Buffalo International Film Festival (2010)

October 1-10, 2010

The 4th annual festival begins at Market Arcade Film & Arts Center with a 7:00pm benefit screening of Temple Grandin for the Western New York Autism Community.

Films will also be shown at...
The Screening Room
HD Video Cafe
North Park Theater

See complete listings at http://www.buffalofilmfest.com

Skin Stories (2010)

Pacific Islanders in Communications produced this documentary directed by Emiko Omori. Shown on PBS, the anthology of stories exploring the transformative power of tattoo art to honor the past, explore the inner self and preserve culture. The film opens in 1999 with the first tattoo convention in Apia, Samoa where people gathered to celebrate the Polynesian art of tatau. As recent as the late 19th century only chiefs and their sons had tatau.

The skills have been passed down for two thousand years with the wisdom to "observe and ponder." The boar's tooth tool that was used since the beginning is still used today. The person receiving the tatau requires physical and spiritual assistance. The skin is bathed with cleansing sea water to begin the healing process. Imagery of nature, sea creatures, plants and daily life are incorporated into the art and becomes proof of one's worthiness to serve the community. An individual who is given tatau is able to conduct ceremonies, prepare food, give a speech. The tatau honors healthful living. The traditional tatau is considered the "regal cloth of Samoan spirit."

The art form moved throughout the islands to Aotearoa (New Zealand) with their version called Maori moku. Characterized by covering the entire face with design. Heads of Maori killed in war during the early 1800s were collected, a trend that caused the moku tradition for men to fade out by the 1960s. Women continued for another decade or so receiving the dark blue moku on their lips and patterns on the chin area of the face, a characteristic that was viewed quite desirable. The Maori mastery of carving stories into stone and wood is strongly connected to the moku patterning. Moku on hips and legs is tied to the art of movement with weaponry. Men frequently display a spiral pattern on the buttock. A trend to rekindle the lost artforms of moku has grown in New Zealand as women have found personal spiritual rebirth that ties them to their ancient culture and allows them to pass along to their grandchildren lost values about people and living together in community.

The culture of kakau was awakened during the 1970s Hawaii in the 1970s as young people renewed their connection to the culture that their grandparents broke away from. The kakau are not given without a person learning about their family heritage and native language. These patterns are placed over the entire body, asymmetrically. The patterning is larger and bolder than the tatau and moku, often inspired by feathers, weaves, growth, tool markings.

The first U.S. tattoo shop was opened in New York City in 1840 by a German immigrant. Tattoos flourished on the fringes of society, especially during wartimes. Sailors and soldiers commonly chose sailor girls, eagles, devils, hearts and names. A tattoo was often thought of as an identifying marker in case of death.

Today "the regal cloth of Polynesia has become a patchwork quilt." The ancient art of Samoa has entered the mainstream as dream symbols, family symbols and transformative imagery of all kinds become tattoo art. These guiding images give purpose and meaning on the life journey. I gained a new appreciation that almost makes me want one of my own.


Johnny Bull (1986)

Local playwright Kathleen Betsko Yale (http://www.filmreference.com/film/99/Kathleen-Betsko-Yale.html) presented a screening of the film version of her play at The CG Jung Center in Buffalo. It was directed by Claudia Weill, who made my favorite late-1970s movie, Girlfriends.

Johnny Bull is based on the writer's experience as a young woman immigrating to America in 1959 to join her American husband who she had met in Great Britain while he served the military during the Suez Crisis.

The story opens as fresh-faced eighteen-year-old Iris (Susanne Hamilton) arrives all dressed up to meet good-looking Joe (Peter MacNicol), hopeful to find the America of Elvis Presley and Doris Day movies. Fans of a twenty-first television show might refer to this era as the Madmen years. Civil rights and women's rights are heating up in urban areas across the nation, but smalltown America is still a place of sexism and racism. This is where Iris lands to live at Joe's family home in coal mining country of western Pennsylvania.

They reside with Stephen Kovacs (Jason Robards) and his wife Marie (Colleen Dewhurst), a weathered pair of hard-working proud hungarian immigrants. Younger sister, Kathy (Kathy Bates), is a simple-minded young woman who unhappily gives up her bedroom to the young couple. Stephen does not hide his disdain for the "Johnny Bull" (British) dressed in Doris Day clothing. He has just lost his mining job and the burden of more mouths to feed is disheartening.

Iris faces a rude awakening when the America of her fantasies is nowhere near the dismal place she has landed. Carefree and artistic, she obsessively draws shoe designs after a stint working at a shoe factory back home sparked a new ambition. Her aspirations to greet modern life have her dreaming of California, but her new home is a place where the women spend their days baking bread and washing away coal soot. The newlywed romance turns to simple dependence on a husband who does not share her dreams. He becomes more and more like his angry abusive father as her pregnancy grows and daily pressures mount.

