(Text reposted from the Montclair Film Festival site: Sunday, May 10)
Thursday night’s headline for the Montclair Film Festival was a film event that fit its subject; it was larger than life and totally outside of the box. The live documentary screened at the Wellmont Theatre was a tribute to R. Buckminster Fuller, who according to a television host, had been called a “genius”, “the Benjamin Franklin of the space age” and a “crackpot”.
Director and producer Sam Green narrated a series of clips and stills from the late Fuller’s archive in harmony with indie band Yo La Tengo’s original live soundtrack. From the other end of the stage, the music’s tone alternated between foreboding, hopeful, eerie and Space Odyssey-esque to follow the rhythmic loop of triumphs and failures that made up Fuller’s life.
In a soft, bedtime story voice, Green took the audience on a trip of the architect, inventor and author’s life with a mixture of humor, empathy and a bit of reverence. Green also smoothly went off script and reminded the audience that it was a live performance with a “bless you” to a sneezing ticket holder.
On script, Green first marveled at the expanse of Fuller’s archives; there is a wealth of telegrams, letters, photos, blueprints and anything else that “crossed his desk”. The audience laughed as Green gestured towards an image of Fuller’s Social Security card and grinned, “I love this s**t!”
Fuller’s life began ordinarily enough; he married in 1917 and had children. However, a series of misfortunes led him to the brink of suicide. Legend says “a voice told him he couldn’t take his own life, that he had to dedicate his life to humanity instead”. And, Green added, “In some versions of his story, he even levitated”.
Whatever happened in that mythologically tinted turning point, Fuller heeded the voice. He initiated his own design revolution with the creed of today’s environmental conservationists, “do more with less”. By applying this philosophy to invention, Fuller believed that peace would be created as humanity could circumvent fights over resources.
To illustrate Fuller’s vision, Green shared a number of his sketches and prototypes. Fuller dubbed many of these ideas with a blend of the words, “dynamic, maximum and tension;”: dymaxion.
Perhaps Fuller’s own term was the most apt title for his designs. After discussing Fuller’s futuristic car and mass produced house concept (both of which “went down the drain”), Green placed his most famous invention in context, “Alexander Graham Bell got a phone, Thomas Edison, the lightbulb, with Buckminster Fuller, its the geo . . . dome– he’s the dome guy”.
It was his first success. In the 1950s his dome plans were used for botanical gardens, aquariums, radar stations, churches, and, of course, Fuller’s home. Green identified this success as another turning point, “he was no longer a fringe figure”. Yo La Tengo highlighted that transition with strains of hope.
“Opposite of Soundbites”
In from the fringes, the “huge egomaniac” was pictured on a 1960s Time magazine cover and became a lecture staple. When it came to lectures, though, less was not more.
Not only did Green credit Fuller as “the most impossible person to edit I’ve ever come across” because he spoke in “the opposite of soundbites,” but he also shared that one of Fuller’s lecture series was entitled “Everything I Know”.
At 42 hours, that title might actually be the opposite of hyperbole.
Was R. Buckminster Fuller a genius or a crackpot? Or perhaps a bit of both? However you slice it, Sam Green’s project is fitting for either personas.
See more information about the Montclair Film Festival and all its great events at the Montclair Film Festival page. View more photos at the MontclairFilmFest Flickr.
Mavis Staples often starts out a performance with a whisper to bandmate Rick Holstrom, “I don’t have much tonight.”
But a few songs later she’ll turn around to him and exclaim, “I got it back!”
Staples didn’t need to get it back on Friday at the Wellmont; she brought it.
After cheering her performances on screen during the documentary, Mavis!, the MFF audience gave her a minute long standing ovation. She and Colbert then jumped right into a lively, crowd-pleasing banter.
Through interviews and performances, Director Jessica Edwards created a tribute to the master of soul, R&B, jazz, gospel, rock and blues. Mavis! tells the story of the Staples’ tightly woven family and their progression singing gospel for congregations and then follows their evolution through multiple generations of music. On screen, music industry heavyweights such as Bob Dylan and Bonnie Raitt praise the Staples’ influence and Mavis’ transformative voice.
And everybody loved ‘Pops’ Staples. Even Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Mavis’ father had experienced the brunt of segregation in his southern upbringing and on tour during the Civil Rights Movement, his family also endured it. After hearing King speak, Pops was inspired to write freedom songs and told his children, “I think if (King) can preach it, we can sing it.”
Today, Mavis carries his inspirational spirit in her voice and his familial love in her heart, “Pops taught me that the family unit is the strongest unit in the world.” These are not just words to her; older sister Yvonne always travels with her. Moreover, Mavis has expanded the definition of family to include her band and dear friends. She holds a similar sentiment for Wilco’s Tweedy as he has become a close collaborator in her renewed solo career.
Thank You For Being.
Stephen Colbert warmly welcomed Mavis Staples into their conversation by simply thanking her “for being.” Having worked together in the past, there was an easy affection between Staples and her “friend and brother.” Over the hour, they fluidly transitioned from serious themes to cracking each other up to an impromptu duet of Fats Domino’s “I’m Walking”.
