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Now in our ninth calendar year!
PCR #423 (Vol. 9, No. 18) This edition is for the week of April 28--May 4, 2008.

"Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay"  by Mike Smith
FANGRRL Goes to the Ybor Festival of the Moving Image  by Lisa Ciurro
Comic Book Confidential: JLA ‘74  by ED Tucker
Clemons...Rays...Bucs...and more by Chris Munger
Wedding Day .... 18 Years .... .... e  by Matt Drinnenberg
Married Life .... Movie Notes .... Goodbye! .... .... .... .... .... .... And The Oscar For 1976 Should Have Gone To... a  by Mike Smith
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FANGRRL by Lisa Ciurro

FANGRRL Goes to the Ybor Festival of the Moving Image

If the Ybor Festival of the Moving Image were a character in Little Women, it would be Jo March. After writing that, it occurs to me that most people reading this probably have a Y chromosome and are unfamiliar with the characters of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. So here’s a translation: Jo March is strong-willed, independent, energetic, unusual and does things her own way no matter what others think.

Just like the Ybor Festival of the Moving Image.

The YFOMI isn’t about parties, movie stars or networking. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as the Seinfeld adage goes.) The YFOMI is about film, pure and simple. Films that make you think. Films that make you not know what to think. Films that flood your senses, confound you, try your patience, overwhelm you, amuse you, entertain you, teach you, expand your mind, baffle you, startle you. Films that take you somewhere that you’ve never been before, to a place you can’t get to through the typical Hollywood blockbuster.

I love Hollywood blockbusters. I want my movies to be linear, to have a clear beginning, middle and end. To have a freakin’ plot and to not give me a headache. But each year I continue to seek out what the Ybor Festival of the Moving Image has to offer. Each year I continue to have my consciousness raised, my brain engaged and my mind challenged by the festival’s films. This year was no exception.

Festival director David Audet told me that he selected films with the upcoming presidential election in mind. Many of the selected films focus on important issues currently on the minds of voters and politicians alike: immigration, the Iraq War, capital punishment, the First Amendment, crime, religion, sexism and human rights. Several of the films I was able to watch – including Taxi to the Dark Side and El Inmigrante -- make compelling arguments about one or more of these topics.

Of course, there were films at the festival that weren’t about Serious, Important Issues. I was fortunate enough to see some charming, whimsical, funny films (Gustav Braustauche and the Auto-Debilitator, for example). I also had a chance to see some films that I can’t categorize or even accurately describe because I have no idea what they were about, what I was supposed to get out of them, or if I even liked them or not. Audet is fearless in his determination to support original, personal, experimental cinema and to screen these types of films at each year’s festival. The way I figure it, if Audet has the courage to showcase these films each year (and let’s face it: experimental, unusual films don’t usually bring in lots of money or viewers), then I can have the courage to sit down, shut up (although my inner voice is usually whining But this doesn’t have a plot!) and watch some movies that I would probably never see otherwise.

Each film that I saw at the festival deserves much more attention than I’m able to devote here, but I want to share my festival experience with you. So without further ado, here is a list of films I saw at this year’s Ybor Festival of the Moving Image – the good, the bad and the incomprehensible:

Taxi To The Dark Side – This feature documentary deserved its recent Academy Award. It starts off exploring the mysterious and suspicious death of an Afghani taxi driver and ends up asking hard questions about the U.S. military, government leaders, the Iraq War, torture, imprisonment and human rights. The film focuses on Abu Ghraib and Bagram Air Base: who was being held there; how the detainees were treated; who worked/served there and how did they feel about how they treated the detainees; what happened to the detainees and the soldiers; and finally, who was ultimately responsible for what happened there. Taxi is searing; very powerful and well done. (NOTE: Contains graphic, un-censored photographs of imprisonment, torture and autopsies. Not for the faint of heart.)

El Inmigrante – A feature documentary about a young, Mexican migrant who was shot and killed by a resident of Brackettville, Texas while attempting to cross the border into the U.S. The film examines a range of issues: racism, immigration, border patrol, inequalities and inconsistencies in the justice system, poverty, multi-culturalism and vigilantism. To me, this movie was not as moving as I expected it to be, perhaps because of the sheer number of issues it covered and perhaps because the emotional impact of the shooting was blunted by the way it was presented (the more time it took for the facts to be revealed, the less time there was to become emotionally involved).

Ghosts of Ybor:Charlie Wall – This feature documentary – by Tampa’s own Pete and Paul Guzzo, about whom you might have heard – tells the story of Charlie Wall, the powerful crime lord who controlled Tampa – and most of Florida – for several decades in the early 1900s, only to fade into obscurity until his mysterious and still unsolved murder in the 1950s.

