SIFF 2013: Week Two, Part One

Sunday, May 26

I started Week Two with some Harold Lloyd action: a 4K digital restoration of Safety Last!, preceded by an unrestored Harold Lloyd short.  While I enjoyed the feature-length film (and it looks gorgeous, with just a few frames missing here and there), I prefer Chaplin and Keaton, even if this film does feature the famous hanging-from-the-clock scene, and some other charming gags.

Still, hearing kids laughing in the audience and talking about the film excitedly afterwards warmed my heart.  I also got a “thank you” for moving my seat so that I wouldn’t be sitting in front of any kids and blocking their view.

The next movie I almost didn’t get into, as it was on standby and my badge only guarantees me a seat if there’s room.  But then, a half hour before the film began, my friend and fellow blogger Marianne called me to say that she had an extra ticket.  I hurriedly checked the bus schedule and ran to the bus stop, then ran off the bus into the theater, getting there at the stroke of four, which is when the movie started.  Luckily, they were still seating, and I was able to find a seat in the balcony.

The film was the world premiere of Her Aim is True, a documentary about legendary rock photographer Jini Dellaccio.  Never heard of her?  Maybe it’s because she worked out of Seattle, not San Francisco.  Still, her album covers for groups such as The Wailers and the Sonics, often taken outside and in a variety of poses, infused the photos with the essence of the bands much more than the lineup photos taken in studios did.  Plus, she was active in the decade before Annie Lebovitz revolutionized rock photography at Rolling Stone.  The movie itself is enjoyable and is great in capturing Jini’s essence and life story, in addition to showing off many of the photos that made her famous.  Now 96, she is still taking photos.  In fact, once the movie ended, I almost ran into the band members featured in the latter part of the film (the Moondoggies) when I went downstairs to get a better seat for photo taking.

A musician herself (she played saxophone in an all-girls jazz band), Jini started taking photos when her husband Carl became worried about her returning home late for gigs.  One of Carl’s friends helped her pick out her first camera: a Leica M3 (she now uses a Hasselblad).  The store manager gave her the greatest advice I’ve ever heard given to a photographer: in order to learn how to use the camera, he gave her the instruction manual and then told her to sit in front of her house with the camera everyday, waiting until a great shot came along.  Once she had used the camera enough that it felt like it was an extension of her arm, then it was time to load it with film.

Jini Dellaccio was in the back of the auditorium herself and received flowers from Karen Whitehead (the director) before the Q & A officially began.  Since I was only halfway to the stage, I got some decent photos of her:

26. Legendary rock photographer Jini Dellaccio at the world premiere of Her Aim is True27. Jini stands and acknowledges the crowd

Beth Barrett, director of programming, conducted the Q & A with Whitehead and editor Kelli Boyd.  Whitehead decided on the subject when, in 2009, there was a collection of Jini’s work being exhibited.  Also, a viral video of rockers thanking Jini caught the director’s eye. They had much help from John Jeffcoat at the EMP, who said he would help out with the cinematography for one day and ended up doing the whole film.

Perhaps the most significant part of the Q & A was in seeing three women onstage talking about a film whose subject is another woman.  In fact, one of the questions asked was whether having a female director and editor made a difference.  For Boyd, she kept Whitehead focused on Jini, often asking, “What about Jini?” when Whitehead would focus too much on the era in which the documentary takes place.  In addition, Whitehead said that, as a woman, she was more sensitive to having a balance between men and women in the documentary.

I have now seen two films about photographers: Bill Cunningham New York and Her Aim is True.  While Bill Cunningham is the better film (and one of the best I saw that year), both films are worth seeing.  And in case you think that a documentary about a woman in her 40s taking pictures of rock bands is not interesting, the editor did a private screening with young interns, who not only were enthralled with the film, but also wanted to know why they didn’t know about Jini Dellaccio before.  After seeing this film, you will, too.

(One final note: I met up with Marianne after the Q & A in order to thank her for the ticket.  She told me that she had met Jini, and Jini was just as interested in her photos as Marianne was of Jini’s.  So, if you are reading this, Jini Dellaccio, you made my friend’s day.)

I closed the night with Animation 4 Adults, which is a selection of shorts (10 this time) geared for older audiences.  Only two of the films were great, another one was pretty good (and ended up winning the Grand Jury Prize for Best Short), and the rest were average at best.  The two great films (which both won Special Jury Prizes) were “Malaria” and “The Hunter.”  “Malaria” tells its story through inventive interactivity between paper pictures and the hands of the creator.  For example, when a gun is lowered by one of the characters, this is visualized by one of the hands picking up a picture of a gun, which starts to shaken, and then is lowered barrel-end down.  “The Hunter” is ingenious in a different way, as the whole story (which is actually a story — the one thing that combined my three favorite shorts of the night) is told via charcoal drawings, and narrated by the main character.

After all 10 shorts played, the director of “Machinehead,” Micah Gallagher, did a Q & A with Programmer Stan Shields.

“Machinehead” is done with stop-motion animation, something that Gallagher had to learn how to do over the course of the 2 years it took to make the short.  The film reflects a period in his life where he felt like he was in a box.  In the film, the red ball that Machinehead finds represents a spiritual entity that is trying to communicate with him.  Gallagher’s favorite scene, however, is when the bugs go in the hole in the bed.  His influences for the film include the Quay Brothers and Tool.  His next film will be live action with lots of stop-motion in it.

Monday, May 27

No press screenings today, since it was Memorial Day, but I still worked in the morning (though with a later start time and a slightly earlier end time).  After work, I had a chance to peek in and see part of Kampala, a restored Indian film from 1948.  From the little I saw, it has great dance scenes mixed in with horrible overacting and a silly plot.  Then again, I hear that’s normal for Bollywood films.

