Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Matt and I spent some time staycationing in Hot Springs, Arkansas this October - mainly to partake of the annual Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival (20th anniversary! My blog title is their slogan for this year!) I had the privilege of checking out some fine films, including the premiere (in Arkansas) or Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory. I thought I would share the films we watched and our festival experience.

Natural State of America

This film was made in Arkansas and is about the use of herbicide around our precious Ozark region. I learned SO MUCH from this film and I hope it gets picked up by AETN, or some local affiliate station. This film not only showcases the natural beauty of the Ozarks and the nifty "Naturalists" that inhabit and protect it, but it documents a classic (and woefully all-to-common) environmentalist struggle.  Herbicides are currently being used to clear ground for power lines by the local electric co-op (which means that the people who live there basically OWN THE COMPANY). However, herbicides + delicate Karst topography + widespread use of well water = BAD. This Erin Brockovich-esque struggle is still currently in litigation. Click the title link and send them lots of money!

Exotic World and the Burlesque Revival (with a live performance by Foul Play Cabaret!)

Narrated by Margaret Cho! I love burlesque. I loved learning the history of it and giving props to our burlesque foremothers. MISS DIRTY MARTINI WAS IN IT! SQUEEE! Foul Play Cabaret was wonderful and sold merchandise that benefited the archiving of burlesque greatness. Love, love, love! Here's Dirty Martini, because I feel like it!

Source: google.com via Sara on Pinterest


I thought this film would be about whimsical toys. WRONG! This film was really about 3 things: a brief history of puppetry, the production of puppet high-art, and Disfarmer. Much has been written about Disfarmer and his black and white quirky life. He lived in Heber Springs, he didn't like his past, he made a new self, and he photographed his community to capture their sense of self. Crazy. I love it. Said a tornado dropped him on the doorstep of his "real family". Legally changed his name to Disfarmer. Wow. Love it. BUT PUPPETS?! Yes! Check out the trailer by clicking the title link above! You'll discover how puppetry can be a flawless story telling medium! Below is a photograph by Disfarmer.

Source: None via Jessica on Pinterest

How to Die in Oregon

This is the one where everyone cries. It was Sundance's baby, so there were many people in the theater. Man, this was rough to sit through! This film was about the "death with dignity"/"assisited suicide" process, which was first legalized in the state of Oregon. I think it's safe to say that everyone in the audience felt a sense of privilege. We were allowed to watch someone make the journey through the process and experience a "good death". It was very intimate  You could cut the air with a knife in the theater - it was that intense. But I was also left with a sense of hope, sure! I learned about Death with Dignity. I learned about social advocacy in emotionally charged circumstances. I learned about death. I am willing to say that I am a better person since watching this film.

I'm happy to say that How to Die in Oregon has been picked up by HBO and will premiere in May. You must watch this, it will start an important conversation that we all need to have.

Sunshine/Graffiti Fine Art/Kodachrome (shorts)

Sunshine follows an advertisement producer working in China. While making an ad for McDonald's  he reflects on capitalism, modern propaganda, culture, and globalization. "Sunshine" refers to a desired quality in an actor/actress that entices or attracts. The protagonist reflects that it's kind of a plastic sort of characterization. This was probably my favorite film in this block of shorts because I reflect on these issues a lot in my own life. Sunshine had a sobering, Billy- Crystal-mid-life-crisis quality to it. Below is some Chinese propaganda from the 1950's. Amazing.

Graffiti Fine Art is pretty self-explanatory, but the film focuses especially on Sao Paulo, Brazil. Is graffiti art? What constitutes art? When it's in a museum? The film posed these questions and more! I learned more about spray paint than I ever thought I would in my whole life!

Source: google.com via Sara on Pinterest

Kodachrome is a wee film about the last processing center for Kodachrome film. I was really tickled by this film because I just happened to be sitting in a cafe that morning and someone was gushing about Kodachrome film. I am not the biggest photog, so it was fairly informative. You needed to know some goddamn chemistry, that's for sure! Seems kind of a shame to lose Kodachrome. Ah, the digital age...

Among Giants/Kudzu Vine/Devil's Gate/Hammock (shorts)

Among Giants made absolutely no sense being paired with the other films in this block of shorts, but that's ok! It documents the life of "tree-sitters" who are staging a sit-in (a live-in, really. The protagonist had been in his tree for 3 years!) to protect California redwoods from clear cutting. Very inspiring for a budding activist like myself!

