The Atlanta Film Festival is underway. Until this week, my last visit to the Festival was a few years back (to see one of the all-time greats, "American Splendor.")
One title in the 2011 Atlanta Film Festival included an Olympic theme, while I also found several other documentary films of interest, starting with the wonderfully funny "POM Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold."
More on this tall drink of a movie later in this post.
But first, the Olympic connection: "Beijing Taxi" is a new documentary shadowing three cabbies in China during the months (or even years) leading up to the 2008 Olympic Games. I went into the screening (with thanks to the AFF for the blogger tickets) anticipating a trip down memory lane and up the labyrinth of highways and side streets experienced in taxis during my month in Beijing three summers ago.
"Beijing Taxi" did deliver in terms of memory lane. You can almost tasted the grit and smog during some of the in-taxi interviews across the city. If you've been to Beijing you'll recognize the Ring Roads and towering new buildings juxtaposed with ancient neighborhood dwellings. It was refreshing to see some of the countryside the drivers enjoyed in their leisure time, and to gain a fresh perspective on reality faced by the taxi drivers we encountered in 2008.
For those who did not yet experience Beijing, this film does provide a decent slice of life for the recent Olympic city during its pre-Games prep. Watching the film, though, I realized that for at least two of the three profiled drivers, it was a bummer of a tale as they managed health issues, family dramas, entrepreneurial dreams sans support structure to bring them to fruition, unemployment, corruption and terrible car trouble (I've experienced car trouble, but nothing compared to what being stranded on an eight-lane superhighway in a stalled Beijing taxi).
One other highlight of "Beijing Taxi" is the film's portrayal of the Olympic hype, and how at least one of the drivers felt duped by the Olympic machine. In spite of strong anti-Games feedback, she was strangely drawn to one of the official Beijing Olympic theme songs. I wondered what Travis Bickle (who also showed up at AFF) or cabbies of one popular show might have to say about the theme.
Speaking of hype, I was taken hook, line and sinker by the previews for "POM Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" (it was a huge bummer when this film did not open in ATL as in other markets two weeks ago, and a big relief to find it on the AFF schedule in advance of wider release).
Morgan Spurlock nailed it with his exploration of paid product placement. I can't write here my favorite line of the film (as it involves a client of the communications agency where I work), but I can write that Spurlock left out an obvious pun for the official gas station beverage cups, which is my suggestion: "This Sheetz's for Reel!"
Four words: Go see this movie. Then talk about it with your friends. It's a good one to discuss and think about while developing a critical eye for product placement.
Is POM Wonderful still sponsoring blogs?
One film screened at the AFF that is worthy of a "pass" is the documentary "Miss Representation."
While I agree with the messages the film seeks to present, and concur that women in the media are not treated fairly nor with respect in a male-dominated industry and world, and I side with some of the points made by Geena Davis, Margaret Cho and even the creator of "Miss Information" Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the topic presented was nothing new, and it was presented in an uncompelling manner.
People should be talking about the topics in this film, mind you, but there are other sources of similar information presented in a better way elsewhere.
The film got off to a slow start and showed promise, but the jumping of the shark was the reveal of a new movement created by Siebel Newsom, leaving me with the question "why not drive viewers to give financial support to existing, meaningful and successful women's organizations portrayed in the film in lieu of creating another expensive-to-operate nonprofit?"
If the filmmakers are so passionate about this movement, why have they posted no discussions on their blog since March? Where is the momentum? Who is driving it? Five blog posts and give up? C'mon?!
Sidebar: If you want to see a film on the topics of "Miss Representation" done with some punch, and a film that touches on some of the marketing topics covered by "POM Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" then check out the 1991 documentary "Dreamworlds" and its sequels by creator Sut Jhally (who, strangely, was not reference by either of the recent films ... were the current documentary filmmakers doing homework on their topics, and did they know of Jhally, I wonder ...)
There were plenty of other films at the AFF that caught my eye -- it was disappointing to miss "Page One" due to a work deadline, and tonight's screening of "Africa United" looked interesting.
Will look forward to the 2012 Atlanta Film Festival when it arrives next spring.
Photos via the "Beijing Taxi" website and this site which cites AP/Victoria Will
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