A trio of documentaries will make their world premiere at Film Independent's Los Angeles Film Festival, which runs June 17 - 27, 2010. "Camera, Camera" focuses its lens on Western shutterbugs swarming Laos. "Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone" gets up close and personal with the legendary Los Angeles ska-punk-funk band. And "One Lucky Elephant" explores one man's attempt to break up with a 10,125 pound female who never forgets. After previewing these three of the nine documentaries in competition at LAFF, indieWIRE reached out to the filmmakers to enquire about their inspiration.
Laos is the setting for "Camera, Camera," an hour-long documentary directed Malcolm Murray, written by Michael Meyer, and produced by Josh Haner. Rather than creating a standard travelogue, the filmmakers explore what fascinates the Westerners who flock to the country with their omnipresent cameras in hand.
"I first traveled to Laos in 2006 and was immediately struck by all the flashes I saw going off," recalls director Malcolm Murray. "A few days into my journey, I began feeling like I wouldn't ever be able to understand the country I was traveling through, but that I needed to record some of my questions about it by making a film."
"Camera, Camera" is definitely a reflection of today's digital era - with the documentary's camera often zooming in on the interview subject's digital camera screen to view the snapshots under discussion.
Murray, who will be doing Q&A at the LAFF screenings, adds, "Cameras feel like an appendage for many people and have come into our lives without much assessment. We occasionally think about what it means for a journalist to take a photograph during a war, or what it means that the Nazis documented their concentration camps, but we don't talk much about the cameras that shape our lives every day, and every holiday. We hope our film can be some small part in a discussion about what it means to take a picture."
Lacking a narrative storyline, "Camera, Camera" flows like a river, stopping to visit with interview subjects and then moving on at leisure. It never overstays its welcome. The interviewees clearly feel comfortable with the filmmakers, and all are eager to show off their visual souvenirs. It's notable that very few of their photos are memorable. Instead, it's the shutterbug infestation that mesmerizes. The film's best segment involves a trail of saffron-robed young monks on their way to prayer. Locals treat the holy men with great honor, while the tourists act like paparazzi hounding Britney Spears on a Starbucks run.
Britney Spears wasn't even born when Fishbone, the ska-punk-funk band best known for their 1985 anthem "Party at Ground Zero," first formed. The Los Angeles sextet who first picked up their instruments in junior high are profiled in "Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone," directed and produced by Chris Metzler & Lev Anderson.
Exploring the band's current day reality while tracking its dysfunctional history, Metzler & Anderson have crafted a 91-minute film that not only boasts interviews with the band's more successful peers (Flea, Ice-T, Perry Farrell, and No Doubt) but also incorporates Saturday morning cartoon reenactments of the guys as teenagers and nifty graphics to illustrate the larger cultural influences at work. An attitude-tinged narration by Laurence Fishburne ties the whole thing together. Let's be clear, this is no lame-ass "Behind the Music."
Filmmakers Chris Metzler & Lev Anderson explain what motivated them to undertake the definitive Fishbone biography: "We were always surprised there wasn't already a Fishbone documentary out there, just knowing their unique place in rock n roll and the fact that they influenced artists across genres from punk rockers and metal heads to jazz musicians, and hip hoppers. Plus, we liked the idea of exploring the social and cultural forces in LA that gave rise to a Black rock band from South Central. That these guys were outsiders that really didn't fit in anywhere, so they just decided to blaze their own path."
At the press preview screening, several of the reviewers who were considerably older than the core Fishbone audience were overheard remarking afterward that they didn't like the band's music but liked the documentary. In other words, you don't have to be a Fishbone fan to enjoy this film.
But for true Fishbone fans - and there should be a lot of hometown supporters who come out to see the doc - there are several treats in store as the film world premieres at LAFF. Some of the current and former members of the band will be on hand for all three of the post-screening Q&A's. After the premiere on June 19th, three of the original Fishbone members (Norwood Fisher, Chris Dowd and Dirty Walt) will perform a short unplugged acoustic set of Fishbone songs for festival pass-holders at the Festival Village on the Event Deck at L.A. LIVE.
The third doc, "One Lucky Elephant," is the most traditional of the trio previewed. Director Lisa Leeman, writer Christina Colissimo, and producers Cristina Colissimo, Jordana Glick-Franzheim and Miriam Culter spent ten years documenting the saga of circus-owner David Balding's quest to find a retirement home for his aging star, Flora the elephant. Man and beast have lived in each other's pockets since the pachyderm was brought over from Africa as an orphaned baby and are finding enforced separation more difficult than either would have expected.
Unexpected twists and turns in David and Flora's long saga keep the 83-minute documentary surprising at every turn. At one point, it seemed like the story had reached the perfect happy ending, and I checked my watch. We still had at least 40 minutes of movie left to go! Luckily for the viewer, what happens in the second half is just as dramatic and engrossing as the first part.
Director Lisa Leeman clarifies her approach to making the doc: "I was clear from the start that this should be an intimate, character-driven film - that through David and Flora's story, we could learn about the lives of elephants in captivity, and get to see up close a unique cross-species relationship."
The world premiere screening of "One Lucky Elephant" on June 19 at 6:30 PM at the Regal Cinemas in downtown Los Angeles will be followed by a panel discussion on the issues raised in the film.