Film Notes

Bart Weiss' monthly column returns, and in this one, he previews this weekend's DocuFest at the Angelika Film Center.

published Wednesday, October 2, 2019



Dallas — We live in, shall we say, unique times when questions about what is real and what is fake constantly permeate decision-making. Should I click on that? Can you believe what he said? Can that be true? In these titles, DocuFest presents a fresh oasis of media that ascribes to framing reality in a way to make us better citizens, to create awareness, and make us whole in a time when the news makes us feel empty, angry, less connected to the world and in the end, less human. Come to the Angelika Film Center Dallas, Oct. 3-6, and spend four days with us and you can rediscover joy, brilliance, tragedy and be moved by it all. This fest is more than just a series of movies; it is a way to reconnect with your sanity.

You can see a full schedule of films here.

On Thursday, we start with a preview of Flannery, a new feature film about the great southern writer Flannery O’Connor. This is a great doc by a good friend, Elizabeth Coffman, whose work we have shown before — but this is her best film to date. If you’ve ever read O’Connor’s work, this film tells her fascinating story in a style that works with her style. At the same time, in next screening room we have Now or Never: A Tony Romo Story. We have seen him play, we have seen him talk, now see how he attained success with interviews of family and friends who knew him back in the day. Our late shows on Thursday have A Woman’s Work, by Yu Gu, a documentary about NFL cheerleaders who are fighting for their rights. It follows class action lawsuits and the women who have the courage to stand up to the NFL for their rights. Then we have a classic: When DA Pennebaker passed away, we wanted to show one of his films to honor his memory and what he meant to documentary film. We thought of The War Room (directed by Chris Hegedus) because we have an election coming and we thought about Don’t Look Back, which is the obvious choice. Instead, we went with Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars to remember both Pennebaker and David Bowie.

On Friday night, we start with a new documentary about legendary choreographer Merce Cunningham, just in time for his centenary. It’s hard to imagine modern dance without the influence of Cunningham and his lifelong collaborator and partner John Cage. In Cunningham 3D, the filmmaker assembles dancers from the Merce Cunningham Dance Company to perform the classic works, in a new way. Often 3D can be a trick or a gimmick but here, with an artist working with moving in space, 3D brings it alive.

At the same time (sorry, on Thursday and Friday night you will have to make tough choices) we are proud to show Midnight Traveler, the story of filmmaker Hassan Fazili, who had a bounty on his head from the Taliban and had to leave with his wife and their two daughters. In this film, shot with a mobile device, he documents the everyday moments of family life interspersed with the peril of this dangerous journey. This film helps put voice to the people who are having to leave their countries.

The late-night Friday program is just as special. Varda by Agnes is a film that was on many best-of lists from Toronto. Agnes Varda has had a long and fascinating career as a filmmaker, and she gets to tell her story in this doc. (We have been happy to show her work for years, including the great Beaches of Agnes.) In this film, we see her in many different audiences talking about her work. It is a great way to hear her talk about and view her work. It’s a must-see.

The last program is controversial. (Can you believe we would do that?). It is American Dharma, Errol Morris’ film about Steve Bannon. This played a few festivals last year and Errol got blasted for giving Bannon some oxygen. Indeed, I was not keen on the idea of the film and then I saw it. Bannon does get to put this burn-it-all-down point of view in the film. While Morris does call him out on things, it is not as much as most audiences would like. However, as we get into this next election cycle, it is good to see what made Trump’s campaign successful, at least from one person's point of view. Also, I think it’s better to get into the heads of an opponent than to think you know them. Plus, the film is fascinating. Bannon is very much influenced by films, and he has made films of his own. He talks about 12:00 High, a classic film about the Air Force, heroism and WW2. Morris recreates the main set of 12:00 High and the interview takes place on that set. It brings a strange unsettling context to their discussion, and I think it works.

We begin Saturday at noon with White Right: Meeting the Enemy, in which Emmy Award-winning Muslim filmmaker Deeyah Khan interviews leaders of U.S. Neo-Nazis and white supremacists. She bluntly asks them why they hate her, and the results are surprising and powerful.

After that, perhaps the craziest film in the lot is Mr. Toilet: The World’s No. 2 Man, about Jack Sim, who has dedicated his life to global sanitation in the form of getting toilet seats to underdeveloped countries. This endearing character goes to India and China from his world Toilet Organization to spread the word. This film is memorable, fun and insightful.

