DOCUMENTARY SHORTS SHOWCASE
Tuesday, April 8 @ Angelika
Wednesday, April 9 @ Angelika
They say dynamite comes in small packages. Preferring a DIY approach to explosives, I cannot say for sure. But in either case, this year’s Documentary Shorts certainly do pack a wallop. From guerrilla gardening in Detroit, the growing student loan crisis, and perhaps the greatest bowling story ever told, these shorts offer up quick and creative stories all their own.
In the interviews below, filmmakers Nora Mandray (3 ACRES IN DETROIT), David Esfeh (EDUCAUTION), Joshua Seftel (THE HOME TEAM), JOEY DAOUD (STRIKE) and Deborah Stratman (HACKED CIRCUIT) offer insight into the creative processes behind their appetizer-sized creations.
In Detroit, Michigan, a city that declared bankruptcy in 2013, an estimated 1 in 5 residents goes hungry. Director Nora Mandray film’s 3 ACRES IN DETROIT shows how residents have turned to urban farming to feed the need for cheap, healthy food in one of the city’s poorest areas.DIFF: What explains the recent flourishing of urban farming in places like Detroit, New Orleans, and other cities?
Nora Mandray: The economic crisis has awoken a lot of people. Traditional middle class notions about work have been shaken, and a core of people have realized they had to reinvent themselves in order to survive. This also happens in a context where the combination of technology, industrialization and mass consumption have disconnected us from each other.
In Detroit, African American migrants who left the South to come work in the Rust Belt factories brought with them the knowledge of working the land. They had gardens from the moment they settled there. As the factory jobs left town, soon followed by the “white flights” and the supermarkets moving to the suburbs, growing their own food has become a way for Detroiters to make ends meet.
DIFF: The film centers on Donnie, an inspiring young guy who’s taken up farming in order to turn his life around after serving time in prison. How does Donnie embody the cultural renaissance happening in Detroit?
NM: Donnie is an extremely humble, wise and charismatic young man. It was a real gift for me to be able to film his story because Donnie is so clear about his goal in life. Like he says in the film, he has been through some very tough times, but he has been able to make a 180. His story is very representative of the Detroit spirit: Donnie literally turns the crisis into an opportunity.
Donnie leads by example. Like his farm’s name “Occupy Yourself” suggests, he works towards helping his community to have more control of their lives by teaching them how to feed themselves. When others see blight, Donnie saw in an abandoned house a greenhouse. To me Donnie is both a prophet and a practical dreamer.
With more and more Americans graduating college with crippling debt, taking up farming sounds like a smart career move. According to the documentary EDUCAUTION, the student loan crisis is only getting worse. Interviewing politicians, university faculty and a string of optimistic debtors (read: students with loans), director David Esfeh’s film is nothing short of a wake up call.
DIFF: How bad is the student loan crisis, really? Pretty bad?
David Esfeh: For starters, consider this: the total student loan debt in America quadrupled from $250 billion in 2003 to to $1 billion in 2013. Meanwhile, according to the New York Times, since 1980, the median family income has increased from $46,000 to $50,000, an 8% increase. During that same time, the cost of a year of college increased from $9,000 to $22,000, an increase of 240%.
DIFF: What explains the rocketing cost of tuition?
David Esfeh: Colleges today are in an “educational arms race.” Universities must compete with each other to draw in students, so in many cases they build facilities they can’t even afford. UC Berkley, for example, recently made improvements on their football stadium even though the university football program hasn’t produced enough revenue to even cover even the interest on the improvements. Harvard University Yale and several other Ivy league institutions are currently running multimillion dollar deficits. They, of course, pass on the cost to students with rising tuition rates, and with a culture where everyone needs to attend college, more and more people are willing to go into debt to pay them.
DIFF: EDUCAUTION makes a point to not only talk economics but also frames the student loan issue as an affront to the American Dream. How would you say the issue affects all Americans?
