Why The Bad Kids Aren’t So Bad After All

This morning I hoofed it to The Egyptian Theatre near the top of Main Street to see the documentary The Bad Kids. The movie follows the students and educators at Black Rock High School, in what feels like a forgotten part of the Mojave Desert in California. Black Rock is a last resort for many of its students, most of whom live in extreme poverty, with inconsistent parenting and living arrangements, where drugs and low expectations permeate the air.

The school is self-paced, giving kids who’ve fallen behind a chance to get back on track or perhaps even graduate early. The kids receive help and support that seems elusive in their home lives. Staff, led my hands-on principal Vonda Viland, phone students who don’t show up for school, offer rides if transportation is a roadblock, but perhaps most importantly, these dedicated educators hold the kids accountable while at the same time letting them know they are capable, worthy, and loved. The challenges are real. The road out’s not always so straight or clear, but this school provides a chance.

Filmmakers Keith Fulton and Lou Pepe have been making movies together for twenty years, but prior to the beginning of the film, they both said that following and crafting this story reminded them both of why they got in to film making, particularly documentaries, in the first place.

During the Q&A following the film, Fulton and Pepe seemed to have genuine relationships with the people they followed in the film. To me, this was exhibited even more by how they encourage the two students (both of whom have since graduated) and Principal Viland (far left in picture) to field most of the questions.

The story was well-crafted and the location in the desert made a real difference to the telling. You know those movies where they say New York (or some other iconic location) was a character n the film? Well, that’s the way the desert feels in The Bad Kids. It’s austere and isolated, angry during a storm, hopeful when the rainbows appear.

I left the film humbled and a bit saddened actually because I know this community is but one across the country where younger generations are plunged into adulthood at an early age, living each day wondering if they can bother to dream, wondering if they’ll be the one to break the cycle of poverty, abuse, and drug use.

The movie is a call to action. Take a few minutes to check out their website and learn about the story and how you might be able to help.

Documentaries, Music, and More

HooliganSundance started last night, and had its first full day of activities today. My first event was a movie in the World Documentary category titled Hooligan Sparrow. The original interest for filmmaker Nanfu Wang was to follow activist Ye Haiyan (Hooligan Sparrow) who had been making a name for herself with her advocacy work for the rights of sex workers. Ye Haiyan had a small group of activists working with her, and their efforts had gained the attention of the Chinese government, along with the international community.

Nanfu Wang, who no longer lives in China, travelled to Hainan Province to document Ye Haiyan’s latest protest of some young girls (as young as 11 years old) who were sexually abused by their principal.

This is where the story takes a turn. Early in to the experience, Wang realizes that perhaps the real story concerns the risks that human rights activists endure. Wang, along with Hooligan Sparrow and her group, becomes a target of intimidation and threats. In some cases, it’s clear the threat is from the government. In other cases, it’s unknown if it’s the everyday man sympathetic to the government or perhaps recruited by government officials.

The story is well-crafted, haunting, and educational about the changes that have been made in China, and those left to be made. Strikingly, Hooligan Sparrow is Nanfu Wang’s feature-film debut. It was a great way for me to start the festival.

In the afternoon, I headed to the ASCAP Music Cafe, relaxed and enjoyed some live music. My favorite act of the afternoon was Air Traffic Controller, an indie pop band fronted by Dave Munro,  a real-life air traffic controller for the US Navy. There were six people on the stage, but they played like a twelve-piece band, each member deftly moving from one instrument to the next, often within the same song. Listening was great, but watching was even better.

In the evening, I saw another documentary. This time it was NUTS!, a documentary by filmmaker Penny Lane entered in the US Documentary Competition. What a departure from the earlier film. The film tells the story of Dr. J.R. Brinkley, a small-town doctor with an entrepreneurial spirit who starts performing goat gonad transplants to solve impotency problems. Sounds like a guy you should have heard of, right? He lived in Kansas in the early 20th century, and in addition to his medical prowess, he also starts a successful radio station among other pursuits. I won’t give away the twists and turns in the tale – just know there are some.

Much of the story was told through animation, which was certainly unexpected. Some of the animated re-enactments are taken directly from available transcripts, but some were fabricated. This all adds up to a blurring of the line between truth and fiction, which ultimately is a bit of a parallel of Brinkley’s life.

