2021 Dallas VideoFest Presents DocuFest: ‘Everything Is A-Ok’, ‘Lily Topples the World’ and ‘American Gadfly’

As usual, the weekend fare at Dallas VideoFest turns to more regionally inspired filmmaking. In addition to several short films, the biggest draw will most likely be the late night affair of Everything Is A-OK.

It’s hard to mess up a documentary like Everything Is A-OK. Directed by Justin Powers over the course of several years, the film is an archaeological oral history of the Dallas punk rock scene and its various homes from those directly involved. Musicians, club owners, publicists and hangers-on all wax poetic about the scene, no doubt enhanced by hubris and seasoned drinks just out of the camera’s view.

Playing out like a fan letter to the days of mosh pits and building squatting, the film resurrects the halcyon days of Deep Ellum and downtown before they became destinations either gentrified or, well, much of anything. Sadly, like most large cities, we destroy our history without a trace in order to build Bank of Americas and shopping centers, therefore many of the locations mentioned are now empty lots or immortalized solely through hand-scrawled flyers and posters.

But what’s not forgotten is the downright euphoria experienced by everyone in the film. Much of the music is sampled and the film acts as a linear progression of the Dallas punk scene through the clubs that would rise, sustain a few months, and then close either due to municipal pressure or simple lack of funds. It’s all terribly entertaining, and one can easily excuse some sound quality mixing issues throughout and bleary-eyed rambling by many of those interviewed. No doubt this will be a raucous ticket and great people watching on Friday night.

Most likely my favorite film of the festival comes from an unexpected place. I’m not at all invested in the online culture of YouTube/Instagram/Tik Tok and have never once set up a domino to fall. But that’s why I watch lots of movies- to become informed, enthralled, and moved by new subjects.

Jeremy Workman’s Lily Topples the World examines both of those subjects, and its heartwarming and inspiring. Following the extraordinarily talented 19 year old Lily Hevesh, she’s an online sensation (for the past ten years!) known for her elaborate domino designs that become even more beautiful in their destruction.

Charged to work with a number of advertising firms and businesses, Lily is a true artist in every sense of the word. Her domino-dunking designs are massive works of colorful art, utterly genius in their engineering and mesmerizing to watch unfold. The more they fall, the more they reveal.

That same sense of tenuous wonderment reveals itself in Lily’s own upbringing as well. From adoption to her purposeful vision of creating her own line of dominoes, Lily Topples the World goes a long way in proving its nurture and not nature that charts our success.

Highly intelligent teens are at the center of Skye Wallin’s American Gadfly as well. Spurred on by political activism, a group of teenagers decide to social media engineer a 2020 presidential run for ex-senator Mike Gravel. With the very liberal Gravel on board, the film is a nuts-and-bolts study of the virtual hoops they must go through in order to get their candidate into the mix. What they soon learn, though, is that the real world is quite different from the virtual one.

Portions of American Gadfly are highly intriguing, as if a young D.A. Pennebaker were trying to peel back the layers of modern political science. What the film can’t escape is the socially awkward and uninteresting teens at the center. Perhaps that’s part of the film’s secondary theme and something Wallin wanted to expose. I couldn’t help but think a film all about Gravel himself would have been just as illuminating.

Unlike the tremendously endearing young people at the center of Lily Topples the World, those in American Gadfly are highly intelligent but distant specimens for the film to totally engage.

Schedule and tickets can be found at http://videofest.org

Everything Is A-OK screens at the Dallas Angelika on Friday October 1st at 11:15pm

Lily Topples the World screens at the Dallas Angelika on Saturday October 2nd at 3:45pm