Marie has no time for disappointment or whimsey, but we see her softening up around Iris's cheery ways. "You bring the juice back into life" she exclaims. We glimpse a hidden corner of Marie when she tells about a touch of excitement she found briefly during a coal mine strike that sent her to New York City for a housekeeper job where her employee rewarded her with lovely dresses and cash that she hoarded away for the future. The story is laced with enough humor and lightness to balance the intensity of this family struggle through a rough existence and a dark family secret.

Iris toughens under Marie's guidance. She gives birth to her baby and begins to take charge of her own life. This is a beautiful story of two women doing the best they can with difficult circumstances. The film was made for television broadcast, but the viewing experience is like seeing a play unfold. I enjoyed getting to know these characters and the themes remain relevant today.


The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)

Another Peter Weir film from the last century. This one is set in Jakarta during the mid-1960s when President Sukarno was the voice of the third world. Linda Hunt is cast as Billy, a diminutive male photographer who befriends newcomer Guy Hamilton (Mel Gibson). Their band of journalists wait and watch for breaking news as heartbreaking poverty has brought the country to the verge of civil war.

Hamilton encounters competition in Pete (Michael Murphy) and intrigue with Jill (Sigourney Weaver). This group of well-meaning foreigners embrace the culture of Java, drink gin and tonics, and position themselves for the next best story. Billy streams wise words throughout. "If you want to understand the Java, you have to understand the puppet shadow play--the right is in constant struggle with the left--there are no final conclusions."

Billy orchestrates a romance between Guy, who she affectionately calls Old Man, and Jill who he refers to as My Jilly. They are "special friends" and Billy claims to have proposed marriage to her (unsuccessfully). Guy faces a moral decision as the atmosphere heats up. Crisis follows. The Peter Weir soundtracks have a mystical quality. This one by Maurice Jarr drew me into a story I may have had difficulty watching otherwise.


The Last Wave (1977)

I was curious to see this early film by Peter Weir after attending the Tribute to him at the Telluride Film Festival. The supernatural thriller opens with with torrential rains and the first ever incidence of hail crashing down on Sydney, Australia. The theme of downpouring water continues throughout the story as lawyer, David Burton (Richard Chamberlain), begins a new case to uncover the truth about the murder of an aborigine man named Billy during a bar fight.

The tribal mysteries of the aborigine people of Australia date back 50,000 years, but Burton attempts to find some understanding. Apocalyptic visions of water and haunting dreams plague him, including one about Billy holding a symbolic stone. Burton becomes involved with aborigine witness, Chris (David Gulpilil) and his associate, Charlie (Nandjiwarru Amagula). He asks them why Billy died and is told "He sees things." Whites in Sydney commonly believe that the aborigines in the city are not tribal, but Burton begins to suspect Billy may have been killed for violating a tribal taboo.

Chris explains the importance of dreamtime, the infinite spiritual cycle that determines law. "A dream is a shadow of something real." Premonitory dreams occur at the end of a cycle prior to apocolypse and lead to rebirth. Charlie asserts that law is more important than the man. Burton's investigation leads him to discover his own connection to Mokural, a race of spirits from the rising suns that act through human beings by offering sacred objects.

His stepfather reminds him that as a child he had premonitory dreams leading up to the death of his mother and he begins to see how his recent dreams are linked to the murder. The mood of the film is grim, soggy and dark. The sounds are primal and slightly terrifying. At one point, Burton is face-to-face with Charlie asking "Who are you?" Charlie turns the question back on him over and over, humming as the energy builds. We learn that Charlie is a shape-shifter who becomes an owl. Burton becomes quite lost in a sea of secrets that reveal the world to be quite different than he once believed it to be.


127 Hours (2010)

Seeing this on the last night of Telluride Film Festival was a spectacular end to being in that beautiful place. I had listened to Danny Boyle James Franco and Aron Ralston speak on a panel discussion about the role of nature in film. Director Boyle does not consider this movie to be a nature film, even though it all takes place in the Blue John Canyon of Utah, not too many miles away from Telluride.

Based on Aron Ralston's book Between a Rock and a Hard Place, this is a tale about survival after a hiking accident. Ralston is portrayed by James Franco, who carries the film with monologue and action--full of drama, silence, loud sound, comedy, self-reflection. While the book goes into detail about people back home trying to locate Ralston, Boyle chose to make the film entirely about Ralson's experience in the canyon during those 127 hours back in 2003. He was a pleasure-seeking young man who worked as an engineer. An adrenaline junkie and outdoorsman, he may have been a bit arrogant and careless, but he was no novice in the wild. He took off on his bike one sunny day equipped with loud music through his headphones, a movie camera strapped to his handlebars, snacks and water. We see him speed through the dry terrain of the west, doing what he loved until a mishap with a large boulder leaves him pinned under rocks. Caught in the menacing, ominous, threatening, indifference of nature, he finds a bit of poetry as he records himself on camera, often sober in an attempt to leave a dignified impression for those who may discover it later on. He embraces mortality, knowing his predicament appears to be unsolvable, but his psyche and soul unravel--leading him to a way out.

