Friday, April 28, 2006

Tribeca Film Festival is ON!

The title says it all. I've got tickets for 8 screenings over eight days. I have one day off, so that means on saturday I get to see two movies. A bizarre turn of the scheduling is that both the first and last film I've got tickets for are documentaries about Turkey.

My opening film,37 uses for a dead sheep, is an inventive documentary about an ethnic group called the Kirghiz...they lived in that part of asia around afghanistan and pakistan and china where the twentieth century borders have never really had much to do with the actual lives of the people there. In recent times, (ie the turn of the 20th century) things have been particularly difficult for them, and they've ended up migrating a preposterous five times to different countries to try to eke out an living; they end up in Turkey, no longer nomads but with small homes provided by the turkish goverment, and living in a primarly kurdish part of the country.

The film's director, Ben Hopkins, had a fairly brilliant solution to a common problem with documentaries - how do you show it if there wasn't anyone around to take pictures at the time? What he did was have the actual tribesfolk re-enact significant moments in their own history. In effect, he got them to colloborate with him on making a film about themselves. It's a really neat twist on the typical form of a documentary - as he said in the Q&A - in the 70s & 80s a documentary tried really hard to pretend that the film-makers didn't exist, which is patently absurd. So, the tribesfolk help art direct, talk about what should go into the film, and show up on certain days to shoot the scenes, which are filmed on 8mm and 16mm, and end up looking fantastic. The 'historical' footage was shot with a real early cinema style - not much camera movement, silent, so many grand gestures and title cards. The doc is thus a mix of info about the tribe through interviews and voice over, behind-the-scenes of the movie-within-the-movie, and then the re-creations. It's a neat mix, and it works pretty well.

The director has a good sense of humor, and he brings out humor in the Kirghiz he interviews as well, so the film is frequently funny, as the title suggests. It turns out there was one old man interviewed who came up with about 63 uses for a dead sheep, but he wasn't as good on camera as the the elder dude with 37, so 37.

My one complaint with the piece is this...I think in his homage to the cinema of the early twenties, the director uses a lot title cards and many sections within the film separated by black. I think this really drags the film's pacing down a bit. It's a small thing, and almost certainly intentional, from hearing the director speak about his influences and ideas about documentary; my preference is still to have the film-maker knit the story together a bit more rather than handing me so many fragments.

I also think that the re-created footage could have been used to greater effect somehow; I wonder if a reprise of the whole story towards the end might have worked. The stuff just looked so great I wanted to see it all together.

If you can get the chance to see this, I'd go for it. There are two more screenings during the festival, and Ben seems like a super nice & intelligent guy. By the way, the still at the top of this blog is a shot of the guys playing polo with a dead sheep for the ball.

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