Tale of the Tapes

With headliners like Mike Judge and an impressive list of films, the Dallas Video Festival once again wins by knockout

Confederacy Theory

"Symbols are never any better than the people who use them," declares one Southerner and Confederate flag-bearer in Confederacy Theory, a subtle and detailed exploration into the ongoing controversy that ensnared Dubya during the presidential campaign--the Dixie flag flying on the South Carolina statehouse. Writer-director Ryan Duessing talked to everyone conceivable--past and present S.C. senators and governors, NAACP activists, ministers, historians, white supremacists, and Civil War re-enactors--and some inconceivable--the black grandson of a Confederate soldier who proudly has Dixie pinned on his wall--to achieve the unlikely: the realization that both sides of this debate are correct in their contentions. The Confederate flag represents slavery, and it represents fallen ancestors. (JF)

Settlers

Aaron Fischer goes for the Popcorn! record in his funny and, finally, inspirational film.
Aaron Fischer goes for the Popcorn! record in his funny and, finally, inspirational film.
Ross Perot's supporters were Flirting With Power in 1992.
Russ Monroe
Ross Perot's supporters were Flirting With Power in 1992.

British filmmaker Sean McAllister has built his reputation with an ambitious, aggressive style that examines large social issues with an economy of means. Armed with only a camera and his own fearlessness, McAllister travels to Jerusalem to explore the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as seen through the lives and eyes of two of its inhabitants. Ali Juddah is a black Muslim who served 17 years in prison for planting a bomb in his youth; today, he's a tour guide. Dov is an Orthodox Jew from New York who hosts a radio show that espouses political commentary in a gonzo style that recalls Wolfman Jack. The title refers to the pockets of Israelis who move into historically Muslim neighborhoods, creating a palpable tension on the streets they now share. There are moments in Settlers where McAllister, who spends entire days and nights with his subjects, catches their most private, intimate moments--their hopes, their fears, their rage, their doubts--and as a result, his work offers a more eye-opening view into the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than even newspapers and television news programs have thus far been able to provide. (BM)

Superstarlet A.D.

You'll see more painted lips in Superstarlet A.D., Memphis indie wonder John Michael McCarthy's latest, than in your average Revlon commercial. The sirens, vixens, and amazons in JMM's deadpan apocalyptic comedy--a world of urban ruins where men have lost a chromosome and reverted to Neanderthal savages shot for sport by warring cults of blond-, red-, and black-haired women--sneer, pout, purse, and stretch their dark mouths, which stand in shocking contrast to their pure white complexions. What rescues it from overburdened camp concept is Steven Oatley's gorgeous black-and-white cinematography, a soundtrack of Memphis musicians who noodle in lounge jazz and Spanish guitar stylings, and the unreasonable confidence with which JMM realizes his movie-fanatic's dystopia and then guides his mostly female performers through it without a misstep. (JF)

Such a Nice Boy I Gave Birth To

Somewhere in the city of Krakow, Poland, there lives a woman who is, without a doubt, a top contender for the title Meanest Woman in Europe. She is the mother of video maker Marcin Koszalka, who should be given some sort of combat photography award for this 25-minute video, in which he relentlessly trains a camera on his mother as she runs through a series of vicious tirades against her slacker son and spiritless husband. "Why don't you go film yourself, you stupid shit?" she asks her son early on, in one of her nicer moments. "We didn't bring you, bastard, into the world to ruin our old age," and "It makes me puke, your stuff," she says later. (Other highlights include the occasional slap or tossed pan of water.) Koszalka's unblinking voyeurism of his mother's meltdowns is, simply, unpleasant to watch, but the payoff comes at the end as he films her reaction to his tape. Ever unguarded, she delivers a single look of simultaneous shock, self-loathing, shame, and defiance that no actor could duplicate--a look that makes the preceding tortuous minutes spent watching her worthwhile. Almost. (PW)

Saturday, March 17

Devotion

Hidden somewhere in Barbara Hammer's documentary Devotion is the fascinating story of Ogawa Productions, a Japanese film commune that made 18 politically charged movies from the late 1960s to the 1990s. Founded and led by the charismatic Ogawa Shinsuke, the collective's story is fragmented by a wealth of interviews--from the men and women involved and their families--whose jumbled organization obscures any clear picture of their story. Lost amid the kaleidoscope of interviews are the basic facts of Ogawa Productions--when and how it started, what informed its ideology, and even any sense of what its films examined. Hammer does a commendable job exploring the interpersonal dynamic of the group, especially the gender inequalities that existed within its core members, though a context for these stories would have given Devotion much-needed bite. (BM)

Flirting With Power

Why did Ross Perot's 1992 and '96 bids for the presidency fail? Let's see. There was the media. They were very bad. There were the dirty tricks played by the Republicans and Democrats. They were naughty, too. And finally, there was you. You just didn't have the will or energy to vote your consciences. Bad voter. Bad! Bad! Of course, the fact that Perot is something of a nutbag may have something to do with it. Unfortunately, that aspect is lightly glossed over in Flirting With Power, a dreadful softball of a documentary by Jo Streit that, despite the passage of time and broad access to members of the Perot campaigns, manages to offer little in the way of insight, balance, or depth. (It also doesn't have an interview with the man himself. Perot dislikes the media--apparently even those members willing to kiss his fanny.) Why did Perot really fail? What hidden facet of the American psyche does his limited success reveal? Was he ever truly a viable candidate? If you really want to know, we suggest you skip Streit's video and visit your public library. (PW)

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