Wrapping up the 2015 Austin Film Festival
You can only see so much during a film fest. Thank goodness for press screeners. I caught two documentaries that way after the Austin Film Festival came to a close last Thursday, but I had had my eye on them the whole time; one is by a recently deceased legend, and the other is from a part of the world where positive stories seem hard to come by. Let’s see how they rank.
Journalists, activists, and documentarians in Sub-Saharan Africa produce plenty of poverty porn, but Mully has an optimistic take on how Africans themselves respond to tragedy and crisis. Its title refers to Charles Mully, a Kenyan man who was abandoned as a child. After growing up on the streets, Mully succeeded in several businesses and then devoted his life (and, by extension, his reluctant family’s lives) to helping homeless youths. Mully and his large family narrate the documentary while scenes from their lives are reenacted cinematically; this makes for a pretty doc even if the content is sometimes far from pretty. It takes a while to learn exactly what makes Mully’s story worth telling, and the documentary is perhaps too uncritical of his schemes’ effects on his family, but a chance to study an uplifting African tale is not to be turned down lightly.
1. In Transit
In America we’re still a car nation, having (tragically) transitioned away from trains a hundred years ago. But in Japan, where I’ve lived in the past, long-distance train travel is the norm. So is this kind of slice-of-life documentary about rail-riders and wandering souls, which you can see just about every night on Japan’s public broadcasting station. In Transit, though, is 100% American, despite the fact that it takes place entirely on what most of us see as a foreign or outmoded transit option, a cross-country passenger train. The people riding it know they’re unusual — “I was born in the wrong era,” one of them says — but the secret is that they’re not. They’re a cross-section of our diverse, conflicted, individualistic culture, and they will remind you of your family members, friends, acquaintances, and yourself. We don’t get to know any of them very well, but most of us already know people like them, so it’s no great stretch to empathize with their physical and emotional journeys. In Transit was filmed in part by famed documentarian Albert Maysles (Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens), who died earlier this year, and it is a worthy capstone to his filmography.
This brings our AFFchart to 16 films, which rank as follows:
4. Forward. Side. Close!
5. Traficant: The Congressman of Crimetown
6. The Exile
7. Tear Me Apart
8. County Fair, Texas
9. No Más Bebés
11. Last Days in the Desert
13. In Transit
As I said in my first post about AFF (see the rest of the coverage here, here, and here), Austin is a great city for film fest fans. Though the next edition of AFF is a year away, an equally exciting and much more specific festival is just around the corner: The Austin Asian-American Film Festival, which is in its 8th year. Flickchart will be there previewing the latest from Japan, Korea, China, Indonesia, and the rest of Asia, so stay tuned.