Kudzu Vine, while not quite as mind numbing as Devil's Gate, was also a trippy black and white short film offering. It's about, you guessed it, kudzu vine. Matt wanted to see this one because he remembers driving through Mississippi landscape dominated by the stuff. The folks in this film assert "If ya can't beat 'em, join 'em!". In between the creepy time-lapse shots of kudzu taking over the world, some folks share their strategies for coping with kudzu including: basket weaving, eating it, making paper out of it, or just succumb to it  and sit around and talk to the kudzu. Hello there, Kudzu. Please, don't eat me!

Devil's Gate is about as experimental film as I get. Black and white shots of burned, creepy landscapes. A damned dam. A textual story flashes about Aleister Crowley... or something. It was worth watching this film in a theater just to have the communal sense of being weirded out. Here's a picture (in garish color!) of Devil's Gate, which is in California (of course).

Source: google.com via Sara on Pinterest

Hammock is a music video for the band, Hammock (The Longest Year). They're kinda new agey meets strings meets guitars. Quite lovely. Here's the film! Give it a listen! :)

The Baton

This is a rather precious German film about conductors and the art of conducting an orchestra. It features a international conductors contest and begs the question, "Just what the hell is it with all that stick waving anyways?!" I LOVED the animation in this film. It was a welcome reprieve from some of the emotional beatings the other films were inflicting on us! ;) Check out a clip below!

Patriot Guard Riders 

The Patriot Guard Riders are a biker group that both protects families from the idiocy of the Westboro Baptist protests and honors fallen American soldiers. I was honored to see the film and hang out with some of the Patriot Guard. I think one reason I liked this film so much is that I can relate to my culture being misunderstood. People assume a lot about you when you have visible tattoos, but I digress. The story about a group of bikers putting their tailpipes to the Phelps and driving them away always resonated with me. This film was amazing. I cried like a baby! Hate cannot combat hate, ya know. Only love can do that.

Crooked Beauty (short)

Crooked Beauty is really a visual poem about mental illness and what it means to be labeled as mentally ill. It introduced me to the Icarus Project, which is a website/forum/organization that envisions a different kind of orientation to mental illness that lies outside of the current disease model. I related to this film both professionally and personally. Below is a painting from a 2004 Icarus Project art show entitled, The World Between.

John Frum, He Will Come

I only caught the last 45 minutes or so of this one (and that's a story in-and-of itself!), but what I saw was fascinating and the protagonist and film-producer were in person for a Q&A. The film is about a small island in the South Pacific called Tanna who's people believe that an American named John Frum shall come and deliver unto them gifts and salvation. Enter in said American man who documents his entanglement with the prophecy of John Frum. But did he really "fall into" this role or is he an ego-maniacal wacko. YOU DECIDE!

This was the best Q&A I've ever seen. There were people, even film fest volunteers, screaming at the filmmakers (the screamers fell into the ego-maniacal wacko camp). I'm not sure what to make of it, as I only saw the last half of it, but it's an interesting take on globalization and western influence.

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

Source: wm3.org via Sara on Pinterest

I have rambled about my thoughts on the WM3 after their Alford plea deal, but it was surprisingly powerful to watch their release with a group of people. I passed by Damien Echols's mother in the theater and Mara Leveritt said a few words at the end. This film is the best of the three, and not just because of the outcome of the case. This film, compared to the previous two, is the most linear and offers a greater depth of information to consider (I suppose hindsight really is 20/20). The film revisits the so-called occult expert from the original trial, offers front-row access to the new evidence presented in a motion by the defense in 2007, shows previously unseen footage and interviews from the original films, delves in to Damien and Lorri's relationship, and narrows in on Terry Hobb's (a step-father of one of the victims). There is so much information! It's 2-hours of heart-break really, but I have no doubt that the Paradise Lost series saved the lives of the WM3. I am grateful for that, but that being said... 

I will say that I personally object to the crime scene film being used AGAIN (as it has been in all previous films). It literally objectifies the victims of the crime and it's, quite frankly, gratuitously grotesque. I do not see any purpose to the usage of this footage - other than it's the equivalent of poking a dead thing with a stick. It's not radical or informative. It is degrading... for everyone. In a situation that is nothing but bizarre and degrading to begin with.


Woooo! We had a good time and digested a lot of brain food. I know my writing can be somewhat basic, but I would love to discuss any of the above films with you! Please leave me a comment!

And support your local arts! Music, film, painting, photography... you never know what you will find in your community unless you GET OUT IN IT!

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