We are excited to show Ernie & Joe, a film I have been excited about for a long time. We keep hearing about mental health as it relates to gun violence, but often the way most police interact with people with mental health issues makes things worse. San Antonio’s police department started a unit to approach and deal with these issues different. We get to know officers Ernie and Joe and see how they interact in a way that de-escalates rather than escalating info violence. The Dallas PD has a mental health unit of and we hope to have a representative at the screening.

Then we have our one and only documentary short compilations, including two shorts from Barbra Hammer, who passed away this year; a film about Mr. Zoot Suit; a moving doc called Lily, about a woman who escaped the Nazis in Vienna, was a pioneer of the golden age of comics and is a great storyteller; a film called A Film Crew Censors Itself; and more.

After that we have Renegade Dreamers by Karen Kramer (who will be in attendance), a look at political activism on the streets of NYC now and in the 60’s. It follows poets and folk musicians who follow the likes of Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg, who use their guitars and words to bring about change. There’s some great archival footage.

We end Saturday with An Evening with Chuck Workman. For those who were at last year’s Docufest, you might remember his short film called Moments in Truth, which is a short history of documentary film. If you have seen any montage at the Oscars that was inspiring and blew your mind, it was created by Chuck Workman. He is the master of montage, he finds the soul of what he is looking at, finds the soundtrack to drive it, and lets us feel these genres or filmmakers or film movements. We will be showing four of his montages: the documentary one, one about Bugs Bunny, one about politics in film, and his Oscar-winning Precious Image. That is followed by his film Superstar: The Life and Times of Andy Warhol. This is an evening not to be missed.

On Sunday we start the day with Alternative Facts: The Lies of Executive Order 9066. No, this is not about Trump, but rather about the WWII incarceration of Japanese-Americans in the United States. This is a story I have heard about but only briefly.

Next we have Letter to the Editor, a new film from Alan Berliner. I have been a big fan of his since 1996. His films Nobody business, The Sweetest Sound, Wide Awake, and First Cousin Once Removed are exquisitely crafted portraits of his family and himself. Berliner is a hoarder of images, sound, and video, and he has a way of putting them together. Just as brilliant as Chuck Workman, but in a different way. Any chance to see a Berliner film is a treat.

This is followed by Citizen Blue, a film about a great filmmaker who very few people know about. If you see this film, you will be inspired. James Blue is best known for making The March, a film about the Civil Rights demonstration in Washington, D.C. If you have seen footage of this it is probably from this film. But this is just the tip of the iceberg; he made inspiring narrative films and then came to Texas and started the Rice Media Center and the Southwest Alternative Media Project (known as SWAMP). Both organizations are still operating in Houston and doing similar things to what we do here.

Next is Beyond the Bolex. If you have never heard of the Bolex, it is a small, spring-wound 16mm camera that was the staple of independent and experimental filmmakers in the 1960s and 70’s. People still use them. When Alyssa Bosley was in film school, she discovered that her great grandfather was the inventor of the Bolex. She goes on a hunt to discover what happened, his life from Russia to Switzerland and finally to the United States. We hear from and see work from important filmmakers who used the Bolex and how it influenced their work (there is even a sequence with Barbara Hammer, mentioned above).

Later on Sunday we are showing After Munich. At the 1972 Olympics in Munich, the Black September movement took 11 Israeli hostages, which the world watched live on TV. In this powerful documentary we hear from four women: an athlete, a widow, and two undercover agents.

We wrap up Docufest with Tattoo Uprising by Dallas renaissance man Alan Govenar. This film is playing to large crowds in NYC and elsewhere, and we finally get this here in Dallas. Alan started in his film journey with Stony Knows How, about a crusty tattoo artist in 1980 (it is great to see a young Govenar). In the film we meet lots of the great tattoo artists, including Ed Hardy, the aforementioned Stony St. Clair, Cynthia Witkin, and Calamity Jane. But perhaps the best moments in the film is when filmmaker Les Blank and Werner Hertzog compare Tattoos.


On another note, last night I got to see a special screening of Detras de Realidad, which will show on Frame of Mind on KERA TV, at 10 p.m. Oct. 10. This film is made by women about their journeys to Texas and what their lives are like here. It is frank, honest, and in their own voices. I really liked what they did, but I was so happy to meet the filmmakers, who learned how to control the image and use the medium to tell everyone their stories. Thanks so much to Amber Bemak, who taught them, and Ignite Dallas at SMU for making it happen. Frame of Mind features work from Texas filmmakers on Thursday Nights from now until Thanksgiving.


» Film Notes with Bart Weiss runs on the first Wednesday of the month. 



(if a month is not listed, there was not a column that month)







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Film Notes
Bart Weiss' monthly column returns, and in this one, he previews this weekend's DocuFest at the Angelika Film Center.
by Bart Weiss

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