SXSW Report: The Rest of the Documentaries!
For the last week, Paste has been catching you up on the films of SXSW 2012. To wrap things up, here are the rest of the documentaries we caught there:
Beware of Mr. Baker
This documentary of Ginger Baker, one of greatest drummers of the past century, has pretty much everything one could want: seemingly unfettered access to the still-living subject (whose surliness seems undiminished) and his family; interviews with a host of fellow musicians, most of them legends themselves, weighing in on the man and his music; copious footage and musical tracks of Baker on and off stage; and clever, but not overwrought, usage of animation and other techniques to accompany transitions and voice-over that would otherwise just call for a Ken Burns-ian succession of stills. As a result, Jay Bulger manages to convey a portrait of the irascible Baker that is both entertaining, unsparing and, yet, sympathetic toward a man whose compulsions have made him both a legend and a pariah. -Michael Burgin
Seeking Asian Female
Before the opening credits of Seeking Asian Female have finished rolling, producer/director/writer/editor/camera-woman Debbie Lum has already broken the fourth wall. She tells you (yes, you) what this documentary-style film is about—the aging, “Yellow Fever”-afflicted Stephen, his courtship of the native Chinese woman Sandy, and her own direct involvement and sway throughout their entire relationship. But that’s just one way to describe what Seeking Asian Female is actually about. Its story raises issues about latent racism and sexism in America. Its context highlights American imperialism and ethnocentrism. Its themes expose U.S. immigration policies and marriage rights. And the finished product raises so very many questions about the role of a filmmaker in a so-called documentary. Though at times frustrating and downright disturbing, Seeking Asian Female succeeds through its storytelling of a rarely publicized social phenomenon. And in so doing, Lum forces audiences to acknowledge the controversial thematic and cinematic aspects of the film and to reach individual conclusions through their own moral and artistic compasses. -Hilary Saunders
Just Like Being There
The story of gig posters—those screenprinted concert posters that have become an integral part of club shows around the country—is beautifully told in this surprisingly engaging documentary. While it could have just been a simple show-and-tell, director Scout Shannon delves into the lives of these artists. The passion behind their work comes out not only in the artistry but also in the mechanical process of each poster’s creation. Especially fun is seeing those posters that, for various reasons, were not so memorable, like Prince drawn up as part of a praying mantis. Also, we see the special relationship between the bands and the poster artists, where capitalism works at its most basic level, often without the complications of bureaucracy. -Tim Basham
As an introduction to how drastically agriculture has changed in relation to the food we purchase, Eating Alabama excels as we follow a young couple that has decided to eat only locally grown, unprocessed food for one year. What would have been a simple exercise 50 years ago now turns into a study in patience and diligence as these two explorers meet what has become rare: the farmer. And they discover the downside in America of having to create food for a living. As the media and our culture looks for healthier habits, this film’s timing is ideal.
Bad Brains: Band in DC
Bad Brains: Band in DC is more than just an enlightened history on Bad Brains, DC’s most celebrated punk outfit: it’s an homage to the band’s influence on the scene it helped create and the careers it helped inform. The documentary relies on interviews with many of this generation’s most well-respected musicians — Ian MacKaye, Michael Diamond and Adam Yauch, Dave Grohl — to tell the story of a band whose popularity never matched its accomplishments, but whose accomplishments will be forever revered. Much of the film focuses on Bad Brains’ over-the-top frontman, H.R., who, by one of the band’s more recent tours in 2007, seems to have completely lost his mind. It’s a theme that spans the entire documentary, and, apparently Bad Brains’ entire 35-year career. The other three members of the group share the film’s spotlight as well, especially Dr. Know, whose handy work on the guitar made him the brains behind the Brains. The documentary finds the perfect balance of one-on-one interviews, current video footage and vintage recordings from Bad Brains’ punk heyday in the 1970s and ’80s. It’s a documentary that spends more time on the personalities in the band and those who helped the group succeed than detailing every bit of minutiae that defines its career. Save for a few shortcomings — there were lots of comparisons between Bad Brains and other punk groups at the time, but no footage or recordings of those other groups — Bad Brains: Band in DC is everything you’d want from a punk documentary: sit-down style interviews, outrageous personalities, and lots and lots and lots of fast music. -Chris French
Her Master’s Voice
In reading the SXSW synopsis I would never have expected this to be one of my favorite films of the festival. After all, in my book ventriloquists fall somewhere between animal acts and dance improv when it comes to entertainment. But this documentary about Nina Conti’s rise as one of the world’s top ventriloquists and her journey to Venthaven, the resting place for ventriloquists’ dummies, is like being on the inside of a Hitchcock film. Conti’s exchanges with her wooden friends go beyond entertainment. It’s Jungian analysis for all to see. It’s one thing when the audience is unsure of where the act is going. But it’s quite another when the artist herself makes self discoveries through conversations with her partners. -Tim Basham