Sunday, October 29, 2006

Report from Hot Springs Doc Festival

On Friday, I spent the day at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, one of the world's premiere showcases for documentary films. The festival runs for 10 days, and I only spent one, but I still saw a number of good films as well as one of the best docs I have ever seen.

The first film I saw was a short doc called The ACLU Freedom Files: Dissent. The film showcased a number of shocking betrayals of the right to free speech. In particular, the film highlights instances of protesters at Bush/Cheney events being arrested for not protesting in the proper "zone" or even protesting at all. It's disappointing these things are happening more frequently and not getting wide press coverage. Unfortunately, the film looked terrible, suffering from some technical issues.

The 2nd film, 1o Questions for the Dalai Lama, traces filmmaker Rick Ray's journey through India to come up with 10 questions to ask the Dalia Lama during a one hour interview. The film is a little long, but very effective in telling the 20th century history of Tibet and the Dalai Lama. His questions are varied, though not especially philosophical. The Dalai Lama's answers tend to be broad and at times almost cliche, yet he seems to realize this and often laughs at his own answers. Any fan of Buddhism, Tibet, or the Dalai Lama should check this out.

The next film, Kind, True, and Necessary was an overly long look at a Quaker couple living in Oregon. The entire film is VO of the couple discussing their life (interesting at times) over shots of them doing their thing at home over a couple of days period.

The fourth film I watched, So Goes the Nation, is highly polished film that examines the 2004 presidential election through the lens of Ohio. The film features a wide range of interviews with grass roots workers, top level campaign officials from each side, and political commentators such Paul Begala discussing the election. The film is sympathetic to the Democrats in my view, but it does a nice job rationally and objectively examining the strategy that the Republicans used to propel Bush over John Kerry.

The fifth documentary was one of the best documentaries I have ever seen. Titled Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore, the film traces political newcomer Jeff Smith's campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives in St. Louis. Smith ran against political insider Russ Carnahan, whose father Mel was a Missouri governor, and mother Jean was a US Senator (Taking Mel Carnahan's seat when he died before taking office). He also ran against 8 other candidates in the Democratic primary. All were after Dick Gephardt's vacant seat. Jeff gathers a staff of mostly political novices with one or two more experienced staffers. Mostly he runs on pure energy, excitement, straight talk, and intelligence. In the end Smith lost to Carnahan by about 1500 votes, which was truly extraordinary. Despite Smith's loss, he reinvigorates your faith in the ideals of Democracy and the belief that if you want to make a difference you can run for office. When the movie ended, the audience gave an ovation that lasted nearly as long as the credits. When the lights came up, Jeff Smith was introduced, along with director, Frank Popper, and he received a standing ovation nearly as long as the movie got. If you get the chance to see this film, do it. It's inspiring and extraordinary.

The last film of the night was American Stag, directed by my friend Ben Meade, a filmmaker and professor at Avila College in Overland Park, Kansas. Ben's film takes both a serious and humorous look at American stag films from the 20s to the 60s. It features interviews with minor celebrities like Adam Corolla and Tommy Chong, as well as film historians. The film is well constructed, but of course, the highlight is the stag films themselves, and perhaps a dozen or more are featured and we see a good chunk of many of them. Some are sad, some funny, some disturbing. But you get sucked in, and of course, with any movie of this sort, you end up in the same position as the men who used to gather at parties and lodges to watch these films. Of course, if you know Ben, you know he likes to manipulate and play with his audience, and though American Stag may be the most straightforward of all his films, he continues to play with viewers in this film as well. It's funny and entertaining and very well made. Look for it and check it out.


At 12:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too loved Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore. I must admit that at times the overexposure bothered me, but when you have a good story its easy to look passed that. I actually got to talk to Jeff Smith as I was running out of the theater to the restroom. He seemed like such a genuine guy. It would be nice to see this kind of a candidate in 2008. Matter of fact, Jeff Smith made mention that they were going to show the film at the Clinton library sometime in the upcoming months. I definitely think UCA should advertise for the screening...I would happily run the committee for it.

As for Ben Meade, he is definitely one of the most interesting people that I have ever had the privilege of meeting. I think I like him because of his background (the part about his dad being a Baptist minister) and that he likes to push peoples buttons. I'll be honest, I was a little shy about watching his film with my professors sitting close by. I'm sure that comes from my conservative, southern upbringing.

At 8:23 AM, Blogger bdhutch said...

We'll definitely keep an eye out for a screening of Mr. Smith in Little Rock--I'd certainly go again, and we'll definitely push it to everyone here!

Ben is a great guy. He does love to push people's buttons, but he's also a really nice guy who does everything he can to help; his friends.

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