Here's a look at some of the film showing on Thursday, Oct. 16 at Dallas VideoFest:
Mimi and Dona
7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 16, Angelika Film Center Dallas
Few things in this country are as mysterious and volatile as the treatment of the mentally challenged. From the sometimes terrible treatment of the more distant past, to the establishment of hospitals, to President Reagan closing many of those hospitals, the treatment of people born with intellectual disabilities has always been difficult. In Sophie Sartain’s documentary Mimi and Dona, the lives of the disabled and their caretakers is told through an intellectually disabled daughter and her loving mother.
Dona is 64 years old, but is as developed as a child. Her mother, 92-year-old Mimi, takes care of Dona. Mimi is quickly getting to a place where she can’t take care of Dona anymore. She walks, with the help of a cane, permanently hunched over to an extreme degree, looking at the floor as she walks. Despite that, she’s surprisingly spry and able for a person of such advanced age. For that matter, Dona is highly functional, with one big exception.
The rest of the family theorizes that Dona might have been able to be a lot more self-sufficient at some point had Mimi only let her, because Mimi does almost everything for and with Dona. Their love for each other is easily the best thing about the film. It’s enviable. However, that love may have actually hindered Dona over the years, according to the family.
Finally, the family makes a decision to move Dona to the Denton State School, a facility for taking care of the mentally challenged. It’s heartbreaking, and draws a stark contrast in the debate about how best to care for those with challenges. On the one hand, there is the argument that Mimi cared for Dona too much, and on the other, it’s the sadness associated with leaving a family member to be cared for by someone else in a facility.
Mimi’s devotion to, and love for, her daughter is enviable. It’s exactly what many might say is the best reaction when faced with a family member that requires higher levels of care. Gone should be the days when we shipped our “crazy” people off to dark hospitals to be mostly forgotten! Right? Well, not so fast in Sartain’s documentary.
She doesn’t provide the answer, which is probably for the best. Each solution has pluses and minuses. Either way, it’s a conversation that needs to happen. How we approach the subject of mental health in this country is still not right. It’s still taboo. Mental healthcare is not standard in insurance. There aren’t enough or adequate treatment facilities, which could be a force for good. The attitude needs to change. And no one embodies that better than Mimi and Dona.
They’re a delightful duo, and their love is incredibly strong and heart-warming. Sartain, the granddaughter of Mimi and niece of Dona, captures that relationship perfectly while also starting an important conversation our society needs to have. This is definitely a can’t-miss film.
Wide World Shorts
7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 16, Angelika Film Center Dallas
The World Wide Shorts program at the Dallas VideoFest brings together some fun, interesting, beautiful, and strange films from around the world.
The city of Paris features heavily with the films A Texan in Paris, Mikado and Four Frames, but the rest of the world gets its due as well.
Erik Clapp’s A Texan in Paris is a simple film made up of time lapse footage taken on Canon 5D Mark III and a GoPro on a recent trip to Paris. Set to music, the short montage flows well and shows some truly beautiful scenes that prove Paris truly is the City of Light.
Nicholas Peduzzi brings a visually engrossing and weird take on two brothers taking divergent paths in life in Mikado. The photography and intentionally jumpy continuity adds a stylistic flare to what might otherwise seem like a simple story. What happens isn’t exactly clear, but it’s safe to assume that good things don’t happen in Pigalle, the red light district of Paris. Of course, Pigalle is also the name of a clothing brand, and this film is essentially an advertisement for their new line. Kudos for efforts at style, and yarn ties, that hold up to artistic critique, but there is something that feels a bit inauthentic knowing it’s essentially just a commercial.
Rounding out the Paris-themed trifecta is James Honeycutt’s sweetly romantic take on Waiting for Godot, Four Frames. Anne (Margaux Cipriani) and Jacques (Romain Barreau) have a weird relationship. They’re constantly leaving each other. It’s more Anne than Jacques, but what’s weird is that they always immediately return. There’s a connection that they can’t deny, but daily frustrations often get the best of them. All this is handled with a sense of absurdism. The nod to Beckett is undeniable, except that this film is just oodles of sweet and bubbly. It’s a fun, beautifully shot and creatively scripted short.
