Saturday, June 15, 2013
Doc/Fest 2013 Coverage: Day Four
Walter Murch: From The Godfather to The God Particle
The main takeaway from the festival so far for me has been that even though many of the films have been merely okay, the events have been exemplary, and this master class from legendary sound designer and editor Walter Murch was no exception.
Although Murch was in attendance to promote Particle Fever, a documentary about the search for the Higgs-Boson particle which he edited, this master class was more focused on his general approach to editing and his opinions on film in general. What really came across in his talk was what an advocate of change he was. I tend to have a preconception that anyone involved in the film industry for multiple decades, and particularly those who have worked with celluloid, will be resistant to digital filmmaking, and the march of progress in general.
It's a preconception that Murch easily shattered as he talked at great length about the potential digital has for creating vibrant art, as well as showed the extent to which he has embraced digital editing in his own work. He also demonstrated a keen, varied intellect in his talk and the Q&A, using examples for biology, physics and metaphysics to illustrate his ideas about art. He also used a metaphor about different kinds of filmmakers, that they fall between being a black box (someone who wants total control) or a snowflake (someone who embraces spontaneity) which I found incredibly evocative, and one which I don't think I'll forget any time soon.
I'm loathe to use the term because it's over-used and dickish, but he truly was inspiring, and lived up to his considerable reputation as the man who had a hand in making The Conversation and Apocalypse Now such great works of cinema.
After Tiller (dir. Martha Shane and Lana Wilson)
Forty years after Roe v. Wade, the abortion debate continues to rage throughout America, with fierce and angry rhetoric coming from both sides. In focusing on the handful of doctors who perform late-term abortions, especially in the aftermath of the assassination of the abortion provider George Tiller, Shane and Wilson manage to make a film which doesn't touch on or sensationalise the broader debate, but rather uses an intimate, human focus to cast the issues into sharp relief. They capture the deeply moving stories of patients who choose to have a late-term abortion and their reasons behind it, but also offer a rare, captivating glimpse into the struggles that the doctors deal with as they face harassment, death threats and their own ethical and moral choices. It's a quiet but captivating film that manages to offer a new angle on an issue which has been covered before, but not always with such nuance or sensitivity.
Ira Glass: This American Life
This accidentally wound up being my last event of the day - I had planned to see Blackfish but unfortunately this event was delayed by about half an hour, for reasons that are not the fault of the festival or Ira Glass, so I missed the start - but it was more than worth it. As someone who has been devouring Mr. Glass' radio show This American Life for several years, the opportunity to see him speak live, and in his first public appearance in the UK no less, was something I would not have missed for the world.
Anyone familiar with Glass' style on the show will have a sense of how he is in person. Conversational, hypnotic and with a wry, self-deprecating sense of humour, he's the perfect anchor for a show that aims to match serious journalism with a funny, entertaining tone, one which was ably demonstrated in the clips Glass used from both the radio and TV iterations of This American Life.
Over the course of nearly two hours, he talked candidly about the difficulties of getting the right angle on a given theme, how many of the stories commissioned by the show are cut from the broadcast because they ultimately don't fit for whatever reason, and why he loves working in radio more than either film or television because of the freedom it had allowed him in shaping a show that perfectly matches the aims of himself and his collaborators. He also had some witty and hilarious observations about sometimes getting bad interview subjects ("Why do interesting things sometimes happen to people who are inarticulate?"), trying to understand the motivations of the Tea Party movement ("[They seemed to be] older white people on government assistance who didn't think other people should get government assistance.") and gave interesting, honest accounts of episodes he was particularly proud of, including the much-discussed two-parter about shootings at the Harper High School in Chicago.
As a huge fan of Mr. Glass, this was catnip to me, and even though he wound up running over, it still felt too short.