Terrorists, rebels, nut jobs, and outsiders populated the projects at the 27th IFP Market, the Independent Feature Project’s annual clearinghouse devoted to works in progress eventually bound for PBS, cable TV, or art house distribution. While last year’s market yielded Mad Hot Ballroom, the populist kid-dancing chronicle and $8 million sleeper hit, many of 2005’s eye-catching nonfictions were focused on the far less cute fringes of society.
In the teaser reel for Jeremy and Randy Stulberg’s Off the Grid: Life on the Mesa, grizzled veterans and unwashed runaways survive in the Arizona badlands, bartering marijuana, tussling with the feds, and living out the American dream of “almost true freedom,” as one Gulf War veteran says, rifle in hand. “It’s my job to overthrow this government,” he vows. “They’re the greatest threat to the U.S. Constitution.”
Remarks such as these are the quickest way to imprisonment, according to a pair of docs in progress: Terrorist George follows one outspoken man’s obsessive fight to save his farm, while Terrorist—SHAC 7 reveals the broader definition of “terrorism” under the Patriot Act that allows for the arrest of animal rights activists.
A range of other real-life revolutionaries was on display, including Patrick Critton, black militant airplane hijacker (Freedom Dreams); the Berrigan brothers, Catholic priests turned ’60s anti-war activists ( America Is Hard to Find); a gang of drug-addled anarchist bicyclists in New York City who eventually corrupt their own anti-fuel ideology (B.I.K.E.); and two surrealist, Jewish, lesbian half-sisters who resisted Nazi occupation (Lover Other, the latest from queer avant-garde pioneer Barbara Hammer).
Marlo Poras’s The Candidate offered the most appealing radical: “Granny D” Haddock, the 94-year-old activist who ran a guerrilla-style New Hampshire senate race against a wealthy Republican incumbent in ’04. Winner of the Market’s documentary prize (and a completion grant worth $31,500), the campaign doc delivers an infectious portrait of the nonagenarian troublemaker that avoids glib simplification—in addition to hearing and breathing challenges, Haddock must contend with a daughter suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Two of the strongest nonfiction works focus on immigrant outsiders. Nicole Newnham and David Grabias’s Sentenced Home is a bracing account of three Cambodian Americans—”children of the Khmer Rouge”—who came to this country as refugees and have now, under new rules enforced by the callous Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, been deported to a nation they do not remember. And brilliant landscapist Bill Brown’s latest, The Other Side, examines the immigration debate through a wry, penetrating series of beautifully composed snapshots along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border, complete with newly erected fences. “When you build a wall, you acknowledge your power has limits,” he says in a voice-over testament to the failures of U.S. policy. “You mark the spot where you’ve run out of better ideas.”