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Silverdocs Documentary FF

Online Dailies Coverage of SILVERDOCS: AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival taking place June 21-27, 2010 at the AFI Silver Theater


The Wacky And The Weird At SILVERDOCS


by Sandy Mandelberger, Festival Dailies Editor

The SILVERDOCS International Film Festival, which is entering its final weekend, is by most accounts a very sober affair. After all, many of the films are about challenging subjects of human rights abuse, political exploitation, ecological ruin and the inhumanity of men and their regimes. But the programmers of the event have made sure to season this sober brew with some films whose premises are a bit "out there". However, instead of simply being comic relief for what is mostly a rather serious group of subjects, the films actually spotlight very human emotions and responses that are equally as serious and worthy of contemplation.

Take, for example, the South Korean film OLD PARTNER, which screened here last night. On the surface, the film chronicles the life of an 80 year old farmer who lives in a remote village who has a most unlikely soul mate.....his 40-year-old ox. Now before you start jumping the gun and assuming that old Mr. Lee is having some inter-species nooky with the furry creature, this is in fact a very tender and affectionate portrait of a unique relationship that sustains the farmer through falling health and a disappearing way of life. For me, the film communicated the intense need that we all have for companionship, and if we cannot find that among the two-legged creatures, then the four-legged are certainly an option.

The writers at Saturday Night Live could have a field day with the premise of ACT OF GOD, a Canadian film by Jennifer Baichwal that captures the stories of people who have been struck by lightning. Rather than playing up the absurdly comic, Baichwal strikes a more existential tone, inviting the audience to contemplate the vagaries of fate and chance and how an incident that unfold in a split-second can completely transform a human life.

TROLL 2 is the kind of atrociously bad movie that one might find playing at 4:00am on Cinemax or at a sleazy all-night grindhouse theater. Called the "CITIZEN KANE of bad movies", the cult film humiliated and ruined the careers of everyone associated with. But its essential badness and ridiculousness is actually the source of its wide appeal, and the documentary BEST WORST MOVIE follows the exploits of the film's former child star, who is adored by movie geeks at TROLL conventions around the country. It ain't Brad Pitt's career, but for the actor Michael Paul Stephenson, who also directed the film, the film has allowed him to have a stab at film immortality.

And then there are the cat ladies. Canadian director Christie Callan-Jones could have offered a snarky portrait of the crazies who take in homeless felines in the film CAT LADIES, but instead she shows her quirky subjects as individuals with big hearts who always have room for one more. Not everyone is prepared to have an army of cats take over their lives, but these ladies are more grounded and sensible than their stereotypes would immediately suggest. Hey, everyone has got their thing.....

Cat ladies are downright comfy compared with mummies. In THE SOUND OF INSECTS--RECORD OF A MUMMY, Swiss director Peter Liechti clearly has a mummy fetish, or at least the hunter at the center of this unusual story does. Adapated from a celebrated Japanese novella about a man who comes across a mummified corpse in the forest, where a diary near the body reveealts that the namelless man committed suicide by self-starvation and left a a 62-day record of his ordeal by his deathbed. Is this weird enough for you? Actually, the director brings a deeply poetic technique and lyrical affirmation of life to this unusual chronicle.

Not many people, living or dead, can say that their claim to fame was being captured saying fuck on camera. Well, that is the case for Jack Rebney, who was the spokesman for Winnebago, that quintessentially American mobile home vehicle that was immensely popular before the price of gas went into the stratosphere. In WINNEBAGO MAN, director Ben Steinbauer tells the strange tale of this television huckster, whose video outakes contained a torrent of colorful expletives that became an underground bootleg video sensation in the 1980s and has since gone  viral on the internet. The trash-talking pitchman has developed a cult following, even though he himself has effectively dropped out of mainstream society and lives a hermit's life on a California mountainto. In a rare kind of social alchemy, director Steinbauer connects the cantankerous Rebney with some of his geeky fans and the sparks really do fly. It's a living, I guess......

And finally we get to facial hair. In the short film SPLITTING HAIRS, director F. Stone Roberts profiles Bruce Roe and Phil Olsen, two grotesquely hirsute individuals as they prep for the World Beard and Moustache Championships in Germany. Sporting moustaches that could cause physical injury to passersby, the two "bearded stallions" compete for top chops at the event. The rivalry is intense and so is the follical extensions in this freakish and unintentionally hilarious circus. Scissors, please.

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About Silverdocs Documentary FF

Sandy Mandelberger
(International Media Resources)

Online Dailies Coverage of SILVERDOCS: AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival, taking place at the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring, Maryland from June 21 to 27, 2010.

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