeso e fuori dalla storia che sembra caratterizzare l’intero paese. La comunità, ancorata a rituali più o meno antichi, è insieme nutrice e gabbia per il giovane; e tale è anche per il suo omonimo Angelo, barista più anziano di lui, con uno sguardo sulla vita più radicale e disilluso. I due dovranno decidere tra la permanenza e la fuga: ovvero tra due, contrastanti, idee di esistenza. [sinossi]
C’è costantemente una doppia dimensione, la percorrenza di un doppio binario, a guidare lo svolgimento di un lavoro come Sopra il fiume. Il documentario di Vanina Lappa, regista e montatrice italo-francese, è infatti saldamente ancorato alla terra che racconta, ai suoi rituali, al carattere misterico e al potere aggregante delle sue simbologie, ma contemporaneamente punta a mettere in scena la tensione con l’esterno, la pressione della modernità, la voglia di fuggire di alcuni abitanti del paesino che è teatro del film (quello di Caselle in Pittari, nel Cilento meridionale). La regista approccia qui il genere del documentario etnografico mettendo sempre in primo piano questa dialettica: lo fa fin dalla sequenza iniziale, che racconta il territorio attraverso un’antica leggenda che viene narrata al protagonista quand’era bambino, a illustrare lo sguardo sul fiume e sugli incontaminati territori che sovrastano e cingono il paese; poi, l’obiettivo si sposta sulla vita quotidiana della cittadina, sulla concretezza delle sue i(n)terazioni, sempre uguali a se stesse, su un tessuto sociale che sembra demograficamente condannato, incapace di favorire il ricambio tra generazioni, e quindi la sua stessa sopravvivenza."
Here's how renders this in English:
"Angelo, a young waiter of boxes in Pitters, in southern Cilento, lives in the suspended time and out of history that seems to characterize the whole country. The community, anchored to more or less ancient rituals, is together nourishment and cage for the young; And such is also for his namesake angel, bartender older than him, with a look on the most radical and disillusioned life. The two will have to decide between permanence and escape: that is between two, contrasting, ideas of existence. Synopsis]
There is constantly a double size, the journey of a double track, to guide the conduct of a job as above the river. The documentary of Vania Lappa, Italian-French director and upright, is firmly anchored to the earth that tells, its rituals, the mystery character and the aggregating power of its symbology, but at the same time aims to stage the tension With the exterior, the pressure of modernity, the desire to flee some inhabitants of the village that is the theatre of the film (that of Caselle in Pitti, in southern Cilento). The director approaches here the genre of the ethnographic documentary always putting in the foreground this dialectic: it does so from the initial sequence, which tells the territory through an ancient legend that is narrated to the protagonist when he was a child, to To illustrate the gaze on the river and the uncontaminated territories that dominate and surround the country; Then, the goal moves on the everyday life of the town, on the concreteness of its I (n) teras, always equal to themselves, on a social fabric that seems demographically condemned, unable to favor the replacement between generations, and therefore its Same survival."

From Box Office Mojo
Saving Brinton
Tommy Haines & Andrew Sherburne
Showing:  Sunday, Dec 3  Bear Tooth, 7:30pm

This feels like a film makers' film - it's about the finding and restoring of turn of the (20th) century films in Iowa.  Last year we had an Indian film, The Cinema Travelers, about a business that traveled the festival circuit in India showing large reel-to-reel films as DVD's and online downloading were starting to challenge this old film showing tradition.  It won best documentary.

We can get a sense of things by looking at where the film comes from: Northland Films:
"Northland Films are non-fiction storytellers in the Upper Midwest devoted to producing challenging and engaging films on timely social issues. Working throughout North America, the filmmakers work boldly to uncover themes of nature, history & community and in unexpected places."

From an interview with the filmmakers at the American Film Institute (AFI) where the film premiered June 17, this year:
"AFI: What inspired you to tell the story of SAVING BRINTON?
TH & AS: The common threads through all of our feature documentaries are notions of community and place and the interplay of tradition and modernity. This story had all of those elements.
TH, JR & AS: On top of all that, we’re film nerds. So here are 130 films, many of them unseen for a century, and we get to be a part of bringing these back into the public consciousness. Of course, we were in from day one.
AFI: How did you find Michael Zahs?
TH & AS: Our last film, GOLD FEVER, was about gold mining in Guatemala, and we were looking for something closer to home. Our eyes lit up when we got a call about a man, in a small town just south of us, who had discovered a basement full of nitrate films from Thomas Edison and Georges Méliès. Our first reaction was the same as most everyone: “In Iowa? Really?” That was the beginning. But in that first visit to Mike’s house, we sensed that the man who had saved these things was the real story — you can see it in the opening scene of the film. I think we left that day and told Mike 'you’ll be seeing a lot more of us.'”
[TH is Tommy Haines, AS is Andrew Sherburne, and JR is John Richards - Director of Photography]


UPDATE Nov. 18, 2017:  A film that was in this list before dropped out because of 'distribution.'

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