Seeing is believing
Wednesday, September 26, 2018
On the surface, everything at the Pickford Film Center during the days before Doctober launches on Fri., Sept. 28 appears to be business as usual. Behind the scenes, however, the many moving pieces of the annual month-long celebration of all things documentary are being snapped into place. After months spent booking the more than 50 films that comprise the festival, PFC staffers are now busy inviting filmmakers, filling panels with experts, partnering with people and organizations within the community, setting up Skype interviews and, of course, laying in a store of popcorn to satiate the masses who are hungry for more than just truth.
Happening alongside all of that, PFC Education Outreach Coordinator Mikayla Nicholson is organizing the biggest piece of Doctober that goes unseen by the public: the Doc-ED program, which invites every public and tribal school kid in Whatcom County to the theater to watch free documentaries.
With so many documentaries from which to choose, and limited showings for all, it is an incredible challenge to see them all—although a few hardy souls have certainly tried. If you’re scanning the Doctober calendar and feeling a little overwhelmed, the ever-helpful Pickford staff is here to give you a place to begin your journey toward greater truth and enlightenment. They’ve each highlighted a documentary that’s of particular interest to them, and those interests lie all along the spectrum of Doctober films.
Since I’m a Pickford projectionist, I also get a staff pick and mine is Time For Ilhan. Let’s face it: The United States is looking less and less recognizable—and not in the good way—with every refresh of the news cycle. Into the maelstrom of American politics comes former refugee Ilhan Omar, who, in 2016, became the first Somali-American elected to any legislative office in the United States. This doc details her improbable run for the Minnesota House of Representatives, her impossible victory and what comes next for the trailblazer. Spoiler alert: Ilhan is currently running for the U.S. House of Representatives and all eyes are on her in the all-important 2018 midterm elections. Go Ilhan!
Pickford Volunteer Coordinator Hayley McVay’s selection, Bisbee ’17, also skews political, but with a far different approach and messaging. “In times like now it is important to remember the past is not past” McVay says. “Bisbee ’17 is the story of the 1917 mass deportation of migrant workers in Arizona that has, and continues to (re)surface again and again through capital gains and abuse of labor. This stylistic doc uses artistic theatrics (like that of The Act of Killing, My Winnipeg, and Spettacolo) where ancestors of 1917 events film their own ‘reenactments,’ to remind us that the past is still very present. The result is a must-see for anyone who loves a mixed-medium documentary that blends time and merges identity.”
Pickford Operations Manager Ryan Uhlhorn has rodents on his mind, nutria specifically. His selection is Rodents of Unusual Size, which takes an intimate look at the beaver-like beasts. “In 1889, nutria were introduced to the United States to supply fur for the burgeoning trade,” Uhlhorn says. “By the 1940s, the fur trade had collapsed and all those farmed nutria were released into the wild. Nutria have since spread all along the gulf coast and into California with very destructive results. From hunting them for bounties to keeping them as pets, this documentary promises to tell the human side of this large rat in Louisiana.”
Projectionist Michael Barone has animals on the mind as well, but his choice—Pick of the Litter, which follows puppies as they train to become service dogs—features creatures less invasive and way more adorable. “Hands (or paws) down, this is going to be the most wholesome and sweet film of Doctober,” he says. “Training these dogs is no walk in the park, but the ends results are guaranteed to leave your mouth grinning and you tail wagging! If I was barking up the wrong tree with those ruff dog jokes, then that bites.” Barone’s puns may be poor, but his animal instincts are spot on.
Each Doctober offers its fair share of music-related films, but Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. is no more your standard music doc than its subject, M.I.A., is your standard musician. And that’s exactly what makes her so compelling, says Assistant Operations Manager Ariana Dorshkind. “Everyone has those songs where, when you hear it, you have to stop everything and jam your heart out. M.I.A’s ‘Paper Planes’ is one of those songs for me. When I first learned the lyrics were about racist stereotypes people had about her, the song completely changed for me. She is not an ordinary pop star, so I do not expect this to be an ordinary music doc. M.I.A. radiates power and I can’t wait to watch Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. so I can soak it all in.”
All of that’s just a sampling of the Pickford staff and its cinematic proclivities. Projectionist Steve Meyers wants to journey along with a guy whose goal it is to walk every inch of New York City’s streets in The World Before Your Feet. Nicholson is looking forward to delving into the secret world of bathtub musicals in Bathtubs Over Broadway. Marketing Manager Lindsey Gerhard is curious about United Skates, which examines skating rinks, their status as community hubs and role in fomenting a hip-hop revolution.
And that’s not even the beginning. There are still 40-plus other documentaries just waiting to be watched, ruminated upon and discussed. And while you can’t trust everything that appears onscreen, during Doctober at the Pickford, seeing really is believing.
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