Monday, October 30, 2006

'I Want to Believe It'

Virginia Film Festival, 2006 -- Day Four:

The fourth (and final) day of the Virginia Film Festival was, for me, heavy on filmgoing and light on picture-taking.

The morning started out with Jesus Camp, a new documentary that is already getting some commercial distribution around the country. (It was playing at the Landmark E Street Cinema in D.C. a couple of weeks ago, when Tim Hulsey saw it.)

The film looks at a Pentecostal church that sponsors a summer camp for children. It focuses largely at the camp's director, youth minister Becky Fischer, and juxtaposes some political and theological points of view.

Before the film began, one of the discussants, English professor Mark Edmondson, asked how many people were "skipping church" to see this movie. I was one of three people who raised their hands, which might give you some sense of who was in the audience. (Sociologist Brad Wilcox also served on the panel, offering some perspicacious comments.)

I'll be writing more about Jesus Camp later, as I prepare my full report on the festival for The Metro Herald, but I want to note a couple of choice quotations from the film. Pastor Becky says that

Warlocks are the enemy of God. If [he had been around during] the Old Testament, Harry Potter would have been put to death.
Here's a message for Pastor Becky: Warlocks are imaginary. Harry Potter is fiction. In fact, Harry Potter is part of a sub-category of fiction called fantasy.

In another part of the film, 12-year-old Levi has a conversation with his mother in their home-school classroom, after viewing a video asserting the earth is just 6,000 years old:
Levi's Mom: "Science doesn't prove anything."
Levi: "I believe personally that Galileo made the right choice by giving up science for Christ."
E pur si muove!

The next two films on the schedule were on a double-bill at the Paramount: West Bank Story, which is a student film from the University of Southern California, and His People, a 1925 silent film about Jewish immigrants on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

West Bank Story
is a 20-minute parody of West Side Story, a 1957 musical retelling of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet created by four gay Jews. In this version, the rival gangs work for two competing fast food restaurants, Kosher King and Hummus Hut. The music is mediocre and the lyrics are cheap, but the end result is a very funny send-up not just of West Side Story itself, but of musicals in general. Let me put it this way: As a parody of musicals, it's not at the level of South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, but for a student film, it has real merit.

His People is a more conventional story. Its focus is on the Cominsky family -- father David, who had been a scholar in Russia but now sells clothing from a pushcart; mother Rose, who sews the clothes he sells; elder son Morris, who is studious and becomes a lawyer; and younger son Sammy, who becomes a boxer.

The whole tale comes alive through vivid imagery -- I was surprised at the sophistication of the production design, given the era -- and the intertitles, which convey a sense of Yiddish (and Irish) dialect without becoming cloying or patronizing. It occurred to me that filmgoers of the 1920s would have been familiar with the syntax and rhythms of Yiddish dialect from vaudeville comics, so they could -- as I did -- hear that while reading the title cards.

His People featured live musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin and Joanna Seaton.

Moving over to Newcomb Hall, a packed house came to see the Volvo Adrenaline Film Project. Once again, I sat next to Waldo Jaquith (sans Amber, this time). It was his first time at the Adrenaline Film Project, in which ten teams of three people compete to win an Audience Award, Jury Prize, and Mentors' Award. Beau Bauman and Jeff Wadlow supervised the competition, as they have in the previous two years.

Each team had to make a film in a specific genre, such as film noir or Japanese horror, and each had to make sure to use a line of dialogue ("I want to believe it") and a prop (a squeeze bottle of Miracle Whip), both of which were related to the Virginia film festival theme of Revelations: Finding God at the Movies.

Jeff Wadlow said of the prop:
I got some weird looks when I bought 12 bottles of Miracle Whip at Giant. When I said it was for making a movie, I got even weirder looks.
The Mentors' Award, bestowed by Wadlow and Bauman to the team that has to overcome the most obstacles to deliver its film to the competition, went to "The Enchanted," a fantasy by Bernard Hankins, Jon Sharp, and Kevin Finnegan.

The Audience Award and Jury Prize both went to "Taste of Evil," a film noir by Ben Haslup, Brian Wimer, and Ruth Monton. (The jury was made up of Rita McClenny of the Virginia Film Office, film producer Ron Yerxa [Little Miss Sunshine], and NYU film historian Harry Chotiner.)

The final screening of the 2006 Virginia Film Festival was a film from Bhutan called Travellers and Magicians, which was remarkable in many ways -- not least of which is the Himalayan landscape that dominates the screen.

I'm still exhausted, and I didn't even have to hitchhike down a Himalayan road to get to where I am.

Sunday photos to be posted later. (Blogger is being temperamental.)


RC said...

i have yet to see Jesus Camp but enjoyed reading your comments here...

this morning i was reading (and posting) about how Becky Fisher has now decided to close her camp.

you have any thoughts?

--RC of

David said...

I very much look forward to reading your thoughts on Brad Wilcox. This may interest you as well.

Anonymous said...

eppur si muove