Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Wolves Unleashed and other tales

Hot Docs, North America’s largest documentary festival, opens April 26th and runs until May 6th.  This year Toronto will welcome filmmakers from all over the world, and screen over 200 films representing over 40 countries. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry opens the festival. Alison Klayman’s work about the Chinese activist artist won a special jury prize at Sundance.

The Charleston International Film Festival had a very successful 5th year. Congratulations to Summer and Brian Peacher, and Tina McCard, Ron Krauskopf and all the good folks who work so hard to bring South Carolina a terrific, hip and fun festival.

This year I saw some wonderful films, mostly docs and some shorts. Loved Tracis Hollifield', James Edward Tilden and Barret Burlage's short, My Sister Sam.  It was shot in South Carolina on Super 16mm using students from Trident Tech as crew. Way to go guys.

Shooting My Sister Sam in Summerville, SC
Expect to see more of the two young actors cast as leads, Sheldon Faure and Olivia Gainey.

I also loved the doc, Take Me To the Water: the Story of Pin Point
Pin Point is a waterfront community founded in 1890 by freed slaves. It is located on the banks of the Moon River, just southeast of Savannah, Georgia. This Gullah/Geechee community was home to the A.S. Varn & Son, an oyster and crab factory which employed most of the people of Pin Point until it closed in 1985.

The hit of the festival, the audience favorite was the Wolf Whisperer, Andrew Simpson, with his documentary, Wolves Unleashed. If you are reading on email, click on Wolves to go to the Vimeo trailer.

I met Andrew Simpson, a Scottish-born Canadian animal trainer for Hollywood films, and a full-time wolf whisper. I had a chance to chat with Andrew at the festival and this guy is the real deal: sweet, humble, modest and not only can he dance with wolves, he can get them to follow a script. 

Andrew told me that he was to take his wolves to Siberia to star in the French feature film, Loup, when he got the idea to make a "behind the scenes" documentary so that people could appreciate a side of wolves that is almost never depicted in films. Audiences are familiar with the snarling evil beast, but not the affectionate, trusting, spiritual animal that he knows so well. Andrew told me that wolves are very intelligent - even more intelligent than dogs, and that they can be very caring and are fully capable of forming bonds with people.
Andrew raises his wolves from pups and has them live in the house with him, travel in his car, and even sleep in his bed. This way, the wolves develop a special relationship with him and are able to take direction. They also seem to enjoy all the attention and respond to human warmth and kindness.

  Wolf Credo
•Respect The Elders
•Teach the Young
•Cooperate With The Pack
•Play When You Can
•Hunt When You Must
•Rest In-Between
•Share your affections
•Voice your feelings
•Leave your mark
Del Goetz

I received an excellent critique on my recent post and review of the film Knuckle. (two posts ago) I am reprinting it here in full with permission of the author, Dr. E. Moore Quinn, an anthropologist who has done extensive research in Ireland. I respect Dr. Quinn tremendously and appreciate her thoughtful evaluation.
  • "As for "Knuckle," I think I was so close to the subject that it made objectivity a bit difficult for me at first. Now I believe I can speak with less emotion. I had problems with the gratuitous nature of the violence, which is something you pointed out as well. More than that, however, I felt that the director did the viewers a great disservice in failing to contextualize the *entire culture* of the Travelers with more taste and understanding. For someone who has been filming for many years, he seems not to have gained a good perspective on Traveler life in toto. Rather, he has selected one aspect of Traveler culture and aggrandized it devoid of the nature of the overall culture. Likewise, he did very little to present the historical background of "The Travelers," and in not doing that, his film fed into the stereotypical ideas about them that colonialists perpetrated against the Irish as a whole: they're dirty, violent, ignorant, irascible, unable to solve problems with civility, etc.

    Finally, I think that the film fed into the "reality TV" genre very well, which returns me to a questioning of the filmmaker's motives. Since that genre is still attracting a great deal of viewer attention, it seems to me that "Knuckle" ends up being a filmic version of the same, and a viewing audience that is attracted to that kind of popular cultural norm is being wooed into the genre yet again, without being offered a fair understanding of what the truth left out of the film is all about."

    Thanks for reading. Please comment.

Monday, April 9, 2012


I don’t like race car driving. I especially dislike those single-seater Formula 1 races. All those turns, the endless roar of engines, and the completely insane speeds. Not to mention that you can’t see the competitor’s face.  That is a deal-breaker for me. I am willing to concede that to the initiated there must be something electrifying to this sport if only because over 520 million people watched the 2010 championship. Never-the-less, I don’t care for the sport. 

(SPOILER ALERT, but only if you are as clueless as I was about Formula 1 racing!) 

Despite my indifference to Formula 1 racing, at the conclusion of the documentary film Senna, I cried along with the tens of thousands of Brazilians who lined the roads of Sao Paulo as the hearse carrying Ayrton Senna’s body made its way to the church.  

Senna is a very good film. You don’t have to have any interest in racing to fall in love with Ayrton Senna. I think that a really well-structured film with a dynamic character can always rise above the most tedious subject matter and deliver a human experience that is poignant, authentic and somehow very reassuring. In such a film there is usually a moment in which we confront the absolute essence of a stranger and in that moment feel that we too have been exposed.  

Senna is the story of a little boy who loves go-kart racing and grows up to become one of the world’s best Formula 1 drivers.  He was also smart, humble, keenly competitive and a man of great faith. He was charismatic in the way that only Brazilians know how to be. He shared his infectious joy widely in a generous and authentic way, waving the Brazilian flag after each win at a time when most Brazilians had little reason for joy.  He won the hearts of all Brazilians, rich and poor, but it was underprivileged children he cared about most, giving millions to help them. The Instituto Ayrton Senna still aids Brazilian children and adolescents through public education programs.  Here is the official trailer.
If you are following on email, please use this link to view the official trailer.Senna
Ayrton Senna won the world championship three times before his death in 1994 at the San Marino Grand Prix in Italy. He remains a legend among his millions of fans and I now count myself as one.

The Charleston International Film Festival opens this week and features several exciting documentaries. I have one prediction. "Hooping" otherwise known as Hula Hooping will be the next big thing all over again.
Here is the trailer for The Hooping Life. If you are reading this on email, here is the link Hooping Life

Support your local film festivals. It's a great way to see some terrific indie films and meet the directors and producers and other film enthusiasts. And if they are anything like the CIFF, the After Parties are great fun. 

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