×

Documentaries Remain Vital; Hopkins Center to Host Some of the Best



Friday, May 03, 2013
The record of the average American feature film in the past decade has been, on the whole, rather dismal. The word “puerile” leaps to mind. American documentary film, on the other hand, is as vigorous, provocative and engaging as it has ever been, doing the important work of looking at, for example, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the national security state, and the collapse of the Too Big To Fail banking industry.

Next weekend, some of the best American documentaries will be screened at Dartmouth College, in the Loew Auditorium at the Black Family Visual Arts Center, as part of the year-long Best in Show Festival.

Best in Show, which has brought selections from seven prominent international film festivals to the Hopkins Center, wraps up the year with a slate of films from Full Frame, the documentary festival held annually in Durham, N.C. Sadie Tillery, the director of Full Frame, will be at Loew Auditorium to introduce each film and participate in a post-screening discussion.

The movies include a searching look at the American legal system; the rise and fall of Napster; the aftermath of the massacre of young people by the nationalist right-wing extremist Anders Breivik in Norway; a most unusual large-scale performance involving sanitation trucks in Austin, Texas; and a remarkably intimate film that follows a 1960s love affair.

“Most of the time when you hear documentary, you hear the word broccoli,” said Hopkins Center Film Manager Sydney Stowe. “The name has such a stereotypical weight to it.”

But what these films demonstrate, she said, is that the documentary genre has gotten so good that the films are much closer to narrative than they are to our preconception of them as medicinal doses of reality.

The festival starts off on Friday, May 10, at 7 p.m. with Trash Dance, which won the Audience Award last year at Full Frame. It’s an unlikely scenario: Austin choreographer Allison Orr tries to persuade a skeptical group of 25 sanitation workers to work with her on a dance for 15 garbage trucks. Austin filmmaker Andrew Garrison followed Orr as she cajoled the men to join her in what is ultimately a sensational synchronized dance of the big machines, performed on an abandoned airport runway at night.

On Saturday at 4 p.m., the series continues with Gideon’s Army, a look at the American justice system in the South, where three public defenders labor to make “justice for all” a reality, despite low pay, onerous case loads and a legal system straining under the weight of too many defendants, too few defense attorneys and too little budget.

The title comes from the 1963 Supreme Court decision Gideon v. Wainwright, which upheld the right of all defendants in criminal trials to have legal counsel. Directed by Deborah Porter, the film won an editing award at the Sundance Film Festival this winter. Chris Keating, a Dartmouth alumnus who was, until recently, head of the New Hampshire Public Defender’s Office, will be on hand after the screening for a Q&A.

A Suitcase Full of Love and Shame, directed by Boston filmmaker Jane Gilooly, screens next Saturday evening at 7 p.m. While it’s the most difficult to characterize, it’s also perhaps the most intriguing. Its origin lies in a suitcase that Gilooly bought on eBay, which contained 60 audio reels that were the record of an adulterous affair between two Midwesterners named Tom and Jeanne. Tom was married; Jeanne was a widow. The two traded the tapes, as aural/oral love letters, and as explicit spurs to sexual arousal. Because Gilooly, who has directed two other documentaries, had no images, only the audio, she drew on the iconography of, and film footage from, the 1960s to provide a visual narrative.

The viewer, said Stowe, at first shrinks from such raw, unguarded disclosures, and from the frank nature of the recordings, all the more unsettling for being real. There’s more than a touch of voyeurism, and initially the story of Tom and Jeanne seems dated and anachronistic. But then, Stowe added, “you find yourself hanging on every word. ... It’s so compelling and moving. It’s the heartbreak of an affair.”

Wrong Time, Wrong Place, which screens on Sunday, May 11, at 4 p.m., explores the lives of five survivors of the 2011 Norway massacre. A right-wing fanatic, Anders Breivik, orchestrated an explosion in Oslo that killed eight people and then, dressed as a policeman, he gained access to a small island in a lake some 25 miles from Oslo. He shot and killed 69 teenagers who were there at a conference organized by the ruling Labour Party. Dutch filmmaker Jon Appel examines the profound, unanswerable questions that the survivors asked themselves: Why did I live, while others died? What role did chance play in my survival?

Finally, next Sunday at 7 p.m., for everything you ever wanted to know about Napster but were afraid to ask, comes Downloaded, a documentary by actor and director Alex Winter, better known to many as Bill in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Napster was the online music application that revolutionized (or destroyed, depending on your perspective) the music industry by bringing music directly to listeners through file-sharing.

The Silicon Valley wunderkinds behind Napster — Sean Parker, Shawn Fanning and John Fanning — called it the ultimate in democratic expression. Musicians and record companies called it piracy. Downloaded, said Stowe, is a fast and funny look at how the brash Internet prodigies clashed with the big names in the music industry, who at one time, of course, considered themselves the iconoclasts.

For tickets and information call the box office at 603-646-2422, or go to hop.dartmouth.edu/online/film.

Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.

‘Suitcase of Love and Shame’

There’s more than a touch of voyeurism, and initially the story of Tom and Jeanne seems dated and anachronistic. But then, Hopkins Center Film Director Sydney Stowe said, “you find yourself hanging on every word. ... It’s so compelling and moving. It’s the heartbreak of an affair.”



‘Wrong Time,

Wrong Place’

Filmmaker Jon Appel examines the profound, unanswerable questions that the survivors of the 2011 Norway massacre asked themselves: Why did I live, while others died? What role did chance play in my survival?



Suitcase of Love and Shame

There’s more than a touch of voyeurism, and initially the story of Tom and Jeanne seems dated and anachronistic. But then, Stowe added, “you find yourself hanging on every word. ... It’s so compelling and moving. It’s the heartbreak of an affair.”