Hello from the Bull City! Here’s what I’ve been watching:
Black Out – screener
Eva Weber’s Black Out examines the role that electricity plays in Guinea’s educational system. Motivated to do well in their studies, Guinean students regularly stay out late in public places that have lighting, revising their work until the wee hours of the morning. Though the topic is compelling and the photography often beautiful, the film is basically the same argument recycled with different players and, even at 47 minutes, makes for fairly dull filmmaking. The film’s North American premiere is Saturday at 10:20 AM in Cinema 4.
Citizen Koch – 1:20PM, Fletcher Hall
Tia Lessen and Carl Deal have a knack for finding captivating characters and seeing these individuals’ stories through. Their 2008 post-Katrina film Trouble The Water, the Jury winner at that year’s Full Frame, was electrified by the charismatic Kimberly Rivers Roberts leading the way. The most recent example is Buddy Roehmer, a former Louisiana governor whose attempts to appear in 2012’s Republican presidential debates were essentially torpedoed for lack of funds. His story is but one of many excellent pieces of Citizen Koch, a scathing exposé of wealthy donors’ sway over politics. Starting with the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” ruling to treat corporations as people, the film primarily focuses on the decision’s effects on Wisconsin’s gubernatorial situation. Mixing on-the-ground reactions with a slew of damning news footage, Lessen and Deal craft a riveting tale that persists in asking difficult questions. The festival bar has been set and it is already high up.
Blood Brother – 4:20, Fletcher Hall
Almost as an answer to Rocky Braat’s claim that it’s impossible to truly capture his life in India, director Steve Hoover employs a frenzied, varied style to match his best friend’s doings abroad in Blood Brother. Following Rocky to the home where he works with children diagnosed with HIV, Steve’s camera rises to the occasion as the filmmaker does his best to capture this exotic existence. Though I admit to some hesitancy at seeing someone so western in that foreign setting, coming into his own in a place far removed from my own experience, Rocky’s true self won me over as the film wore on. I wasn’t sure such a shift would occur, but the key moments that do the trick unsurprisingly involve Rocky’s actions and reactions to children whose health dramatically declines. After the varied early moments of mostly joyous occasions, seeing his heartfelt responses to these harrowing situations allows them to connect in a wonderfully rich manner. Even Steve lingering overlong on some gut-churning sights of the deathly kids only lessens the experience so much in this consistently passionate work.
Spinning Plates – 8:20, Cinema 4
Joseph Levy’s Spinning Plates is a top-notch food documentary that blends the gourmet gastronomy of Jiro Dreams of Sushi and The Kings of Pastry with the down home feel of a Steve James film. Focusing on Chicago’s innovative Alinea, Breitbach’s Country Dining (the pride of Balltown, Iowa), and Tucson’s La Cocina de Gabby, Levy examines what connects and distinguishes the restaurants and their masterminds. As he hops between the three with remarkable ease, the director delivers crystal clear imagery without suggesting a hint of intrusion in any location. The lone sticking point, however, occurs when the film delves into its primary subjects’ respective hardships throughout the years and how these hiccups affect their work. While these segments provide welcome background into these restauranteurs and solidifies their respective dedications, they also take viewers away from the excitement of cooking, an asset that’s conversely given more meaning on its inevitable return. Citizen Koch is now officially in second place.