PIFF - Day Two

With a few exceptions, PIFF does a superb job selecting documentaries. In fact, looking back, I would say that overall, the docs I saw were for the most part outstanding, and the narratives, generally uneven. Day Two at PIFF was documentary day, with three docs being the order of the day.

Chris & Don: A Love Story (USA; 90 min.)
directors: Tina Mascara and Guido Santi
documentary

This was the film that Chlotrudis co-presented at Ptown, and I was very pleased by the nearly packed house at the Crown & Anchor. CHRIS & DON: A LOVE STORY beautifully tells the story of the thirty-year relationship of author/poet Christopher Isherwood and artist Don Bachardy who was thirty years Isherwood's junior. With Bachardy still living, the film tends to focus more on him, but Isherwood certainly gets his share of attention. All of the issues you might imagine in a relationship with such disparate ages are present, and because Isherwood was a diarist, the access to his most personal thoughts and even video footage is well utilized here. Just thinking about the fact that these two men first met when Don was 16 (they became a couple when he was 18) you can't help but ponder his entire adult identity being shaped by Isherwood. The main point of struggle was certainly Don's search for an identity when partnered with such a talented and well-known figure. I'm sure that if Bachardy had not found his creative talent as an artist, their relationship would never have survived.

Mascara and Santi blend live interview with Don and others who knew the couple, with Isherwood's video footage and readings from his diaries, as well as recreations of some key points in their lives. They shape out of this unconventional, decidedly non-traditional relationship a romance for the ages, with grace, style, and a passionate heart. 5 cats

American Teen (USA; 95 min.)
director: Nanette Burstein
documentary

I was intrigued to see this documentary focusing on the lives of teens today that has been the subject of much praise and controversy on the festival circuit. Burstein spent a year immersed in an Indiana community, seeking out and spending time with a group of teenagers that embody the well-known archetypes (or perhaps that should read stereotypes) made popular by the film THE BREAKFAST CLUB. Unfortunately, AMERICAN TEEN just didn't work for me, and the more people I talk to, I've been finding that it either clicks with people, or it doesn't, but even the people who love it can see the artifice and manipulation that turned me off of the film.

I'm not against staged scenes, recreations, or scripted sequences in documentaries. They can certainly enhance a non-fiction film and make it more entertaining. The problem with AMERICAN TEEN is that the film isn't really honest with its audiences. As thing progress, it becomes increasingly obvious that some of the scenes are staged, and eventually you begin to believe that the teens being depicted in the film might actually be characters, or 'actors' representing archetypes, rather than kids being represented in a documentary. Burstein has sought out (or created) such blatant stereotypes in order to fulfill a publicity department's dream and tapping into the early-80's John Hughes zeitgeist that I was instantly reminded of James Frey and his fictionalized memoir. To further this feeling the storylines in AMERICAN TEEN follow such startlingly scripted paths that you'd think a team of Hollywood screenwriters were coaching the action.

Those people who I've spoken two who enjoyed the film totally bought into the PRETTY IN PINK/THE BREAKFAST CLUB vibe that TEEN apes even while acknowledging the manipulation. While I was at first perplexed and disappointed as I watched AMERICAN TEEN, as time has passed I'm still perplexed but now somewhat annoyed. The film's marketing is trying to further underscore the character-like nature of the subjects, and the inauthenticity of the film has begun to grate on my nerves even more. 2 cats

The Axe in the Attic (USA; 110 min.)
directors: Ed Pincus and Lucia Small
documentary

I have been waiting for Lucia Small, director of MY FATHER, THE GENIUS, to make another film; curious to see what direction she would take after the intensely personal examination of her father's life and its affect on his family. I was not expecting THE AXE IN THE ATTIC, a road-trip across America with co-director Ed Pincus, in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina and the resulting diaspora that occurred, displacing scores of people whose homes were destroyed in the storm. What makes ATTIC different from other films or reports on Katrina's aftermath is the way the filmmakers insert themselves into the film, constantly questioning their roles and responsibilities while shooting the film; asking questions of themselves that viewers of documentary films often ask of the filmmakers without being able to get an answer.

Pincus and Small focus on approximately 50 people in the film, pared down from the hundreds they interviewed on their road trip. These stories, powerful and moving all, are intercut with images of the devastation, and scenes where the filmmakers debate the social responsibilities of the country and the individual, and how this disaster affected them each personally. ATTIC is an elegant work, and one that I would encourage everyone to see. It's wonderful to see Small continue her fine filmmaking career, and again, makes me eager to see what she will do next. 4 1/2 cats.

After the film, a group of us headed to Level at the Commons for a filmmaker reception. We were late arriving, and much of the crowd had thinned out, but a batch of Chlotrudis members, myself, Scot, Beth Curran, Beth Caldwell, Dan McCallum and his partner Jon, spent the next couple of hours with director Lucia Small and her associate producer Emma, Boston Phoenix film critic and Chlotrudis-pal Gerry Peary, and Central Productions CEO Mike Bowes. We even got a few clues as to what Lucia might be working on next!