Saturday, August 4, 2012

Traverse City Film Festival 2012: Dispatch #2

Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey
Journey was in need of a new lead singer when the members happened to click over to YouTube videos of Arnel Pineda, a forty-year-old Filipino man, performing perfect replicas of their songs. Ramona S. Diaz’s Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey is a glossy, up-tempo showbiz documentary that follows the band’s most recent tour from the focal point of their newest member. Arnel’s journey (pun sort of intended) is a transcontinental Horatio Alger tale that took him from impoverished childhood to homeless adolescence to a struggling (professionally and musically) young adulthood. Then, out of the blue, came an offer from his favorite band to fly to the U.S. to audition for the lead role in a proposed new tour. Needless to say, the band accepts him with open arms, faithfully helping him integrate into the group. For his part, he’s happy to help them perform any way they want it (since that’s, after all, the way the fans need it).

Though Arnel is a charming subject and Journey’s music is definitely listenable, the film is overlong. Concert tour docs need not make us feel the tedium and repetition of a band on the road quite so literally. But at least the story told is a good one and the musicians and technicians we follow are charismatic, largely likable, presences. The film’s approach is standard, showing the band arriving at venue after venue, followed by a performance or two and then on to the next stop. In amongst the set-ups and songs are quickly told backstories of both Journey and Arnel, juxtaposing their timelines quite nicely. The story the film tells is interesting and the music is booming and sometimes that’s enough. Diaz carries the whole thing along with a solid, professional shine that helps the documentary’s best qualities filter up through the repetition and clutter.

Journey to Planet X
Journey to Planet X follows a pair of intrepid D.I.Y. filmmakers, scientists and sci-fi fans who make mini epics on their weekends. They've converted a storage space into a blue screen room, bought a nice new camera, had a buddy draw up some storyboards, and put a casting call on Craigslist. They're ready to go. The documentary from Myles Kane and Josh Koury (of We Are Wizards, a Harry Potter fandom doc) is a wonderfully heartfelt tribute to the creative impulse in this pair's filmmaking passions and an earnest appreciation of the cheap-o results which are about as unpolished as you'd expect but, like The Room and Birdemic, shows heart and confidence in the face of severe creative limitations.  Much like Michel Gondry's underrated Be Kind, Rewind, this is a film that celebrates the art form by pointing a lens at its most modest outsiders and, with determined amateurs and a sense of community, scrambling all traditional expectations of "good" and "bad" in cinematic expression.

The Revisionaries
The Revisionaries is a documentary about a volatile subject that's so fair and evenhanded that it's ultimately all the more thought provoking. Observing the Texas school board’s deliberations over new curriculum standards, Scott Thurman’s cameras catch Christian fundamentalists using semantic dances and head-on attacks to get "godless secularism" out of their schoolbooks, while befuddled experts look on, arguing logic that falls on deaf ears. Focusing on public figures on both sides of the debate, the film allows the people to talk, explaining themselves, their beliefs, and their ideologies. It’s a film about thought processes, working towards some kind of comprehension as to why the parties involved in this conflict appear to be talking past each other. In the end, it’s a little bit easier to understand why, as one person interviewed in the film states, ignorance and arrogance are a dangerous mix.

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