Rounding out the short program is Everyday is a Small Life, Project Karavan, Hana, PEQUENO bloque de cement con pelo alborotado conteniendo el mar, The Wrinkled Minute, Buenos Aires, La Hija (The Daughter, which is just another world of strangeness), and KI_RYU.
Above and Beyond
9:15 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 16, Angelika Film Center Dallas
In 1948, when the new nation of Israel was created, nothing was guaranteed. Israel was surrounded by countries that saw a chance to easily pick off the weak, young nation. Once the British left Palestine, the game was on. But, nearly 70 years later, Israel still exists. Why and how is what Roberta Grossman’s documentary Above and Beyond answers.
The new nation of Israel had little in the way of military in 1948. They were effectively defenseless, and other countries such as Jordan, Egypt and Iraq were licking their chops at a potential land grab. It seemed, once again, the Jewish people would be driven from Israel.
But, then something special happened. A group of mostly American, Jewish fighter pilots, in conjunction with some American businessmen, were able to scrap together a small, makeshift air force.
Of course, calling it an air force is being generous. It was piecemeal. It was essentially voluntary. And it was small. In no way did it actually make any real world difference in the coming fight. Any of the countries coming for them still could have easily overtaken Israel.
However, through a combination of sly maneuvers and straight up chutzpah, the Jewish squadron, the 101st, gives the Goliaths to their David, a little bit of slingshot power.
The production value on the film, produced by Nancy Spielberg and written by Sophie Sartain, whose wonderful documentary Mimi and Dona is showing the same day, is high. There are lots of realistic simulation scenes, and interviews with friends, family members, and some of the pilots themselves. It is a well-executed documentary about a well-executed war.
9:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 16, Angelika Film Center Dallas
One of the surprises of the VideoFest has to be Ben Knight’s documentary DamNation. The title is a pun, which is always a precarious proposition. The pun alluding to the fact that this is a documentary about dams. What could possibly be interesting about a documentary about dams? Furthermore, why isn’t it a one-hour special on the Discovery Channel narrated by Mike Rowe?
But, this ain’t your cable TV dam movie. This is revolution.
As it turns out, America is home over 75,000 dams. That’s pretty impressive. However, there’s a problem. Damming a river can have a catastrophic effect on local ecosystems. But, before we start drawing political lines between pro-business conservatives and granola crunching hippy liberals, there’s an important fact to point out.
Many of these dams are obsolete. Beyond obsolete. At one point in the film, when discussing a particular dam, the expert being interviewed drops the knowledge bomb that the dam’s hydroelectricity production could be fully replaced with just three windmills.
This becomes a theme of the film. It’s not just that dams can be bad for ecosystems, as the film focuses heavily on the Snake River in the Pacific Northwest and its salmon runs, but it’s technically bad for business. These old dams simply can’t keep up with newer, more efficient ways of creating energy.
But, there’s a problem, which Knight does an excellent job of covering. People work at these hydroelectric plants. The movement advocated by Knight, his crew, and several of the film’s central figures is that these old dams need to be torn down. However, doing so displaces a lot of workers, many of them at the late middle age where it’d likely be tough to find another job before reaching the increasingly mythical retirement age.
Knight gives these people their opportunity to tell their side of the story. It doesn’t change the position the film takes, but at least the dissenting voices are heard, throughout.
The overriding message is, though, that most of these dams need to be torn down. Which, it turns out, is starting to happen more and more.
Produced by outdoors equipment giant Patagonia, there’s a high production value to the film. The photography is beautiful and effective in engendering support. Seeing the transition from a dammed river to a free-flowing river is breathtaking, which also speaks to the pacing and structure of the film. It’s executed perfectly and sets this film up as a must-see for the festival.
» Read our story on Bart Weiss and this year's VideoFest here.
» To see the Dallas VideoFest schedule and info on dates, venues and pricing, go here.