Right off the bat, I can tell you my sixteen-film lineup has been shortened to fifteen, having encountered my first sold out screening of the festival due to the limited space at the Rag-Tag Theater. However, the rest of today’s planned films went off without a hitch, I’m glad to say.
I kicked my second day of the festival off with The Commons, directed by Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky, and shot during protests over the “Silent Sam” confederate statue at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Screening alongside The Commons was “The Changing Same,” by Michèle Stephenson and Joe Brewster. Unexpectedly, the short film had much more substance than the feature, something I’m disappointed to report. In twenty minutes, the story of poet Lamar Wilson’s long-distance run/performance art managed to outdo the main film in regards to its handling of racial dialog. Wilson’s trek takes place along the thirteen mile stretch deep in the Florida panhandle where a horrific 1934 lynching occurred, and the documentation of his artistic statement included several facets, from historical fear to white allyship. It became all too clear as The Commons repeated itself that the directors allowed the intoxicating chaos of mass protest to cloud any truth they had meant to uncover, and all too often the explosive anger and vitriol found the spotlight instead of illuminating moments within conversations. Too many “southern heritage” comments from the monument’s supporters followed by incest-themed insults failed to sufficiently differiate any dialogue from the storm of internet hate.
At the midpoint of my day, I caught one of the longest and most anticipated films of the festival, Carlos Reygadas’s Our Time (Nuestro Tiempo). Reygadas’s film looms closer to fiction than probably anything else this year. He and his wife, Natalia López, play the fictional Juan and Ester on the ranch where they really live. Our Time might be described as a decadently shot home movie, albeit totally staged. I can confidently say the other films will have a hard time topping this one for me. Our Time left my jaw on the floor more than once, and due not to the extremity of the content, but to the volatility and, often times, the blunt delivery of it. The rift in Juan and Ester’s open relationship manifests from fears of self-loss and ownership which can affect any bond, monogamous or polyamorous, and the numerous dialogs contained within this psychodrama teem with honesty and painful realities about love and companionship. And astoundingly, the film fixes this couple’s turbulent marriage as the anchor point of a far vaster meditation on nature, and the opposing forces of the universe that both drive us apart and bring us together, keeping humanity (and the sexes) in constant flux. It feels like a disservice to write so generally about a film as complex and expansive as this, but to really unpack everything would require its own article, or articles.
Following Our Time, I caught one of the shorts collections, Shorts: Tequila 62 (all of them have drink themed titles). The Tequila 62 series contains shorts that utilized archival elements to comment on social class. “Lasting Marks” examines the arrest of several members of a homosexual BDSM group in 1980s Britain, and the prejudiced codification within the legal system that resulted from the ensuing trial. “Black 14” examines the media’s coverage of black student protests in 1969, and I would probably consider it my favorite. The protests, specifically, were of black football players at the University of Wyoming who wore black armbands to protest the racism of opposing players from Brigham Young University. This demonstration eventually ousted them from the team, and the obvious repetition of such events today with players like Colin Kaepernick makes the coverage of 1969’s events especially prescient. “Every Dog Has Its Day” combines a number of themes and images ranging from religion to consumerism in the form of collage and essayistic filmmaking, yielding a perplexing but fascinating piece of video art. Lastly, “The Men Behind The Wall” follows the Israeli director Inés Moldavsky’s interactions with Palestinian men she meets on Tinder and OKCupid, and the humourous results of these dates provide sometimes insightful, sometimes troubling observations on topics such as sex, national borders, and cultural policing.
After dinner, I headed to the Blue Note to catch one last film—Knock Down the House, which follows the campaigns of four female congressional candidates, only one of whom would win a house seat. Nevada’s Amy Viela, West Virginia’s Paula Dean Swearingen, New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and St. Louis’s Cori Bush all make significant appearances, but Ocasio-Cortez is the obvious star. Just as she has on the national stage, she dominates the story via thorough familiarity with the issues and unbelievable charisma. Due to both the wide appeal of the subjects and the Netflix distribution, I expect Knock Down the House will be a major documentary of 2019.
I’ve gone from three films in a night to four, and tomorrow I have six films of interest lined up. I’ll need a lot of heart (and a lot of coffee) to get through them all. God speed to me! | Nic Champion