Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Movies We Like: Documentaries

We receive comedy film submissions of all types and genres.  While there's no particular type of comedy film we prefer, one of the least successful forms we receive is the comedy documentary.

And we love comedy documentaries when they work.  But they often don't.

Christopher Guest et al have made some of the finest comedy films of the past 20 years, but they are also unfortunately responsible for the rise of the "mockumentary."  Like any spoof, a true comedy documentary must first be as good as the subject it's satirizing, and then go one step further.  (It also helps to actually satirize something.  If you're confused, click here.)  Many people seem to think that all it takes to be Christopher Guest is to grab a camera and put yourself and your "funny" friends in front of it.  After all, these things are improvised, right?  Well, not entirely.  For starters, these are experienced improvisers who've also spent a lot of time developing Characters and Stories.  Yes, we're talking to you, college students: Stop with the mockumentaries!  Especially the ones about the entertainment industry, because it kind of feels like you're biting the hand that you so desperately want to feed you.

But we digress.  This post is titled "Movies We Like," so we'll use the rest of this space to highlight a few favorites that have played well at our festival.

The first in the mockumentary category is Andy Bobrow's incredible film The Old Negro Space Program.  Bobrow's movie, besides being a pitch-perfect lampoon of the Ken Burns-style documentary, is actually about something, and touches on issues of race in American history in a way that only a satire can.  One of our favorite all-time short comedy films.

Another great movie in the "mockumentary" category is Alec Cohen's I Got Shot With A Bullet.  Unfortunately this film isn't online so we can't post it here, but Cohen's movie is a remarkable portrait of a filmmaker who earnestly documents his own trials but ends up exposing himself as a self-involved idiot.

Of course, actual documentaries can be funny too.  We LOVE to receive real, non-spoof documentaries which have a comic subject or approach their story in a funny way.

Lowell Northrop's Have You Seen Axl Rose? takes a series of audio recordings of people who have had first-hand encounters with the reclusive rocker and plays them over footage of an Axl Rose impersonator walking through the streets of Los Angeles.  It's an odd, funny, and kind of haunting movie.

Another documentary that played well for us is Jay Stern and M. Sweeney Lawless' Portrait of the Artist as a 16 Year Old.  Yes, we know that Jay is a founder, producer, and co-host of The Iron Mule.  But if he can't show his own dang movies at his own dang film festival, what's the point of having one to begin with?

And then there was the first movie to appear on HBO after screening at our festival, Jon Rubin's So Many Women, So Little Hair.

One filmmaker who straddles the line between fiction and documentary is Kyle Gilman, who likes to use the term "fictumentary" to describe his films such as The Epic Tale of Kalesius and Clotho.  In this film Gilman fictionalizes true stories of his own life, plays a version of himself, and captures it all in a documentary style.  For you documentary fans out there, it will come as no surprise that Gilman studied with Ross McElwee.

And finally, we've shown a few "man on the street" documentaries, which combine "real" people and comic setups.  These are familiar to audiences through various prank videos and things like Jay Leno's Jaywalking bit.  One filmmaker who always seems to get the tone right with this kind of thing is Kevin Maher, whose film You Make the Call is embedded below.

Some other movies worth mentioning: Mondo Ford, a spoof of those odd Mondo Cane films from the 60's that unearths a very convincing conspiracy involving Gerald Ford and alien overlords; Ryan McFaul's The Man Behind the Motion; and Victor Varnado and Jay Stern's Urban Arts.

Do you have any favorite short comedy documentaries or "mockumentaries?"  Let us know by posting a comment!

No comments:

Post a Comment