Durango gets reel
Durango Independent Film Festival makes its return

SideStory: DIFF at a glance

35mm film cans await the big screen at Durnago Independent Film Offices earlier this week. The annual event begins Wed., March 3 and contiues through Sun., March 7, featuring almost 100 films, including features, shorts, animation and documentaries./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

by Willie Krischke

The 5th annual Durango Independent Film Festival comes to town next week, March 3-7, and brings more than 90 films as well as parties, panels and prizes with it. The theme of this year’s festival is “Get Reel,” playing off of this area’s reputation as a fly-fishing mecca.

The DIFF board received more than 400 submissions this year, up from 265 last year, and the selection process was far from easy. Film festivals provide an opportunity to engage with the film styles and formats that exist, and thrive, outside the blockbuster/multiplex paradigm. The festival highlights short films, animated bits, documentaries and art films that have all but disappeared from our mainstream cinematic vocabulary.

The shorts films are grouped thematically. The “Breakin’ the Law!” program opens on March 3 at 9 p.m. and features “Nice Shootin,’ Cowboy,” a gritty tale of desperation and tough choices set in the Australian Outback; and “Gaining Ground,” a bleak little piece about the trials and tribulations of illegal immigrants in France. The Animated Shorts program opens at noon March 4, including a macabre film from director Bill Plympton called “Horn Dog,” as well as “Dave Talks About Stuff and Things” a piece about David Lynch that only the most hard-core Lynch fans will find worth their time. “A Woman in the West” will lead off the “Women on Top” shorts program at 3 p.m. March 5; it’s an entertaining and clever flick about a poker game, a coward and a murder. It stars Paula Malcolmson, who played Trixie on both seasons of “Deadwood,” and is a principal in the upcoming Battlestar Galactica spinoff, “Caprica.” The next shorts program, “Laugh Til it Hurts,” is self explanatory; featuring my favorite short in the festival. “The Deposition of Lou Bagetta” is about an immortal gangster and the poor hack sent to whack him. Also included is “Gandhi at the Bat,” a one-joke flick that sounds funnier than it turns out to be. “Laugh Til it Hurts” plays March 4 at 6 p.m. And finally, Sunday afternoon features the Family Shorts program, featuring a collection of films appropriate for all ages.

I also saw two of the feature-length documentaries showing at DIFF, and was struck by the similarity between them – both are uplifting stories about the power of photography and filmmaking to offer validation and a voice to oft-marginalized people. Seems like a fitting film festival topic.

The first, titled “Shooting Beauty,” is a heartwarming film about fashion photographer Courtney Bent, who takes a detour from the world of high fashion and perfectly coifed waifs to teach photography at a center for developmentally and physically disabled folks. As she rigs cameras with masking tape and rubber bands and teaches darkroom techniques, Bent discovers that these often-overlooked members of society have a unique perspective to share, often resulting in compelling photographs. “It’s not a disability, it’s a creative challenge,” Bent tells the camera, and we are reminded that most great art was created by artists embracing their limitations – Milton was blind, after all, and Beethoven deaf. The people at the Center – the bubbly Mary Jo, romantic Cheryl, surly loner Tom, and articulate, provocative Tony, among others – take full advantage of the opportunity, and the way the cameras changed the way they were perceived. “He was no longer a person with a disability, he was a person with a camera,” one of the caretakers remarks. “Shooting Beauty” is warm, powerful, sobering, tear-jerking and uplifting. It has to be considered an early favorite for an Audience Award and plays at the Gaslight on March 3 at 3 p.m. and March 5 at 6 p.m. (See related story on page 16).

In the same vein, “March Point” is a film about three teens on the Swinomish Reservation in Washington who are given the chance to make a movie about the nearby oil refineries. “We wanted to make a gangster movie, or maybe a rap video, but (director Annie Silverstein) said it had to be about the environment,” Cody tells us. No car crashes or gun fights in this flick. Silverstein keeps her camera on the boys, as they turn their newly-acquired lens on the two nearby oil refineries, located on March Point.

They learn that the refineries are built on land that, according to the Treaty of Point Elliott in 1855, belongs to the Swinomish Tribe. President Grant arbitrarily redrew the lines of the map in 1870, taking March Point away from the Swinomish, a move the tribe has tried to fight for years.

The boys join that fight, as best they can. They write letters to the governor of Washington. She doesn’t write back. They visit the state capitol, but aren’t allowed to see her. They even fly to Washington, D.C., to speak with their legislators. They weren’t allowed to tape those interviews, but their reactions afterwards are telling, and a bit heartbreaking. They looked confused, exhausted and stymied. “We asked them questions, but we really didn’t get much feedback,” Travis tells us. They’ve been listened to, treated politely, but seem able to sense that they’ve made no real progress in advancing their cause.

But “March Point” isn’t a documentary about feeling powerless. It’s not about end results – which, unfortunately, are rare and hard-fought – but about valuing the process. Travis, Cody and Nick never really make any progress fighting the U.S. Government over March Point. But by the end of the film, there is a fire in their eyes and a purpose in their step that wasn’t there at the beginning. Through the process of speaking with their tribal elders and getting involved with tribal issues, they’ve broken out of the cycle of drugs, trouble and boredom in which they had been stuck. As one tribal activist tells them face-to-face, they have become the future of the Swinomish. It’s a future of activism, dignity, purpose, firmly based in the tribe’s history and tradition. And the transformation from troublemaker to tribal activist is, if you ask me, a subject worth making a movie about. “March Point” will play at the Gaslight on March 4 at 6 p.m. and on March 5 at 9 a.m. •

The Durango Independent Film Festival runs from March 3-7. For more information, visit www.durangofilm.org.



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