Friends: In 1968 outdoor equipment company legends Yvon Chouinard and Douglas Tompkins, who went on to found Patagonia and North Face, were a couple of surfing and climbing bums who had accomplished quite a few significant climbing feats in Yosemite and elsewhere. Looking for greater adventure they drove a van, lashed with surfboards on its roof, ten thousand miles from California to Chile, surfing and climbing all the way. For both of them it was the "best trip" of their lives.
They traveled with a 16-millimeter camera. A few years ago a young climber/surfer, Jeff Johnson, stumbled upon their footage and decided to duplicate their trip taking along a film-maker to document it. They won the favor of Chouinard and Tompkins, who appear in the film. They also allow them to intersperse footage of their 1968 trip in their film "180 Degrees South."
Johnson reminds them of themselves in their younger days. Chouinard calls him, "the real thing, a total dirt bag." Johnson sails some of them way. At one point the 70 foot mast on the boat he's hitched a ride on breaks and it has to limp to Easter Island for repairs. As Chouinard says, "When everything goes wrong, that's when the adventure starts."
One of Easter Island's remaining 110 residents is a woman surfer. During the several weeks the crew is stranded on Easter Island Johnson wins her favor. She continues on with the crew to Chile where they meet up with Chouinard and Tompkins and try to climb Corcovado, a virtually unclimbable peak usually covered in snow. The 70-year old Chouinard decides at the last minute to join them on the climb.
He is still a strong advocate of independent, do-it-yourself climbs. He decries "all the plastic surgeons and CEOs who pay $80,000 to climb Everest and are led the way up with Sherpas carrying their packs who set up their tents and put chocolate mints on their pillows." Such adventures should test one's fortitude and not be made easy, that's how one raises one's soul, he says, adding, such people are "an asshole when they start out and an asshole when they come back."
This was a sensational film in many ways that more than made my day. Chouinard and Tompkins have long been heroes. They are presently devoting much of their time to maintaining a national park they established in Chile that is larger than Yellowstone.
"Rejoice and Shout," a documentary on gospel music, was also full of exceptional archival footage of early day gospel singers and the plantation culture they grew out of showing field hands picking cotton and ministers giving river baptisms. Among the footage was a duel between two five-somes of male blind singers, one known as The Blind Boys of Alabama and the other The Blind Boys of Jackson. Mahalia Jackson is also profiled. She was initially a hair dresser in Chicago promoted by Studs Turkel. One of her clients says she "did hair so good it lasted three weeks."
Half my first day's films were documentaries. The third was "Weapons of Mass Addiction," a Spanish/Mexican production about the evil automobile and how it is causing the ruination of the planet. It opens in Los Angeles, "the city of the automobile," and largely is focused on the US. It has a Spanish narration, though most of the people interviewed are Americans speaking English.
It ably documents the automobile as a destroyer, but rather than proposing to phase the automobile out, it just encourages limiting its use. It discovers two people in Los Angeles who manage to get along without a car and bicycle all over. They find a similar person in New York, who speaks of the "freedom and magic of riding a bicycle." Rather than concentrating on getting people on bikes though, it expresses hope that electric and bio-diesel cars will come to the planet's rescue and save the air and that people will try car-sharing programs and use more mass transit. No matter what fuel a car runs on, it is still a dangerous weapon that needs to be greatly limited, if not eliminated.
Two of my feature films were about kidnappings, something that looks like it could be the theme of the festival. Having read through the entire program now, at least 20films mention kidnapping. "Life Wire" from Germany is even described as "a day in the life of an innocent kidnapper." Usually there are a slew of serial killer movies. There are only a couple this year, but still the usual glut of horror films.
"Bitter Feast" was a kidnapping/horror film. I thought this tale of a chef who kidnaps a food critic who cost him his job might be a comedy, but it was anything but. Both the chef and critic are such unlikeable characters I hoped neither of them would survive their ordeal in the woods. It was too much for Julie. She walked out with half an hour to go. Horror in the forest is another predominant theme. Quite a few of the horror films seem to take place there. When I'm camping I always seek out forests and regard them as a place of refuge, not terror, as filmmakers like to portray them.
Gerard Depardieu becomes a kidnapper in "My Afternoons with Margueritte," rescuing 95-year old Margueritte from an undesirable nursing home, when she can no longer afford a nicer one. He had befriended her in the park, as they both like feeding its pigeons. He is a working class man who was a very poor student, not even mastering reading. She reads him Camus' "The Stranger" and inspires him to read on his own. This was the lone screening of the day that was packed with people sitting in the aisles.
There was some archival commentary from Jimmy Carter in "Night Catches Us," a film that takes place in Philadelphia in the summer of 1976 when he was running for president and the Black Panthers were killing cops. A former Black Panther, recently released from prison for selling guns, returns to the wife of a Panther who was gunned down in his house by the cops for having killed a cop himself. His wife and the ex-con get back together. There is still simmering rage in the community between blacks and whites and the cops.
The hoot for the day was the thirty minutes of "Suck" I saw, a Canadian rock and roll vampire film with Malcolm MacDowell as a vampire wearing an eye patch. Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop have small roles. This oddity attracted a near full house too. I would have gladly watched it to the end if I didn't have the anti-car doc to see.
Looking forward to Day Two's beginning of the invited films playing in the competitive categories, but still not a bad start to the festival.