Sedona Confidential

Every night is literally a party here at the SIFF. Other than getting to bed later than is probably healthy, that and all the other fun and free stuff is mostly what it's all about, for me. From the start I never thought the festival would lead to anything particularly useful to me or my career - like "a big break" or something. My goal has been just to see some possibly good indie films and have fun and enjoy the food and hotel and stuff.

But it's funny how many people go through the hollywood-style motions of schmoozing and offering help and networking, like anyone you meet might have a phone number that will lead to your or your film's ship coming in.

Last night I met a local Sedona couple who, acccording to them, were making a new reality TV series called "The Truth" that will start airing on Fox this June. The guy, who is one of the hosts of the show and whose gregariousness borders on obnoxiousness, commented quietly to me at one point, "let's stop talking about work. Why is everyone working? There's no studios or distributors here that I've seen. Everyone's just jerking each other off." And it's true, as far as I could tell - there are no big companies represented here, waiting to offer deals or even hand out business cards with instructions to "call, let's talk." It's just a bunch of filmmakers gabbing to each other, and a few rich local businessmen and retirees who donated to the fest for a chance to pretend like their little festival is something important. For a chance to pretend that cool culture happens in their little slice of boring paradise. And it does, for one week, and only because they pay for it.

But it's not important. It's a 2nd- or 3rd-rate fest. Nothing will come from this festival for any of these filmmakers, other than another fest to put on a list of fests their film was in, whatever proto-friendships they make, and whatever lessons they may learn from the workshops, the panels, and watching each other's films.

For instance, today is the all-day documentary workshop, which is one of the main things I've been looking forward to. But I have no illusions that the fest will be any sort of boost for my film. It's a semi-fun little game to play, with full consciousness that that is really all it is.

Live-Blogging From Sedona International Film Festival

I'm not sure what the definition of "live-blogging" actually is and I'm too tired to look it up, but I'm going to just claim that that is what I'm doing right now even if it might not be really true (after all what is truth?). I'm in Sedona, Arizona, for their film festival, the 15th annual. I have a film in the festival, Wild Versus Wall,
and I have a computer that's on the internet and I'm posting something to my blog. Right now. Boo-ya!

oh so beautiful Sedona!

And it's way later than I usually am awake so I'm going to keep this short and in list form. Grumpy, snarky observances I will now make about this festival: 1) as I tweeted a few hours ago, Sedona is really just a big ugly strip mall, painted in tasteful earth tones, surrounded by beautiful nature that would be a lot more beautiful if the town were not there; 2) Our schwag bags that the festival gave out contain many wondrous ads and products, including not 1 but 2 containers of something called "coconut water" - which tastes like if you mixed a few drops of really spoiled milk into 6 ounces of tepid tap water. Mmm. 3) I really hate fast-talking hollywood types but sometimes it's hard to tell from a distance which people they are; 4) They put me in a nice hotel with a nice view of "the red rocks," and under the red rocks is a nice view of a new hotel they're building in the mud down by the river. It's beautiful; 5) said hotels (mine and the one down in the mud) are 2 miles from where all the festival is happening, and there's no shuttle or other transit between. And taxis cost $10. Yes, to drive 5 minutes, 2 miles. I assert that this is inconsiderate. 6) Did I mention the strip mall? Yes, even the theater, a Harkins multiplex, where the festival is happening, is literally in a strip mall. 7) the cost of taxis and soul might be offset by the money I save on the special VIP dinners, which doubtless are a 10 dollar value (20 if you're in Sedona). 8) Festival director Patrick Something stated in Red Rock Tourist Trap Ragazine that the festival's "dark" film to "light" film ratio is down somewhat to 50/50 this year, compared to the usual 70/30. Is this a race thing, Patrick? No, he says it's beacause people have been "challenged" in the last year. Yay lightness! Yay lightness and beauty!

Anyway, back to you, Joe. I'll be here all week, snarkblogging live from the SIFF. Stay tuned.

P.S. I think I might have at least the 2nd most disturbing mustache at the festival. boo-ya.

Tripping on Bashir's Feet

Last night Greta and I went to see the celebrated animation about the 1982 Israel-Lebanon war, "Waltz with Bashir" - for one thing, if you don't like disturbing or violent films, don't go. Greta had to leave in the middle and was shaken for hours afterward.

