Friday, June 19, 2015

AFI Docs 2015 - Day 2

Ok, I have to say it: I officially miss Silverdocs. I may have expressed this feeling before but the last few years I've only been able to attend opening night just because I was too busy at work, so I hadn't actually really experienced the change yet. The name change and the shift to an emphasis on politics don't bother me. What bothers me is how spread out the festival is now. It used to be so easy to get from film to film to film and have such a strong sense of community. Now, not only is there virtually no sense of community, I find myself choosing films largely based on geography rather than what I really want to see, and only seeing 2 films in a day because I just can't go back and forth between the city and Silver Spring.

I realize no one is asking for my advice, but I'm going to give it anyway: Have the opening night and closing films at fancy venues in the city to maintain the glitz and glamor that the new festival seems to be trying to embody, and do your event at the white house and maybe one by the capital or something for the politically-related events, and then do the rest in Silver Spring. And bring the conference back to the way it used to be (and in Silver Spring), because the old conference portions for the years I was privileged enough to go were invaluable.

Ok, moving on to the actual films. On Day 2, my first film was Frame by Frame. It had such potential to be a great, important film. But it did not live up to that potential. The film is about photojournalists in Afghanistan. Photos, having been outlawed by the Taliban, are a new medium to most Afghans, and it's incredibly important that they have native photojournalists to tell the story of Afghanistan so that all the perspectives are not that of outsiders, but of people who understand the country and can give Afghans a voice. Of course the characters and subject matter are compelling, but the film dragged in many spots and I didn't feel as much of a sense of urgency about the issue as I think I should've felt. And it didn't seem to me that the issues these characters faced were different from the issues foreign journalists in Afghanistan also face: the very real threat of physical violence from terrorists, not being allowed to photograph certain subjects (particularly related to women), etc. So the particular angle that is supposed to make this film different (that it is specifically about Afghan journalists), didn't really make it that different from any other film about conflict photographers. The other thing that I found sort of unfortunate is that a film that is all about giving Afghans a voice to show outsiders what the real Afghanistan is like was made by two outsider (white) women... Of course, the photography was beautiful, and I think seeing the photographers' work was actually one of my favorite things about the film. But overall, I really didn't feel like this film lived up to my expectations.

From This Day Forward is a touching story about an adult man who, while married and the father of two children, decides to make the transition to living as a woman. It is told by her daughter, now an adult, trying to process everything that she sort of intentionally didn't process as a child. I was filled with awe and admiration for this family, particularly for their mother, who stayed with her spouse through this. The complexity of the situation is captured in a lovely, intimate way and I really felt like I gained an understanding for everyone's viewpoint and can relate to all the characters and what they went through, despite having never been in a remotely similar situation. I felt the pacing could be improved in some spots, but that might not be totally fair since Best of Enemies the night before gave me such high standards for pacing. But overall it was a lovely film, and I definitely hope a lot of people will watch it to help bring greater understanding and empathy for transgender people and their loved ones everywhere.

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