18 February 2009

Animals! Inspired by Animals!

Whoa! What a wild and wooly week it's been, hey? Despite a jarring beginning and ending, all righted itself and on I went to the festival I look forward to all year, forging my way through many, many films and many friends. Lots more of that feeling that we're all here for a reason (only I keep feeling I'd better cough up my own contribution to the genre pretty quick or people will wonder why I keep hanging 'round here like some fangrrl).

So every week I'm inching forward on that front, and BIFF as ever provided me with a healthy jolt of inspiration, on many levels.

And since I feel I am here for a reason -- that is: I really do want to make films and art -- I'll start here, where I am, by splicing my Texas footage together into a quick video. Next up Animals! Inspired by Animals! And then I'll properly edit the Gomez thingie so I can send it out.


12 February 2009

How to tell timely tales

I invariably question what I do around film fest time. Do I want to write? Direct? If I did any of those things it would take forever to hit the screen in the event a screenplay or project would survive against all odds, and we'd see something like the film we saw tonight. Rod Lurie's film Nothing But The Truth is about an issue that a few people care very passionately about and most people think is long over. If you asked most people today why Judith Miller was jailed a few years back, would they be able to answer the question? Would they understand why a journalist might be jailed for not revealing a source? And do they understand what it meant for Bush to pardon Scooter Libby? So it makes me wonder what's left for me, this little oddball who cares about these things that in the context of public discourse seem arcane and remote: Upholding our First Amendment rights, not just for us here in the U.S. but also for the sake of much of the rest of the world, which holds up our freedom of speech as a sterling example of what a free press can accomplish and how that can keep a government accountable. People think Blagojevich was bad? It can be so much worse.

The biggest question looming for me is this: How do you tell a timely story, in the time it takes to write a novel or screenplay, then get the film made and distributed? How to get in, get into it, and get out, before the story is not a story any longer?

The one I'm looking forward to is Terri Jentz' story, which she wrote in prose in the book Strange Piece of Paradise and only later, as she was seeking stories to tell in screenplays, realized her own story was far more interesting than anything else she was coming across. Now she's writing the screenplay of a movie about her story. That will be very intense. Jodie Foster, are you listening? This sounds like it could be your kind of project.

06 February 2009

Films on my mind this week: Slumdog Millionaire, Milk, Come Back to Sudan

People talk about how colorful Slumdog Millionaire is, and I couldn't help thinking how realistic it seemed, having spent my own intense and surreal week in Calcutta. Watching Slumdog I had been gearing up to complain that the only thing you couldn't do was smell India when the latrine scene arrived. That's when I knew I was in good hands and relaxed and enjoyed the rest of the ride, as I had in Danny Boyle's magical Millions (it's starting to appear Boyle has a thing about big money -- he keeps naming his films after it). For the single achievement of including the omnipresent element of shit in his Indian tale, Boyle deserves the directing Oscar (I'll have to research whether that scene is in the book from which the film was adapted). But there were so many other good and bad things about India that the director grasped and packed into his picture that I feel he would deserve it on many counts.

I haven't seen all the top films -- I seldom have. I'm just not enough of a completist to make myself see everything every year. Revolutionary Road gets this year's I'd-Rather-Have-My-Fingernails-Dragged-Across-A-Chalkboard-Than-Watch-This-Film Award at My Own Private Oscars. I know it's not fair to say that without even seeing it, but the previews made it look like no more fun than the worst of the cautionary reels we used to sit through in junior-high health classes.

In Slumdog, Boyle took risks in all the things he tried to grasp about India with one big hand. Many more risks, in fact, than did Van Sant in his careful hagiography of Harvey Milk. As much as I loved watching Milk, gorgeous as it was, lit by Penn's boyish joie de vivre, seeing it felt in retrospect more static, like visiting a museum and admiring a diorama, than the celebration of the many layers of reality, the lush confusion of modern life that moved me in Slumdog.

Moving, with all its geographical and emotional meanings, is a theme in the film Come Back to Sudan. The men known as the "Lost Boys of Sudan" fled to the United States years ago and are now adults and US citizens(?). A childless Boulder woman "adopts" them and when peace comes to the Sudan they go to Africa, home. The film asks so many great questions: What does it mean to call a place home? What happens when you don't recognize the people or the landscape? What happens when you do? Bring a couple of hankies for this one. You'll be glad you did. (I'll be introducing this film and School of Thought, and conducting Q & A sessions following each film, at BIFF on Saturday Feb. 14 at the Boulder Public Library Main Branch theater at 4:15 -- come on by!)

05 February 2009

New new media

Re: those data visualizations of tweets during the inauguration, and tweets around the continent during the Super Bowl:
It's a whole new model for what we consider "news."

My idea for a new news-delivery medium: a map superimposed with tag clouds following blogs, tweets, newspaper stories, etc. -- maybe even whatever combination of those each user is interested in. As in Google Earth, you could zoom in anywhere in the world and get impressions of what people are talking/writing about at any given moment.

