True/False 2019: Over the Rainbow, Midnight Traveler, Treasure Island, Let It Burn, A Wild Stream

by Vikram Murthi March 13, 2019   |  Print Page TweetMy third trip to Columbia, Missouri to attend the True/False film festival confirms that the setting has become a source of comfort in these trying times. Each year, talented filmmakers, artists, writers, and journalists convene to witness the year’s best crop of non-fiction filmmaking. In between films, they soak up great food, cheap drinks, and smart talk. The festival’s precise, specific programming identity has always been its greatest asset, and this year was no exception. Programmers Chris Boeckmann, Abby Sun, and Amir George put together a lineup that challenges instead of placates and embodies diversity rather than merely paying it lip service. Its lack of cynicism and its commitment to promoting/exhibiting capital-A Art never fails to overwhelm me, especially considering it exists adjacent to an industry defined by slick, commercial interests. I’m eminently grateful to take a minor part in such a joyous excursion each year.Advertisement Over the course of five days, I saw many films that raised provocative questions, shined a light on unseen corners of the world, and remained in my head long after I left the theater. Here is the first of two dispatches from the festival. “Over the Rainbow” Popular documentaries like Alex Gibney’s “Going Clear” and the A&E series “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath” might have exhausted new information about the controversial religion, not to mention sated audiences’ appetites for disturbing scoops about cult-like brainwashing. However, director Jeffrey Peixoto doesn’t adopt an exposé angle with his experiential feature “Over the Rainbow,” which has no fresh revelations about Scientology. Instead, he takes an observational tact by interviewing current and former Scientology members about the origins of their New Age faith. Peixoto spent almost a decade gaining the trust of his subjects and, subsequently, their confidence in his project shines through the film. In turn, “Over the Rainbow” becomes a compassionate, nuanced discourse on faith as an operating principle in one’s life, especially when the religion in question is in its most nascent stage. Given what we already know about L. Ron Hubbard, David Miscavige, and the organization’s history of abuse, it’s tempting to think that Peixoto takes a naïve, even immoral, stance with “Over the Rainbow.” Does giving documentary subjects the space to wax poetic about their history with Scientology amount to a tacit endorsement of the religion itself? That might be the case if Peixoto’s formal approach didn’t systematically defamiliarize the vast majority of “Over the Rainbow’s” participants. Aided by an unnerving score from Australian electronic group HTRK, Peixoto films the Scientology members in lingering long takes that render their visages alien and unknowable. (It’s no coincidence that “Over the Rainbow” opens with a discussion of the psychology of UFO abductees.) In between the interviews, Peixoto fills the frame with ominous B-roll footage of Scientology retreats that compliments equally ominous footage of anonymous strangers walking in an urban metropolis or abandoned country roads. All life becomes a series of abstract, alienating enigmas when viewed through a narrow worldview.  “Over the Rainbow” doesn’t unsettle because of what its subjects explain or disclose but rather how Peixoto presents them, i.e. people who have gotten so in touch with themselves that their relationship with the rest of the world has been corrupted. The gap between the subjects’ comfort on camera and their non-fiction staging creates a nerve-wracking liminal expanse for the viewer. “Over the Rainbow” might run the risk of confirming pre-conceived biases from those within or adjacent of the organization, but to claim there’s no moral dimension to the film would be abjectly false. Advertisement “Midnight Traveler” Hassan Fazili’s “Midnight Traveler” might be the most compelling argument for the iPhone (and, presumably, Cloud storage) as the best available vehicle for vérité filmmaking. Fazili brings gripping immediacy to his three-year, 3,500-mile asylum journey from Afghanistan to Germany after he and his family are targeted by the Taliban. Three different iPhones capture the danger and uncertainty inherent in such a voyage: Fazili and his family are often forced to sleep in the woods or in abject housing conditions while facing prejudice because of their refugee status. Yet, Fazili, a sentimentalist as well as a staunchly political filmmaker, also includes plenty of warm scenes with his family as they try to carve out something that resembles a normal life amidst the global chaos. (It helps that his two young daughters, Nargis and Zahra, are adorable testaments to the resiliency of children.) An existential road film with life-or-death stakes, “Midnight Traveler” presents a ground-floor portrayal of the refugee crisis that smartly privileges experience over solutions. Screenwriter and editor Emelie Coleman Mahdavian deserves credit for shaping a lucid narrative from hundreds of hours of footage, even if, as a result, “Midnight Traveler” occasionally suffers from a neat storytelling sensibility. It’s not difficult to imagine a fiction adaptation of Fazili’s film, considering that all the A-to-B, three-act elements are already present. However, Mahdavian finds sideways approaches to Fazili’s story that impress, e.g. close-ups of Zahra’s bedbug bites that cover her arms and face communicates the dehumanizing condition of refugee camps better than standard B-roll footage. Interestingly, “Midnight