The film is essentially about one man's destiny with a rock and the existential transformation that occurs as he resorts to desperate measures to survive...eventually liberates himself by sawing off his arm with a dull pocket knife. The film takes the viewer on a sensory and emotional roller coaster with Ralston via James Franco's ability to convey the hero's journey. Ralson is the first to admit that the big mistake this event was his failure to tell anyone where he was going. The film is careful to not let the audience leave without making a statement about the important issues of outdoor safety.


Fifteen Venues--Fifty Films (2010)

Most of the films have been shown within few short blocks in the historic town of Telluride. The local schools have high-end screening auditoriums. The center of town features an outdoor screening area One large theater is up the mountain by gondola. During the hours of 8am and 12am the film schedule rolls onward for an endless possibility of viewing.

Despite the beauty and fun of it all, walking about the hilly streets in the dry high altitudes is not for the weary. There are plenty of generic gearless bicycles around for those who prefer riding...no locks required. Some people around town have artfully painted versions with color and pattern. I did notice locks on some of those.

The daily schedule is key. Multiple films of interest have overlapping times. Arriving early to line up for seating is the pesky part of the scheduling process, but people are friendly and chatting in line is part of the experience. After waiting nearly an hour to get into the tribute show last night in an auditorium big eough for 650 people, we just made it and ended up high in the balcony. Other theaters seat only fifty so those show fill up quickly.

This is a celebration of the dark theater of memory (Dennis Jakob). There will be plenty of time later for the peaceful home-viewing or the ease of my local hometown theaters--never a line--just walk into any top independent film on a wednesday evening and find just a few other people.

The beauty of this experience is having the director and many of the actors present, Q & A sessions, chance encounters. The two tribute shows reminded me of so many films that I would like to see again. The director of Cameraman sat next to Kerry and I at a cafe and we learned about his study of a cameraman who worked in the industry for more than seventy years. I listened to Mark Cousins explain how his early childhood in Belfast during the war "tenderized" him to become a filmmaker delivering imagination and art to children in a small village in Iraq.
Aron Ralston was an ordinary young man whose hiking adventure several years ago became the subject of Danny Boyle's recent film, 127 Hours, starring James Franco. All three were present for an outdoor panel to speak about how the tragic story was transformed into a film about survival and hope. I plan to see it this evening. During the first three days, I have seen...
Inside Job (Charles Ferguson)
A Tribute to Peter Weir
The Way Back (Peter Weir)
The Cameraman: The Life & Work of Jack Cardiff (Craig McCall)
Bieutiful (Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu with Javier Bardem)
Seminar: Human/Nature with Danny Boyle, James Franco, Peter Weir, Werner Herzog
Dennis Jakob Unplugged (Errol Morris)
The First Movie (Mark Cousins)
Tribute to Colin Firth
The King's Speech (Tom Hooper with Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush)

Last day here...more movies and more details to follow.


Mountains, Millionaires, Movies (2010)

I have arrived.

Telluride is cozily nestled in the lap of the surrounding peaks...welcoming. I am ready for this smalltown celebration of art and cinema...eager to discover what will unfold. Today the flood of people arriving. Kerry and I arrived yesterday as things began percolating.

Seventy-five percent of the movies I see are DVDs on a twenty-five inch television screen...rarely on a laptop, an experience that is severely lacking in aesthetic. What a treat it can be to share the viewing experience on the big screen in an audience of enthusiastic watchers. I volunteered to work at the Denver Film Festival in 2002. I assembled guest gift bags, wrote Kevin Bacon's name on a label, and recall none of the wonderful films I saw there. Also attended one screening at the less-than-glamorous Buffalo-Niagara Film Festival last spring. The Telluride Film Festival promises to be the ultimate candy store experience. How many movies can a person watch in a day and how will we choose what to see? We have not even seen the schedule yet...suspense.

Traveling yesterday was smooth...on-time flights...made both transfers. There was just one glitch...my suitcase did not arrive. Hope to see it in a few hours, but right now it is a crisp and chilly morning...all I have to wear are the clothes chosen on a ninety degree Buffalo morning. Curiously, before the airline began charging the price of a small dinner for one checked bag, I flew here and there for thirty years without one lost bag incident.