Only the curious need apply

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Longer than I have been writing about movies for this esteemed publication, I have been a projectionist at the Pickford Film Center. As such, I like to think I have my finger somewhat on the pulse of this area’s movie-going community.

So, it is through years of observation and via a certain amount of on-the-ground experience that I say the following: You people love documentaries. A whole lot. And I think that’s just great.

Great because it speaks to a certain curiosity about the world you live in, curiosity that has proven, over the years, to be darn near insatiable. Your unquenchable desire to know more about the world you live in (and the worlds beyond that) has withstood the tests of time, the vagaries of circumstances and the capriciousness of trends.

It is for that reason that Bellingham is one of the very few places on Earth that you will find a film festival dedicated to documentaries—and not just any film festival, one that spans an entire month and will feature nearly 50 docs before the curtain falls and regularly scheduled programming resumes.

Called Doctober, the festival kicks off Oct. 1 at the Pickford Film Center with Kiss the Water—a documentary that is ostensibly about fly-fishing but speaks to anyone who has an interest in nature, beautiful Scottish scenery, or seeing Prince Charles show up in the most unlikely cameo ever—and before the clock strikes midnight on Halloween, it will have taken over both the PFC and its sister theater the Limelight during its month-long cinematic fact-finding mission.

As is per the usual with Doctober, the offerings range from movies about issues that are part of the mainstream and those that are truly bizarre. As well, encore showings of several documentaries that resonated during their previous PFC runs—such as More Than Honey, Closure, Blackfish, and The Act of Killing—will find their way back to the big screen during Doctober.

As always with an event of such size and duration, it’s impossible to give a description of each and every Doctober film and do it proper justice. Instead, I’d like to give a rundown of the Doctober flicks that tickle my own insatiable curiosity—ones that I intend to be in the audience for, unless, of course, I’m in busy in the projection booth showing them to you. (For information, including showtimes and news about special guests, discussions, etc., see the PFC calendar inserted into this issue of Cascadia Weekly.)

Seeing as how it starts off the whole shebang, it would be foolish to miss the aforementioned Kiss the Water. Given that I have an interest in commercial fishing (not surprising, considering my Northwest roots), and nontraditional forms of documentary filmmaking, Leviathan would earn a spot on my personal playlist. From there, I would learn why I should read those user agreements before clicking the “I Agree” button from Terms and Conditions May Apply, and then I’d change gears and see La Camioneta, which traces the life of a retired U.S. school bus as it makes its way to Guatemala to become a colorful—and dangerous—method of transportation for workers there. Art on a giant—and controversial—scale is the subject of Cave Digger, which profiles Ra Paulette an artist whose canvases are caves and whose reality-defying works take years to complete.

One of the things that is so appealing about documentaries is they take us to places we may never get to go, and introduce us to cultures and ways of life foreign to our own. Rwanda is the scene of one such story, Rising from Ashes, but instead of focusing on the recent atrocities there, this inspiring doc follows the formation of a world-class cycling team there—a team comprised of genocide survivors. Given that my love of actor Ricky Jay is unabashed, Deceptive Practice, which details his life not as an actor, but as a master magician, is a no-brainer for my personal Doctober dance card.

That’s a lot of documentaries—and we’ve barely made it out of the first week of Doctober.

After that first week comes GMO OMG, which is not only informative, but also timely, given this state will soon be tasked with deciding whether we’d like GMO labeling on our foodstuffs. Trash Dance tells the story of a surprising dance troupe—Austin’s sanitation workers—in inspiring fashion, while Smash & Grab introduces us to an elite crew of worldwide jewel thieves. Antarctica: A Year on Ice will tell me whether I want to chuck it all and go to work at the most remote research station on Earth (spoiler alert: I don’t want to do that), and When Comedy Went to School will allow me to watch the likes of Jerry Lewis and Sid Caesar crack wise while talking about the birth of standup comedy in the Catskills of New York. Politics are at play in disparate ways in both Betting the Farm (about an unprecedented co-op of dairy farmers trying to find their way in the world of corporate farming) and Let the Fire Burn (a searing indictment of a 1985 police bombing of the radical group MOVE that left 11 people dead), while Nixon’s aides get a chance to speak in Our Nixon.

Along with all those documentaries, which will be around for just one or two showings, two docs will enjoy a full week’s (or longer) run during Doctober. Enzo Avitable Music Life is Jonathan Demme’s (he of Silence of the Lambs and Stop Making Sense) look at Naples world-fusion musician Enzo Avitable, while The Summit details the deadliest climbing accident to ever take place on the world’s second-highest and second-most-dangerous mountain, K2.

It is also worth noting that this year’s installment of Doctober is rife with musical offerings, from a treatise on the state of Seattle’s now-explosive hip-hop scene (The Otherside) to a history of the tiny music town that is revered the world over (Muscle Shoals) to the story of one of music’s most criminally underrated bands (Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me). Look for more information about those docs in the Music section of next week’s issue of Cascadia Weekly.

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