Wednesday, December 07, 2016

AIFF2016: Catching My Breath - Prince Achmed, Best And Most Beautiful Things, Real Boy,

I've got lots more video than I have time to go through without staying up to 3am each night.  I'll get it up when I can.  I accidentally got my Rebel to get into this 3X digital video (don't know how I got there or how to turn it off) that works great for after the film Q&A.  But what I got is long and needs editing.  Unfortunately a project I've been working on since last spring or so, requires more of my time just this week.

But this has been a great festival so far in terms of the quality of films and the film makers here.  So here are some glimpses of things I haven't put up yet.

I haven't taken pictures during the movie for a very long time, but it just seemed I had to do it with the Adventures of Prince Achmed.  I'll get more up soon (I hope.)

This was the 1926 German animated film created by Lotte Reiniger.  They say it's the oldest full length animated film in existence. It was wonderful, paper cuttings animation.  The Milestone Films (where you can buy the DVD)  says:

"This cinematic treasure has been beautifully restored with its spectacular color tinting and with a new orchestral recording of the magnificent 1926 score by Wolfgang Zeller."

Miles and Karina with AIFF director Rebecca Pottebaum

Well, we didn't get the 1926 score by Zeller with the film.  Instead we got an enchanted score by Miles and Karina (David Keenan and Nova Devonie).

They are pictured here after the film with AIFF Director Rebecca Pottebaum.

Putnam and Hunter

Prince Achmed was followed by The First Girl I Loved - a beautiful and touching . . .   ok, it's hard to write a short description of a movie without sounding clichéd and hypish.  It's the story of a high school student and her first love, told in a way that makes them any two awkward high school students exploring their feelings and how to connect.    The picture is of the film's producers Ross Putnam and David Hunter.

Tuesday night (it's the beginning of Wednesday as I write) we  The Best and Most Beautiful Things paired with Real Boy.  The two films complemented each other perfectly.  In both documentaries the film makers essentially moved in with the families whose stories they were capturing on film.  In Best and Most Beautiful - the focus was on Michele Smith who, while legally blind, is determined to be herself and live a full and rich life.  The producer/director Garrett Zevgetis - on the right there - said one way they were able to get the trust of the family and the intimacy they got, was by having female camera folks.  I have a close friend who is blind and I appreciated how well the story demonstrated the kinds of barriers society puts up for blind people.  Michele finds an accepting community in the local BDSM community, where, as Garrett explained in the Q&A, people are very accepting and non-judgmental and there is a structure that offers control and safety.  Michele's sign for the gay pride festival says "Redefine Normal."  That's appropriate for the next film too.

Credits Real Boy
Real Boy shares a very similar documentary style of the filmmakers living with the family for a long period of time and capturing candid and difficult conversations among the family members over Rachel's name and body change to Bennett.  An incredible scene shows Ben talking to a bunch of transitioning teens online demonstrating how modern technology is making finding like souls much easier than in the past.  He even finds a close friend named Dylan who is having his surgery the same day and place and they travel together.  I've got some video of Ben's Q&A afterward and will try to get it up before too long.

Real Boy's subject Bennett Wallace was there for the showing, sang a couple of songs and then was joined by animator Alex Myung, whose beautiful short animation - Arrival - showed before Real Boy.  There's a short video of Alex I got opening night here, and I've got video of the Q&A that I'll get up eventually.

Finally I got to talk to John Serpe whose film The Happys I missed last Sunday, but which will show again Sunday at 2pm.  I'll put up the video of his pitch before then.  Of interest to me was the origin of the name - The Happys - which John said was a rough translation of the part of LA where the film was made - Los Feliz.  It's also a part I know from growing up in LA and living in nearby Silverlake before we came to Alaska 39 years ago.