After a spout of laughter from the audience, Staples teased, “What’s the matter with them?”
“They just love you, that’s all. They’ve never seen anyone make me quiet for this long.”
As few people can, Colbert broached topics with a mix of humor and reverence. He apologized when he brought out notecards for his questions, “I’m afraid I’ll forget because I’m too enchanted.”
Staples spoke about growing up with other musical greats like Sam Cooke and Curtis Mayfield in what they called Chicago’s “Dirty Thirties” between 33rd and 35th Streets. Colbert followed up, “Can you do gospel and be bad? Were you bad for gospel people? Because you sure were sexy; was it okay to be sexy and do gospel?”
Even on a more serious subject, Colbert made Staples giggle. He asked her how she had once “accidentally integrated” a laundromat in Mississippi, “Did you do a load of colors and a load of whites at the same time? That’s bold.”
Staples laughed, “Col-bert!”
It’s Still the ’60s . . .
Colbert and Staples spoke more about her having to walk a “fine line” in the South during the Civil Rights Movement. He paraphrased her father’s guidance to “not stir up any trouble,” but to “not let anyone push you around.”
At Colbert’s prompting, Staples also reflected on their freedom song’s contemporary relevance, “All the songs that I sing fit today . . . it’s still the ’60s as far as I’m concerned.” Staples continued, “When we first started singing protest songs . . . we thought we could change the world. Man, we did pretty good, but not everybody got on board.”
From freedom songs and gospel to the blues and rock n’ roll, Mavis Staples sings across genres without a day of formal
training. She said that when she works with a new producer she always tells them, “if it’s too high, bring it down; if it’s too low bring it up and eventually it’s right in there.”
Colbert quipped, “That’s the Goldilocks method of singing.”
Perhaps Staples crosses genres so easily because she doesn’t see a big difference between them. She demonstrated as the audience clapped along, “Jesus gave me water, Jesus gave me water,” and then she switched it up, “My baby, he gave me water . . .”
But even Staples had once resisted going to clubs because her hero Sister Mahalia Jackson did not perform in them. As always, though, Pops had a way of changing her mind by giving her purpose; “Ok, Daddy, I’ll take the church to the club.”
In appreciation, Colbert responded, “You’re taking the church to us.”
Article and Photos Below by Tonight at Dawn (Kimberly Cecchini); What is Kevin Smith Thinking? conversation at MFF14.
So what is Kevin Smith thinking? This Jersey boy is happy to tell you. He’ll even tell you that he had gastrointestinal issues on his red eye flight from Los Angeles. He also will tell you he find out upon arrival that Tina Fey had been sitting behind him the whole flight. Fortunately, his fans were eager to hear about it all at the Montclair Art Museum.
Kevin Smith walked on the stage wearing one of his signature blue and orange hockey jerseys emblazoned with his logo, “Fatman”. Ticket holders, many of whom displayed an allegiance to Smith’s own interests by wearing comic book and hockey apparel, were excited to hear his tales about filmmaking, podcasting and everything in between. Fittingly, the Executive who welcomed Smith’s Comic Book Man to AMC, joined him on stage as his interviewer. It was also a good match because Joel Stillerman allowed Smith to take over the conversation as his wont to do, quipping that Kevin had done his job for him.
“A Reasonable Amount of Unreason-ability”
The drive to the festival on Sunday harkened Smith back to the days of commuting from the infamous Quik Stop to the apartment he shared with his girlfriend in Montclair. At the time, he sunk all of his money from his convenience store shift work and the after hours to tell his first story in Clerks. It was a gamble more than an investment, but he likened this first filmmaking experience to his brother’s coming out story; it just “felt right”.
Although earning success as a filmmaker was a long shot, Smith said he held onto “…a reasonable amount of unreason-ability”. He was particularly encouraged to continue his film from the middle of New Jersey after seeing a piece in the Village Voice on another independent film, Slacker, from what he thought at the time, was made in “nowhere, Texas”. Yet, unreason-ability surfaced on October 3rd, 1993.
Smith had earned an opportunity to show his film at a small festival. He was demoralized when he knew ninety percent of the ten people that were in the audience. He was also excited and “…overwhelmed by how…filthy it was” after seeing the first ten minutes on the big screen. He woke up the next day feeling what it was like to lose all the money he had.
Anyone coming of age in the nineties knows that was not the end of Clerks. After receiving three calls that day, he was on his way to making a deal with Miramax and learning that an unknown guy at the screening was the ticket for it to become a cult classic.
Humans Need 3 Things; Food, F——, and to Be Heard
As an eternal storyteller, podcasts are his new love. Kevin grew up listening to Howard Stern and essentially his Smodcast emulates the Stern show at its core; a record of friends conversing about everything and anything. Smith is particularly taken by the newer medium because it currently boasts a freedom that Stern never has fully had; nobody to charge you and nobody to limit your content. In fact, he is so spellbound by podcasts he gave the Montclair audience a homework assignment; record a podcast within the next year.
