Saturday, October 27, 2007

Telluride Film Festival 2007: Chapter 3

Honestly, I Don't Snore

The plan for the next day was to immerse myself in the biggest named film of the festival Into the Wild. There was a screening at the Chuck Jones early in the morning followed by a Q&A and later in the day was a discussion on the film and the novel and story and whatever other condescending questions discussion moderator Werner Herzog wished to discuss. Given its marquee status though, the Chuck was all sold out. We were tagging along with a couple people on the Gondola up when one got a phone call from a friend who had gotten in line and hour earlier and said that he was going to be turned away. So we got to the Mountain Village and hoped right on the down going gondola.


The only viable option (viable = timely and interesting) was My Enemy’s Enemy. This is a doc by Kevin MacDonald who previously directed acclaimed and controversial doc Touching the Void and my #1 film of ’06 The Last King of Scotland. The film tells the story of Klaus Barbie, noted Nazi was criminal and famed “Butcher of Lyon,” who weeded out dozens of members of the French Resistance, detailing both his rise to power in the within the fascist regime but focuses more on his post war exploits. Using found footage, talking heads, first hand accounts and a document trail a mile long the doc shows how Barbie became a CIA informant and later schooled the then fledgling agency on the arts of torture and sedition in order to combat the Soviet threat. He was called as a witness in a trial of Vichy treasonists despite his place in French history he was never tried himself due to US pressure. When the French eventually did demand his arrest he escaped to South America with the help of a Vatican group who smuggled Christian Nazi war criminals out of Europe. From there he became a power broker in Bolivia with a close knit cabal who helped the CIA to overthrow the socialist but democratically elected government and train the new Military regime in his form of expertise. The film paints a picture of the Cold War era in which anyone who was your enemy’s enemy was indeed your friend. It shows how Barbie was indeed a monster and how he could sometimes be an affable guy and how he was used by our government to further their ends and because of his past crimes was easily deniable. The parallels to our current extended war are unmistakable. Pakistani President Musharaf is definitely our enemy’s enemy and even more eerie is the connection (not made in the film) that many of the torture tactics being used in Gitmo and other less publicized prisons are just hands me down techniques from the Nazi era.

MacDonald was on had for a Q&A after the film and talked about his desire to make a small, back to basics, anti-style documentary. He was actually editing the film on his laptop the previous year when he brought Last King to Telluride. Unlike Touching the Void which was praised and scorned for its reenactment of almost the entire episode, this film was totally undramatized.

Following the film I went to the poster signing of the official 34th Festival poster – the artist typically paints in this 40’s 1-sheet style and did the poster in that way. Deciding that since I had neither seen the film nor read the book I was going to skip the Into the Wild discussion and use the time that so many were there to add in another film to replace the one I missed the day before. So I went down to the Masons Hall Cinema (a theater set up in a room of a Masonic hall) to catch Wind Man. To my surprise Ralph and Vanessa were in line already and I hadn’t had a chance to see something with them yet.

Wind Man was described as “magical realism” in the program guide. I had seen a film at the Philadelphia Film Festival earlier this year with the same label and was very much bored by the proceedings so I was a little wary of this film. All that changed seconds into the film. The setting is drab; a small village in Kazakhstan (jagshemash) at the start of the post-Soviet era, but this just serves to contrast the colorful characters that inhabit the village. It opens on a grim reaper like figure wandering through the scrub and desert of central Asia. A young boy stumbles upon him and lifts up his hood to have a look and promptly runs screaming back to his village. Later that night the child becomes deathly ill…and a decrepit old angel falls from the sky into the boy’s family’s barn. The child is healed but the demon still roams and the townspeople are left to figure out what to do with this angel and how to stop the demon. The film is pretty visually sedate except during the lightning storm that brings the angel when the director conjures up a most ferocious thunderstorm with incredible sound to boot. The film features plenty of mysticism from the Islam of the people to the pre-Muslim myths that talk about the death demon to the Christian myths of angels. All of this took place in an era when Soviet suppression on these kinds of ideas had finally ended – though the other traditions provided their own brand of suppression…and suppress they do. The father sees his barn burned down by people trying to kill the angel and is tossed in jail for it. He eventually is forced to sell the thing but gets nothing due to its condition. Meanwhile more tragedy happens at home which is both caused and cured by this enigmatic angel. The cast plays these quirky townsfolk perfectly and in the end life just goes on – as is to be expected.

