The 16th Annual one-day documentary festival, DocuTime, is this Saturday, January 27th. It's a full day of features and shorts at UNCW's King Hall Auditorium. Paula Haller created this festival and is the force behind it; listen to Paula talk about some of the films above and read our extended conversation below.
Paula: I'm the Chairman of the 16th Annual Documentary Film Festival, which we created 15 or 16 years ago and WHQR has been the original cosponsor ever since. DocuTime. It’s my brand name.
Gina: Everyone is excited about these films. How were the films chosen this year?
Paula: It takes a long time to surf the globe. And so I surf the world and just punch enter on my internet and I pray that there may be a listing of some films that might interest me. Then I have to Google every one to see if it's something I like, and of course it isn't. So then I go to the next one and then I go to the next one and I think, "Alright, tomorrow I'll start again." It really does take time.
I have a good relationship with Dan Brawley at Cucalorus and he shows a lot of documentaries too, so we have a wonderful understanding. I try and choose things that will inform and entertain because most people come from 9:30 in the morning to 5:30 at night and watch four different segments of wonderful documentaries. I show three features and one segment of shorts. And that's the hardest one, finding good shorts.
Gina: Tell me about the features.
Paula: Okay, well the first feature I had to wait a year to get because we're a small demographic. Let's face it, Wilmington is not New York City and it's not Los Angeles. And they said, "Well..." and I said, "Well we're just not going to interrupt your theatrical distribution. Well, we'll wait till next year." So I waited and I got Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble because I wanted it.
Yo-Yo Ma- he's charismatic and I knew about the film and he does what I love. Ethnic music instruments that he gets from his musician friends. He's got someone from Syria that plays this instrument I've never seen of course. It's a Syrian ethnic instrument from Iran and both these men have been kicked out because they're not politically correct in what they are performing. It's wonderful to hear this first person because you hear about everybody being kicked around when they revolt. And then there's the most wonderful pipa- sort of like a lute- player. And she's fabulous, she's such a character. And she's from China and she thought she was going to be a classical musician. Now she goes all over playing pop tunes with the pipa- which comes from the Tang Dynasty via Central Asia.
And they also have a guy that plays the sheng, which looks like a small mouth organ. It's not a mouth organ, but the kind you play in a church. It has pipes, about five pipes plus a mouthpiece. And I've seen this instrument played many times and that's in it too. So I got excited of course because China is one of my areas of study. And then there’s this woman who is so incredible. She lives in a town in Spain and I've never seen bagpipe playing like this. And she plays pop tunes and classical tunes, but Spanish classical tunes.
Gina: And this is Music of Strangers, is that right?
Paula: Yes, it's called Music of Strangers. Now the Silk Road was just a wonderful capture of the romantic highway that led from China into ancient Rome because there was a trade route actually going through Afghanistan and Iraq when the emperors were popular. It was so prevalent. They'd never seen silk in bright colors. They were wearing hemp and linen Egyptians and Romans. And finally they had to have usury laws where they said you can't buy except a certain amount of silk. I mean, it totally took over the fashion world. And the term “Silk Road” was coined by a westerner.
Gina: Tell me about the French film Faces Places. [Just nominated for Academy Award: Best Documentary]
Paula: Faces Places just won the Documentary Award at Cannes. You know, that famous film festival in France. And it's made by an 89 year old documentary filmmaker, Agnes Varda. Well, she's not just documentary filmmaker, she makes features too. And she hooked up with a graffiti photographer that is out of this world. He's about 35 and the two of them go out in the countryside. He has a truck that in the back of the truck is a developing studio, you know how they used to do pictures with trays of chemical water and then they pulled the picture out and it would be magic? Well, that's what he does. They interview these country people and then they take a picture of them and- I really shouldn't tell you but it's so great- then they develop it and they develop it in a monster size like it's eight feet tall. Just the body, a silhouette. Then they go back to the village with three or four of these pictures and they paste them up on big buildings and then they go to the person and say, "How would you like to come and see your picture now?" And they get all excited thinking they're going to see a little photo and here's this eight foot picture of them. And it's just so great the way they go around doing this.