I was going to add dates of the second showing of the movies mentioned in this post, but when I checked, it turns out that most aren't having a second showing.  There are some feature films showing twice, but not most of those in competition. I highly recommend Planet Ottakring which plays again on Saturday at 7pm.  Some of the award winners will play again Sunday night, but there won't be much warning of what they are.  I'll try to live blog and tweet the awards ceremony.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Reader Visits Using IPvanish

A bunch of visits from Costa Mesa, CA with using IPvanish  as the IP address.  They were searching different labels, but Clinton was one that came up repeatedly.  I had similar repeated label searches from Bochum, Germany and fewer from Hong Kong.  The latter two had more normal IP addresses.  Here's what it looks like on Statcounter.  And yes, that's some of the data captured when you go to a website and that Statcounter displays  on each visitor to the site.  

Click  image to focus better

IPvanish is a site where you can get more anonymous surfing - your IP address vanishes, according to their site.

PC Magazine has a long review on IPvanish
What's a VPN?
"When you connect to the Internet via a VPN, the service creates a secure, encrypted connection with one of the company's servers. Your Web traffic is routed through this secure tunnel before exiting through the server and into the Web. This means that someone spying on connections on the public Wi-Fi network at the local coffee shop won't be able to spy on your activities. Furthermore, government snoops and advertisers won't be to see your true IP address while you browse the Web.
VPNs are used every day by people concerned about security or trying to circumvent restrictions to Internet access. Journalists and activists in countries with restrictive Internet policies have used VPNs to keep in contact with the rest of the world and access content that would be otherwise forbidden.
While most of us won't have to worry about oppressive regimes, the average person can rest assured that their Web traffic won't be intercepted with a VPN. You can also use a VPN service's international servers to spoof your location and watch region-locked streaming content. But be advised: some media companies are getting wise. In fact, viewing Netflix with a VPN—including IPVanish—is all but impossible these days."

The discussion is much longer.  The downsides to IPvanish, according to the review, are price and aesthetics, though it says it's good value if this is what you need.

So, if you don't want your IP address captured by every website you visit, something like IPvanish would help with that.  I'm guessing the Bochum and Hong Kong addresses are part of IPvanish's collection of servers that hide one's actual IP address.

For those of you wondering, "what's an IP address" you can find out here - and also find out what your own IP address is.  At the bottom of the page it takes you into much more detail about what an IP address is on a page called "IP-101."  This is written for people who know nothing about their computers.  It's like a short lesson about what's under the hood.  And in these days where internet security and spying by companies and government may be increasing, you ought to know about this.

Monday, December 05, 2016

AIFF2016: Tuesday Choices include Alex Myung's Animated Film 'Arrival'

Here's Tuesday's easy choices schedule from the Sched program:

Best and Most Beautiful Things is a documentary in competition.  I have trailer and description here.

Real Boy is a feature in competition, proceeded by a short animated film, Arrival.

Here's the Real Boy trailer:

I talked to Alex Myung opening night and below he tells you little about Arrival.  I've got description

Sorry about the lighting, it was dark in the theater,

Here's the trailer:

And a link to Alex's website.

AIFF2016: Monday Choices Are Easy - Columbia and A Trip To Oregon To Die

From a blogger's point of view, today is the easiest of the festival - there are only two choices.  From the Sched website:

Both films are "Features in Competition."  Both are at the Bear Tooth.

Feature means it's a fictional story 55 - 140 minutes.  In Competition means they have been chosen by the programmers who selected the films that would be at the festival as one of the best and to be eligible for a prize in the festival.  One of the programmers told me that ALL of the Features in Competition this year are very good films. I would agree on that for the three I've seen.

I have more on each of these on my post about all the Features in Competition here.

You can also click on the image and get to the Sched website and the drop down menus for each film will work and tell you about the films.

AIFF2016: Another Good Day of Films

We watched animated films at the museum after going to the AK Experience first, by mistake.  We missed the first one or two.  The best of what I saw was  My Life I Don't Want - which in very basic and simple terms tells the universal story of women.  