Some have criticized the film for breaking from its beautiful animation at the end and showing real video of the aftermath of the massacre at Sabra and Shatila.
I didnt have a problem with the use of actual footage at the end, but overall, and I will probably get yelled at for saying this, but I don't thinkg WwB was such a great film. It was beautifully drawn, yes. It drew attention to one of many atrocities in the history of Israel, yes. But narratively the film was disappointing. It "contracted with the audience" at the beginning that it would be about one man's transformative journey to remember his past, but in the end it broke that contract - there was no sign of how he reacted and grew and changed from re-discovering his memories. Which is fine if it was a straight documentary, but we were set up to read the film as a story, a personal, character-driven story.

Also, I don't think the film did enough to put the massacre in context and call Israel to task for it. At this point it's not enough to make yet another film about the horrors of war in general - if it's about Israel's wars it must specifically address the details of Israel's crimes and why they are crimes, not just the unavoidable consequences of unavoidable international conflict.

Lessons Learned This Year

I am frantically, desperately, sadly, still editing "Death and Taxes," the documentary about war tax resistance that I've been working on for a year, if we count it from funding acquisition, or over 5 years, if we count from first conception and footage shot. Even though there's so much footage, and I've been doing this for so long, I've still learned so much as I edit these last 7 months or so. Every time I edit I learn or re-learn more about how to shoot. Here is a selection of key or not-so-key shooting tips:

- during interview, keep zooming in and out slowly, so that when you edit you can cut it up and the jump cuts won't be so jarring.
- don't be afraid to reshoot something, and to order people around (this is the hardest and probably the most important in documentary making).
- better to get it right during the shoot than try to fix it in post.
- you never have too much b-roll.
- if you have time and a camera that can do it, iterate the hour on the camera's time code as you shoot through tapes. That way when you capture, all your footage from a certain shoot will have unique timecode, makes it slightly easier to organize.
- watch as much footage as possible between shoots. Mistakes made or holes in coverage can be fixed if you know what you got or didn't get last time. If you wait till post to look, it's too late, probably.

There's probably more I could go into but it's late. very late.

All Souls 2008

I finally got around to editing some video I shot at this year's All Souls Procession here in Tucson (link):

The video features many friends of Sali Eiler, who was murdered recently in Oaxaca. She was a tireless volunteer and organizer who was involved with No More Deaths here in southern Arizona and had spent many months in Oaxaca working with CIPO-RFM and women's groups there. On November 9, her friends and family came together in Tucson, had a memorial at Dry River Radical Resource Center, and participated together in the All Souls Procession. This video documents their presence in the procession and some footage of the spectacular performance spectacle after the procession. [More info about Sali and her work: ]

I like how it turned out and I'm glad I was able to document it.

Dudes and Indie Films and Road Trips

So I've lately been following this great blog/portal site called The Workbook Project. It's all about DIY filmmaking and actually mostly about DIY distribution and marketing of films, going around the middlemen of big distributors, festivals, etc. It's great. But today an entry came up that rubbed me the wrong way. It's about these 6 men (boys?) who are all filmmakers, made 4 films under some indie "company" or group called "New Breed" I guess, and now are on a tour around the country in a van, screening their films.

Ok, great. That's cool. But they're video-blogging the trip and the first video is kind of stupid. First of all it introduces it as "6 dudes and 4 films in a van" or something like that, and nowhere in this video does it talk about what the films are about. Instead it's full of dumb little "dude" moments where they're standing outside of the van cracking dumb jokes and making fun of each other about totally irrelevant shit. Is that supposed to make me want to go see these films? Why?

Interestingly enough, a glance at their tour schedule reveals that they were already in Tucson for a few days last week, but I never heard about the screenings nor do any of the film titles ring a bell at all. I probably saw them listed in the Loft's calendar and had no interest in them at all. Maybe they're trying to cover up the fact that these are mediocre films by surrounding them with ridiculous buzz. But c'mon, this is just the kind of buzz that would drive me screaming in the opposite direction from wherever these "dudes" are heading. If they wanted me to learn, or re-learn once again, that most males, even most indie filmmaker males, are obnoxious dorks who spend most of their time just trying to prove how cool they are, well, they've succeeded, but that's about all I've learned from their vlog so far.

