Donald Simmons (theengineer) wrote,
Donald Simmons

Film Festival Wrap-Up - Documentaries

Well, so much for my plans on reviewing all my Festival Films as I saw them. Capsule reviews follow general observations.

It was a good festival for me. A couple of mediocre movies, several good ones, and at least one absolutely great one, not a bad average. I thought the Midnight Madness lineup was the strongest in several years, and I like the fact that they are now printing the address of the theatre on the tickets. And the pre-movie logos and whatnot were considerably shorter this year than in previous years.

The TTC did it's best to keep me from seeing Hollywood Chinese, a doc about the Asian actors in Hollywood. I left work in plenty of time, but then the power goes out at some station and by the time the train creeps into Jane I've got 30 minutes to get to the Cumberland and they are announcing a shuttle bus. I make it to the surface, grab at cab (which may have been someone else's cab, and get there seconds before the titles start. Anyway, fantastic movie. They talk to among many others James Hong, Joan Chen, Nancy Kwan, Justin Lin, and Christopher Lee (because of all the times he played Fu Manchu). James Hong's Peter Lorre impression along was worth all the trouble getting there. He also figured out once that he's played an "Old Master" in 35% of his roles, which really sounds low to me.

One really interesting bit was that how the Asian actors big in Hollywood now actually all came up in the Asian film industry and relocated here, whereas some Asian-Americans are doing a lot better in China (Joan Chen got increasingly crappy roles after The Last Emperor , but she's doing plenty in China now, such as directing Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl).

I'm really glad I got to see Werner Herzog's new documentary on Antarctica, Encounters at the End of the World. Herzog said while he was working on post-production of Grizzly Man, a friend of his who is working with a diving team there sent him footage shot under the ice of the Ross Sea, and he immediately decided to try and get down there himself. In the narration he explains that he told the National Science Council that he wasn't going to make "another damned penguin movie" but that they let him come anyway.

In true Herzog fashion a good chunk of the film is made up of talking to the oddballs and dreamers that seem to collect there. The first person we see is credited as a "Philosopher, Forklift Operator", and we meet a linguist in a greenhouse who cheerfully agrees that a continent with no languages is strange place for a linguist to be. He own theory is that all the people who aren't tied down eventually roll to the bottom of the world.

There is some magnificent footage of sea life under the Ross Sea, on the edge of the crater of active Mount Erabus (one of only three volcanoes in the world where you can look down inside them and see the magma pool) and even of penguins, although it's a very Herzogian look at them (a tree-hugger he's not).

In the Q&A afterwards he talked about how it took a week to get out of the abomination of McMurdo Base (which even has a yoga studio), how a 800 lb snowmobile rolled over him, and how they accomplished the entire shoot with only two people, a cameraman and himself doing the sound (young filmmakers take note).
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