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Movies on the Midcoast

From simulated battlegrounds to Bristol Bay at the Camden International Film Festival
By CHRISTOPHER GRAY  |  September 24, 2008

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BODY COUNT: In Full Battle Rattle.

Focused on independent documentary films, the fourth Camden International Film Festival hits Midcoast theaters from September 25 through 28 (tickets are $8.50 per film; see camdenfilmfest.org for details). Yet again, this year’s festival tackles an admirable hodgepodge of subjects — online gaming junkies (Second Skin), Harry Potter fanatics (We Are Wizards), and even Cockney gangsters in London’s East End (The End). Here’s a guide to CIFF films previewed by the Phoenix; see our film listings for screening times. Most events are followed by question-and-answer sessions with the film’s director.

Carny
While succeeding in its intent — to humanize easily-derided itinerant carnival workers — Alison Murray’s short film is full of missed opportunities. The five carnies she follows (the most interesting of whom are a man in a three-way relationship with two female carnies, and a naïve young lesbian thrilled about escaping her home) are cordial but one-dimensional. More interesting are the vast Technicolor mechanisms in the backdrops.

Full Battle Rattle
In 2005, a large swath of Fort Irwin (in California’s Mojave Desert) was transformed into realistic replicas of Iraqi cities and villages, complete with full-time actors playing the roles of shopkeepers, local politicos, and insurgents. Filmmakers Jesse Moss and Tony Gerber track one battalion’s two-week training session and some of the actors who spend their days and nights pretending to live in a quagmire (one, incredibly, is an Iraqi refugee in the midst of a deportation case). Like Carny, Full Battle Rattle suffers from a paucity of complex characters, but is bolstered by its fascinating subject matter and sharp production values.

The Garden
Blazing through enough instances of racism, greed, corruption, and political intrigue to fill an entire season of The Wire in 80 minutes, Scott Hamilton Kelly’s gripping film about America’s largest urban community garden (14 acres in South Central Los Angeles) explores the wrongheaded and conflicting interests that can prevent the simplest things from surviving. Kelly’s confusing narrative needlessly withholds simple chronological information, either out of laziness or to benefit later “gotcha” moments, but it seethes with passion.

The Greening of Southie
The second release by King Corn filmmakers Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis has the same natural charm and levelheaded temperament as its predecessor. Following the construction of the Macallen Building in South Boston from the ground up, the film explains how a building achieves LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, and transforms a stubborn working-class neighborhood. The filmmakers could stand to be more probing interviewers (they mention the shortcomings of the LEED program, but don’t get anyone to ’fess up to them), but their technical skills — cinematography, score, editing — have improved sharply.

Intimidad
David Redmon and Ashley Sabin follow a young married Mexican couple who leave their child behind in their small hometown. Hoping that a few years’ hard labor will let them buy property and build a home, they move to a factory town in northern Mexico and struggle to save pennies. Subtle and nonjudgmental, Intimidad makes the everyday plight of its subjects emblematic of a wider societal tragedy.

Red Gold
The voice of Alaska governor Sarah Palin heralding the start of the commercial salmon fishing season opens Ben Knight and Travis Rummel’s film, which is likely to cause twitters of excitement at the Red Gold’s Sunday screening. (Alas, the governor doesn’t make an appearance.) The film focuses on the Bristol Bay fishing community’s effort to block the opening of a copper mine on some of the world’s most untouched and fragile land. About 20 compelling minutes, the film inexplicably becomes little more than a promotional video praising Alaska’s “unique way of life.” At least 10 of its 60 are spent with a man who trains people to become wildlife guides, who says nothing to add to the film’s purported subject.

Christopher Gray can be reached at cgray@phx.com.

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