The Guzzos did extensive research, including interviews with Wall’s relatives, former police detectives and Mayor Pam Iorio. The original film score is incredible and the choice of Joe Lala as narrator is absolutely perfect. The Guzzos’ unique blend of the familiar documentary elements of interviews, photographs, newspaper articles and recreations with the not-so-familiar techniques of animation, black-and-white sketches and colorful artistic renditions, while creative, did not always work for me. I found the animation and the artwork – especially the brightly colorful pieces – to be jarring and interruptive to the flow of the film. This was another documentary that did not have the emotional impact on me that I had anticipated; I wasn’t wowed or swayed by the names of the possible murder suspects because the film didn’t delve into those characters much before giving their names at the film's end.

Ultimately, though, Charlie Wall was worth seeing, because it introduced me to local history that I had previously not known about and it whetted my appetite to learn more on my own.

Killer of Sheep – Filmmaker Charles Burnett’s critically-acclaimed-but-rarely-seen film is a fictional narrative story that so correctly captures real life on film that it’s almost a documentary. It’s a look at a day in the life of a 1970s working-class black man who lives with his family in the L.A. ghetto of Watts and works in a slaughterhouse. The film picks up at a random point in the man’s life and leaves off just as randomly. It was interesting; it became riveting as we come to care about the lead character and his family; ultimately it was depressing.

War Dance – This Oscar-nominated documentary (it lost to Taxi to the Dark Side) is about cute children from the wrong side of town who want desperately to win a music competition. The twist is that these children live in overcrowded refugee camps in northern Uganda, have witnessed terrible atrocities (oftentimes the murder of their parents), and that the Patongo School has never made it to the state music championship before. I have never wanted someone in a film to win so badly in my life. I won’t tell you whether or not they won, but I will tell you that I cried my eyes out watching this movie and I’m not ashamed to admit it. War Dance is beautiful and moving and powerful.

Con El Toque De La Chaveta (With a Stroke of the Chaveta) – This short documentary about lectors (readers) in Cuban cigar factories is very educational. I had always assumed that the lectors sat down, read to the factory workers during their shift and then packed up and left for the day. Not so, according to this documentary. The factory workers vote on the lector’s reading selections, signal their interest – or lack thereof – in the readings by ritualized taps on their tables, and look to the lectors for assistance with issues ranging from an unknown word heard earlier that day to writing letters on their behalf. Well done and interesting.

Simulacra – This charming animated short film takes place on a mechanized planet devoid of natural life. A robot discovers a flower growing wild and goes to extreme lengths to capture it.

Love Lived on Death Row – An unusual feature documentary about the Syriani family of North Carolina. Fifteen years ago, Mr. Syriani killed his wife and was sent to prison, leaving their four children to be raised by family. As adults, the Syriani siblings decide to let their father back into their lives, visiting him on death row in prison for the first time since their mother’s death. They forgive him, get to know him and finally have a father again when he is scheduled to die by lethal injection. The Syrianis appeal for clemency and fight not to lose their father too.

Filmmaker Linda Booker was very careful not to quickly reveal Mr. Syriani’s fate (so I won’t either) and tried hard to let the family tell the story without interjecting her own personal opinion into the film. (She stated this at the documentary filmmakers panel.) She did a good job and created a powerful and moving film. I only wish that she had given some basic biographical facts up front and then let the story unfold naturally. The murder of Mrs. Syriani by her husband was mentioned too quickly and important details about the family were overlooked. I didn’t realize until a third of the way through the film that there were four Syriani siblings, because one sister doesn’t appear on camera very often and there was no “there were four children” fact presented in the beginning. This film left me with a lot of unanswered questions regarding the murder, how the children were able to forgive their father, the circumstances of the Syriani son witnessing the murder, and so on. I don’t know if Booker didn’t ask the questions or if the family didn’t answer them, but I would like to have had more answers.

Fracas – There’s no good way to describe this five-minute film without giving too much away. (Plus I'm not entirely sure I "got" it.) It consists of photographs of children set to a soundtrack of children participating in a spelling bee. The ending – which may or may not come as a surprise – makes you wonder what statement the filmmaker is making. Then you look up “fracas” in the dictionary, say “Ah ha!” and then wonder about it some more.

The Distance to the Sun - The festival program said it’s a “unique, deep experience that lies somewhere between imagery, memories and mysterious events.” To me, it was 28 minutes of a car driving down a road. In the beginning, there was a soundtrack of a radio show about UFOs, then for a long while there was silence. After that, I don’t know. I didn’t make it through the whole 28 minutes.

Untitled (2007) – Director – and recent UT graduate – Allison Koehler announced that this short film is now titled Loneliness Hotel and is part of a trilogy of films on loneliness she’s doing. Having her introduction helped, because otherwise I would have missed the theme. This 14-minute black-and-white film shows three different people by themselves in hotel rooms through lots of quick cuts and repetitious scenes (to mimic the repetitive motions of lonely people, I think). Very creative use of music and sound effects; ultimately too long (and a little boring).

Cartesian Cunning – I have no idea what this short black-and-white film was about, but it depressed the hell out of me.

