Sometimes a rural dweller gets a longing for cultural input. Visiting museums, orchestral musical performances, and art openings can all fill the bill. Something like a three day film festival really raises the bar. At the festival you find over 50 films, the product of hundreds of creative minds tackling a range of tantalizing subjects. This is an opportunity for a whole lot of cultural stimulation. The beauty of the Mendocino Coast amplifies the effect. The Fifteenth Annual Mendocino Film Festival happened last weekend June 2-5. Who needs a film festival in the era of Netflix, streaming and u-tube? A film festival is a whole other animal. A total immersion experience that film lovers might not even know they need. If you love movies - a film festival is more than worth your time.
A love fest atmosphere is evident especially at the movies that are “about” movies. “Exposing Muybridge” tells the tale of photographer Eadweard Muybridge. His photos of horses galloping with their legs progressing forward one frame at a time are known to most of us. What is less known is that these photos were commissioned by Leland Stanford, a great horse lover, to prove his theory that at some point in galloping all four of a horses feet are off the ground. Muybridge’s photos illustrate that this is true. Following their publication critics called foul and labeled the photos fakes. To prove the validity of the photos Muybridge invented a mechanism that could display the images moving one after the other progressively. The proof was there and the forerunner of the motion picture was inadvertently born.
He went on to create many less known series including strong men lifting weights and young girls gracefully dancing etc. Filmmaker Marc Shaffer attended the showing and described his experience researching and making the film along with a Q & A session with the audience. The idea of a live Q & A session where your curiosity can be instantly rewarded is unique to the film festival experience. A treat.
Another movie about movies screened was “Be Natural: The untold story of Alice Guy-Blache”. It tells the story of a French woman filmmaker in the very earliest days of movie making. Starting as a secretary at the Gaumont Studios in Paris she completed her first film in 1896. Not only was she the first female filmmaker but also probably the first filmmaker to make movies with a story line as opposed to just a novelty turn. Eventually she created her own studio in Fort Lee New Jersey (Hollywood before Hollywood for the film industry). She wrote, directed and or produced 1,000 (!) films- a truly staggering output. Many of the films included experimentation that would be attributed to other people years after her work had paved the way. Shockingly her entire career was eclipsed and disappeared almost entirely from the history of film making, as were the careers of many early female filmmakers. With this film many will be able to follow up, view films recently unearthed and bring her the recognition she deserves. Unfortunately the filmmaker Pamela Green was not on hand to answer questions at the filming.
Depending on individual special interests there was lots to choose from. Among the shorter documentaries “Journey to Hokusai” traces the journey of North Bay printmaker Tom Killion as he travels to Japan to learn a traditional printing technique from a fifth generation printer Kenji Takenaka in Kyoto. Watching and listening in on two confident yet still very curious artists while they share information is fascinating. Many small “Aha!’ moments make this movie a spirit lifter, Both Tom and Kenji welcome us to their world warmly as does director Chikara Motomura. The visuals are stunning as is the work of both artists.
According to the program book, “‘The Book Makers’ profiles an eclectic group of people who have dedicated their lives to answering the question, what should books become in the digital age? From the esoteric world of book artists to the digital library of The Internet Achieve, the film spins a tale of the enduring vitality of the book”. Books of all kinds from the traditional to the sublime along with their enthusiastic makers are featured. Most interesting is a visit to The Codex International Book Fair which takes place bi-annually at the Crawley Pavilion in Richmond CA (an old Ford Assembly plant built in 1931 525,00 square feet of naturally lighted space seemingly built entirely of panes of glass). Folding books, pop-up books, ultra luxurious fabulously expensive books for collectors all gather here from around the world. After the film local book builder Felicia Rose described the camaraderie and richness of her years long experience with this book mad community. Note: perhaps a trip to the next Codex show would be rewarding.
Six nature shorts included “Three Ocean Advocates”- a woman who “paints” portraits with plastic she finds washed up by the ocean in Marin County. “Plastic is forever”. A crab fisherman who makes every efforts to keep his lines from entangling whales who increasingly feed close to shore due to climate change, a senior citizen who moved to St. Johns and trained herself to scuba dive so she could photograph the changes in the fish and coral year to year (not encouraging). “”Plant Heist” told the story of poachers who are stripping the northern CA coast of wild grown succulents which they ship to China and Korea and sell for huge profits. Imagine 60 heavy cartons at the tiny Mendocino post office all leaking soil and destined for Korea (smoking gun anyone?). Authorities who used to catch Abalone poachers are now chasing these plant poachers- succulents easier to catch, stay alive longer and are sometimes even more valuable.
Films are screened in the Festival tent near the Hill House, Crown Hall on Ukiah Street, at the Mendocino Theatre Company Theater on the Mendocino Art Center Campus and at the Coast Cinemas in Fort Bragg. This year the crowds were not huge probably because of lingering doubts about assembling indoor with Covid. The crowd made up for in enthusiasm what it lacked in numbers. Organizers were scrupulous about masking and sometimes even asked for proof or vaccination.
There were so many films that looked promising but could not afford the time or the money to see them all. A random sampling - “Phantom of the Open” chronicles Maurice Flitcroft a crane operator and optimistic dreamer gains entry into the 1976 British Open qualifying despite never playing a round of golf. “Fireboys” is about the employment of inmate firefighters and the opportunities and challenges that await them upon their release. 3000 professional and 3000 inmates battle fires in CA. Who knew?
If you have never been to this festival consider going. It really does open doors to other worlds and it is right on our doorstep. A great opportunity for entertainment and education. It is a chance for random exposure to things you might not have known were of interest. Kind of like browsing in a really good old school bookstore.