Kevin Smith is the Only One Who Can Make a Third Clerks
Part of what has driven Smith to take his storytelling to the podcast is because he does not feel he can fully express himself in film anymore. For one, he does not feel he has the creative freedom he once had as making “…studio deals prices (you) out of anything original…” Still, he is not going to stay away from the camera, and, yes, he will make Clerks III. Soon.
In the meantime, Smith cast his daughter and her friend in small roles as clerks in his upcoming horror flick, Tusk. Before it’s release, Smith announced at the Festival, that he will shoot a short film based on an indirect spin-off of these clerks. He’s making “Yoga Hosers” to spend more time with his fourteen-year-old daughter and because, well, it features clerks.
“You Are the Real Winner”
The Q & A period was opened by a pre-teen boy who told Kevin Smith he was his hero. Kevin modestly deflected the statement by telling the kid he was the “real winner” for beating the biological odds to exist (in a more graphic manner not to be posted here) that elicited laughter from the audience. The young man nervously laughed, “I’m very intimidated right now.” He asked his questions and Smith wrapped up the show with a few more stories. With Kevin Smith, there’s always another story to be shared.
Article and Photos Below by Tonight at Dawn (Kimberly Cecchini); E-Teamwas screened on May 3 at MFF14.
The crisis arm of the Human Rights Watch is a small subset of the organization charged with investigating the most severe war crimes around the world. These fiercely brave individuals insert themselves into precarious situations to conduct painstaking research on potential “crimes against humanity” through multiple interviews and crime scene investigations. Careful not to be confused with journalists, this Emergency Team compiles the information for the purpose of informing the international community with the hope that the world’s governments will enact equitable interventions.
E-Team, winner of the Sundance Cinematography Award, weaves in two of the subgroup’s most recent missions in Libya and Syria with the teams’s inception during the Kosovo conflict in the nineties. The cameras follow four members of the team in their homes, in meetings and in the trenches of their assignments in this unfettered look at their work and how they balance it within their lives.
The documentary credits open up with Ole Solvang playing on a keyboard in the Parisian apartment he shares with his wife and co-investigator, Anna Neistat, and her son. Soon award-winning directors, Katy Chevigny and Ross Kauffman, bring the audience to the moment when Ole and Anna initiate their investigations by smuggling themselves across an international border. “Welcome to Syria,” Anna jokes.
Through the couple’s trips surrounding the Syrian uprisings and the subsequent government forceful response, we see their conversations with torn families who have lost multiple members and the remains of murderous crime scenes. We witness them take cover with locals during an attack and their perseverance to continue to document the tragedies and push for action. Anna and Ole want to answer the plea of a man standing in the rubble of his razed neighborhood who beseeches them, “How do we stop this?!”
Their colleagues, Fred Abrahms and Peter Bouckert, are chronicled during their own detective work in Libya in the chaotic aftermath from the fall of Gaddafi’s regime. The rebels trust the E-Team and understand their motives to scrutinize both sides of the conflict. As one rebel admits, they may start as the victims, but the enemies in turn become their victims. Peter leads the inspection of weapons caches and in one place they find looted boxes labeled “Less Lethal Launcher”. A little later on the film cuts to Fred and Peter inspecting a human slaughterhouse and the charred bodies on the floor. As shocking as each scene is, we know the unfortunate truth that this is not unique within human history.
Thus this team of international crime scene investigators was conceived of at the end of the twentieth century after Fred’s probe into a burning village in Kosovo. He found the village in flames and 9 or so people laying dead in a gully. The press release was picked up on the front page of the New York Times and it was supposedly the impetus for United States’ intervention.
It is these opportunities to change things that propel the E-Team to continue their arduous and perilous work. They each balance their fears and frustrations with a sense of purpose and what normalcy they maintain in their lives. Each person is realistic about what they can accomplish. After providing evidence of the seran attacks in Syria, Anna explained “…the fact that we won’t see hopefully another chemical attack is a major breakthrough, but that does not really bring any relief to those people who continue to be killed by conventional weapons. You really go from hope, to despair, to hope, back to despair and then you meet somebody on the ground; a witness, a victim, an incredible activist and you feel that if they haven’t given up, how on Earth do you have the right to give up on them?”
As the audience, we are granted this incredible insight into the work and lives of these human rights activists thanks to the total access and creative control that Katy Chevigny and Ross Kauffman insisted upon in their film deal with Human Rights Watch. Chevigny was unable to attend the Montclair screening, but the unassuming and accomplished Mason Gross professor, Kauffman, was warmly received in the theater. He thanked the crowd and invited the present members of the film’s crew (the editor-D. Teague, assistant editor-J. Boyle and associate producer-S. Henney) to join him for the Q & A.
Kauffman spoke about the E-Team’s relationship to the victims; they often know that the team is committed to sharing their story to effect change. With Ole as the lead, they were very meticulous in ensuring that all of the people shown in the film were safe from backlash prior to the screening.
Currently, with their trademark perseverance, the team are on assignments in the Ukraine, South Sudan and the Central African Republic. As for the Academy Award winning director, he has three or four more projects on the horizon, some of which may be a bit more lighthearted than E-Team, but likely works to be anticipated.