It just disappoints me given the level of material usually posted on The Workbook Project.

Herzog on Film School

For some months now I've been toying with, debating with myself about, the idea of going back to grad school and studying film. Each time I go back to the idea, I do research and think about it and conclude that, no, I don't need/want to go back to school, for many and various reasons.

I came across one more really great and reassuring reason not to go, in a book I've been reading about Werner Herzog, one of my favorite directors, whom I respect a lot. In this book, "Herzog on Herzog," he says "I personally do not believe in the kind of film schools you find all over the world today... It has always seemed to me that almost everything you learn at school you forget in a couple of years. But the things you set out to learn yourself in order to quench a thirst, these are the things you never forget... academia is the death of cinema. It is the very opposite of passion."

Animating War Funding

wtr animation production stills - 3I've been working hard on Death and Taxes, including some stop-motion animation to help illustrate the connection between our money and war. Playing with toy soldiers, plastic tanks, stacks of dollar bills and piles of coins. The results so far are pretty cool. Tons of work to go though. Still trying to get the whole film done by early November, but we'll see.

Trying to Tell the Story of War Tax Resistance

I'm in perhaps the most exciting yet frustrating stage in my work on the documentary about war tax resistance that I'm making. I'm basically trying to make sense of all the footage and figure out how to present it in a compelling way - the big question is: what is the story? I've been struggling with this for about 4 years, ever since I started thinking about the challenges of making a film about this subject - Put another way, how do I tell the story of war tax resistance in a way that's interesting and exciting?

I decided to go all the way back to Michael Rabiger's excellent, wise, super book, Directing the Documentary, which I originally read in 2003 and which helped me enormously to first learn the art and craft of non-fiction filmmaking - actually, I'm really still learning, of course, but this book was my early training, my film school. I returned to it this week to re-read the chapters on the beginnings of post-production and the first assembly.

The advice I keep coming back to that he gives is: start organizing the material with the action, and then layer on the interviews, because if you start with the interviews, you will have talking heads as the primary spine of the film. Of course most of what I've ever done, and a lot of documentarians have done, has been reluctantly not following this advice - because most of almost any documentary film's central material is in fact people telling their stories. It's very rare that you can capture the actual stuff of life that you're talking about, or at least all of it - I've been acutely aware of this since I was doing the paper edit of my Juarez film 3 years ago.

Yet I tried to find a way out of that conundrum with an experiment in narrative that I had not tried before, which I thought of in very early pre-production and which I tried to follow during shooting: follow real people as THEY learn about the subject and meet people that do war tax resistance.

How sad is it when you have something like 50 hours of footage shot over 5 years and you still don't feel like it's enough "coverage"? [i need more "action" material that is relevant to the topic - demonstrations, press conferences, protests, street theater, tax day rallies, even stuff like relevant signs or banners being held up (or t-shirts being worn, etc) at more general anti-war events. Have you shot anything like this over the years anywhere? Do you know anyone who has? If so, please get in touch.]

However, I might have the seed of a narrative that focuses on action, on movement through space and time, and I want to try to make that into the backbone of the film. Perhaps it will need to be augmented with judicious narration, and animation, but i think it's there, basically... Almost every other film longer than 10 minutes that I've made has instead been organized by subject section - can this finally be a film that is a chronology? Is there hope that the story can really be based on a classic, time-based model of story? I'm going to try.

Heading to East Coast for WTR

The war tax resistance documentary is taking me out of town again, for 9 whole days. I'll be flying to New York City tomorrow and we'll be shooting Sunday and Monday there, and then heading down to DC for the big anti-war demo there on Wednesday. Activists will be blocking the IRS building that morning, and all sorts of other things will be happening. Later in the week we'll head up to Western Mass. to talk to WTRs there.

I'm kind of tired of travelling so much, and i'm not looking forward to cold and snow out there just when it's starting to really be nice and warm here in Tucson... although a side effect of that is that the pollen count has been crazy high and my sinuses are under assault to an almost intolerable degree.. so in that sense it will be good to get away....

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