The late-night slot at Full Frame—those movies that start in the witching hours of 10 p.m. or so, are always a tough call for the intrepid Full Framer. By then, we’ve seen three or even four movies. We’ve stuffed some food and a beer or two and coffee and water and have grown bleary-eyed.
“Perhaps we should go to that after-party, have a drink, socialize and then go home,” I often think around this time.
But for those in search of something bold and different, 10 p.m. is when some of the real gems of the festival emerge. But it’s a gamble. In years past, I’ve stumbled out of the night’s last film after midnight muttering angrily to myself—or groggy from a nap.
But last night, there was a wonderful film called DRAGONSLAYER. This film, by Tristan Patterson, is an impressionistic (but also linear) portrait of an athlete and subculture hero in decline. Specifically, the subject is a skateboarder from Fullerton, Calif. named Joshua “Skreech” Sandoval. A onetime star in the skating world. the film catches Sandoval on the downside. He’s still recognized at events, and he still skates. But his body is banged up and he’s suffering from depression, which he treats with a steady supply of alcohol.
We see him skating in abandoned swimming pools, hitting skate parks in California and Oregon. He’s a gentle but scarred soul from a difficult family background. Skating got him through his adolescence and early adulthood, but now that his career is on the wane, the future is starting to resemble the past.
But that’s only part of the impact of the film. Filmmaker Patterson evidently shot part of this film by giving a camera to his subjects, giving his story a first-person feel. Cinematographer Eric Koretz’s images, aided by the famous Southern California light (and the HDSLR, more below), are luminous.
But it’s more than that, too. Early in the film, Sandoval hooks up with an enigmatic young woman, Leslie Brown, a cutie who retains her mystery behind her oversized sunglasses and sparing words. Compared to the trainwreck that is Sandoval, Brown seems to have her act together. Still, the two of them hang out for the duration of the film’s narrative span—which seems to be a few months. They drive to Portland, Ore., they drive to Arizona. They go to a drive-in movie. They go to punk shows. They go camping, swimming and fishing.
There’s a shaggy, Western romantic tale going on here. Gus Van Sant and Larry Clark have tried, with varying levels of success, to capture these quicksilver moments of youth dropout subculture. But Van Sant tends to over-aestheticize, while Clark’s films are marred by his prurience. DRAGONSLAYER seems to hit the sweet spot, capturing a beautiful interlude between two characters whose very different lives are intersecting for a time. I left the theater thinking I should go re-read some Jack Kerouac.
[Patterson’s film is also notable for being shot in HDSLR, which is simply a technological advance that allows HD video to be shot through the lens of SLR still cameras, thus giving video the short depth of field we associate with traditional 35mm movies. Here are video samples.]
The other surprise of Friday was Nancy Buirski’s The Loving Story. While I was sure Buirski would do a fine job recounting the struggle of Richard and Mildred Loving to get the state of Virginia to accept their interracial marriage, I was unprepared for the impact of seeing the Lovings themselves. Mildred was a bright, elegant woman of African and Native American lineage, while her husband was fairly extreme in his whiteness. A gruff, taciturn man who was loathe to open up in front of cameras, Richard’s anti-presence is a reminder of a time before reality TV and YouTube when people weren’t so camera-ready. His simple fortitude was quite something to behold: As a white man, he could have solved his own predicament easily by simply divorcing his wife. But he didn’t, because he loved her. There was nothing sentimental or soft about him, no post-Oprah sensitivity (a la Buck, another great film from Friday). He was a hard country man, but I recoiled when one of his own lawyers called him a redneck, in a present-day interview.
So, seeing the Lovings forced out of their rural Virginia home—where they were part of an interracial social group—and become reluctant soldiers for justice, was an experience that left me misty-eyed for a good hour. Buirski deserves credit for recognizing the power of the story, as well as unearthing the extraordinary, unused archival footage shot by Hope Ryden, who was present last night.
My first film today starts in 10 minutes, so we’d better get moving. Here we come, Blue Sky, Dark Bread and Angst.