Traveler” introduces but never resolves the tension between Fazili’s filmmaking impulses and the responsibility he feels towards his family. Whenever Fazili’s wife, Fatima, implores him to stop filming, he almost always refuses. Later, when Zahra goes missing for an hour, Fazili chastises himself for even considering how he might film her safe return. It’s an overwhelming concern, but one that’s dwarfed by the myriad practical complications Fazili and his family face as they try to find safekeeping. Similarly, the way “Midnight Traveler” touches upon, but doesn’t directly analyze, a litany of political issues—xenophobic bigotry towards global migrants, the hijab as a symbol of oppression and/or cultural pride, broad institutional failures to protect marginalized communities fleeing state violence—only amplifies their resonance. These topics are the fabric of Fazili’s life, not abstract notions primed for TV pundit debate. It’s a feature not a bug that Fazili and Mahdavian allow these ideas to pulsate in the background rather than touting them front-and-center for easy liberal digestion. Sometimes the best tactic is to let the footage speak for itself. Advertisement “Treasure Island” One of the more whimsical entries at True/False this year, “Treasure Island” offers a broad portrait of a suburban Parisian water park. Director Guillaume Brac exploits his unfettered access to capture multiple groups that flow amongst each other: jubilant swimmers itching for a good time, exhausted security guards who try to keep kids from sneaking inside the park without paying, and administrators making decisions behind closed doors that keep the lights on and people safe. The park’s recreational modus operandi connects them all even if their intentions are at cross-purposes. Brac crafts a hazy, semi-utopian landscape in “Treasure Island”; it’s a place where multiculturalism exists without much consequence and life’s nasty realities are elided for fun under the sun. Splashes and joyous screams dominate the sound mix. Teens and twentysomethings eagerly flirt with each other in between awe-inspiring water stunts. In this regard, “Treasure Island” embraces its liberated French core: a sequence featuring a hunky lifeguard and two young women culminates with his arms around both of them, smirking up a storm, and repeating the mantra, “Life is great.” Brac contrasts the park’s charged adult energy with scenes of children embarking on their own carefree parallel journeys, as if to suggest that the space exists to be consumed from multiple vantage points. Frederick Wiseman’s institutional approach meets a pop sensibility in “Treasure Island,” which is content to privilege leisure over sharp insight. “Let It Burn” Maíra Bühler makes the admirable choice to resist almost all exposition for her film “Let It Burn,” a profile of São Paulo’s Parque Dom Pedro hostel that houses and employs drug addicts, until the very end. It’s only then that she explains that Brazil’s newly elected conservative government plans to shutter the harm reduction program that keeps this community off the streets. This choice retroactively provides weight to the purely observational film that otherwise offers dignity to people written off by society at large.  Advertisement Culled together from four years of footage, “Let It Burn” carves room for strung-out citizens to exist outside of a punitive system, illustrating how their addictions operate while refusing to let it wholly define them. Men and women frequently break out into song, cannily performing for the camera and themselves. Violence permeates the environment but it’s presented as an unfortunate byproduct of a program designed to support instead of punish. Idealistic activists who run the hostel strive to keep the order while maintaining empathy for their charges. Lovers quarrel and make up. Tenants ride the elevator for amusement as much as they use it for transportation. Even as “Let It Burn” occasionally gets mired in repetitive rhythms, or too frequently loiters in overly familiar footage, Bühler’s generous eye keeps the whole project afloat. Judgment isn’t in Bühler’s vocabulary. Instead, “care” is the operative emotional framework. “A Wild Stream” Two men bonded by circumstance on the coast of Sea of Cortez, Omar and Chilo spend their days fishing and their nights drinking in a shack. Though not fast friends, they eventually reach an appreciably understanding of each other, partially because their isolation from larger society necessitates a relationship of some sort.  Their chemistry grounds Nuria Ibáñez Castañeda’s “A Wild Stream,” which splits its time between character study and regional portraiture. She captures the sea as a prideful entity, one that will exist long after Omar and Chilo have gone, but emphasizes the loneliness of the men who dedicate their lives to its upkeep. Castañeda strips away the rest of the world from her frame and only hints at a larger world outside of Omar and Chilo’s eye line. Thus, the coast becomes a confessional space for Omar and Chilo; they’re cautiously vulnerable with each other while maintaining enough emotional distance so that neither gets too uncomfortable. Suggestions of past lives, lost children, and scummy citizenry are bandied about, but Castañeda never pushes for explication. This approach might render “A Wild Stream” an opaque work for some, but any time the film threatens to get into the weeds, Castañeda returns to fishing and the mundane joys of working with ones hands. It turns out that nature and friendship are still sustainable resources. Previous Article: SXSW 2019: Run This Town, Extra Ordinary Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus. comments powered by

