The theme of True/False this year was “foresight.” Indeed, many of the films looked into the future, speculating on how the incubating movements and sentiments of our time might impact what lies ahead. Others were more personally prophetic, exploring the transcendental and spiritual conclusions all human beings must come to. Some had big visions for the future and sent viewers off with some lofty ideas to chew on. Others, the ones I think I favored the most, had small but enormously prescient takes on how today’s zeitgeist might bleed into the next.
One of these smaller but prescient films, Catskin, should perhaps be renamed Dog Whistle. Teenage Ludwig and his father, Gunter, live with Ludwig’s Grandmother, a somewhat reclusive and anxious figure who dotes on her many cats. Hanging outside of the house, always in the background and never the photographic subject, itself, is a Confederate flag. Ludwig builds a snowman resembling Hitler, smiling ironically. Gunter prods at the web of a large spider and says, “you may not have seen it, but it’s been there all along.” In a far less figurative manner, Gunter expresses firm opposition to immigration, lamenting that multiculturalism alters the German identity. These are the small ways, both direct and metaphorical, in which potential gateways to Fascism manifest in Catskin like a forgotten, malevolent ghost, all the more terrifying for its subtlety. Director Ina Luchsperger eloquently articulates some of the most ambiguous fears surrounding the touchiest of subjects. At what point does patriotism become nationalism, or cultural pride become cultural supremacy? At what point can it be called out?
While Catskin leaves you to ponder the complexity of recognizing growing fascism, Feels Good Man charts its evolution step by step via the story of internet meme Pepe the Frog. Created by San Francisco cartoonist Matt Furie, Pepe almost instantly became famous both for his silly, crude illustration and easy-to-replicate simplicity, a quality that allowed him to be reposted in any number of variations. Pepe particularly resonated with the users of anonymous image board 4chan, becoming somewhat of a mascot for the frustrated social rejects who primarily populate the site. Being a chaotic, hostile, and transgressive space for all those who despise good taste and civility, 4chan went on to reappropriate Pepe as a conduit for their hatred of the mainstream, political correctness, and left wing ideals. Feels Good Man demystifies the phenomenon of memes better than anything I’ve ever seen. Arthur Jones, who not only directs but contributes animation to the film, intuits the perfect flow of technical and emotional information to present a nuanced and accessible story of the internet and the deeply maligned demographic that gave rise to the alt-right, all while providing a moving and humorous portrait of the gentle, laid-back artist whose creation got away from him.
Crestone helps explain another complex, hard-to-pindown topic, that being the millennial experience. By following a group that distills their generational zeigeist to its purest form, director Marnie Hertzler cleverly covers all facets of the disenfranchised, internet-raised culture that all persons under thirty-five live in to some extent. Growing numbers of young people, today, find socialism more appealing, and have begun to reject the work-life balance normalized by previous generations. While the Crestone group rightfully rejects a capitalistic and work-based society, tensions grow as their circumstances become unsustainable due to an incoherent replacement model. Other philosophical quandaries, such as the malleability of identity and the slipperiness of objective truth, are raised by both the subjects and the filmmaker. These issues carry special resonance for the scrambling and socially conscious millennial generation. Dialogue and narration provide these seeds, but Hertzler’s imagery is just as evocative. One need only look at the ending shot of a nomadic twenty-something riding a self-made motorbike to California as brush fires burn around him to get a sense of the situation. | Nic Champion