Made on the Margins

For 15 years, the Dallas Video Fest has flickered on the fringe

Blue Vinyl If nothing else, Judith Helfland's documentary explains why Louisiana always smells like a lit fart: That's where one-third of the nation's PVC is manufactured, in cities like Lake Charles, where the trees don't grow so well anymore. Similar in spirit to Michael Moore's Roger and Me, though certainly less confrontational, Blue Vinyl begins simply; Helfland's parents decide to replace their house's rotting wood exterior with vinyl siding, amid protest from their daughter--not because, as her mother assumes, her parents are dismantling her childhood home, but because Judith's rare form of cervical cancer (brought on by some questionable medical advice and bad prescriptions) has caused her to question pretty much everything. She wants to know how dangerous vinyl siding is to the environment and the people in it, so she goes to the source, interviewing Louisiana plant workers and the residents in the cities surrounding the factories. Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, what she finds there confirms her worst fears. Equal parts enlightening and entertaining, Blue Vinyl plays like a great episode of TV Nation. (Zac Crain)

The Case of Jonathan Pollard Jonathan Pollard, a former Navy intelligence analyst with top-secret clearance, has been imprisoned in various federal facilities since 1987, when he was convicted of passing surveillance photos and weapons information to Israel--a rare instance in which a spy was caught handing over classified docs to an ally. His case has been well-documented in a handful of books, beginning with one written by Wolf Blitzer in 1989; yet another, Miscarriage of Justice, appeared only last summer. Pollard has been portrayed as many things: devout Zionist, greedy stooge, true believer, do-gooder schmuck. His supporters would have you believe he was betrayed by the Israelis and too severely punished by the U.S. government; his detractors would insist he belongs in prison for life. Eran Preis is sympathetic to Pollard's cause, but not necessarily his case; the director lets his family and attorneys plead for his release, and his prosecutors, through old news clips, condemn him to eternal imprisonment. The film presents a fully realized portrait--from a boyhood obsession with the Holocaust and Israel to an adulthood spent thinking he was doing the right thing even when horribly wrong--and lets you judge. (RW)

Confessions of a Sociopath Joe Gibbons plays a fictionalized version of himself in this autobiographical (or is it?) film, detailing a life lived on Super 8 projectors and plenty of drugs and alcohol. "This helps me understand," Gibbons says near the beginning of the 40-minute Confessions, talking to a huge mug of beer he promptly drains. Clean and sober now, Gibbons steps back into the gutter to guide viewers through a ticker-tape parade of old mug shots, arrest reports and psychiatric hospital records, detrimental detritus picked up after "some kind of dark force" came out of him in his teens. Never shying away from his past pratfalls into addiction and jail and God knows where else, Gibbons employs the psychiatric jargon that was used to lock him up to point out that the only problem he really had was bad luck. (ZC)

No, dude, seriously: Mark Borschardt and Lloyd Kaufman travel down The Tunnel.
No, dude, seriously: Mark Borschardt and Lloyd Kaufman travel down The Tunnel.
John and Faith Hubley were animators and true Independent Spirits.
John and Faith Hubley were animators and true Independent Spirits.

Details

May 16-19. Tickets, ranging from $65 for an all-fest pass including Video Association of Dallas membership to $10-$15 for single-day passes, are available at the door or at www.videofest.org. The opening-night film, Hotel, will screen at 7:30 p.m. May 15 at the Magnolia Theater, 3699 McKinney Ave.
Dallas Theater Center Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd.

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Dances on the Prairie It's just like Dallas to locate something as grand as a privately funded, open-to-the-public garden of sculptures by living Texas artists next to an office complex. Luckily, the art--which towers and sways and shines deep in the heart of Frisco in the Texas Sculpture Garden--looks worth the drive. Patricia Meadows curated the composition, which includes postmodern metalworks and pieces crafted from Texas' own fossil-filled rocks and piney woods. Meadows, gushing about how "the rest of the world is about to see the wealth of talent we have in this state," shares equal screen time with the artists who get to talk about their own inspirations and visions, the real heart of the project. (SS)

Daughter From Danang Heidi Bub, a Vietnamese woman brought to the United States in 1975 during the so-called Operation Babylift that uprooted orphans out of alleged concern for their safety in the ravaged land, is torn between two cultures, two mothers and two identities (neither of which quite fit, because she was told she didn't, either). She's Tennessee Suth'n by way of North Vietnam; hers is a sunny optimism tempered by the pitiless reality of the past. Heidi, you see, was no orphan, but a 7-year-old girl torn from her mother, Mai Thi Kim, who was bullied by Ford administration officials to give up her little girl. "It's better for everyone," she was told (we see the moment, and it horrifies); it was a lie, of course. But Heidi's reunion with her mother is not necessarily a pleasant one; there's too much distance and anguish between the two for the tidy, loving resolution Heidi had hoped for, and we feel the ache that keeps--and rips--the two apart. Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco's 80-minute doc isn't easy to watch--it's so intimate and sorrowful you feel guilty for the invasion--but this film, which won the top-doc honors at Sundance, won't be easily shaken. Fact is, you may never forget it. (RW)

Demon of the Derby: The Ann Calvello Story How do you best describe roller derby? "Like angry squirrels, the derby skaters endlessly circle 'round their wheel," offering fans release from the tensions of their own squirrel-cage jobs, says one derby announcer in a fit of tortured simile. Somehow "angry squirrels" doesn't quite capture the strange appeal of a bygone "sport" that essentially put professional wrestling on wheels. For that, you need Sharon Marie Rutter's entertaining biography of Ann Calvello, "the meanest mama on skates," who devoted 50 years of her life and countless broken bones to a game that eventually abandoned her. Rutter tracks Calvello, who supports herself by bagging groceries, as she tries to break into a revived version of roller derby at age 69. A punk long before there was such a thing as punk rock, Calvello wants just one thing out of life--to skate for her fans, a strange mix of fey men, children and aging devotees who truly love this independent woman with the tricked-out 'do and unwrinkled "tickets" (Calvello's word for breasts). Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, Demon of the Derby is a moving depiction of a working-class proto-feminist who spent her life giving far more to her sport than it ever gave back to her. (Patrick Williams)

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