The sophomore edition of the American Documentary Film Festival got off to an enthusiastic, if somewhat uneven, start at the Opening Night Screening.
To literally set the stage for the gospel entrée to come, the Mt. Calvary Holy Church choir effectively warmed up the audience with several invigorating selections that soon had the crowd most definitely in the mood for Gary Keys’ chronicle of Whitney Houston. The obligatory welcome/thank you speeches were mercifully brief, leading the way to a video appearance by Peter Coyote (the versatile actor/narrator was this year’s honouree for the Making a Difference, One Film at a Time Award; unfortunately, he was unable to accept in person, busy with another project far, far away).
A covey of trailers most certainly whetted the appetite for the selected films (notably for JWR readers, two piano films: I’m Not a Rock Star and The Sudden Pianist as well as The Will—a film for anyone who has ever had a “challenge” with claiming an inheritance).
To the films:
The Sardine Tin
2011, 9 min.
This animated short engagingly weaves the tale of a lonely fisherman’s sudden relationship with a beautifully shaped—with serious vocal chops—sardine who narrowly escapes a sudden, crunching death on toast. The enamoured sailor falls fins over heels for the siren-song diva. Yet when famished-push comes to shove, love of a different sort rules these waves. Magically rendered—even in its dark finale—but how it fits the documentary bill remains a mystery. JWR
Irish Folk Furniture
2012, 10 min.
Here’s a marvellously whimsical look at furniture restoration most proud. The largely animated survey of neglected, worn-out cabinets, dressers, etc., works extremely well on its literal level, but also manages to say quite a bit about how we treat our aging elders who’ve had a rich history with the “stuff.” JWR
Whitney Houston and her Family: Voices of Love
2012, 78 min.
When faith and family still isn’t enough
Using the famed singer’s death as the bookends of the film, Keys deliberately chose to celebrate the music (the majority of the film features Whitney and her illustrious clan—most especially mom Cissy and cousin Dionne Warwick—who was in the audience) rather than probe too deeply into private matters that, combined, deprived the world of a talent it so adored. With the necessary emphasis on gospel (living your faith through song) and family ("sure we had troubles but were always strong enough to get through them…"), Whitney’s drug-induced passing in 2012 just before the Grammys, flies in the face of the notion that belief in God almighty and love of those dearest to her will trump any single or mounting set of situations or calamities. Accordingly, the film is a must-hear, but an unbiased bio pic still remains to be seen.
At the beginning of the post-screening Q&A, the crowd was cautioned not to ask any questions of a financial nature (imagine censoring devoted fans before a single word had been uttered!; Warwick's recent filing for bankruptcy was never mentioned). Hilariously, with decades old concert posters of herself as a backdrop, Dionne’s first words, “Look at the prices for Carnegie Hall,” unintentionally belied the directive from management. Later on, after that same authoritarian figure asked the petite songstress to hold the mic closer, she admonished him with “This is it [my current volume]. I don’t eat a mic…so you’d better [just] listen."
Sadly, that exchange was the highlight of the otherwise “vanilla” banter and chat. JWR