Burning Man: Beyond Black Rock
This lovingly made documentary chronicles a year's worth of preparation for the annual seven-day Burning Man Festival in the Black Rock Desert in northwestern Nevada.
For those unfamiliar with Burning Man, it is, as several of the film's interviewees recount, essentially "planned chaos" marked by the convergence of approximately 30,000 people in Nevada's high desert. Participants construct their own city out of tents and decorate it with pieces of innovative works of art, including giant wind chimes, papier-mâche temples and homemade carnival rides. At the center of the city is a giant statue of a man, which is set on fire during the last night of the festival, hence the name.
Burning Man: Beyond Black Rock follows festival organizers from planning meetings in a San Francisco office to the creation of a fun and functional art installation in a high school science teacher's garage, in the process revealing the vast amount of time and energy spent preparing for each year's event, which is both surprising and inspiring.
The film works hard to convince viewers that Burning Man is far more that just a bunch of hippies, pagans and anarchists getting high in the desert, which is true, until the hippies, pagans and anarchists show up. Despite attempts to provide evidence to the contrary, once the gates are opened and the general public is allowed in, the city rapidly turns from a labor of love to a high desert freak show. But fortunately for you, the film festival viewer, freak shows make for good watching and Burning Man: Beyond Black Rock is no exception, providing all of the debauchery of Burning Man without having to endure the sunburns, sand storms or acid flashbacks. (Saturday, May 6, 9:15pm, Del Mar Theatre)
Fabulous: The Story of Queer Cinema
In Fabulous: The Story of Queer Cinema, directors Lisa Ades and Lesli Klainberg set out to chronicle the rise of a film genre, its journey from outsider art to independent festival darling, and, finally, its tentative arrival within the mainstream media.
The film charts a time line of the evolution of queer cinema, beginning with Kenneth Anger's 1947 underground experimental film Fireworks to last year's blockbuster, Brokeback Mountain.
Through interviews with notable actors, directors and critics like Jane Lynch, Ang Lee and John Waters, as well as UCSC's own B. Ruby Rich, Fabulous argues that the primary motivation behind queer cinema has always been the desire by gay and lesbian filmmakers to see their own experiences reflected back to them from the screen. Of course, many of the interviewees are quick to point out that most films that fall under the genre of queer cinema have very little to do with the lives of real people, few of whom are inclined to seduce underage non-English-speaking street kids as in Gus Van Sant's Mala Noche or fight crime with good looking friends in plaid skirts like in 2004's D.E.B.S.
For a documentary about innovative films, Fabulous, in and of itself, is not a particularly innovative film. Cutting back and forth between interviews by noteworthy members of the film and GLBT communities and footage from various works of queer cinema, Fabulous toes the standard documentary line. But evenly paced and with snippets of sex scenes sprinkled liberally throughout, it is certain a piece capable of holding its own even in an already well-stocked festival. (Saturday, May 6, 7:30pm, Del Mar Theatre)
Caught in the Crossfire
A joint project by unembedded Iraqi and American filmmakers, Caught in the Crossfire provides a quick and uninhibited glimpse of life in Fallujah following Operation Phantom Fury in 2004. The film follows Fallujah's civilian residents from the first days of living in a war zone to evacuation to eventual re-entry into their demolished city.
With little dialogue outside of the voice of an American narrator, the filmmakers allow long shots of bombed-out buildings and despondent-looking children to tell the bulk of the story. At only 18 minutes long, you might think that a documentary with no more than a handful of interviews with local residents at less than 30 seconds a pop would leave something to be desired. But then again, when the intent is to convey the extent of destruction, broken windows and malnourished toddlers get the point across pretty well on their own. (Saturday, May 6, 3pm, Del Mar Theatre)
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