JWR Articles: Film/DVD - American Documentary Film Festival 2015 (Directors: Grega Mastnak, Vincent Sassone, Varda Bar-Kar) - March 30, 2015
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American Documentary Film Festival 2015

4.5 4.5

Reviewed at the 2015 American Documentary Film Festival
Spotlight on music

With the temperature well into triple digits (er. Fahrenheit, eh?), an afternoon in the cinema seemed like a grand place to keep one’s cool. How wonderful, then, that the three films comprising this set put our most universal art in front of the lens!

Prince Ki-Ki-Do: The Swamp Monster
Grega Mastnak, 2014
4 min. Five stars

This one knows the score

From an extra-inventive mind in Slovenia (cross-reference below) comes an animated short that is rife with drama (banishment at the whim of a monster), a chess game (real and metaphorical) and a virtual 2x2 of animals seeking safe haven à la Noah. No worries, a super hero—fresh out of the “oven”—manages to right the pig conductor’s score (much to the delight of thousands of upside-down music notes) causing all and sundry to be rewarded with a sea of green harmony.

Good things continue to come in small packages. JWR


Musical Theatre University
Vincente Sassone, 2015
8 min.

Dreaming of Broadway

Part of a series detailing what Palm Springs schools are doing to support the arts, this segment gets up close and personal with the Unified School District’s support for those in the region who wish to find a career in music theatre.

One of the up-and-coming hopefuls readily admits that, “I don’t have a plan B.” Which may prove prophetic: those that do have an “escape route” often can’t find the courage to “just go for it.”

The earnest staff tend to name drop more than needs be (unlike last night where Peter Bogdanovich quipped, “I can’t be a name dropper: I only know famous people!”).

Nonetheless, in Sonny Bono territory (not to mention the countless stars past and present who called/call the Coachella Valley home), it is encouraging to see a local incubator at work. JWR


Production photo

Big Voice
Varda Bar-Kar, 2015
83 min. Four stars

The most perfect instrument

The feature event was a year-long look into the choral program at Santa Monica High School where Jeffe Huls does his able best to turn unruly teenagers into vocal angels and keep his perennially under-threat arts program afloat.

It’s always a treat to hear and see young minds come under the spell of the magic that singing together (when in time, in tune and with proper diction) can produce. The many interviews with the students are wonderfully honest as they readily reveal loneliness, love, aspirations, concerns and difficult living circumstances. “Choir” isn’t a cure-all, but goes a long way into moulding teens into adults.

For his part Huls comes across as a devoted, passionate teacher. Perhaps stepping too frequently into the realm of sarcasm to keep his wide-eyed charges in line, there’s no doubt his intentions are of the highest order. Musically, he might raise his own bar once having learned the conductor’s axiom: show it (with the entire body), don’t tell it (first learned by your writer when studying conducting with Karl Ancerl). And more attention to phrasing might well clear up the seemingly endless chides about vowels.

The notion of contemporary society having lost the ability to truly listen was, sadly, done no favours by Bar-Kar. If only one of the musical selections had been heard in its entirety, then the power of a complete work (however short, see Prince Ki-Ki-Do above) could have been subluminally instilled at every screening.

Not surprisingly, then, to these ears, the finest, most convincing, absolutely delightful music making of the film came during the final concert, where the upbeat, yes-I-really-get-this-one “I Believe” proved succinctly just what these young women and men were truly capable of. If only that sense of freedom could have been unleashed in the “classics.” JWR

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