The Batman Will Be Set in the 90s?

Could the Dark Knight be making his way to the 90s? That's the latest rumor making the rounds in regards to The Batman. Matt Reeves (War for the Planet of the Apes, Cloverfield) was tapped to direct the movie two years ago and things have seemed to be slow going ever since he got the gig. However, there is finally some traction on the project, with production (barring another unforeseen speed bump) set to begin before year's end. While we wait for some official word from the studio, we've got this new, possibly juicy rumor, to chew on.As is always the case with things such as these, we must caution right up top that it should merely be regarded as a rumor for the time being, since it isn't coming from anyone officially related to the production or the studio, at least not as far as we know. That said, a new report claims that The Batman, which Matt Reeves is currently polishing up the script for, will be set in the 90s. It will see a version of Bruce Wayne in his late 20s/early 30s (which lines up with prior reports) trying to solve a mystery.Several prior reports have indicated that Matt Reeves is looking to cast a younger version of Batman, when compared to Ben Affleck, who has officially retired the role. Additionally, most of the rumored names floating around (again, nothing confirmed by the studio just yet) are in their late 20s. So that lines up. That makes this 90s setting all the more interesting. Doing some quick math, this essentially means that this younger actor could be the same version of the character as Affleck, and we'll just be seeing him during his younger years, meaning The Batman could absolutely exist in the same continuity as movies like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.Related: How Does Snyder Feel About Affleck Bailing as The Batman?Given the fact that a new, younger actor is coming on board, and given that a movie like Joker, which arrives later this year, will take place outside of the DCEU continuity, The Batman's place within that continuity was in doubt to some degree. Setting it in the 90s could just be where Matt Reeves envisions the story. But being able to connect it to the other movies in this universe would be beneficial for Warner Bros.We also know this movie will focus more on Batman's skills as a detective and will be a noir take on the character. Setting it in the 90s would mean less modern technological advantages, which could help shine an even brighter light on the character's place as the "world's greatest detective." This report also reaffirms that the movie will feature multiple villains, with the Penguin being one of the main antagonists. We'll hopefully get some more firm details as production ramps up later this year. The Batman is scheduled to hit theaters on June 25, 2021. This news was first reported by Discussing Film. Topics: The Batman, BatmanWriter of various things on the internet (mostly about movies) since 2013. Major lover of popcorn flicks. Avid appreciator of James Bond, Marvel and Star Wars. Has a tremendously fat cat named Buster and still buys CDs. I’ve got my reasons.

