Thoughtful reviews, the Boulder film scene

The Great Train Robbery

(review...)

" The Heavenly Father’s really given you a gift for science! "
— Trey Parker, Orgazmo

MRQE Top Critic

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Day 2 gave us a little more time to take in our surroundings. A stroll through the university campus reveals an eclectic architectural style, dominated by the giant football stadium. Another moviegoer told me it was polite of me to say "eclectic" instead of "random" or "unplanned."

I found out that Nebraska architecture has always been unconventional. A guidebook told us that Nebraska’s was the first state capitol not to be modeled after the U.S. capitol in Washington. (My dad tells me a not-too-distant relative of mine — a Youngkin — was the architect, but that turned out not to be true).

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Nebraska’s capitol is one of four skyscraper capitols in the U.S.
 

When Lincoln was born, it was named for the recently assassinated president, although there were other political motivations for choosing that name as well. When Nebraska chose the city for its capitol, it rejected another location that had provided the committee with ice cream in August. In the days before refrigeration, this was quite a feat, involving delivery of ice from colder climes. The committee loved the ice cream, but felt the cost was too high, that it looked too much like a bribe, so that site wasn’t chosen.

The architecture of The Ross is nice. It’s a brick building with rounded edges and a modern swooping roof. It suggests movement and fluidity, contrary to the nature of brick. And yet even this design was a mild disappointment to our new architecture-critic friend, who had seen how many compromises were made just to get the building finished.

Still, you’d never know from looking, especially when you get inside. The Ross has two screens, both with film and digital projectors. Both have stadium seats, surround sound, and cup holders, like the latest commercial theaters. But the theaters are also suitable as lecture halls, and there are classroom-style fold-away writing desks at each seat. Everything is tastefully finished in blond wood and subdued blue carpeting. The price of popcorn is reasonable, at least as movie theaters go, and you can buy overpriced, but oversized plastic bottled drinks — lemonade, tea, or pop (not “soda” because this is the Midwest).

We saw three movies today: two documentaries and a low-budget narrative from Canada.

Lady Warriors

The high school in Tuba City, Arizona, is renowned for its cross-country runners. The girls team had won three state titles in a row and “Coach T” was determined to make it four. When the story arc is not going forward it’s because we’re getting to know the girls or the locale. Tuba City surrounds a reservation, and almost all the students are either Navajo or Hopi.

Coach T sends the high school girls on a trip to the irrigated green glory of Park City, Utah. John C.P. Goheen crosscuts their trip with Coach T, who stays in the barren reddish-brown dirt of Arizona. The girls see runners in Park City, affluent white women jogging in sports bras and running shorts. The teenagers are shocked and challenged by the bare midriffs. Dare they do as the Romans do, or will natural adolescent shyness win out?

At 90 minutes, the movie is long enough to let us get to know Coach T and four or five of his girls. By the end we care about them all, and we really want them to win.Lady Warriorsis a very good movie that never lets your interest flag. Just after we saw this movie, the festival winners were announced, andLady Warriorswasn’t on the list. Mild disappointment was overshadowed by the promise of better movies to come.

Heater

Each of the festival judges was encouraged to bring a movie. Gary Farmer chose this film by Terrance Odette, a low-budget movie projected here on video, but shot on film over ten or eleven days in Winnipeg.

The lightly comic story is about two homeless men. Ben (Gary Farmer) is just one ID card away from getting a support check, from being able to pay the rent and from having a warm place to sleep tonight. The other (Stephen Ouimette) is not just homeless but frost-bitten and mentally ill. He has come by an obviously stolen space heater, still in its box. He tries to sell it to Ben, who asks “Is it hot?”

Ben convinces the man to let him try to return the heater to the store whence it came, and movie follows them across Winnipeg through the homeless shelters and freezing mean streets. During the film,Heatersometimes mistakes motion for action, but the portrait of homelessness feels genuine. It never caricatures or glosses over homelessness, nor does it you over the head with a message.

Ouimette, who gets second billing, steals the show with his outstanding performance, but the slow pace of the movie and occasional dry spells make it more interesting for its characters and their circumstance than as pure entertainment.

Blossoms of Fire

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Maureen Gosling looked past the myths about the Zapotecas
 

Shot on film and projected on film,Blossoms of Firehad the best look of the day, even though the print looked a little dark compared to the super-bright whites from the digital projector.

It’s an anthropological film about a “matriarchy” in Juchitán, Oaxaca, Mexico. In fact, an Elle magazine article about the “last matriarchy” had just come out as filmmaker Gosling was starting her project. But the magazine had exaggerated and distorted the nature of the traditional Zapotec relationship between men and women, and it fomented a general distrust of Western European media.

But Maureen Gosling stayed long enough to earn some trust, and she got a more revealing, less-easily-summarized look at the culture behind the myth. The men fish at night while the women man the stalls in the marketplace. Gosling follows one who makes sweet plums. Others sell vegetables or fish. Culturally, they are renowned for their embroidery (thus the title), and gays and lesbians are very openly accepted. There is some resistance to homosexuality from disappointed fathers, but there are no closets and there is great acceptance. Politically, the region was among the first to reject the long-reigning, often corrupt PRI in favor of the more populist COCEI.

Elle would not have sold as many magazines had it given a rich, detailed portrait of a unique culture in the Mexican isthmus. But calling the Zapotecas “The Last Matriarchy,” where men are subservient, women wear the pants, and rain falls up, is a more exciting, racier story. Reality is much less exciting, but just as interesting and more rewarding.