My bus to the Harvard Exit was late, and there was already a standby line for The Human Scale, a film about how to make our cities places of human interaction, instead of human isolation–based on the architectural ideas of Danish architect Jan Gehl.  And it was raining.  Luckily, I waited with someone who knew me, and so she was able to hunt down the venue coordinator before the film began to see if any seats were left.  There were, but they were in the front row.  I’m amazed I didn’t suffer neck pain once the movie was over.  Maybe if it had been longer than 83 minutes, I would have.  Unfortunately, the movie is one of those documentaries that is centered around an idea that might fill up an excellent short, or a magazine article, but can’t really sustain the run of a whole movie.  The irony is that it could have, had its makers invested the film with more of a human interest than an architectural one.  I felt as little connected to the talking heads in this film as Gehl claims modern cities perpetuate among its citizens.

Tuesday, May 28

Press screenings returned today, with Teddy Bears, Mutual Friends, and SOMM.  I didn’t see any of them, but I had a choice that night: get to Pacific Place early and get into the recently on-standby Blackfish, or watch Thérèse and The Last Sentence at the Egyptian.  I went with Blackfish and was surprised at how short the passholder line was.  Then I was surprised at how short the ticket line was.  Apparently, this was one that people came in late to, but while it was pretty packed, I don’t think all the seats were taken.

Blackfish is about Tilikum, a male orca whale who killed three people, including Dawn Brancheau, an experienced SeaWorld trainer.  The movie starts with that death and then goes back to where Tilikum and other orcas were rounded up for theme parks. Tilikum originally was kept at Sealand of the Pacific near Vancouver, where he was bullied by the female orcas and shared a small enclosure with them at night.  He killed a trainer there before being relocated to SeaWorld in Orlando.  The film keeps its focus on Tilikum, while also casting the net wider in detailing other attacks on trainers and the difference between orcas that live in the wild (where no attacks on humans have ever been recorded) and in captivity.  By the end of the film, one feels bad for the orcas and angry at any institution that seeks to entertain crowds via captured animals.

A Q & A followed the film, with not just the director, but also with several of the subjects present.  They were: Jeff Ventra, Samantha Berg, Carol Ray, and Howard Garrett.  Garrett is the director of the ORCA Network, while Ventra, Berg, and Ray are ex-SeaWorld trainers.

(l-r) Jeff Ventra, director Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Howard Garrett, Carol Ray, and Samantha Berg

Cowperthwaite said that while current trainers at SeaWorld can’t openly embrace Blackfish, many of them are rooting for it behind-the-scenes.  In fact, the trainers are just as much victims as the orcas are.  Berg added that SeaWorld is “like a cult”: you want to be there, but the more you see, the less you can say.   To give proof to that statement, Cowperthwaite wasn’t able to contact many of the trainers who were attacked by orcas, as if some settlement prevented them from talking.  Much of the footage of the attacks, in fact, were only recovered under a Freedom of Information Act filing, though Cowperthwaite did not include a video of Brancheau’s death, and wouldn’t even if one existed, as it would contain no educational value.  Also, the cast recommended the audience check out Voice of the Orcas to hear other stories from ex-trainers.

Someone asked if the captured orcas could be released back into the wild.  Unfortunately, Garrett said it’s not that easy, as they would have to be gradually rehabilitated before they can be released.

Because of Brancheau’s death and the subsequent suit brought against SeaWorld by OSHA, SeaWorld must place a barrier between its trainers and the whales, but right now the company is arguing what constitutes a barrier.  They are trying to argue that being onstage or on a slideout count as barriers, even though Tilikum attacked Brancheau on a slideout.  SeaWorld’s lawyers are also “very much aware” of the film, as they showed up at Sundance.  Not that there’s much they can do.  Magnolia Pictures will be releasing it nationwide in theaters and on cable in July, and both Ventra and Berg are on Twitter.

After the Q & A, I got better pictures of the guests in the lobby.

Wednesday, May 29

Wednesday brought a surprise.  My boss said earlier this week that she’d be okay if we came in a little later than usual, since the box office hasn’t been busy in the morning, so I chose the always dangerous route of picking a different bus to come in on, before realizing that it was the same bus that a student told me sometimes doesn’t come.  So it was in this case, except that it had a good reason: a truck flipped over on I-5 near the Convention Center and shut down all traffic north of that location.    Therefore, instead of arriving 15-30 minutes later, I arrived an hour late.  Needless to say, passholders were pissed when we still held to our “no-late-seating” policy and locked the doors promptly at 10 am for The Trials of Muhammed Ali.  That was followed by Yesterday Never Ends (which is how it felt for some people) and then Full Circle.

That night, I was off to the Harvard Exit to see Two Weddings and a Funeral from South Korea, the first feature film by director Kimjho Gwan-soo (by himself: IMDB lists him as a co-director on another film).  Surprisingly, Kimjho Gwan-soo is gay.  I say surprisingly because while I applaud Two Weddings and a Funeral for centering its story on gay men and women (a rare thing in Korea), it does so with mostly stereotypical character types.  Only the main characters are given any depth, and even they aren’t given that much.  Still, my main problem with the film concerns the death that leads to the funeral.  It follows such a clichéd and predictable plotline that my suspension of disbelief became disbelief and threatened to permanently detach me from the rest of the film.  Only with reluctance was I able to re-enter the world, and by then, any sort of surface enjoyment I had received from the film was gone.  Up until that point, it’s a harmless, bubbly, formulaic film that will hopefully lead the way to more complex, human portrayals of homosexuals in South Korean cinema.

Next up: the conclusion to Week Two!