Gina: And the Washington Post says Faces, Places is “a film of sheer joy.”
Paula: It is. Just think, at 89 she's walking around saying, "I think we'll do this. I think we'll do that." She's consumate. I teach her in courses. She's absolutely phenomenal. And I did show another film of hers once- a documentary. She's just too good to be true.
Gina: And then the other full length is Blood Road.
Paula: I know people are going to say, "Oh no, another Vietnamese film." I know Ken Burns. He's from my hometown- Ann Arbor, Michigan- and he just did a fabulous series, but this one is personal. And it's so personal that you follow this professional American cyclist. At six years old she lost her father in the Vietnam War. He was shot down and was MIA. They never found him and it's haunted her and she's now in her 30s or early 40s and she finally decides that she is going to ride the Ho Chi Minh trail until she finds her father. I won't tell you the ending, but it's so wonderful. They go through villages and caves. I had no idea the Ho Chi Minh trail went through Laos and Cambodia too.
It's just amazing. The reason that she can do this so well is because they found a woman about the same age who is a professional cyclist in Vietnam. So the two of them are so cute together and one looks at the other and the Vietnamese says, "You know, we were enemies once. Now we're riding as friends to see your father." Then we go through the villages and some of the sculpture in front of these little village houses are pieces from our airplanes that were shot down. You see, I've never seen that up close personal manifestation of the Vietnam War. I finally got it. I finally got it. So this is a wonderful film. But as I say, a very different take. And that's all they do is just keep riding the bicycles through the jungles, through caves.
Gina: Wow, that sounds really powerful. And then we have four shorts. So we have Adventures in the Van, a little 2 minute short.
Paula: I want to talk about that. Last year at DocuTime, I showed a two minute film that the Oasis Autistic Elementary School did. I had the teachers all come, including the director, and sit in the front row and we showed this two minute film that the kids made and it was a news broadcast, just like Francis Weller would do on WECT. It was so cute, they used Dixie cups for the microphones and everything and they said, "This is coming to you from..." and I was so entranced. Then I heard they had a little film festival. The kids are now creating their own films. I had them send them to me. There were about six of them and I chose this one.
And you won't believe it, one of the kids carries puppets on the van. They want to go out to McDonald's and they order using the puppet. It's so cute and then it shows them pretending to drive the van and everything and then they go over to the Cape Fear Museum. So I just had to show it again this year because these kids are learning so much. They've learned to talk, they've learned to write, they've learned to make films. Every year I'm gonna put a little clip of theirs in.
Gina: That's great. And then we have At What Price.
Paula: At What Price is a very subtle picture. A filmmaker, Tommy Day, convinced this budding- he calls himself an adventure photographer and he lives up in Canada near Banff in Lake Louise and it's winter and they climb up on these cliffs that are all snow or ice. It's a coming of age in some ways. I don't know how old he is, maybe 30. And the subtle theme of this is he puts this on Facebook as if it's a perfect life. And through the making of this film he says, "Why do I have to say it's a perfect life? Why can't I be real?" And that's what the revelation is of making this film.
Gina: The realization in this film is that that was not the expected outcome?
Paula: No. That's why it's sort of subtle as you go through. And I thought, He keeps talking about Facebook, what does he mean by that? And then I looked at it again and he's saying, "I now can actually talk about my real life." He now wants to be a special adventure photographer meaning he wants to photograph people climbing up these steep hills or these steep icy cliffs.
Gina: And then you have two shorts that both involve Svetlana Cvetko.
Paula: She's from Yugoslavia. The one I want to talk about first is Yours Sincerely, Lois Weber. Lois Weber was the highest paid director in 1915 and she was a female. Nobody knows about her. I've taught her when I teach women filmmakers and she's incredible. This was made as a tribute to her. It's a short but at least now she's on camera again instead of behind the camera. And I think people will recognize that there were several very fine scriptwriters, too. Francis Marion was one in the 20s and 30s and it's time to get recognized.
Gina: And then Behind the Mask.