Deadpool Invades Endgame Trailer in Anticipation of Disney / Fox Deal

Deadpool offers some hilarious commentary in the latest fan-made Avengers: Endgame trailer. With the Disney and Fox deal set to close, the Merc with a Mouth will be in the vicinity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe soon, though it isn't clear if his movies will come out on the Fox imprint from here on out since he hangs out in the R-rated section of the theater. Disney CEO Bob Iger looks forward to putting out some of Fox's more adult-oriented projects, but some of which will still have the Fox name on them and Deadpool could very well be in...

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Creep 3 May Be Creeping Our Way Sooner Than Expected

One of the best found footage movies to hit the screen in the past decade has been Corporate Animals director Patrick Brice and Togetherness and Room 104 writer-star Mark Duplass' Creep. And if that movie wasn't good enough, the pair filmed a sequel - appropriately titled Creep 2 a year or so ago and the new movie was even better than the original. Thus it makes more than a bit of sense that this here horror fan is eagerly awaiting Creep 3. And today we have word that the film might be heading our way sooner rather than later as director Patrick Brice recently spoke about what he and Duplass have in store for us come part 3.Patrick Brice says this."[We] finally found an idea that we're really excited about. One of the things we want to keep true with these movies is that they're... still small scale. Keeping that focus tight. Letting it be something that sort of orbits around Mark's character. We've found something we're really excited about. We're still in the process of writing. I can say that."Brice continues on to say this."It's a chance for us to do something I haven't really seen in horror movies, let alone found footage movies."Nice! So when can we expect to see Creep 3?"[Mark Duplass and I] are at the point where, if all goes well, shooting this movie later this year. [We have to] find a pocket in our schedules where we can actually make this movie and do right by it."For those that might need a refresher, the original film told the tale of a videographer (played by the movie's director, Patrick Brice) who answers an online ad posted by Mark Duplass' titular creep that wants the videographer to film a movie for his unborn child. As you might imagine, not all is what it seems and things get fittingly creepier and creepier as the day goes on. Meanwhile, the sequel followed a video artist played by Desiree Akhavan who is recruited by Duplass to film a documentary on the fact that he is a vicious serial killer. Things don't play out as you might expect.Found footage has mostly been considered the scourge of horror films (and movies in general) over the past ten years or so. But that said, as a rabid horror fan, it might shock you to hear that I love found footage flicks. From Paranormal Activity to The Blair Witch Project to the under appreciated ghost story Lake Mungo I regularly consider found footage to produce some of the most genuinely scary movies of all time. But that's usually just me and I'm fine with being in the minority on this one. All of this is to say that I don't mind found footage one bit, and I'd even go so far as to say that I hope it makes a resurgence in the next few years. Let's hope Creep 3 kicks off the new wave in style. I'm optimistic that it will. This news is brought to us by Something Ghoulish. Topics: Creep 3, CreepWriter for Arrow In the Head, Dread Central and Movieweb.

NCIS: Los Angeles: Season 10 Ratings

Published: March 18, 2019 Although its ratings dropped off quite sharply last year, the NCIS: Los Angeles TV show was not cancelled by CBS. Now that the second series in the successful NCIS franchise is back for a 10th season, will it earn the kind of ratings to warrant further...

Grey’s Anatomy: Season 15 Ratings

Published: March 15, 2019 This year, in its 15th season, Grey’s Anatomy matches the record of ER as the longest-running primetime medical drama. Grey’s continues to be one of ABC’s top-rated shows so it seems certain that it will be renewed for a 16th season. Who will leave, stay, or...

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