There was a Q&A after the film but I couldn’t stay as I was trying to run the length of the town to make it to yet another screening of Into the Wild. Of course this was not to be. So instead I went next door to catch the Le Pierre to catch the only film that would be out in time for the next film on my schedule. I probably should have just taken a nap. The film was A Journey with Peter Sellars. It’s a documentary about the titular man who is a dramatic prodigy. He was working at a puppet theater in Pittsburgh as a kid, modernizing Shakespeare at Harvard, ran the National Theater Company in DC and now teaches at UCLA and creates several different productions a year. The largest part of the film is watching extended clips of these productions. I fell a sleep at one point and was nudged to stop snoring…must’ve been the angle I was sitting at as I don’t snore.

After the film blessedly ended I got out ASAP to get in line for The Band’s Visit. Easily the best film of the day, this subtle, fish-out-of-water comedy was a riot. The fish are a band Alexandrian of police men (band is literal) who are sent to play at the opening of a new Egyptian cultural center in Israel. The headstrong captain gets them all lost and they end up at a bus stop a small, nearly deserted town in an arid corner of Israel in their bright blue concert uniforms. The out of water is this town and its people who take the band in and provide places for them to stay for the night. The framing of this film was impeccable. Very similar to Wes Anderson, the story is told in the straight on shots and the action of the film takes place all in the frames – even when it starts outside of them. There were very few insert shots or camera moves. The timing on the jokes was pitch perfect both on the part of the characters and on the part of the filmmaker. The story skirts a fine line between comedy and sadness, often on both sides of the fence at the same time. This is just one aspect of the numerous contrasts that make this film up. The choice that is made to spend the film away from the “canned” Arab/Israeli conflict allows the audience to see the characters to interact as people and believe their interactions to be more real. In the Q&A after the film the Israeli writer and director said they were very influenced by Arab/Egyptian films and actors and kids and that is actually voiced by the characters on screen and shows that the 2 sides aren’t as monolithic on a cultural level as we may think despite the political situation.

The final film of the night was the first I was able to see with Jana (well she was at Juno but I didn’t see her at all). The buzz for The Counterfeiters was huge by Sunday night – despite the fact that no one I had talked to had seen it. It was sold out Friday night and Ralph & Vanessa got turned away and the same happened to all 3 of us on Saturday night. But despite the fact that it was playing at one of the smaller theaters I decided to see if I could get in. I get there and Jana is already in line – yeah! Unfortunately we were later informed that it was the wrong line but we got in anyway – likely due to the rain and the fact that Margot at the Wedding, another perennial sell-out was once again playing at the same time.

The Counterfeiters tells the tale of the Nazi attempt to destroy Britain’s economy during WWII by flooding the country with fake pound notes. To this end they used the forced labor of a large group of Jews in a concentration camp. Due to the importance of this project this group was not only kept separate from the rest of the camp, they were treated with a much kinder hand than those outside their walls. Naturally this causes psychological strain on these trained craftsmen. The leader of the group, a world renown forger who was arrested whist working on this very same project, is torn between his need to accomplish the task, his own survival and that of his group of comrades. The voice of dissent in their band is a communist who is trying to sabotage the project so that they can help win the war against the Third Reich. There is never a dull moment in this film. The story and editing are solid and briskly paced and the acting is top notch. There are moments that evoke Schindler’s List though the film never veers to the emotionally manipulative level of that film. This film was actually opened in Prague a month later as I saw poster’s for it’s opening in a theater up the street from my hotel.


Frankly I can’t remember what happened that night anymore. I believe there was a good bit of planning as most of the next day was TBAs and so we poured over the page announcing what they would be and witch ones were worth seeing. I also think we were trying to come up with the themes of the festival and WWII & life under totalitarian regimes seemed to be the big ones so far. In fact the doc at the begining of the day mentions the episode of the war that was dramatized in the final film of the day...and the trial that closed out that doc was covered in another doc at the festival about Barbie's lawer.

In the next chapter we get what we want.

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