Serena Dykman, Nana director

We stayed at the museum to see Nana, a granddaughters film about her grandmother's life after Auschwitz.  Her grandmother made it her mission to be an eyewitness who would let as many people as possible know that what life in Auschwitz was like.  I was impressed by her dedication to helping people connect to what happened so that they could prevent it from happening again.  When asked how she survived, she answered that it was luck  She wasn't smarter or more capable than others, she just got the breaks that others didn't.  She also said that no, others can not understand what happened no matter how long she talks.  And it struck me that experiential learning programs are needed to get a sense of this.  There was an elementary school experiment called Brown Eyes, Blue Eyes.  Teacher Jane Elliott divided the class up by eye color and then said that the blue eyed kids were less important, less capable, less smart than the brown-eyed kids.  The next day she switched it around.  The affects, in just two days were staggering and a follow up about 20 years later showed that the impacts were lasting.  You can see this powerful experiment at this link to the Frontline show.

I mention this here, because I think without doing that kind of exercise, people don't get it.  And, unfortunately, it is almost impossible to do that kind of exercise today in schools.  While I understand the concerns for not traumatizing students, I also know that true learning often involves a certain amount of mental distress.

Lalihta Rajan

Because we were at the museum watching Nana, we missed the Global Village program of shorts that had Lalihta Rajan's G;aswAsians in it.  But here's a picture I took of her at the AK Exp Theater Saturday.

Haper's Farce before Prince Achmed showing

At the Bear Tooth, the band Harper's Farce was playing before The Adventures of Prince Achmed started.  I'll put up more on that amazing film with great live music.

The 8:15pm Bear Tooth movie was one of the Features in Competition - the first girl I loved.  I'll do more on this later, but it was an excellently made film.  Two of the producers were there and answered questions after the film.  I'll try to get some of that up.

Michael Faulkner, Director of Shu-De

And I'll just add this picture of director Michael Faulkner, whose Shu-De played Sunday night.  It was really a concert tour sort of movie, but it took place in the republic of Tuva and the concerts featured throat sincere.

The first weekend is over.  That's usually the most hectic part because a) I haven't quite figured out the program and how to see as many of the films I'm interested in as possible.  It's also films from 11 or 12 am until 10:30pm.  But Monday is just a couple of films in the evening at the Bear Tooth.

The festival is off to a great start.  The live music interludes at the Bear Tooth have been great - particularly Blackwater Railroad Company because their music was in the film that came right after.  Everything just seems to be a little smoother.  There are lots of big cameras around - meaning more media are taking a serious interest in the festival.  And audience awards are back.  Since I've often been critical (constructively I hope), it's important to also pat people on the back when they're doing it right.  Good job to the festival board and staff and volunteers!

Sunday, December 04, 2016

AIFF2016: Sunday Choices From Climate Change to Auschwitz to Love

Films in competition today, not a lot, maybe there are some shorts hiding.

First Girl I Loved (Feature in Competition)  8:15pm at the Bear Tooth
"The funny and touching story of Anne Santos, who has decided it’s not worth coming out as a lesbian at her LA public school — until she falls in love with Sasha Basañez, a star athlete even more in the closet than she is."

There's a Short Docs and an Animation program at AK Experience at noon today. [UPDATE 1:15pm: Whoops, we got to the theater and found out Animation was at the Museum where we went, and the Short Docs were at the 49th State Brewing Company.  Sorry.  The rest looks right.  But going to a festival is a little like being a ball on a pool table.  You may be going to do something, but you meet a film maker, or something is full, or you go to the wrong venue, and you end up going in another direction, that turns out to be interesting.  There was one film in the animation today that I thought was brilliant - a Burmese film called My Life I Don't Want - which in very basic and simple terms tells the universal story of women.  ]

NANA - is a film by a granddaughter about her grandmother who died when the younger one was 11. She learns Nana had been in Auschwitz and reads her memoir.  And makes this movie.  2pm at the Anchorage Museum

Global Village is a program of short films at 3:45 at AK Experience Theater today.  One of them is called GlaswAsian (spell check hates these punny words) featuring stories of Asians (translation: Pakistanis) living in Glascow, Scotland.  The film maker, Lalitha Rajan is here and she talked to me briefly yesterday about the film.  (Yeah, it's dark at the Bear Tooth)

At the same time (3:45pm at AkExperience) is the Holly Kane Experiment.  I'd asked one of the Feature programers about good features that didn't get into competition and he mentioned this one.

