Festival Files: Dallas VideoFest 29 #2

dfn-left-on-pearl-300The second day of the festival cast a more intellectual and cinema verite feel through its programming of three strong documentaries, casting a light on varied subjects from roughly the same time period in America- the turbulent 60’s and early 70’s.

Susan Rivo’s Left on Pearl tells the obscure but informative tale about a women’s lib movement group that, towards the end of a bitterly cold Boston winter in 1971, made the fateful turn of the film’s title and occupied a rarely inhabited Harvard school building.

Seeking women’s rights, equal job opportunities and a reliable space to house a women’s shelter, Rivo’s documentary blends together the shifting polemics of the day, including the actions of the local Black Panther movement, the anti-Vietnam protests, and the media circus that ensued around their own cause for 10 days. Full of talking head interviews with a majority of the still living participants, the only thing lacking in Left on Pearl is points from the other side of the peaceful protest, which, as filmmaker Rivo confessed, would have been hard since Archibald Cox (the then president of the school) has since passed away. As one member of the audience stated, Left on Pearl would make for tailor-made Netflix binge watching, which is exactly where this modest doc would find a comfortable home for anyone seeking out pivotal and under-told stories from the era.

Integral to creating a masterful documentary is timing. And timing is something Sam Pollard’s film, Two Trains Runnin’ (pictured at top), has in abundance. It unites a fateful day in Mississippi, June of 1964, when two individual strands of outsiders converged on the Deep South for wildly various reasons. The first were two separate groups of young Caucasian blues music lovers searching for the musicians named Son House and Skip James, country blues pioneers who recorded in the 20’s and 30’s, left scant but immensely powerful recordings behind, and then vanished in the waves of time.

The second strand involved the Freedom Summer movement and its politically charged ideals of instigating honest voter registration during a time when many African-American communities were discouraged in doing so.

Two Trains Runnin’ is majestically told, edited and visualized, including some nifty animation sequences that flesh out the stories that would normally be recounted to the camera and not seen. It’s a film of immense resonance, yet not only for blues music lovers such as myself. While it features quiet breaks in the storytelling for artists like Buddy Guy, Lucinda Williams and Gary Clark Jr. to perform some of the legends’ tunes, it also marries the ideas that the soaring power of music is harmonious with the indefatigable power of people to exact change.

It’s not only the best film at the festival so far, but one of the very best films of the year.

Dallas VideoFest29 will continue at the Angelika Dallas through Sunday, October 23.