2021 Dallas VideoFest Presents Docufest: ‘Fireboys’, ‘Socks on Fire’ and ‘Pieces of Us’

Outside of the regionally focused films that always play a large part in the festival, this year’s final edition of Dallas VideoFest feels especially prescient. Our world is reeling from a variety of conflicts both personal and political, where the human body is in open confrontation between science and ill-conceived administrative power and inner rage is spilling onto the city landscape through protest and communal organization. It’s as if the confrontation is floating in the ether and film festivals around the globe are channeling its essence. Or maybe it’s just that filmmakers are more attuned to things so the films create themselves. Either way, Docufest- which begins this Thursday at the Dallas Angelika location- has films to address all these issues and so much more, which is exactly the type of programming any progressive body owes its adventurous audiences.

The best film I’ve had the opportunity to preview so far is Jakob Hochendoner and Drew Dickler’s Fireboys. Being a state that continually flexes its liberal muscles in the lower 48, it should be no surprise that California hosts a convict program that selects and trains certain incarcerated men to fight wildfires. It’s all the more shocking that a majority of these people are juvenile delinquents.

Following a select few as they enter the program, train, and apply themselves as a helpful force within the same environments they once dramatically impacted through their violence, the film is elating in telling their stories. Even more profound is the narrative of older Chuy Hernandez. Facing his release and given a new lease on life through his responsible experience in fire school, the film examines how even the most rehabilitated will face a harsh reality once life on the outside begins again.

Told with little flash and clear-eyed respect for its young men, Fireboys exposes us to a little known aspect of California society that’s trying to turn a negative into a bracing positive.

Just as honorable a subject, Cheryl Allison’s Pieces of Us tells the stories of three different people as they process the aftermath of hate crimes inflicted upon them for being LGBQT. From people in New York to a mother in Colorado reeling from the suicide of her child, the film is most effective when drawing the bonds that link these people together. Even though the film might have been a bit more focused with some editing, it’s a documentary that proves we still have a long way to go in this country with temperance and acceptance.

In addition to the themes already spelled out above, the other running lineage between films is the idea of legacy and mortality (see also John Wilcox: The Relinquishment of Time). Bo McGuire’s Socks On Fire looks at the frayed edges of a family after their matriarch passes away. Sisters turn on each other over land ownership. Prejudices surface because one nephew is homosexual. People stop talking to one another. And McGuire is there to rip the bandage off like a pesky fly-on-the-wall, turning family drama into high performance art.

While the documentary touches on brave subjects and serves as a sort of personal memoir to McGuire’s perseverance to maintain the family, the film does ramble at times. What’s not unsuccessful, however, are some fictionally recreated scenes that not only poke reductive fun at reality, but establish McGuire has some stunning chops in mise-en-scene. One scene towards the beginning uses a long take to float around the bucolic household that once held all the family together in holiday bliss. Yes, its actors portraying real life figures, caked in make-up and miming the actions of cigarette holding, but it’s also a poetically composed tableaux that reveals McGuire might have a strong future in organizing rustic beauty.

All films will show at the Dallas Angelika this weekend as part of Dallas VideoFest Presents DocuFest. Tickets and scheduled can be found at http://videofest.org

Fireboys screens on Friday October 1st at 8:45pm

Pieces of Us screens on Thursday September 30th at 8:45 pm

Socks on Fire screens on Thursday September 30th at 10:45pm

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