DE: As one of the interviewees says, “the whole point of the American Dream is you work hard, and you see the fruits of your labor.” But as of now socioeconomic mobility in the United States is becoming more difficult, and the prospect of leveraging your education to move up financially is becoming less of a reality as a result of the continuing rising costs of higher education and stagnate wages. Students who begin their careers with an average of $40,000 in debt will not keep the economy going, as they are unable or much less likely to purchase homes, cars, start a family, etc.For anyone looking to avoid crippling college debt, the documentary short THE HOME TEAM may have the answer. All you have to do is be really, really good at basketball like the boys at Murray State University, and the colleges will come knocking. Having played in the NCAA Tournament a total of 15 times, the Murray State Racers are an extraordinary team from a Kentucky town of only 17,000. Director Joshua Seftel offers a heartfelt look at the tightly-knit town, where players and fans alike consider each other family.
DIFF: Would you say Murray lives up to its name, “the friendliest town in America”?
Joshua Seftel: When I went to Murray, a town so small you can fit almost all of it inside the basketball stadium, I fell in love with the place. Everyone we met were kind and generous. They treat the players, many who’ve come from far away, as if they are their own family members. It seems to be the glue that bonds the town and the team, making them so successful.
DIFF: But people across America love them some basketball. How does Murray takes it to another level?
JS: As the film shows, one fan we met has a list on her fridge of every player, his birthday, and his favorite kind of cake. And that fan makes a cake for every player on his birthday. Not every team has the level of devotion we saw in Murray.Meanwhile, in Plano, Texas… Being devoted to a sport is certainly something Bill Fong understands. Currently, the 49-year-old bowling aficionado holds the State of Texas record for best three-game series. In STRIKE: THE GREATEST BOWLING STORY EVER TOLD, director Joey Daoud follows Bill as he tries to bowl a perfect 900 game, something only 22 Americans have ever done.
DIFF: How did you learn about this Plano-based bowling wizard? What drew you to his story?
Jeoy Daoud: I heard about his story through a D Magazine article. It got pretty popular on the internet and when I was reading it all I could think about was how cool of a film this would be.
DIFF: Bill bowls dozens of games a week. He plays during the day and he plays at night. He even plays when he’s having a stroke. What is it about Bill that drives him to perfection.
JD: Like Bill says in the film, he just has a natural drive to be the best at something. If he does it, he’s going to go all in 150%. While other bowlers try to bowl the exact same way each time, Bill is one of the most adaptable players out there. He just relentlessly practices, making him one of the few people that can read and feel the subtle changes in a lane.
A keen understanding of subtlety is also a skill found in the field of sound editing, a crucial part of all filmmaking that is nevertheless overlooked (pun intended). Filmmaker Deborah Stratman ‘s HACKED CIRCUIT offers an entrancing look at the sound mixing process. The short film, composed entirely of a single looping shot, shows us how intricate layers of sound effects are added into films and also ties the process to today’s surveillance society.
DIFF: What does the title “Hacked Circuit” refer to?Deborah Stratman: First, to actor Gene Hackman, who appears doubly in the film, in famous films that were made twenty-four years apart. It so happens that Hackman’s character in both films [THE CONVERSATION and ENEMY OF THE STATE] is a sonic surveillance expert, someone who spends time hacking into people’s private lives. But the reference also reaches out to include the hacking (spying) by governments.
DIFF: HACKED CIRCUIT is also composed of one long, looping shot. What was your intention creating the film in this way?
DS: I wanted to see if I could achieve, without employing edits, a series of shifts in what we understand the ‘reality’ and the project of the film to be. I think the loop is an essentially paranoid form. When we’re stuck inside of paranoid thinking, we tend to replay things over and again. I wanted the film to evoke paranoia, and a sense of conviction alongside a lack of certainty about what is visible.
DIFF: Good sound editing is one of those crucial jobs in filmmaking but also that, when done correctly, is kind of indivisible. What attracted you to the subject?
DS: I’ve had a long term interest in sound design. Ever since I started making films, really. Sound very efficiently evokes events and locations, so it is an idea medium for psychological manipulation.
When you look at the chair, it’s there… and then it’s still there, looking just like a chair. Sounds don’t work that way. They are vectored in time. The way we process what we hear has been taken advantage of in some ingeniously subversive ways, innocently by sound designers but also by surveillance experts, the military, etc. The audio-sphere is well disposed to control.
DALLAS STAR AWARDS
Cheryl Boone Isaacs is the first African-American President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and only the third woman to hold the office.
John Kricfalusi, the creator of Ren & Stimpy, is the recipient of the 2014 Texas Avery Animation Award presented by REEL FX.
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