03 February 2009

25 random things about me

1. I love maps and have a keen sense of direction, but since I turned 40 or so I've noticed that when I am stressed or tired, my map-reading skills go right out the window.
2. I am always surprising myself by having more endurance than I expected. Perhaps this is because I am in better physical shape now than I was ten years ago.
3. I had some EMDR therapy a couple of years ago that in a single session dramatically helped me become more relaxed and less fearful in traffic (although I do still get peeved easily at dumb driving).
4. I have always wanted about ten careers (musician, inventor, doctor, writer, chef, dancer, painter, fabric/clothing designer, filmmaker, photographer) but so far only have managed to work hard at getting better at a couple of things (writing/editing, and learning to be a good family member, friend, and member of my community).
5. I have had one out-of-body experience, after I broke my leg rollerskating when I was in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, with my family. That night, I hovered in the corner of the ceiling and watched my bodily self hobble to the bathroom and back.
6. Some of you have already heard this: I sat on Janis Joplin's piano during a concert when I was four years old. And could hardly believe my eyes when I saw she was white, not black, as I'd thought when listening to her record.
7. I am joyfully married to someone I had a crush on when I was 12.
8. I am eternally grateful to have gone to India and met some of the people who are the reason our thriving, beautiful, and sassy daughter survived the first five months of her life. I only wish I'd known to kiss their feet then.
9. I cannot imagine my life without cats. Nor do they seem to be able to conceive of life without me, so all's well.
10. I get more squeamish about gross/gory sights the older I get. (Exception: anything having to do with my own family members.)
11. It takes enormous restraint for me to follow a recipe exactly as it is written.
12. Before I'd turned 13, I'd met some of The Beach Boys, taken soup to [the band] Chicago, been backstage at a Chick Corea/Weather Report concert, and invited Elton John's drummer, Nigel Olsson, to tea at my house (he never showed, although I had cleaned the house and made sure we had Marmite for sandwiches).
13. I don't understand why when Facebook notifies me about someone's new 25-random-things meme, the notification says I was mentioned in that person's list. But when I read it, I am not mentioned.
14. It's almost too obvious to say, but I'll say it again anyway: Music is my religion.
15. My favorite thing to say when a Jehovah's Witness knocks on my door is "I already believe."
16. I believe there's a stronger link between our brain and our gut than we comprehend today, and that healing people's guts might boost people's mental health dramatically. If I could go back to school right now, I'd study epidemiology or gastroenterology (and get over that squeamishness).
17. I like living in houses where I spend most of my time above ground level. A writing treehouse would be heavenly.
18. I don't think I'll ever be finished grieving my sister who died when we were little.
19. I used to be a purist about grammar, but now I am not. I still maintain high standards in my own writing; I'm just more pragmatic about the way people truly use language and less interested in defining "correctness" at any given moment.
20. That said, I correct typos and errors in library books when I find them. (I keep thinking someday I'll reread one of those books and find one of my corrections, but it hasn't happened yet.)
21. I get a surprising amount of pleasure from frequently tracing the same paths I walked or biked as a kid.
22. Given the duration and frequency of my musical passions, I wonder what's around the corner for me. Like the people I've loved most and always will, I'll always love The Who, Crowded House/Neil Finn, Michael Penn, Aterciopelados, Elbow, and Gomez. (The Grateful Dead deserve special mention for providing wonderful musical events and setting me on the path toward another calling: being an attentive audience.)
23. Levar Burton attended our Boulder wedding reception.
24. The older I get, the more psychic I feel, and the more empathy I have for animals. (If I have a single spirit animal, it's a border collie, even though I don't consider myself a "dog person.")
25. Given how little I've finished, I am continually surprised at how ambitious I still am.

02 February 2009

TV lovers: You might want to watch another episode of The Office instead of reading this

I am willing to keep posting little happy findings on Twitter: the things I notice people saying and doing, random acts of kindness for those I do and don't know. And I see the spirit of this is embodied in the term Whuffie, a form of social currency invented by science fiction writer Cory Doctorow in on of his novels. That's what I like most about Twitter: that trade of social currency. I'll give you something good; can't wait to see what you're offering up today.

Yet I know it's terribly important to make sure I keep protecting my time to do my other work. I need the time to think at greater length and with much broader scope, to create new work, to make up my own version of the ideal universe so I have something to strive for.

Some of what brought me to this conclusion was yesterday's television fest. We all came home from the ski area yesterday and flopped downstairs to watch the Super Bowl, which was interesting, fun, and disturbing all at once. Some things I marveled at: The fact that a guy will wear a helmet on a football field but not on a motorcycle, and that the same guy could come back from what sounded like a hellish accident to play great football less than two although you ask me, he did look a little slow to shove off that ball, for such a young guy (he's about to turn 27 in March); those sideline ditches, including the one caught by one surprised but poised gentleman, weren't pretty).

