This weekend was the 10th annual Wisconsin Film Festival and I’m so proud to relay that I managed to see five films! Hooray! All were documentaries, and all were good. On Friday night, Stephanie and I went to see Operation Filmmaker, which was a movie that played at Sundance in January and I wasn’t able to see. It’s the story of this young Iraqi “filmmaker,” Muthana, who gets some air time on MTV, which Liev Schreiber sees and is affected by. Consequently, Liev arranges for Muthana to come to Prague where Liev is making a movie (Everything is Illuminated). Muthana is an intern on the movie, which, of course, entails things like mixing nuts and editing the gag reel. Muthana deems most of these tasks beneath him. It’s not clear why he feels this way exactly: was he misled, is he completely full of himself, does he hate nuts? Anyway, this is really just the beginning as Muthana manipulates those around him for the rest of the film in efforts to get into film school and to score visas. It’s an interesting story because the documentary filmmaker filming Muthana’s story gets taken by him, as well. It’s also interesting because it’s unclear what Muthana’s deal really is — is he just so desperate to leave Iraq that he’ll do and say anything? Is he simply a lazy ass who believes himself entitled to all sorts of things without having to work for anything? Does he really even have any interest in film? When Muthana finds himself in London, in school, but unable to pay his rent, it really hits the viewer that this is a guy who has barely worked and who now, even when he can’t pay his rent, refuses to look for work, preferring, instead, to ask everyone he knows for money to support him. What’s the deal with that?
On Saturday, which was such a LOVELY day, I biked over to the Union to see two approximately hour-long documentaries. The first was Being Innu, a depressing and dark tale about the Innu people. The Innu are an indigenous group of people who live in Labrador, Canada. They are former nomads who now live a bleak life. Their community is marked by at least one attempted suicide a month. Their young folk stand around all day sniffing gas. Unemployment and alcoholism are the norm. I found simply nothing hopeful about this film. The second movie was Testing Hope, which chronicles a group of 12th graders living near Cape Town who are the first senior class to have started first grade in the post-apartheid era. In South Africa, seniors take a test called Matric, which sounds like an uber-intense exam on which your entire future rides. If you don’t pass it, you can forget about going to college or getting a decent job. So, the movie builds in anticipation for the test, but it’s filled with cute and funny scenes and the kids are just incredible. Some of them live in conditions that I can’t fathom, but they get dressed in their neat uniforms and head off to school and study harder than I remember studying in college, much less high school. My fave kids were the girl who wanted to be a lawyer and the boy who wanted to be a civil engineer. They were all smiles. So, the test comes and they all talk about how damn hard it was (also, the movie briefly showed what conditions were like in wealthy schools — AMAZING!) and how they didn’t think they did well and it got scary for a bit. But then, the results came in and all the stars of the movie passed! (Though, interestingly, the film stated that some 30% of seniors passed the test, whereas the year before it was some 60% — what? why? No explanation is given. But maybe there is no good explanation). But then it gets bad. The very end of the film discloses that while our favorites passed, none of them did well enough to go on to school. In fact, the lawyer-to-be ends up pregnant at 19. Ugh.
Next up, Song Sung Blue at the Bartell. This movie was a roller coaster! The beginning is all love and Neil Diamond and awesomeness. The end is a monster of a tearjerker. The movie follows Thunder and Lightning, a Neil Diamond impersonating “band” made up of a Milwaukee married couple. They have their ups and downs — downs being when Thunder gets pinned under a car in her own front lawn and ups being when Eddie Vedder invites them onstage at Summerfest and they sing Forever in Blue Jeans to 30,000 peeps. [This scene is so great for many reasons, not least of which is the unique opportunity to see a young Vedder sitting on a stool with his leg crossed reading the lyrics to Forever in Blue Jeans with serious panache. So great!] The movie is a real downer at times, as we watch these folks struggle with money and debt and a litany of health problems. But Jesus, they really were in love. My God. And they could perform!
Last up was yesterday’s screening of Twisted: A Balloonamentary, which was excellent! The filmmakers chose a few balloon twisters to follow around and to tell us about their lives — they chose a young girl who uses balloon twisting to get herself out of the trailer park, through college and, we hope, onto medical school; a middle-aged Af-Am man from Atlanta who loves to entertain kids and who is one of the few Af-Ams on the national circuit; a self-described balloonangelical, who makes half creepy half cool crucifixion scenes out of balloons; and a bunch of other super interesting folks who seriously can’t get enough of this balloon twisting. The folks’ stories were well-told, but really the balloons stole the show. Google “balloon octopus” and you’ll see what I mean. After the movie, the filmmakers brought out pre-blown balloons to teach us all how to make a balloon dog. It is stated throughout the film that if you can make a balloon dog, you can do anything. I’m grateful, though, that one of the filmmakers said that the converse is not true — if you can’t make a balloon dog, you may still be able to do some things — because I tried and tried and popped two balloons before a nice gentleman gave me his cute balloon dog and I decided to try again on another day.
So, despite the fact that on my bike ride home, my balloon dog flew out of my bike basket and was almost immediately crushed by a car, it was a great weekend.