While I may not be the biggest fan of documentaries, I wound up seeing more than I usually do at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. This year’s crop included Racing Extinction, DRUNK STONED BRILLIANT DEAD: The Story of the National Lampoon, Hot Girls Wanted, and Pervert Park. From what I heard around the festival, I didn’t even make it to the best of the bunch. But at least two of those I was able to see were engaging enough to warrant recommendations, and it’s not surprising that the best of those is from the man responsible for The Cove.
Racing Extinction comes from Louie Psihoyos (The Cove), and examines mankind’s responsibility for driving species to extinction — including our own. With the world being polluted at an alarming rate, Psihoyos covers everything from the blue whale to shark finning to plankton, a tiny oxygen-producing organism. “Save the plankton; save the world,” could be a smart advertising campaign, but the filmmakers also take time to show us the acidification of the ocean, manta ray populations being slaughtered for gills, and, with some fancy cameras, everyday pollution from vehicles and the manufacturing industry.
At one point, Psihoyos states “baby boomers have made the biggest impact the world has ever seen,” but in the end, we’re all responsible. Psihoyos even demonstrates how much damage he’s contributing simply by making his film. Smart filmmaking is something we expect from Psihoyos, who finds a way to turn Racing Extinction into a near thriller, and at least he provides some eye-opening facts and visuals to go along with the guilt-tripping. A shark trying to swim without its fins is particularly heartbreaking, making even me question that next bite of shark steak, even if I would never, ever eat shark fin soup. This is another must see from Psihoyos, even if it never reaches far enough to make even the most cynical viewer cry as he did in The Cove.
DRUNK STONED BRILLIANT DEAD: The Story of the National Lampoon whisks viewers back to the ’70s for a look at the crew behind the scenes during their rise to satirical glory. Director Douglas Tirola manages to interview everyone from co-founder Henry Beard to possibly every editor/contributor they had. Hilarity is the main name of the game, but Tirola does manage to shed a sad light on the rise and fall of co-founder Doug Kenney — after the initially unsuccessful premiere of Caddyshack — who winds up tragically dead, and no one knows what really happened. Considering DSBD has been in production for four years, it’s a shame Tirola never managed to include interviews with Bill Murray or the late Harold Ramis, but it’s still fun to see them behind the scenes with the likes of Gilda Radnor and Jim Belushi before they made it big after Saturday Night Live. Even Chevy Chase humanizes himself considering the bad word-of-mouth he’s been receiving lately and shows a real sadness while reminiscing about Kenney.
The film moves at a brisk pace but ultimately starts to feel long-winded even at a scant 98 minutes, and ends rather abruptly. DSBD does manage to shine a spotlight on the National Lampoon during its heyday. It would have been nice to see how the moniker was handled in its later years. The film end of the magazine is very brief, and it’s clear Tirola wanted to focus on Kenney, but when you title your film The Story of the National Lampoon, you should find some closure for the subject at hand. It’s still worth a watch to relive the hilarious magazine at its peak of greatness.
For anyone wanting a light shed on the seedy underbelly of amateur porn, Hot Girls Wanted! may sound like a dream come true. Unfortunately, directors Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus merely scratch the surface, presenting the subject more like a slice-of-life than a true documentary. Focusing on Tressa Silguero (aka Stella May), Bauer and Gradus follow her through her time spent working for talent agent Riley’s “Hussie Models” out of south Florida.
We do get to see Tressa battling her own personal demons, explaining how sex outside of porn scares her after getting heartbroken in real life and she might as well hop on a plane and make some money out of it. A behind-the-scenes expose of the smallest order follows as we see her tell her parents the truth, her boyfriend’s distaste for her “profession,” dealing with the industries demand for testing, and trips to the doctor to have golfball-sized cysts drained.
You can tell that Bauer and Gradus want us to feel bad for Tressa choosing this as a profession, but this was a choice she made all her own so you never really feel any empathy. Same goes for the rest of the girls featured — Tressa’s BFF “Ava Taylor” in particular always comes across as disenchanted despite her wealth of videos online. The most interesting fact is when they discuss a model’s “shelf life” explaining that a girl can last anywhere from as short as a week to only as long as a year. Anyone interested in the subject need not worry, Netflix has purchased the film so expect to see it available sooner than later.
While it may have won the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Impact, not even Hot Girls Wanted! left you feeling as icky as Pervert Park. Focusing on a trailer park in St. Petersburg, Florida, Nancy Morais founded a community for sex offenders to reintegrate themselves back into the community. While directors Frida and Lasse Barkfors claim they’re trying to bring an understanding to the residents of the Florida Justice Transitions trailer park and the struggle to break the cycle of their own sex crimes, all they really do is turn it into a free-for-all confessional. Here you’ll get to listen to people try to explain their leaps in logic of traveling to Mexico to find a prostitute only to wind up kidnapping and raping a five-year-old girl, or a mother trying to get through her tale of having sex with her own eight-year-old boy and blaming it on the fact that her own father did the same thing to her.
There is a tale of morality gone awry buried deep, and I mean deep, inside Pervert Park, but the directors never get into the real psychological issues and none of the residents are seeking professional help. All we ever see them doing is attending a counseling session with other offenders like an AA meeting. There are some mental health issues that could have been examined, but the Barkfors never go there. This is one of those films that proves just because a film wins an award at Sundance, doesn’t mean it’s a must see.
Photos courtesy Sundance Institute[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00BCB1JJW][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B004M7MOZ6][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B000JLQPYK][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B000Q7ZOAI]