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FILM NOTES: DocuFest

2020, FILM + TV

Bart Weiss previews the Dallas VideoFest’s annual event, happening both online and at the drive-in Tin Star Theater in Trinity Groves.

by Bart Weiss

published Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Dallas — The arts community in North Texas is resilient. Faced with the biggest challenge in the history of our organizations, we have found ways to connect the art to the audience. The work might change, the venues have changed, but the spirt flourishes.

In this context the Dallas VideoFest will present DocuFest Oct. 1-4.

Writer Zoe Kerr’s new work is a spirit-raising baptism into the theater of these After Times. You’ll be glad you found it. And if the message ultimately has more to say about hard-won acceptance than triumph, chances are it will leave you (like me) pumping a fist in exhilaration on the way home.

Our cars are taxied into precise places around the performance space — an area on the Texas Wesleyan University campus; you receive exact info when you purchase a ticket — and we tune in to the FM radio feed that provides a running narrative and soundtrack. The evening sun drifts down slowly behind us. I’ve been thinking about another Stage West production lately, 2015’s Mr. Burns, a post-electric play. And here we are, cultural norms flung to the crazy winds, clearing a space for storytelling with car headlights to push away the dark.

Actors in COVID masks and exercise blacks crouch down to towel-dry damp spots in the pavement left by a quick rain. Shadows darken. Between songs, an arch-voiced Radio DJ (Rico Kartea) quotes Latin mottoes and Donne poetry, and poses life questions that latch like a virus onto the receptors in our own angsty head space. Are your hands doing any good in the world? Why do we cling to things that don’t work for us anymore? If life falls to pieces, could there be something better ahead for us?

In the spring we explored how to do a film festival online and we will continue to do that, working with Falcon Events. But we are adding a way to physically and safely bring audiences together in the drive-in cinematic experience.

The Tin Star Theater in Trinity Groves, a performing arts drive-in space created by Nolan McGahan, will be our home for these four nights for seven of the films. The other 11 films (and collections of short films) can be viewed online.

So, let me walk you through the highlights, which admittedly is hard because I love them all.

We start the festival with a program that addresses the moment we are in (no, not the election). We are putting together a program about how artists and arts organizations have transformed their work to some digital form. We will show five minutes from some of our largest institutions like the Dallas Museum of Art, Nasher Sculpture Center and Dallas Symphony, and smaller groups like Ochre House, WaterTower Theatre and Danielle Georgiou Dance Group, and so much in-between, plus a special performance by Brave Combo. As a side note we are working on a series of five films to help organizations transition.

We have some amazing work from Dallas filmmakers this year, including two world premieres.

Alan Govenars The Myth of Colorblind France - Photo Alam Govenar

Alan Govenar’s The Myth of Colorblind France – Photo: Alan Govenar

Opening night at the Tin Star we are very excited to present Miracle Fishing by Miles Hargrove. In the 1990s, Hargrove’s family was living in Colombia and on Sept. 23, 1994, his father was kidnapped by FARC. Miles documented the long and difficult negotiations to save his life with a video 8 camera. More than 20 years later, he has constructing a unique look at a family in the midst of tragedy. This film was supposed to show at the Tribeca Film Festival, but so many things did not happen, and we will have the premiere here.

We also have the premiere of a new film From Mark Birnbaum called Proof about the Photographer Byrd Williams IV. Byrd is an eclectic photographer born in a family of photographers — all of the previous Byrd Williams were photo-heads. In this beautiful film you see Williams IV schlepping an 8×10 analog camera around Denton while searching for the mysteries in the photos of Byrd Williams I, II, and III.

In between we have more Dallas films including AMS Pictures’ We Love Lucy about the first lady of TV comedy. There is way more to her life than you know — a theme you will see though the weekend. We also have Alan Govenar’s The Myth of a Colorblind France that explores the lives and careers of renowned African Americans who emigrated to Paris, including Josephine Baker and James Baldwin, and a hip-hop musical by Justin Rhodes called It’s a Wonderful Plight. The latter is not a documentary, but I felt it needed to be seen so there you go. We also have a documentary show block that has some great Dallas voices, including a new film by Christian Vasquez, which is editing as I am writing this.

Aside from Lucy we have some films about other cultural icons. Herb Alpert Is concerns the legendary jazz outfit Tijuana Brass and goes into his business sense with A&M records, and because he is a visual artist it shows his painting and sculptures around the world. In the more-to-the-story-than-you-know vein we also have Chuck Berry: The King of Rock ’n’ Roll, a perfect film to see at a drive-in. Then there is the cultural icon you have probably never heard of: Del Close, who taught and influenced several generations of comedians and improv artists, and while you don’t know him, pretty much everyone you respect learned from his craziness. This film, For Madmen Only: The Stories of Del Close, mixes interview with him dictating his life story to create a DC comic about his life, and yes that really happened.

Another film combines cultural icons. Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President, shows us what it is like to have a president who has good taste and can write inspirational poetry. In this film you hear from Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson, who talk about hanging out the world’s most famous peanut farmer. Then there is a film about the icon of Pepe the frog. In Feels Good Man, we see what happens when Matt Furie’s image gets co-opted by the far-right trolls.

Art icon Ai Weiwei has a new film called Coronation, showing first-hand what those early days of the virus in Wuhan were like. We see only a few images on TV about the virus, and like when Americans saw footage from the Vietnam war on TV, these images make this more real.

There is a film called The First Film that questions what you think you know about film history, and the film Gay Chorus Deep South follows the San Francisco Gay Men’s Choir as it toured the U.S. South, and features Tim Seelig, former director of Dallas’ Turtle Creek Chorale (see trailer below). We have also added our CatFest, a collection of cat videos, into DocuFest this year.

There will also be projections from video artist Joel Olivas, on the old cement factory that you’ll see on your way to Tin Star   

We end the fest at the drive-in with a unique program called Texas Trip: A Carnival of Ghosts, a musical, horror documentary that takes place in Texas drive-ins.

Come out and experience the new kind of film festival in your car or on your computer.

View the complete schedule, with film descriptions, and purchase tickets here.

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