Monday, April 21, 2008

Festival Day 5

Prelude
Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4

Thursday 4/10

The End
Great Britain 2008, 74 min

Thursday was doc day at the festival with the only 2 docs on my list playing at opposite ends of the city. Interestingly enough, I started with The End. This is a doc about the life and death of London’s notorious East End as told by the men who lived and “worked” there. The filmmaker is the daughter of one of the leading criminal entrepreneurs. After realizing that he life was so different from most other peoples she decided to take stock by shooting this film (this is based on the Q & A after, she isn’t a character in the film) and was able to get privileged access to these usually tight lipped men. The film is shot in grainy black and white which adds to the chilling effect of the conversations with these (current and) former cockney gangsters and the music fits the mood perfectly as well with a DJ Shadow style melancholy [stream]. From their conversations you learn that their story is much like that of any community with a thriving organized criminal element: working class upbringing, family loyalty, ethical codes, being there for your mates, ect. These are tough guys but they are also family men and they all share a sense of loss because this neighborhood and community no longer exists. 2/3 of the way through the film one of them takes a walk through the current East End which has turned into an open air bazaar as peoples from the middle-east and the Indian subcontinent have replaced the white population. There is a sense of loss but its really not racially motivated as one might think but it’s the idea that the life that these men knew and grew up in is now gone forever and that they are really the last cockney gangsters that will ever be. Most have moved on to decent sized estates outside the city (thanks to ill-gotten gains with one man proclaiming "Crime Pays!" while showing off his posh digs) while a few others are actually hiding out from authorities. This film serves as an outstanding document of a culture that has since passed, for better or worse, from the land. Oh and the strong accents are thankfully subtitled.

There was a Q & A with the director and producer of the film – unfortunately the first for me of the entire festival – which was very enlightening. The film stands on its own but some of the details and back story of these characters was nicely fleshed out afterward. I hope they do a commentary track if this eventually gets a dvd release.

A-

Milk In the Land, Ballad of an American Drink
USA 2007, 90 min

Thankfully the previous film was a scant 74 minutes which left ample time even with a Q & A to get down to Old City for the start of the next film, a startling documentary on the history of Milk in America. The filmmakers obviously have an agenda as this film while not explicitly anti-milk (though it talks with people that are) is definitely anti-corporate dairy farming. The film starts detailing the history of the American dairy industry – cows were kept in New York City as a way of disposing of left over grain from whiskey distilling so people could get swill milk year round… though it killed quite a few people. It goes through the growth of the industry as a replacement for breast milk that was not being produced by middle class urban dwelling women (corsets), the breeding of cows that would produce year round and in great quantities and how the Dairy Lobby grew to national importance and scandal under the Nixon administration. They also visit a family farmer in Wisconsin who advocates drinking raw milk over the pasteurized store bought version. Surprisingly little is mentioned about rBGH or Monsanto.

Frankly looking at all that sloshing chalky liquid made me a little queasy and outside of cereal and coffee I rarely drink the stuff. However, I found many parts of the film fascinating especially where it digresses into the effect this drink has had on American culture from the religious to the hobbyists and how these people in turn affected its pervasive spread to our refrigerators and tables.

B+

Pistoleros
Denmark 2007, 90 min

The final film of the night was this Robert Rodriguez/Guy Richie inspired genre flick from Denmark. I should’ve caught another doc. The story within a story within a story is that some film school kids are making a fiction piece based on the legend of a heist gone awry so they meet a seedy character in a bar who starts telling the yarn. At some point the party is crashed by another man with a story to tell and some people in the story also… well you get it. The big question is “where’s the money?” and the resolution to this question contradicts everything that transpired in the 85 minutes of set up. Also people get shot, beat with pipes, kicked in the ribs thrown through hard objects and just keep on fighting. Most of the characters are just annoying and some do things in back to back scenes that completely contradict each other. And unlike either of the two that this movie cribs from the director, Shaky Gonz├ílez, has an awesome name but no visual flare. The look is ugly, under lit at night and flat during the day. The only interesting thing about this is the fact that the lead actor looks exactly like David Beckham so when he gets the crap beaten out of him it’s kinda funny. Worst film of the fest. (Apparently there is an epilogue after the closing credits that explain some things - I didn't know this and didn't stick around at the time)

D

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