Acquiring Minds


Steve Buscemi’s Burroughs adaptation, Queer; the Quay Brothers’ mystery fairy tale The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes; and Miranda July’s feature debut, Me and You and Everyone We Know—none of these films screened at the 25th IFP Market. Devoted to works in progress seeking completion funds (or, in the case of the scripts listed above, launching funds), the latest edition of the Independent Feature Project’s annual clearinghouse showcased a more promising than usual batch of nonfiction and narrative stories, mostly in five-to-25-minute teaser reels.

Fortunately, the Market’s most noteworthy discovery was a full-length exception. Robert Stone’s engrossing 88-minute Neverland: The Rise and Fall of the SLA chronicles the infamous Symbionese Liberation Army, from its genesis (inspired by movies like State of Siege) to the media circus around Patty Hearst’s kidnapping and revolutionary transformation, to the core SLA members’ annihilation in a Waco-like ball of flames. Using mostly archival footage and audio recordings (“Mom, Dad, tell the people that I have chosen to stay and fight,” says Tania, a/k/a Hearst), Neverland recalls both Errol Morris and Bus 174 in its thrilling investigation of the ’70s outlaws.”The fascist pig media,” as Tania might say, is also the target of the wry short POPaganda, the Art & Subversion of Ron English, directed by Pedro Carvajal, which examines the painter’s guerrilla-style anti-capitalist billboards. Tierney Gearon: Photographer looks at another controversial artist; with only eight minutes of footage, filmmakers Jack Youngelson and Peter Sutherland reveal a provocative subject in Gearon, her abusive mother, and the photographs Gearon takes of her nude kids pissing at the camera.

The Market also unveiled two insightful documentaries about black America. Stanley Nelson’s autobiographical A Place of Our Own examines an upper-middle-class African American vacation spot on Martha’s Vineyard and the evolution of black leisure (“We like it nice, too,” says his father, an “integration pioneer”), while a sample of Joe Angio’s How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It) observes the equally pioneering Melvin Van Peebles, the esteemed filmmaker and, we learn, the first black floor trader on the New York Stock Exchange.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict provided fodder for a slew of bracing projects. In the poignant Wander, Israeli director Danae Elon searches for the Palestinian man who worked for her family in Jerusalem for 20 years, and in Annemarie Jacir’s Kiarostamian Like Twenty Impossibles, winner of the Market’s short film award (and screening at the New York Film Festival), a Palestinian director’s movie is stripped away by Israeli soldiers—first the actor is taken away, followed by the soundman, and all that’s left is unnerving silence.

Environmental crises came to the fore in a pair of worthy works in progress: Blue Vinyl directors Daniel Gold and Judith Helfand’s “toxic comedy” about global warming, Melting Planet; and Bradley Beesley’s The Creek That Runs Red, about the deleterious conditions of Picher, Oklahoma, the number-one Superfund site in America. And it won’t be long before we see finished versions of such audience pleasers as Shakespeare Behind Bars, which stirred viewers to tears and applause; and the real-life Rock School, which showed a hilarious clip reel of pint-size musicians learning the ways of Led Zeppelin from a teacher as frenzied as Jack Black.

And for those who criticize the Market’s ability to produce tangible results for its entries, there was documentary work-in-progress winner Rolling—an intensely moving study of life in a wheelchair, shot by the handicapped participants themselves. On awards night, filmmaker Gretchen Berland, who teaches at Yale medical school, vowed to take her $10,000 prize and buy one of her subjects/directors a new wheelchair. How’s that for an acquisition deal?