 

 

#Sundance – 10 Days of Right Turns 

It’s that time of year again when Park City, a town of around 10,000 year-round residents grows four-fold to accommodate movie enthusiasts, film industry professionals, celebrities, and those on the brink of celebrity. And truth be told, not everyone’s happy about it.

The idea of it’s lovely, and there’s no doubt that it brings a boost to our local economy that doesn’t depend on Mother Nature the way the ski industry does; but it also means that everyday activities can become anxiety-inducing, time-wasting, patience-testing events. Think you’ll just run in to the grocery store to grab milk? Drop by the post office to pick up that package? Head to the gym for a quick workout? Not gonna happen! Try again in February.

If you watch Parkites prepare for Sundance, you would think you’d missed the warnings about an impending hurricane. Okay, so we don’t tape our windows or fill the tub with water, but we do stock up on groceries, fill the gas tank, and either fast track or postpone any upcoming appointments, errands, or chores. If you travel for work, now’s a good time to get out of town.

The other choice is to dive right in and play tourist in your hometown. This year the stars have aligned for me to do just that, and I’m giddy with anticipation. Tickets purchased. Credential secured. And to keep me somewhat sane, I’ve got everything in a spreadsheet, which might sound like overkill to the uninitiated, but it’s really quite essential if one doesn’t want to be in a panic trying to figure out how they could have double-booked two movies Thursday morning, how they’re ever going to get from the Library Theatre to Eccles in thirty minutes, and how they missed that hot new group at the Music Cafe that everyone’s talking about. Let’s just say, a little bit of organization can go a long way.

Top Tips for #Sundance Survival

If you’re coming to the Sundance Film Festival this year, Park City welcomes you! Each year it seems that more and more people join in the 10-day celebration of indie films and the creative process. There are movies, of course, along with panels, live music, cooking demonstrations, celebrity sightings, and high stakes deal-making.

But there are also winter conditions, long lines, large crowds, and limited parking. If you want to focus on the fun stuff and leave the frustration behind, then here are my top tips for doing just that.

Leave the heels at home

Trust me, now is not the time to choose fashion over function. Chances are you’ll be doing more walking than you typically do, dodging black ice, and skirting snow banks. Bring the boots and commit to wearing them. By boots, I mean the warm kind with some serious tread on the bottom, not those cute ankle ones with the leather soles you picked up at a sample sale. When you’re running down Park Avenue to catch the next bus to Prospector Square, you’ll be happy you did.

And speaking of the bus…

Unless you’ve secured a private driver for the duration of the event (and plenty of people do), you should plan on using a combination of public transportation and your feet. Do not rent a car or bring your own. Parking is severely limited (even the paid parking), and the snow will not dissuade the tow trucks. The good news is that taking the bus is easy, you’ll meet other festival goers, and it’s FREE. Park City provides year-round free bus service, and during Sundance they augment that service with an additional brigade of buses, so one is typically never waiting for long. If you want to learn more, visit the official transportation website, pick up a transit map when you get to town, or even download the myStop mobile app for schedules and trip-planning. We do have taxis, and Uber operates during the festival, but be prepared for longer than average waits and higher than average prices.

I know I’m not your mother, but…

Park City is a mountain town with an elevation over 6500 feet, depending where you are. Unless you already live at high altitude, your body may balk at the sudden change. Be prepared to drink more water than you normally do, particularly in the first few days. Most theatre venues have water available for those long waits in line, so bring a water bottle and take advantage of refilling when you can. You may also want to limit your alcohol intake, since alcohol not only has the effect of dehydrating you, but also its general effects will be accentuated by the altitude.

So, you really want a drink, huh?

Should you decide to ignore the alcohol advice above, or perhaps you ignored the bus advice, so now you’re so amped up and frustrated that you’re body will only respond to vodka, then here’s what you need to know. Wine and liquor are not available in grocery stores in Utah. You can purchase beer in the grocery store, but beware that it has a lower volume of alcohol than what can be bought at the liquor store. All the good stuff is available at any of the three state-run liquor stores, which sounds fantastic, but note that they aren’t open on Sundays or the wee hours of the night, so plan ahead. At a restaurant, you may be required to order some food along with your drink. Just go with it. Everyone’s just doing their job, not trying to cheat you out of your well-earned adult beverage. Promise.