Eyes at Front

At the 16th Dallas Video Festival, you cannot--and should not--look away

Love & Diane
Reality television doesnt get any more real--it couldnt get less so--than this grim, intimate documentary about one familys struggle to survive the twin evils of poverty and drug addiction. Diane is the single mother of a Brooklyn brood trying to rebuild the family she lost when the state took away her children because of her crack addiction. Love is her 18-year-old, HIV-positive daughter filled with bitter resentment toward her mother, whom Love blames for abandoning her. Add Loves new son Donayaeh to the mix, and Dianes reconstituted family is primed to blow apart. It quickly does, as Loves violent temper, fueled by her resentment toward her mother, leads to a new round of charges of child neglect, this time against Love. Filmmaker Jennifer Dworkin chronicles all of this with an unblinking camera that captures the familys most private moments--moments filled with rage, guilt and the familys often-futile efforts to get off public assistance and build something close to normal lives. Their efforts are frustrated by a child welfare system that, at times, seems designed to stymie the familys efforts to rebuild itself. Youll feel the most sympathy for Donyaeh, however, as you witness him growing from infant to toddler, torn between the foster mother who cares for him and the birth mother desperately trying to bring him back into his clearly dysfunctional family. March 22, 5:30 p.m., TV Diner.(PW)

The March
Made by James Blue, the late Rice professor and founder of the Southwest Alternative Media Project, this account of the August 1963 March on Washington has been as vilified as it has been celebrated--no doubt because it was a film about a protest against the U.S. government madeby the U.S. government. Blue--working under the auspices of the United States Information Agency, which made propaganda films to be distributed overseas--gave his film the look of handheld realism; he had cameras on buses and street corners, watching those making signs and sandwiches. But the movie, which runs at 30 minutes, makes it look as though the march was a smooth operation; theres no sign of dissent, no context given to the reasons behind the event that brought 200,000 to D.C. It celebrates the calm of the crowd; drones on with songs of protest sung by Joan Baez and Odetta; neglects all the speakers save Martin Luther King Jr., whose speech is abbreviated and then some. Still, no matter how sanitized the film, senators didnt like shipping abroad a film celebrating protest, no matter how peaceful; they didnt want Americas dirty laundry waving from the flagpole (nor did they like the images of interracial couples marching two by two in front of the Lincoln Memorial). Its a fascinating document, precisely because its an incomplete documentary--history, without the dust. March 22, 4:30 p.m., Horchow Auditorium. (RW)

Robot Stories
Four stories, to be precise, that add up to a moving whole; always knew Greg Pak, a junior high classmate of mine, would make something of himself. The writer-director of Robot Stories, his first feature after several highly decorated shorts, offers up a handful of would-be Twilight Zoneepisodes with tangible heart, even those in which the main characters are egg-shaped robots standing in for newborns (Robot Baby) or humanoid machines programmed for office work (Robot Love) or omnipresent digitized representations of dead lovers (Clay). In Robot Love, a workaholic mother, warned by her own mother in childhood never to have any kids, struggles to nurture her wee Humpty Dumpty, which exhibits all the characteristics of a real baby (it even urinates graphite); she figures shes merely doomed to repeat the past. In Robot Love, Pak plays a robot whos good at work, programming lesser computers, but bad with real people; his heart, or whatever, beats for a female android in a neighboring office building. Clay closes the film on a downbeat: Sab Shimono plays a sculptor in the near-future who refuses to allow his brain to be scanned for replication, which would allow him to, essentially, live forever; if he cant touch, he insists, he will not truly exist. But the most compelling of the quartet is Robot Fixer, in which a mother repairs her comatose sons discarded collection of Micronaut-like toys; though her daughter insists otherwise, the mother believes that by repairing her grown sons robots, she can repair him. Pak loves the high concept, but keeps it simple; were sucked in not by the conceit, the gimmick, but the emotion behind each tale, and its a remarkable bit of work. Even if I didnt know the guy. March 20, 7:30 p.m., Angelika 8. (RW)

The Oscar-nominated Spellbound, which takes place at (of all places) a spelling bee, is the funniest and most heartbreaking film you will see all year.
The Oscar-nominated Spellbound, which takes place at (of all places) a spelling bee, is the funniest and most heartbreaking film you will see all year.
Truth decay: In Decasia, a man fights against the rot of time and loses the battle.
Truth decay: In Decasia, a man fights against the rot of time and loses the battle.

Details

For ticket information and a complete schedule of films and show times, go to www.videofest.org.
runs March 19 through March 23. Screenings will be held at the Angelika Film Center, 5321 E. Mockingbird Lane, and the Dallas Museum of Art, 1717 N. Harwood St.

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Scrabylon
Basically a film version of Stefan Fatsis fascinating book, Word Freak, Scott Petersens documentary tracks a handful of Scrabble pros in Las Vegas as they compete in the 2001 World Scrabble Championships, a three-day, 24-round tourney. Theres the star: Brian Cappelletto, the 1998 champ described by many as the best natural Scrabble player in the world. (Which is not much higher on the list than the best natural Candyland player in the world, but whatever.) Theres the caricature: Marty Gabriel, a social worker who drinks red wine vinegar straight from the bottle and once withheld sex from his wife when she beat him at the game. (After that revelation, Petersen flashes on a headline from The Onion: Area boyfriend keeps bringing up Scrabble victory.) And theres the consummate professional: G.I. Joel Sherman, the 1997 champ with more maladies than a medical textbook and the wardrobe of a gay juggler. Along the way to the tourneys climactic showdown between Cappelletto and Joel Wapnick, Petersen examines the games origins and some of its trivia (Mark Landsbergs 770 is the highest point total in a tournament match; Karl Khoshnaw scored 392 points for his use of caziques, the highest single turn score). What Scrabylon lacks in drama, it makes up for in characters. And by characters, I, of course, mean nerds. March 23, 2:15 p.m., TV Diner.(ZC)

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