Gustav Braustache and the Auto-Debilitator - A wonderfully wacky short black-and-white film that no description can do justice. Unsuccessful inventor/mad scientist Braustache hasn’t paid rent for 34 years, living quietly in his cramped apartment inventing things like the Wide-Coverage Beer and Beverage Dispenser and dealing with a salamander infestation. After discovering the rent mishap, Braustache’s apartment manager quickly searches for him, only to discover that his latest invention – the Position Despecifier – makes him difficult to find. Using silent-film-era organ music and title cards, this film is silent film slapstick meets Inspector Gadget spoof meets insanity. With salamanders.

Film historian Charles Lyman presented a two-part series of rare, 16mm films by American independent filmmakers. I caught some of the series:

*1970 – A filmmaker carries his camera around his daily life in the 60s and 70s, back when it was unusual to do so, when recording one’s every move was not part of everyday life like today. A fascinating stream-of-consciousness look at one man’s life, with a great soundtrack.

*Sucking Alabama Air – A psychedelic, odd, free-flowing film that was obviously made in the 60s. Nature, music, free love…those were the days. This film was made before the Charles Manson-ordered Tate-LaBianca murders, which made all the foreshadowing (a Manson look-alike, a Tate look-alike, a knife juxtaposed with a woman’s pregnant belly) all the creepier.

*Saint Flournoy Lobos-Logos and the Eastern European Fetus Taxing Japan Bride in West Coast Places – Um...I think the title speaks for itself.

*Window Water Baby Moving – I walked into this movie late. This is not a movie you want to be late for. For a while I thought I was watching surgery of some sort. Then I realized I was watching a woman give birth. Close up and very, very personal. No soundtrack at all; complete silence (I think the audience was stunned). I went to Lamaze class with a friend years ago and the film we watched that night was less..."up close and personal" than this film. Not for the faint of heart or for women who have never had children. Or for anyone on a date.

*An Acquired Taste – Too bad we only saw an excerpt of this film; I want to see the entire thing. Filmmaker Ralph Arlyck turns the camera – and his humor – on himself and his family. His movie is about how he wanted to be famous, rich and successful as a filmmaker, but isn’t. Based on this movie, he should be.

*Hold Me While I’m Naked – This was introduced as being a humorous take on a filmmaker making movies to get women. I didn’t get it, I don’t think the strategy worked for that filmmaker, and it wasn’t funny at all. Of course, I’m prejudiced because I had just seen An Acquired Taste, which would have been difficult to top.

Last, but not least, are some short films by Hillsborough Community College students:

*Morning Meditations - A simple story about a guy who gets dumped by his girlfriend, is depressed and spends some quiet time in the HCC Art Gallery contemplating his life. The filmmakers made a nice attempt to capture the bright colors of the gallery's artwork on film. I came to appreciate this film more after reading about artist Tobey Archer's light/art pieces on display in the HCC Art Gallery. (Her collection is titled Night Meditations and is meant to inspire reflection and quiet contemplation.)

*One Egg Makes A Difference - A guy goes on a date and makes the mistake of telling his story about being arrested. Very creative, low-budget use of props and costume to effectively portray a cop and his patrol car.

*Untitled - A highly stylized, mesmerizing series of shots of one guy running, set to music. I don't know if the filmmakers started out just exploring the different effects available with their software, or if they were trying to see how many ways they could film the same sequence, or what. Incredibly inventive and entertaining.

*The Other Face of War - A music video/photo montage designed to show a different, more personal, side of the U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Filmmaker Lashara Sullivan has served in Iraq twice and is returning this summer. Very moving and powerful. Well done.

*Exactly - Another amazing music video. I haven't heard of local musician Amy Steinberg before, but I'm definitely going to look her up. Her song Exactly is sort of an upbeat, folksy song that's catchy enough to hum along to and memorable enough to stay with you afterwards. This short was comprised of photographs manipulated (Rotoscoped?) enough for the faces to blur without losing meaning. The song, its message, the photos and the effects gel perfectly in a motivational, inspirational and powerful way (that's not lame at all, even though this description sorta is). I'm told that the video is up on Steinberg's MySpace page, so you can check it out there.

*Crime Pays - HCC professor John Hardin introduced this film by stating that he screens it for all of his film students after one of his students, Chris Hastings, filmed it five years ago. Hastings made a couple of changes to it when Hardin asked to screen it at the YFOMI, so I guess technically I saw the director's cut. Heavily inspired by Tarantino, Hastings has created a 20-minute black-and-white short that's better than some of the full-length movies I've paid to see at the theater. It's a story -- told out of sequential time order, of course -- of some guys, some drugs, some guns, a heist, a murder, a double-cross...and I'm not sure what else because a lot of the characters looked alike (all wearing dark suits, of course) and I had trouble keeping up with who's who and what's what. Exceptionally well-done with fantastic use of music throughout. (When I found myself confused and therefore a little bored, I concentrated on those things.) And you gotta love that the end of the story is in the middle of the movie trick, doncha?

While we're talking about the end of the story.......ROLL CREDITS

(psst! This column's over. Stop reading. Really. I mean it.)

"FANGRRL" is ©2008 by Lisa Ciurro.   All graphics, except where otherwise noted, are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2008 by Nolan B. Canova.