After a week of no films, Lucretia and I were anxious to get back into the festival with two screenings on Saturday, and one on Sunday. We hadn’t even marked two of the three movies in “My Festival,” but we read the descriptions as we ate breakfast on Saturday, and they both sounded promising — plus they were showing back to back in the same theater, which meant we could relax between two films! The third one was Nanking, which I had planned to see all along.
Rocket Science is about a stuttering high school boy who gets a crush on a girl on a debate team, and decides to join the team himself. During the Q&A, the director Jeffrey Blitz said that while he was making Spellbound, he became interested in what these kids lives were really like off camera, or alternative scenarios like what if this kid didn’t win, etc. So according to Blitz, this movie allowed him to explore all those questions and answer some of them in a form of fiction. It’s certainly an interesting concept — and really, it’s no wonder that some of the recent documentaries (like Spellbound or Mad Hot Ballroom) have spawned fictional versions. (On a related note, The King of Kong that I enjoyed last week will be made into a fictional adaptation, too. I can totally see Ben Stiller playing Billy Mitchell.) Anyway the film was very much enjoyable!
Kurt Cobain About a Son is nothing like any other films I’ve seen, in that it simply consists of Cobain’s audio interviews from ’92 and ’93, playing against the backdrop of film footages from three cities that made Cobain who he was (Aberdeen, Olympia, and Seattle). The film contains no other interviews, and it does not show Cobain’s face at all until the very end, in the form of Charles Peterson‘s photographs. Admittedly it was a difficult style of film to sit through. We’re essentially sitting there and listening to Cobain talk for 96 minutes. Throughout the interviews, he is all of these things: candid, irrational, funny, paranoid, sweet, immature, and down-to-earth. The director AJ Schnack chose to let only Cobain speak, and it really helped paint a picture of who he was. I was afraid that it would be another attempt to put Cobain up on a pedestal, like he was some kind of a tragic god of rock and roll. Instead, it turned out to be an honest portrayal that showed Cobain for who he was — just a human being with emotions and shortcomings like the rest of us.
Nanking is a documentary that blends real interviews with some reenactment by actors (of actual letters and journals). It’s about the Japanese invasion of the former capital city of China during World War II. It recounts the atrocities caused by the Japanese military and the effort by the foreign missionaries to protect the Chinese people. Not just as a Japanese national but simply as a human being, this was a hugely disturbing film to sit through. But it’s important that as many people as possible watch something like this, to be reminded that nothing good comes out of a war. I am certainly not proud of how the Japanese military acted during the war — their acts were simply indefensible. But I do think it was a bit unfair to paint the present attitude of a whole country with such a broad brush and suggest that the majority in the country doesn’t believe the war crime really happened. The extreme right wingers shown in the film are rare, and most people in Japan would not agree with their radical nationalism. In any case, it’s a powerful film about an event that more people should be aware of.