We tackled the Calgary International Film Festival with a vengeance yesterday, taking in three films in six hours. Our bums are not in the least bit numb and there is still some popcorn left, proving that we are indeed vikings amongst film viewers.
Almost eclipsing the screen drama was the real-life drama that occurred as we were preparing to enter the theatre for the final film. We were on the second storey of the mall housing the theatre when the Resident Film Student inadvertently dropped her ticket over the edge of a railing. While she shrieked and went racing down the stairs to retrieve it, I looked over the railing to see if I could spot it and shoo people away from it, if need be. I couldn't see if anywhere on the floor below, so I looked a little higher and spotted it perched on a beam above a store that was closed for the evening. The beam was about two inches wide and the ticket was draped perfectly perpendicularly upon it, not going anywhere, not even slightly within reach.
The nice film festival people still let the RFS in, but only after they all came out to gaze at this feat of engineering and listen to the story of how we pulled that one off.
Some films were rather more impressive than others:
Film # 1: The 27 Club - a tragic tortured artist travels across America to his hometown following the overdose death of his bandmate. The Kurt Cobain-alike tragic tortured artist spends the film alternating between looking tragically haggard and being tragically angry at his friend for leaving him. Sample monologue, shouted at the corpse and later at the night sky - "we had a deal!".
Don't waste your time on this film. It uses every conceivable cliche ever used in film, including the uber-annoying "listen to this song, it will change your life" scene and far too many tragic childhood flashbacks. The best thing about The 27 Club was the sweet and naive Mormon lad whom the tragic tortured artist hires to drive him across America, presumably so that he can sit in the backseat and tragically take drugs.
I agree with the Resident Film Student that this film could actually be very good if told from the point of view of the naive Mormon kid, and if it had better writers.
Film #2: Full Battle Rattle - documentary about the simulated Iraqi village built in the Mojave desert as a training exercise for US troops about to be deployed to Iraq. The village is populated with Iraqi-American civilians who play the roles of long-running characters in the village, complete with elaborate backstories. Scenarios are written to test the troops' abilities to deal with challenging situations that they are liable to run into while in theatre. Some American soldiers play insurgents who launch random attacks on both the Iraqi villagers and the American forces.
This is an excellent film. Not only does it portray the playing out of a fascinating social experiment of sorts, but it allows the personalities of the players, in all their complexity, to shine. The American soldiers are surprisingly forthcoming in their motivations for choosing military life and in their sometimes ambivalent approach toward the Iraqi people with whom they will soon be interacting. The real-life histories of the Iraqi-American actors who portray Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish villagers are told with sensitivity and compassion, and quite often mirror the elaborate back stories of the characters they portray.
Full Battle Rattle is surprisingly non-partisan in its portrayal of the American presence in Iraq. Instead it is non-judgmental of its representation of all sides, by weaving together the realities of the diverse factions of humanity in Iraq. This is an intriguing and forthright look at the intricacies of a complex environment, pretending to be another complex environment.
FIlm #3: The End - documentary about a close-knit group of Cockney gangsters. Through a series of interviews with her father and his friends, the film-maker explores the post-war environment of East End London that fostered this alarmingly unapologetic, yet surprisingly sympathetic, group of violent criminals.
Filmed in grainy and overshot black and white, this is a gritty and honest overview of the brutality by which these men lived their lives and by which they followed their own particular code of honour.
One stinker out of the four films we have seen so far is not at all bad, as far as I am concerned. Final film tomorrow. At the theatre with the best popcorn in the city.