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Hey everyone. Capone back from SXSW 2008 with a few two more films worth mentioning from the glorious film festival that I was absolutely be returning to next year; next time I'll be there for the duration and get no sleep whatsoever. There are still more to come after these, so enjoy the onslaught.
A NECESSARY DEATH Everything leading up to me seeing this film screamed" documentary," but about 15 minutes into this skillfully made faux doc, I had one of those "wait a minute" moments. It's this same professionalism of the production that gives away the scam; shots are a little too perfect, fleeting glances are captured as if they were anticipated, and weirdly enough the performances were just a little too good for me to buy them as random strangers. Still, knowing A NECESSARY DEATH is not truly nonfiction didn't stop me from appreciating the way it handled the subject of suicide, the lengths the media would go to capture something no one else could get, and the age-old moral dilemma journalists have dealt with regarding whether they are morally obligated to help someone in danger, even if the danger comes from the person about to be harmed or die. The plot involves a group of film students preparing to shoot a thesis film that attempts to follow a person with suicidal tendencies through the process of preparing for their own demise. Gilbert Echternkamp plays Gilbert (all of the actors keep their real names), the director of the doc (Matthew Tilley, the actual director of A NECESSARY DEATH, plays the man behind Gilbert camera). After putting on classified ad on the internet and interviewing several respondents, the team (which also includes Valerie Hunt as the sound person and Gilbert's ex-girlfriend) selects Matt (Matthew Tilley), a young British man stricken with inoperable brain cancer. Sensing that there is something noble in Matt's ambition to decide when he dies rather than let the disease take its course, the filmmakers set out to make a biography of Matt and watch his preparations for killing himself, including getting his affairs in order, seeing family members for the last time (some of whom have no idea that he's sick or what he's planning to do), buying a coffin, and selecting his method of death. Rather than keep a distance from their subject, the filmmakers actually become friends with Matt, a fact that could potentially change the outcome of their film. While constantly attempting to influence Matt in any way (to do so could be considered criminal), they seem to do the opposite, which is to celebrate his version of a "pro-choice" decision. There are some very beautiful emotional high point in A NECESSARY DEATH, particular scenes where Matt is saying good bye to his stepsister (who is all to aware of the film's true purpose) and his mother (who hasn't got a clue). Tilley is probably the one actor of the bunch who never really gives himself away. There were little things in the other performances that clued me in to the hoax, but Tilley's work is flawless. Even in later scenes where he begins to question the merits of his decision (and possibly tank the film), he comes across as a man torn between taking advantage of a possible bright moment in his life before the ultimate darkness, or being a team player and just going through with the suicide on schedule. I also like the scenes where Gilbert is fighting with his school's film program about funding for his project. Due to the subject matter, the school decides to take away his financing, and he must turn to his parents to much-needed cash. If the film is completed, a local TV station has offered to buy the finished movie, which would take Gilbert out of a deep financial hole. A NECESSARY DEATH is a slow burner, building a tension for subtle at first, you don't even realize it's there. But about halfway through, you start to feel the anxiety creeping in, and by the end, you have no idea how these mixed emotions and loyalties are going to crashing into each other. Even if you take out the message of the film, it still works as a mild suspense offering, with no overplaying of the story or the performances. This is a one of those little wonders that I always hope for at every film festival that I attend, and until it gets released somewhere by someone, I'm going to be talking about A NECESARRY DEATH a whole lot. WILD BLUE YONDER As I mentioned in my intro to my report on the documentaries I saw at SXSW this year, I'm a student and passionate follower of docs of all sizes, shapes, lengths, and widths. And it's pretty much impossible to be a hardcore doc fan and not bathe in the glory of David and Albert Maysles, the brothers and co-directors of some of the most influential verité films every made. GREY GARDENS is one of the few docs to get a splendid Criterion treatment. Then there are such works as SALESMAN, GIMMER SHELTER, and a series of films examining art installations by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. David Maysles died in 1987, when his daughter Celia, the director of this film, was only seven. Her memories of her father are sketchy, and she decided to effectively finish her father's unfinished self examination of his own life and father called BLUE YONDER. Through some legal dealing (some might so swindling), David's brother Albert got the rights to all the Maysles Brothers works, including BLUE YONDER, which Albert had no input on at all. As much as WILD BLUE YONDER is about a daughters search for her father through his work, there are much more frustrating aspects to Celia's story, including her uncle's refusal to give her the raw footage of BLUE YONDER, which he claims he may be using for a doc of his own on his career. Celia carries the camera herself most of them time from Uncle Albert's office to her visits with her therapist to some of the locations and people her father featured in his films to the mental hospital Celia checked herself years earlier when she was contemplating suicide. She does manage to gather an impressive collection of archived audio taped interviews with her father and does a series of her own interviews with those still living who knew her father best. There are many tears shed by the director, since this is clearly still an emotionally charged issue for her and her mother. There's one particular moving moment when she and her mom share two very different accounts of the day of David's stoke that led to his death days later. It stuck me as ironic that both Maysles brothers' constant quest for truth, but so much of David's past is shrouded in mystery and secrecy. Celia doesn't get all of the answers she's looking for, but she doesn't come away empty handed either. I was really touched by this small but moving and significant work.


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