By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
By Claire Lawton
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Anna Merlan
The Dallas Video Festival folks like to say that when Bart Weiss and Melissa Berry conceived their child in 1986, before the fest even had a name, video was the dominion of pornographers and avant-gardists who were experimenting with the still-burgeoning medium. Video cameras were years away from being the everyday playthings of the middle class; the notion of Hollywood buying (for millions!) and selling big-screen films made with digital cameras was laughable; Mark Cuban thought "high def" was something you smoked. Back then, most of what Weiss and Berry offered up was exotica to be inhaled by the few brave souls who wanted to know what was happening outside the boundaries of their little boxes and big screens. Those who came saw, and what they saw was often inexplicable, indefinable, unimaginable.
Today, as the DVF enters its 16th year (making it old enough to drive, not old enough to drink, though many of its filmmakers do far more than that), the video camera is not just the commonplace tool of the parent documenting a kid's birthday, but also a weapon of defense; ask Rodney King. It's a device small enough to carry in a coat pocket but big enough to capture the destruction of skyscrapers, the slaughter of tribesmen defending their homeland, the stripping away of personal freedoms--and, yeah, the taking off of clothes, all in the name of art, but of course. Everyone's a documentary filmmaker in 2003; you just don't know it yet. Weiss does, which is why he carries on each year with a festival filled with the peculiar and the breathtaking, the disturbing and the hilarious, the profound and the inexplicable. As always, the only unifying theme in the works being shown at the DVF is that nothing binds them together save for the dedication of the artist and the appreciation of the audience.
There are plenty of make-believe tales, but more documentaries than ever before. Perhaps Weiss believes we need to know more about ourselves now than ever; he's selected documentaries about American terrorists and the disappearance of freedom in bomb-blasted Israel to provide a little context. And he has invited documentary immortal Albert Maysles, for whom everyone alive is a subject waiting to be filmed, to present an award to a newcomer worthy of such praise. And maybe the DVF is more important today than ever before, at a time when people are being suckered into believing what they're seeing is "reality television" instead of dreadful, deceitful fiction. When you need a dose of the good stuff, even if it means looking at bad stuff happening out there, look here.
"The need for serious work is more important now than ever before," Weiss says. "We don't have everything about war and peace, but all these issues are behind most everything we're showing. These are serious times. We had a staff meeting about what if war breaks out during the fest, and we've never had that before." He almost chuckles. "I hope what we show gives context, provides a broader sense about what these things are really about."
Nissim Mossek and Alan Rosenthal serve us the dessert first. Were treated to the sweetest part straightaway as they use re-enactments and old black-and-white footage to detail how Adolf Eichmann--a Nazi monster responsible for the murder of some 5 million Jews during World War II--goes on the run like a petty criminal. We learn how the Israelis hunt him down like a rabid dog, how hes tried, convicted and eventually (not to mention thankfully) hanged. And yet there is little comfort. Where this film deviates from its History Channel feel is in its humanization of a man who was at one time a self-proclaimed dedicated Nazi before, at deaths door, rejecting the views he once embraced. Eichmann is shown to be more common than we would like--a bald, bespectacled man, completely unremarkable in appearance or intellect or background; a poor student who failed as a traveling salesman before becoming Hitlers chief thug. Throughout the film, he is mostly even-tempered--a stark contrast to the jackbooted crazies who defined the Nazi movement. Therein lies the underscored point, and with it a grim realization: The man who orchestrated some of the most ineffable atrocities in world history could have been your neighbor. He is the embodiment of evil without, unfortunately, the proper dressings. Mossek and Rosenthals take on the man is at once enlightening and sobering. March 23, 3:30 p.m., Video Lounge, DMA. (JG)
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