Tale of the Tapes

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

Up Syndrome

One of the most remarkable movies to screen this year is the documentary Up Syndrome, written, produced, directed, and edited by Duane Graves while he was still a University of Texas student. Graves returned to his hometown of San Antonio to shoot more than a year's worth of footage with one of his childhood chums, a 23-year-old with Down syndrome named Rene Moreno. What makes Up Syndrome such a minor miracle is that, unlike documentaries about the developmentally disabled such as Best Boy, it plunges through sentiment and sadness to locate the personality of people who're often blurred into angelic smudges. Never institutionalized, Moreno grew up playing with "normal" boys and absorbed their tastes and habits--popcorn, girls, slasher flicks, basketball, toy guns, fart jokes, the middle finger. That would seem to be ideal, but when he reaches young adulthood, he's so smart and confident that he's baffled at the category other adults place him in--Moreno's bewildered that he can't do what other men his age can. Graves' technical mastery of the digital video camera has us ricochet between moments of sadness, when Moreno is fired from his job at Albertson's, to lunacy, when he fakes a violent death after a mock shootout. (JF)

Ten Stories from Toxic Texas and Save the Trinity

Rene Moreno, stricken with Down syndrome, can't fathom why he can't do what other men his age can in Duane Graves' Up Syndrome.
Rene Moreno, stricken with Down syndrome, can't fathom why he can't do what other men his age can in Duane Graves' Up Syndrome.
Rene Moreno, stricken with Down syndrome, can't fathom why he can't do what other men his age can in Duane Graves' Up Syndrome.
Duane Graves
Rene Moreno, stricken with Down syndrome, can't fathom why he can't do what other men his age can in Duane Graves' Up Syndrome.

Many of the 10 tales of environmental woe shown in the first short film--problems caused by the TXI Midlothian plant, the Pilgrim's Pride plant in Pittsburg, Texas, and the Elf Athochem plant in Bryan, among others--have been told before in this area, and this makes the film's quick-hit approach so frustrating. To say it doesn't scratch the surface is to suggest it touches the surface. (Ten problems examined in just more than 20 minutes? C'mon.) Save the Trinity is also well-meaning but ultimately suffers from the same problem. Do yourself a favor and read Jim Schutze's archived columns about the Trinity River Plan at www.dallasobserver.com for a more in-depth look. (EC)

The Last Days of a Dotcom

The Pseudo.com Web site remains up, if not exactly running: It promises to return in the fall of 2001. Josh Harris' 6-year-old company, which began by providing streaming content for Prodigy way back in the day, went busto last September after myriad "reorganizations"; its assets were purchased, for a mere $2 million, by Manhattan-based INTV/Interactive Television, which still looks to make good on Pseudo's promise of providing programming on demand, 24/7. (Your grandparents used to call it "TV.") Jim Downs happened to be employed by Pseudo when it was gasping its last desperate breaths and interviews colleagues about Pseudo's chances of making it ("Probably not," opines one rational dude) and tries to figure out how it all went so wrong so fast, with the answer being that Pseudo spent too much on too many employees making too much content for too few viewers. Downs' film is awfully short (12 minutes) and, for that matter, short on context; it would have been nice to have learned a little of its history and to have seen a little of its actual content. (RW)

Popcorn!

Aaron Fischer's self-chronicled attempt to get in the Guinness Book of Records is everything True Fans wants to be but isn't: honest, funny, warm, compelling, and ultimately inspirational. It is the simplest of concepts: Fischer, a quiet, unassuming guy who admittedly has done little with his life to-date, decides he is going to pop the world's largest container of popcorn. How big is that? To start: He needs to rent a warehouse in which to construct the container. His friends think he's nuts...and so do we, especially in the film's many funny-sad moments. (Such as when Fischer, going over his numbers, realizes he's made a crucial math error and will need not 1,000 pounds of popcorn to pop but 16,000 pounds.) It's hard to explain why Fischer's struggle is so engaging. There's something noble, almost mythic, about the way he's merged the impossible with the stupid. (Not to give away too much, but the man pops corn all day, every day, for more than a month...and still ain't near done.) On the hundredth time Fisher answers the question, Why?, his response is so disarming and perfect, it's moving. "It's my dream," he says. "If you're not using your life to fulfill your dreams, what are you doing with your life?" (EC)

Big Tea Party's Unconventional Coverage: The Message and the Means

"Big Tea Party" is a Philadelphia-based cable access show hosted by one Elizabeth Fiend, a wiry-haired, horn-rimmed rabble-rouser whose mission seems to be making democratic organization, street demonstrations, and other anti-establishment actions seem fun and funky. Acting as writer, producer, and guide, Fiend takes us to the streets outside the 2000 Republican National Convention to reveal what she insists is the mainstream media's misrepresentation--that the protesters' message was confused and unwieldy and that they were all "twentysomething white guys." She proves the latter to be wrong, as people of all ages and colors march, chant, and participate in some cheeky street theater to support HIV funding and attempts to stop suburban sprawl, among other topics. Unfortunately, Fiend's quick, superficial activist-on-the-street chats suggest--fairly or not--that such theatrical methods generate more adrenaline than results. (JF)

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