Calvin’s Capsules – SIFF 2023: Part 4

A fourth dispatch from SIFF with capsule reviews for some of the festival’s standouts.

Theater Camp

Dirs. Molly Gordon & Nick Lieberman.

Outright riotously funny in the mode of a Christopher Guest mockumentary, but tender-hearted and very affectionate about theater kids. Had our SIFF showing in stitches, just in the way a good comedy does, seemingly won every person in the audience over by the end. A great communal comedy experience but also a sharply comedic story that never lets the characters down. The understanding of subject, audience, and how to get a laugh, will be awfully hard to beat this year. Compulsively enjoyable little musical sections and not a moment too long. Theater Camp is for the Theater Kid in all of us.

Being Mary Tyler Moore

Being Mary Tyler Moore. Dir. James Adulphus.

When I first got into recovery, my sponsor said to me that we were making Michaelangelo’s David, that we must chisel away all the parts that are not me, until only the true feelings and parts that most exactly me are left as a portrait. That’s just how Mary Tyler Moore describes her recovery here, echoing some of the best advice I have ever been given, but also showing up as a good model of emotional maturity and self-understanding, emphasizing why people cared about her on TV. I did not even follow her show actively in all the reruns that played during my childhood. But I have seen it and feel I know her and see myself in her words and her kind of aloof perception of the things that happen around her, to the point I really found this documentary touching. Sure, yeah, it’s just the normal kind of celebrity document, but it does prove, to someone only peripherally curious about her work, why the show mattered, what it did for women on TV, and that there is an unexpected kindred spirit in Mary Tyler Moore over many subjects. She is also just a great television feminist by intention or circumstance (doesn’t matter), and now I do care a lot.

The Grab

The Grab. Dir. Gabriela Cowperthwaite.

Blending investigative journalism with documentary filmmaking, the new entry by Gabriela Cowperthwaite (Blackfish) is an urgent profile of a piece of reporting. The subject here is who owns food supplies and what their interests are in ensuring the future utility of a food supply that can feed everyone well into the future or whether countries are falling short and siding with corporate interests. I’ll just give a hint that capitalism is preventing everyone from sharing an access to a widely accessible food supply with any kind of equality. You can probably work that out on your own, of course, but investigative documentary-making is the crowd-pleasing kind that works at festival and Cowperthwaite is very efficient at this.

Lonely Castle in the Mirror

Lonely Castle in the Mirror. Dir. Keiichi Hara.

Stiffly mannered in animation yet escapist and optimistic in themes and motifs, Lonely Castle in the Mirror feels at odds with itself, but almost certainly the original text, for which you’re left wishing you were reading instead. It does have the imagination of a novel. You might feel like the sequences are better read than seen and the animation doesn’t quite push back on this feeling. What is refreshing is the empathy for the people the book and film will be for, decidedly compassionate about why children would choose truancy over a school life that either is full of bullying or fails to capture a child’s imagination, which ought never go to waste.

Even Hell Has Its Heroes

Even Hell Has Its Heroes. Dir. Clyde Peterson.

An opiate-dream of the Pacific Northwest profiling droning metal band Earth as the camera lurks over swampy mud-banked Washington landscapes. A crusty psych-odyssey of the band processed at the same low-temp, high-fuzz frequency the band plays at. You’ve rarely heard or seen a movie that embodies Seattle so well. This is as specific to my interests as movies come, focusing on a period of state-wide musical players with peripheral players who are more at the center of things than the general public will really know. It’s a stunning documentary built out of its own melancholic vibe, full of grief, dulling memories of a sonic soundscape that defines a sense of place. Best case scenario for profiling a band like Earth which eludes very easy classification and clean documenting, by creating a definitive document that is also just like experiencing the band.

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