Age of Consequences is a climate change doc at 4pm at the museum.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed is a 1926 German animated silent film that will get a live musical accompaniment at the Bear Tooth at 6pm.

AIFF2016: Audience Member Talks About Happy Lucky Golden Tofu Panda Dragon Good Time Fun Fun Show

I guess there is sort of a genre category for this film.  The closest I can think of are the comedy acts before an audience on Netflix.  But this one was more than that.  The camera took you back and forth from the nightclub to the streets of New York where the two actors talked about the show and what it means, but then would also go into the routines that were seamlessly picked up back in the nightclub show.  But they also talked to the audience about what they were doing as well.  And there was singing and a violin.

But more significantly, this was two Asian-American women, well, Chinese, well half-Chinese, at least one.  It was a little unclear.  And they talked, sang, rapped about cross cultural, assimilation issues within the Asian-American community,  And they didn't spare anyone.  It's a film that ought to be watched by a lot of folks and then discussed in interracial groups.

While I was taking an advantage of a break between films and trying to write up my comments on the shorts I'd just seen along with Happy Lucky  . . ., John walked into the room so I asked him about his reactions.

He wanted to talk, but not particularly with a camera recording.  But he agreed.  He was much more comfortable when I shut off the camera.  But here's a bit of his reaction.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

AIFF2016: Hard Knocks - Wow! Powerful Shorts Program - UPDATED

The first film in this program blew me away - and it's not even in competition.  Sing For Your Supper takes place in a world where you have to sing to get fed or to buy anything.  A good voice and song is the currency, and the star has lost his voice and ends up a bum.  What an amazing world this film creates.  Plus it's done well and all the little details work.  Great concept, great acting, great everything.  This is my favorite film so far.

But the other ones in the program were noteworthy too.  On Time was powerful, luck a punch in the gut.  I don't want to spoil anything, so I'll just say it too was really well done all the way around.

Virgin Territority  was also good, but just not as original as the others.

The next show is starting gotta quit.

It's 2:52 and we just got out of Happy Lucky Golden Tofu Panda Dragon Good Time Fun Fun Show.   This is one I wasn't sure I wanted to see, but it was starting and I figured I could go see Dropka at the museum if this didn't work out.  But really, this one is like Chinese rap - or as they call themselves - the Slanty Eyed Mamas - doing very political racial cross cultural comedy rap.  I'm not sure there's a word for what they were doing.  It wasn't easy to watch, the humor was oppressive (literally and figuratively).  But it's much more important to watch a movie like this that isn't like any movie I've seen quite before, than another slick Hollywood formula movie.

OK, this will be continued . . .

UPDATE again 3:13 - next movie starts soon.  I talked to John who grew up with Cantonese speaking parents and I got him to talk about Happy Lucky etc. on video and I'll put that up later.

We're now waiting for Planet Ottakring, which I'm looking forward to.

UPDATE again Dec. 4 1am - Trying to put this post to rest.  But I did want to say that two more of the shorts program were really powerful.
Pay Day was a black and white Hungarian film that took place in a small community where the money lender comes out to collect his payments.  Grim, but very well done.  And then there was My Mom And The Girl  the story of the director's mom's Alzheimers with her mom played by Valerie Harper.  It took a bit to draw me in, but then it happened as mom walks out of the house with her caregiver in bathrobed pursuit.

Two more - Virgin Territory and No Touching - were good, but not at the same level as the others.  And only two of these are in competition - On Time (short docs) and My Mom And The Girl,  My favorite was Sing For Your Supper which just had such an imaginative premise and was beautifully carried off.

