The last couple of days at the film fest held a mind-splattering array of film deliciousness. From the social justice documentary to the animated shorts and foreign features, everyone had a reason to show up this past weekend.
For me, there were quite a few highlights, including Into Eternity and These Amazing Shadows - two documentaries with serious gravity. At first, Into Eternity (a doc about storing nuclear waste in Finland) and These Amazing Shadows (a look at the preservation of America's legacy via film reels and the film industry) could have little to do with one another. However, these two films are strangely connected. Both are asking questions about the importance of communicating with future generations. We want to express ourselves in a clear manner that represents in their time what we're trying to say to them from our time. Into Eternity asks how do we make sure that no one disturbs a nuclear waste reservoir for 100,000 years. The other highlights the importance of preserving our film heritage as a sort of dialog about our present and past that future generations will be able to read as a diary of our society.
It is an interesting tension created by the two films. On one hand, there's the issue of preserving a cultural and societal imprint. And on the other is the issue of preserving the future of the human race altogether. Each mission is vital in its own right. It's merely a matter of long-term questions versus short-term ones. Both docs venture into the blurry future of what humans may be like, both trying to be sure we are clearly understood by those future incarnations.
Into Eternity - Michael Madsen does a stellar job of melding art and science into a package that often times resembles a work-safety video ... for the future. The film is a look not only at the building of the world's first permanent nuclear waste repository, which will take nearly 150 years to complete (They are already 20 years in.) It also asks questions that building such a facility raises: Will humans be here in 100,000 years; do we hide the repository or call "pyramid-like" attention to it; if humans are here and we try to warn them, will they speak the language; how will the environment handle the interment of the nuclear waste; will the waste become a valuable commodity over time; etc...
His narration, apparently aimed at the possible discoverers of this film and/or repository, is incredibly haunting. As the camera pushes slowly down the dark passage of the enormous tunnel, Madsen whispers lines like "Why have you come here? You should not have come here." It lends the underground structure a kind of supernatural quality, which one day could unleash its fury on the world if tampered with.
The film, made prior to the recent earthquake / tsunami / nuclear fallout events in Japan, gained a greater poignancy in light of the events. The human inability to deal with a man-made problem that could feasibly destroy us becomes an imperative undertone to the film. Interviews with a variety of people involved in the construction and with nuclear power, only exacerbates any sense of comfort we may have as a generation dependent on nuclear power.
All told, it is a bold look at life well beyond any mortal reading this today. It admits our terribly finite nature and questions our ability as creators instead of mere destroyers.
This film gets an "A".
These Amazing Shadows - A film about film. But not in the way you might expect a documentary to be a survey of cinema in America.
It's a look at how we as a people (or any people group with similar film capabilities) are able to capture a strong sense of our culture, society, prevailing points of view and social norms on film. The documentary follows the Library of Congress's attempt to catalog 25 films per year. The films are accepted insofar as they are relevant to, and representational of societal sentiments and the prevailing culture of the time.
Though the film starts as a look at the preservation and restoration of actual film, it seamlessly moves into the more abstract realms of cinema's significance. Different personalities share how and why they have pushed for films to be added to the Library of Congress's National Film Registry. Intertwined with clips from significant films already on the registry, this doc invokes a kind of nostalgia that goes beyond the distant memories of a society. It's a concise reminder of the humanity and inhumanity that have brought this nation to where it is today; a sort of mirror we can all look into and see a sometimes prettier, sometimes uglier version of who we have been.
By the end of the film, you feel enriched by the exposure to such a rich history of images and ideas. And it is this feeling that helps convince the audience that we must indeed preserve the legacy of the moving picture.
This film gets an "A-".