Paula: Oh, I couldn't believe this when I saw it. I said, "I know the filmmaker. I know the guy in the film." I said, "That's Tim Robbins!" He’s made fabulous films. And he has a group- you would love it- it's called the Actors Gang. He’s done a lot of theater and I really like him. I just hadn't seen him in 20 years or 25 years and there he is on camera doing this special prison project with his group. Although he's the main character.
He makes the prisoners do commedia dell' arte. They have to put on makeup and sequins and they have to perform. He's got them feeling better about themselves.
Gina: Then there's The Record Breaker.
Paula: Oh my word. This is the quirky, wonderful film that's just for fun. Now and then you have to mix it up. This guy breaks every Guinness record. He breaks the record for walking in the heaviest shoes, he breaks the record for the biggest hula hoop, and he's going to try and climb Machu Picchu in Peru.
Gina: He did the most apples sliced in midair with a samuri sword.
Paula: He throws the apple up and then he takes the samurai sword and he does it in half. His father and mother are so conservative and they wanted him to go to Harvard. The classic, "We've got a brilliant boy here and all he wants to do is this crazy stuff." And so for a while they disown him because he doesn't want to go to Harvard. He doesn't want to be a lawyer like his father. The beauty is the father said, "You know, why should I lose my son because he wants to be happy and do what he wants to do?" It’s brilliant. And now he supports him so he can be happy. So I love this story even though he does the craziest things. It's just so much fun to watch him.
Gina: And then you have a sneak peek.
Paula: Don't you love that? It's really a special tribute to David Geragos's developing five part series on the American Constitution. I said, "David this is so timely." Because we hear the word constitution practically in every newscast. And we should- that's the basis of our government and freedom. So I convinced him to put together a little bit of what he's working on and he's going to come and answer questions after his 15 minute film clip. And he has reenactments. George Washington appears and he has wigs on the people and silk stockings and silk pantaloons and all that. It's really done very well. So I'm looking forward to that. He's a local filmmaker. He his claim to fame was a film on Kitty Hawk.
Gina: And this film festival starts at 9:30 in the morning?
Paula: We get them there at 9:30. We pack them in. We start on time but we give them a bagel first or a little roll and some coffee and some orange juice and some cream cheese and then we hustle them into the auditorium and they stay there all day. 9:30 to 5:30. You don't have to stay, but they love watching the documentaries. I ran into two people today that recognized me and said, "Aren't you the one that does DocuTime? We've been coming every year!"
Gina: Documentaries are a special kind of film.
Paula: And they're getting better and better. Ken Burns and Michael Moore, they're the ones that gave it a little push because Ken Burns showed you could do a whole film with snapshots. The Civil War is one of his first big hits. And Michael Moore showed you could have- in that first one on General Motors when he tries to see the chairman of the board and he's not admitted on the elevator- that you could have humor. Usually documentaries that I saw as a kid were educational and boring. Let's face it.
Gina: OK so there's bagel and coffee....
Paula: Of course, this year Davis is going to do their fabulous potato chips. We're working on maybe corned beef or something and some salads and then somebody here on WHQR staff is going to make ham and biscuits and I have a surprise if I can pull it off. And the new bundt people up on Military Cutoff, they're going to have mini bundts for the afternoon snack.
Gina: Paula, is there any other information we’re missing?
Paula: Well I think we should say that tickets are available at the door.
Gina: Are they available online or just at the door?
Paula: Yes. At Sharkey's. Call Sharkey's box office at UNCW and they're selling tickets before the event. Otherwise you can buy it at the door. Seven bucks plus tax or twenty two dollars. What a price. All day for films. And it's happening at UNCW 's King Hall Auditorium where it's been for some years. Perfect venue. It's near Randall Library at the beginning of the University, not at the far end but right behind Keenan Hall. And we'll have signs that indicate how to get there. Because I think any university where you have to find the location is always a challenge.
I want to thank Landfall Foundation for giving us a lovely grant that enables us to get really good films because they're getting more expensive as we speak. And I'd like to thank WHQR who's been our cosponsor from the beginning- all 15 years. And then we picked up the Department of Film Studies, so they've been sponsoring for a long time now and this is in the Department of Film Studies King Hall Auditorium. So it's a wonderful venue for us. Just the right size.