Taking no shorts. The Other Woodstock Film Festival Short Docs


Pensive Cas stands with head down amongst the other filmmakers for the Q&A session after Friday’s show.

Ok, so I told you what happened before and after our show but let me tell you a little about the other short films that Bodega played with at the Woodstock Film Festival 2008.

The Unhappy Traveler: A New Yorker in India directed by Basia Winograd. This one was presented as a series of vignettes excerpted from a larger work (the director is working on a feature from this material) interspersed throughout the show. These clips focussed primarily on Ramon, a young New Yorker who is having a rough time on his vacation in a crowded, impoverished India as opposed to the storybook version he had in his head. Another traveler is a girl who came to India seeking a meditative journey towards enlightenment who is disheartened to find only a bunch of beggars sticking their dirty palms out to her. Both eventually make the best of the situation at hand and, goshdarnit, learn something along the way. Perhaps to be grateful that they’re just visiting.

The Ramon section of Unhappy Traveler has an appeal similar to the very viral “Mark Wahlberg talks to animals” skit from SNL. In both, a tough-talking city kid with a heavy accent is brought down a notch as he tries to communicate with indifferent simple creatures.

Would it be wrong and grossly over-simplifying to say Mark Wahlberg Talks to the Animals plus Darjeeling Limited’s trailer (foolish Americans go to India in hope of quick enlightenment) equals the Unhappy Traveler? Probably, especially since I never even saw Darjeeling Limited but I think that’s what it’s about. And yet, here I go…

Forgive me. I simply do not know what I am doing.

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Next came a short called Knock On Wood by Ron Grunhut about percussionist Valerie Naranjo. In the 1980s Naranjo fell in love with an African instrument called the gyil and traveled to a village in Ghana to learn from the gyil masters and break the local taboos about women being allowed to play this instrument.

In the climax of the short (SPOILER ALERT!) they explain how the village elders were placed between a rock and a hard place because they have a strict custom about treating visitors with utmost respect but also a strict custom about not treating women with enough respect to let them play this wooden xylophone thingy. The drama in this conflict of values and in the sexual subtext of a worldly light skinned women surrounded by dozens of African dudes were both heightened to a dizzying apex by the elegant pajamas worn in broad daylight by many of the men in the village.

Inevitably the American woman sways the village elders to allow all women to play the gyil. At this moment we see a dancing woman of the village let out a joyful cheer and behind us in the theater some women began to clap. Yes, it is a nice story but perhaps next time they set out changing Ghanaian minds on how local women are treated, they may want to start with genital mutilation instead.

My favorite short in the bunch was also the film that won the documentary short competition. Pickin’ and Trimmin’ by Matt Morris lets us gaze in on an extraordinary barbershop where the haircuts, the lively characters and even the back room housing magical bluegrass jam sessions are all secondary to the sense of community. The barbershop is a home away from home, an extended family for the locals of Drexel North Carolina. And for film festival viewers this is a glimpse of an America you practically can’t believe actually exists. Hell, this movie almost made me a republican.

As for the award, Puffy is good (I don’t really know Matt Morris but I like to call him “Puffy”) but the Internets Celebrities are for the children.

The last movie was Dinosaurs and Rocketships by Liz Fulton and Bruce Stanbery which spends time getting into the head and the work of sculptor Steve Heller. Heller is likable enough to make this work, a middle-aged city kid who never grew up, instead he moved to the woods not too far from Woodstock where he spends all of his free time exploring his childhood obsessions (the two mentioned in the movie title). He welds junkyard material into 20 ft tall dinosaurs and turns old car fins into rocketships.

I think the five shorts worked really well together. All five (even Bodega) united by an explicit theme of outsider eyes, either those of the documentary subject or those of the documentary’s audience, entering a foreign world. Open questions raised: what does it take to be capable of moving in between worlds and what makes for a good guide? What is universal about the human experience and how do we have empathy for situations that are not our own?

I remember sitting in the green room of the Brian Lehrer show before our interview, talking with the producers and they were in total shock when Dallas and I told them that neither of us were from the Bronx. But, you walk around there so comfortably! With such familiarity.

The Way of the Internets Celebrity is to know that yes the world is large and diverse but more importantly it is also small and interchangeable.

32 Responses to Taking no shorts. The Other Woodstock Film Festival Short Docs
  1. zak@theolympictavern.com Reply

    No shorts, no losses.

  2. Puffy Reply

    Glad you liked the short. I just put a deleted scene up on YouTube that you might like…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMX-2IqeWOI

    -Puffy

  3. rafi Reply

    Nice clip Puffy.

    I use my computer with a rear-view mirror like that guy has. Just to make the Internet more challenging.

  4. wmntbjvgt Reply

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