Briefly - Planet Ottakring was lots of fun, a solid move. (The second movie of the day that had sinister loan sharks.)   Demimonde didn't disappoint my high expectations.  (My second Hungarian movie of the day.)  And Shu-De . . . I looked around and guesstimated about 80-100 people at the 6pm showing of what can be described as a documentary about Tuva throat singing.  That's amazing.  But it makes more sense to call this a concert tour movie in the Tuvan republic of Russia.

Past my bed time, but just wanted to get this a little bit caught up.  Saturday was a very good day at the movies.  Everything was worthwhile and quite a bit was outstanding.

AIFF2016: Saturday Suggestions - Demimonde For Sure

My advice is to go to the Festival's Sched Page for Saturday.

It looks like this (for the morning):

Click on this image and it will take you to the whole Saturday Schedule with all the dropdown windows working

It's good and will help you plan.  But it doesn't show the overlaps very well.  Unfortunately they continued what they did last year - program films that end after the next films nearby begin.

My key recommendation for Saturday is Demimonde at 8:15pm at the Bear Tooth.  Attila Szász's The Ambassador To Bern was the AIFF best feature in 2014.  It was a fine movie.  He has the same crew for this film about a famous Hungarian courtesan who was murdered and shocked the whole city.  It's a period piece and the trailer is exquisite.

I had a skype interview with Szász in 2014 about The Ambassador To Bern. At the end we talked a little bit about the new production he was beginning - which turns out to be Demimonde.  You can see it below.

But there are other films in competition showing today as well:

Happy Lucky Golden Tofu Dragon Panda Fun Fun Good Time Show is a documentary about a comedy act  known as Slanty Eyed Mamas.
Dropka is doc about Tibetan nomads.
Both are discussed in the Docs in Competition post.

Planet Ottakring  is an Austrian feature that I've discussed in the Features in Competition post.  (Along with Demimonde).

There are also panels where you can participate in discussions with some of the filmmakers.

Lots of good stuff.

AIFF2016: Full House For Opening Night North American Premiere of Sugar Mountain

Blackwater Railroad Company
Seats were getting scarce 40 minutes before things were schedule to start.  Anchorage International Film Festival director Rebecca Pottebaum enthusiastically welcomed everyone to the festival, thanked all the sponsors, and introduced the Seward based Alaska band Blackwater Railroad Company, whose music is in the film.

I'd note that another Alaskan - Portugal the Man - came up on one of the characters iPod in the movie as well.

Shot in and around Seward, Sugar Mountain was a respectable and interesting film, with very recognizable scenery for most of the audience.  I was impressed that it was made, in part, when there was snow and ice on the ground.  The main characters, facing debt and the loss of their boat, concoct a plot to have one of them get lost in the mountains and then sell their story to the media when he's found.  Things don't go quite as planned but the dig at the media's willingness to pay for such stories is clear.  The acting was good, the story had twists and turns and surprises.  The scenery was spectacular, but the grittiness of Alaska winter also comes through.

Two of the actors - Drew Roy and Haley Webb - were there to answer questions after the movie.  They talked about coming to Alaska (which they loved) to meet co-stars they didn't know, and their relief to find each other to be serious and talented actors.  Haley agreed with a questioner that her character was the antagonist - like a submarine, below the surface, but powerful in directing things.

The film opens in theaters next week, Dec. 9.

After the Q&A, there was champagne and dessert and a time to meet and talk with folks.  I got to talk to some of the programmers for features, documentaries, and shorts.  I asked the features guys for tips on movies that didn't get into competition, but were must sees.  Some suggestions:  Money, The 6th Friend, The Holly Kane Experiment, and Hunky Dory.  I also was assured the film I've been excited about from the descriptions I found on line - Planet Ottakring (Saturday at 3:15) - is a good one.  And, my assumption that Demimonde, the film by Atilla Szász who directed the festival's 2014 Best Feature, The Ambassador To Bern, is spectacular was confirmed.  It plays Saturday at 8pm at the Bear Tooth.

Alex Myung

Among the people I got to talk to was Alex Myung, whose animated film Arrival plays Tuesday night along with the feature Gayla film Real Boy.

Shot from Alex Myung's Arrival