What my daughter noticed was that I was no longer upset about not skiing much earlier, and that I was serving snacks I admitted weren't all that good for us: oven-baked rolled-up cheese, chicken, and bacon quesadillas, and onion rings that we served with ketchup. Fast food.

We kept noticing during the ads that much of television's humor is meanspirited. It's geared at making people seem smaller and less and making the apparent subject look superior. It doesn't always work. There's one where a woman deliberately drenches a potential rival for a romantic interest returns, post-insult, to sucking on a drink and looking smug. Ew.

The football game we tuned in to watch along with the ads was great, full of twists and surprises of all sorts. But then it got disturbing, when one of the Steelers' players, James Harrison, who had made a great touchdown play earlier in the game, punched a Cardinal, when the other man was down and after the play had ended. Since when is this part of the all-American game of football? What happened to sportsmanship? Harrison could have felt pretty good if he'd chosen to after what he had done earlier, and instead he had to unleash a suckerpunch? Ew again. That took some of the gleam off the Steelers' well earned trophy for me. But you didn't come here for yet another Super Bowl analysis, did you?

Here's the thing: I watched some more of the ads (can anyone really take Go Daddy seriously? Yet, they do, in droves), and then a few minutes of "The Office," which I always feel sucks all the air right out of the room when it's on. I turned it off because of the meanness of Steve Carell's character, and all of the meannesses that are possible because he's in charge, which is why I always turn it off. I've lived that story; I don't need to put myself through that all over again, thank you very much. I really liked Carell in Little Miss Sunshine, but I have a hard time with the actors who are willing to do that show on command every week. It seems a peculiarly debased kind of fame, in my book only a little less masochistic than Diablo Cody's stints at sex-for-pay. What these actors give the world seems far more complicit in a humanity-crushing ethos. Wow. I guess I really don't like that show! Before you get all up in arms: I know that is what the Off switch is for. I just won't watch it any more. [rant off]

And because there was nothing on I turned to Twitter to see what was "trending" -- what topics were being discussed most, and besides the Super Bowl was "The Office." I shouldn't have been surprised but was a little that people were indeed tweeting lines and gags from the show, in addition to the expected reactions to the storyline and the determinations a) whether this episode had achieved a level implied by the hype for a double-length episode following the Super Bowl, and b) how the special guests (Jack Black, Jessica Alba, and Cloris Leachman) were incorporated into the storyline (which was in a fake feature film playing on a laptop, not in interactions with regular cast of "The Office"). I saw how Twitter lets people watch a form of TV, which I thought was kind of cool. It was like that Bob Dylan video I like where the words and music stream by, but don't always match. How great for those of us who don't have televisions -- or don't want to watch them. Who says reading is dead?

But I'd be afraid, very afraid, if all I had was TV to tell me what to strive for, and Twitter to tell me what was going on. There are a lot of people going to megachurches and other churches these days, but there are a lot of people who aren't going to anything. What I see from here is that TV takes up so much of that space religion and community-building used to occupy. I'm not suggesting that everyone needs to get religious, either. I'm not. But I have a community on whom I rely and who can rely on me. In TV world, it seems to be all about getting: getting the best lines, getting the best house and the girl and the car, not necessarily in that order. Getting the best pass so you can make the best play. But what is left for the world, the community our kids are growing up in?

Feeling the way I do, about the way TV has encouraged this soulless devotion to the material world, I am heartened by the way people are reaching out across Twitter and finding each other in droves on social networking sites. I am encouraged that there are ways to be entertained that don't always involve subjecting ourselves to having our brains branded with their ideal images and preferred personality types. I am encouraged that we are finding ways to prove we are interconnected. And I know it's not that nothing bad can come of it, as we are reminded by all those commercials about banks that pledge to protect us from identity theft. It's that so much more good can come of it. We can find out more about how we are connected and how we are alike (those memes, those lists of "25 things about me" and so on, are all about that) so easily in a way we never could before.

I'm glad to see my tribe engaging in this new dance. My trip to meet people on the message board and dance in the front row at Gomez' show was a similar article and artifact of faith. I helped with the creation of that happening by being there; there's no doubt in my mind. And I intend to continue following my own dares, making things happen, engaging with new communities of like-minded people. It's all we have, right? Our energy, our goodwill, our willingness to see and be seen, to do and be done to in turn.

That's why we don't have a television set in our living room, and most of our video time is in front of films and shows that we choose and not just what's on. From my perspective, so much TV programming encourages a kind of hoarding and competitiveness that is so unproductive in my world. I'll stick to "watching TV" through Twitter posts, which always puts in perspective how much I really care about it, until "So You Think You Can Dance" comes back. I'll keep checking out DVDs if I really want to see films and shows. But I only have so much leisure time, and I must be careful but generous with what little online time I have. For me it is vital to preserve the time I need for my community, for writing, thinking, and creating my own body of work.

What do you need your time for most?