Eyes at Front

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

Seeing is Believing: Handicams, Human Rights and The News
Bart Weiss thinks of this as the fests signature piece, and its also its most essential. Its damned near impossible to watch some scenes from Peter Wintonick and Katerina Cizeks documentary about documentary makers; they want you to look and be appalled, terrified. They want us to stare at the grisly remnants--severed body parts, bullet-riddled corpses--of war and poverty and pestilence. They watch the watchers of violence inflicted upon those struggling to hold on to their land, their families and their humanity out of sight and out of mind of the worlds media. Wintonick, maker of Manufacturing Consent, and Cizek celebrate, if thats the right word, those who risk their lives simply by pointing video cameras into the battlefields, which might be a street corner in the former Czech Republic or tribal homelands in the Philippines or crumbling skyscrapers in Manhattan. Still, however much the filmmakers want to prove a cameras as powerful as a gun, they cant; they have the horrific proof on video, the dozens of corpses and carved-up men and women and children whose plights escaped the nightly news. A remarkable movie about the power of video; never again will you aim your video camera at a birthday party without thinking of how others are using it, sometimes just to stay alive. March 22, 7:30 p.m., Horchow Auditorium. (RW)

A favorite on the film-fest circuit for more than a year--and an Oscar-nominated entry in this years documentary category--Jeffrey Blitzs documentary about eight kids who competed in the 1999 National Spelling Bee plays like a Chris Guest film with a heart; its as touching as it is amusing, as unfathomable as it is real. Theres the girl from the Panhandle whose father and mother illegally crossed the Rio Grande for a better life; her dad raises cattle for an elderly white couple who likes Mexicans, since theres some good mixed up in em. There are the children of Indian immigrants for whom being the best speller in the United States is the ultimate goal. Theres Ted Brigham, a hulking and quiet boy whose dad teaches special education students; April DeGideo, who has worn out dozens of dictionaries in her quest for letter-perfect glory; Ashley White, the girl from the inner city who imagines her humdrum life as a movie. Each child here is an outsider in his or her everyday existence, but a star on the Washington, D.C., stage upon which some 250 kids competed three years ago; Blitz acutely makes the point that these boys and girls are special, not different. When it gets to the competition, in its second half, the film sweats and cries with tension; you want them all to go home with the trophy, but instead watch as, one by one, theyre escorted off the stage to the sound of a ringing bell. Who knew--the best film you will see all year is a documentary about a spelling bee. March 23, 3:30 p.m., Horchow Auditorium. (RW)

Uncommon Sense: The Art and Imagination of Nancy Willard
Michael Mayhews charming short film about the Newbery Award-winning author of childrens books--Nancy Willard, a lecturer at Vassar, is also a poet and essayist--sets out to explain the whimsy and wonder found in such beloved titles as A Visit to William Blakes Inn and The Magic Cornfield. What Mayhew discovers is a brilliant, sweet eccentric who lives with a husband and dozens of friends fabricated from tin cans, wire, strings, paints and other found objects; Willard, inspired by her mother to decorate and make beautiful what others believed unsightly, makes tangible the fairy tales and fictions roiling around in her skull. Makes you wonder if shed be willing to adopt someone in their mid-30s. March 21, 9:15 p.m., Video Lounge. (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.


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.

The Unknown Forest
A well-meaning but ultimately mush-headed paean to the Great Trinity Forest, which lies just south of downtown along the river and which is the largest urban bottomland hardwood forest in the nation (whatever thats worth). Local naturalists sing the forests praises while decrying any attempt by the guvment to clear deadwood or build trails. Meanwhile, the more sensible experts point out that although there are several scenic spots in the forest, most of it is ragweed and assorted other natural crap. (The nature-lovers also fail to point out that its a favorite spot for hookers to give off-road blowjobs.) Leeson seemingly stays objective about the debate as to what to do with the forest, but the narration that frames this debate is so over-the-top bad poetry that it clearly gives away the filmmakers biases. Whats worse, the narration constantly refers to the forest as a she. For example: She [the forest] is as perfect in winter as any forest in the world; also: So, surrounded by humankind, she stays apart. And that doesnt address the annoying techno-Indian chant music that plays throughout. Leesons photographs on his Web site (www.fieldandforest.com) do a better job of praising nature than this documentary. March 22, 8:30 p.m., Horchow Auditorium. (EC)

Value-Added Cinema
Less straight-out commentary than video mash-up, Pacific Film Archive video curator Steve Seids 46-minute compilation is a hoot, if not quite a revelation; surely you already knew Hollywood whored itself out to mega corporations shilling their product, didnt you? Seid scoops out the guts of some 70 films and leaves behind the scraps selling stuff: Starbucks coffee (Youve Got Mail), Fed Ex (Cast Away), Reeses Pieces (E.T.), 7 Up (Moonraker), Pepsi (Cobra), Coke (Superman II), Nike (What Women Want) and everything else ever made, sold or bought (Minority Report and Josie and the Pussycats, the latter of which was pedestrian product-placement satire to begin with). Thats for starters (you also get plenty of Nell, tons of I Am Sam and surprising amounts of Stanley Kubrick), and though the compilation is rather artlessly made--sometimes scenes seamlessly blend into each other, but more often it feels a bit too random and jumbled--its nonetheless interesting to watch films revealed for what they are: expensive advertisements built around shoddy product (Minority Report took in some $25 mil for placement of product). Seid lets his bookends, moments from Putney Swope and They Live (!), do his heavy lifting; they provide the scabrous and smart comments on brainwashing. Hes just happy to put a smile on our face, as we grin in knowing recognition of the selling power of star power. Dont be surprised, though, if you leave the theater wanting Tom Cruise to overnight a case of beer to Tom Hanks at a Target. March 23, 2:45 p.m., Video Lounge. (RW)

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