My DocFest – mini reviews – day 4 (last day)

Docfest #10 – The Worlds of Ursula K Le Guin, USA. The film I had been most looking forward to overall and the one I have most enjoyed so far. The story of Le Guin’s life is told, including her family background, but her life is integrally weaved in to her work, they are one and the same. The growth and development of her writing as important literature is covered, taking genre fiction to a higher level of attainment as works of art. Le Guin, apparently camerashy, is interviewed lots here herself, and seems a fiercely intelligent, funny and warm person. She discuss her work, and interesting point is how she maturely took criticism of her earlier work (that it wasn’t feminist enough, using male pronouns for a genderless society), to grow and develop her future work. She is clearly a writer interested in always learning and developing, which she states herself, that with each work, it was a new chance for exploration and learning. The power of words is strong with this one. But so are the visuals, some striking animated sequences represent some of Let Guin’s tales, an amazing oil painted version of elements of The Wizard of Earthsea is beautifully rendered. But, as the director herself said when I asked her in the q&a, the animations are perfectly suggestive of the stories and capture their tone but are not concrete enough to spoil the readers’ own imagined versions. The film took 10 years to make and captures Le Guin getting some of the recognition she deserves as an important figure in literature; a wonderful film about a wonderful woman, both with a strong feminist core. I now want to go and read every single one of her books!

DocFest #11 – The Gospel of Eureka, USA. Cancelled 😦 . Gutted I didn’t get to see this, about gospel and drag queens in the southern states of America. There was a power cut at The Showroom and surroundings causing all films to be cancelled for now, who knows if I’ll get to see #12. It did mean I had a wonderful opportunity to run into and have long catch up chats with some of my favourite colleagues, Chris Goldie, Rinella Cere, and Dave Clarke. I will check back at the cinema to see if the have power for my hopeful next and final film of the fest shortly…

Docfest #12 – The Insufferable Groo, USA. Last film of the fest for me, and one of my top 3 favourites. Very much like American Movie, 1999 cult doc about low budget director Mark Borchardt, this follows low budget indie director Stephen Groo, who has made around 200 films on shoestring budgets. The man, a bonafide socially challenged eccentric, is driven by passion for film and stories, and supported by a close knit crew of friends and family. He is clearly difficult to both live and work with, he lives for his art, to the point where his family (Groo has 4 children) are solely reliant on his wife’s low wage. Groo’s films are made thick and fast, getting them done, and done cheaply, is more important than getting the best shot, but that of course is their appeal. Groo has fans in Jared Hess (director of Napoleon Dynamite, Gentlemen Broncos etc), and Jack Black, and Groo’s dream is to get a slightly bigger budget and a named actor in a film, which he achieves with their help. His films clearly have cult appeal, and many funny clips make me want to watch them but I’m not sure people enjoy his films or his story for the right reasons. This doc tries to tread both sides of the line where some are clearly laughing at Groo, others with him, but he seems to earnestly want to be taken seriously and to ” win an Oscar”. I think his films look like brilliant cult pieces of work, lots of elevs, magic, staged fights and low budget superheroes (many played by Groo himself) but i’m not sure he can achieve his goal and be taken seriously in the way he’d like, which is a little bit sad given how much of his life, energy and sincerity he (and his family) put into his work. Much of the comedy in fact comes from how seriously Groo takes himself. The struggles with his DP, a female student/graduate, working voluntarily, are particularly telling. She seems awesome, talented and dedicated, but is clearly not as willing as others to put up with Groom’s “narcissism” or to compromise her own feminist principles. After being fired and rehired by Groo, she almost quits on occasion also due to his disrespect of those around him (Groo’s ‘my way or the highway’ attitude), but its a testament to Lauren’s character that she sticks around. The film is very funny, touching and fascinating document of Groo’s legacy of self made music videos, movies and self-help acting videos. Its great in the same way that American Movie was, but also sad in a similar way, we can celebrate the man and his work bit at what expense to his family, and not quite in the way Groo would like to gain the respect of his peers perhaps. All he wants to do is to win an Oscar and shake Steven Spielberg’s hand, but I think he did pretty good having his golden day with Jared Hess and Jack Black, which is also a joy to watch from behind the scenes. I was pretty gutted to have to leave for the school run and miss the q&a with cast and crew, as I feel some of my doubts would have been satiated, and it would have been cool to get and update on Groo’s current activities.

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