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Portland Film Festival Review: ‘CONGO BEAT THE DRUM’

When most people think of reggae music, they think of Bob Marley; Jamaica; smoking sensamilla; the red, yellow, and green and the Jamaican flag. More informed heads might even think of Jah-on-Earth Haile Selassie, the last Emperor of Ethiopia, or the Lion Of Judah. No matter how into reggae you are, you are not likely to picture two skinny white Israelites from Tel Aviv, the subject matter of Ariel Tagar’s Congo Beat The Drum documentary.

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Portland Film Festival Review: GRU-PDX

Sometimes, to really appreciate what you have, you have to view it through someone else’s eyes. GRU-PDX, which opens the third installation of the Portland Film Festival, is filmmaker Daniel Barosa‘s loving glimpse into Portland’s underground music scene, with all of its quirks. In 2013, the atmospheric indie rock duo Quatro Negro flew to Portland, Or. to make a record with The Helio Sequence. While GRU-PDX started out to document the record-making process, it quickly expanded outward to gaze at Portland’s music scene, both over- and under-ground, looking at the way it’s changed in the wake of the “Portlandia”-hype. Read More

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Portland Film Festival Returns! Sept. 1 – 7 Preview

Zombies! Madness! Faeries! Reggae!

Portland Film Fest returns, in its 3rd incarnation, cementing its place as a cultural tour de force and earning its reputation as one of the “Top 25 Coolest Film Festivals In The World 2014” from MovieMaker Magazine. Portland is at an interesting crossroads in its cultural evolution. On one hand, it is the run-down, rusted, gloomy, economically-depressed and overly-tattoed old school version of itself, which we all know and love. On the other, it is a shining mecca for the 21st Century, a beacon of progressiveness, DIY ethos, and collaborative creative communities. Read More

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Documentary Dossier: AMY

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Early on in the documentary Amy, Nick Shymansky, friend and one-time manager of the titular soul singer, reflects upon a time before her fame when she was very nearly forced into rehab. There’s a sorrowful, what if tone to his recollection, as he imagines that just maybe if she had been treated for alcoholism before fame took hold of her life, things could have been different. Read More

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Sundance Review: DINOSAUR 13

“Dinosaur 13”
Directed by Todd Douglas Miller
Documentary
U.S.A.
105 Mins

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The first documentary I saw at Sundance has weighed heavily on my mind. At once about dinosaurs, humans and the failings of the justice system, Dinosaur 13 has singled out a mind-boggling small town event that slipped under the national radar. While the story itself is every bit worthy of our attention and empathy, in telling this infinitely gasp-inducing story, Todd Douglas Miller digs up a bevy of first time-level fumbles that robs some of its meteoric impact.

Named after the historical relic that the characters find themselves helplessly orbiting around, Dinosaur 13 takes aim at the discovery of the the 13th T-Rex fossil: the largest, most intact T-Rex fossil find at the time. Intriguing though that may be, the highligh is the calamitous aftermath that no one could foresee. Slapped with a cool, callused numerical label, the film’s title foreshadows the detached “bag it and tag it” ethos of the film’s “enemy,” a shadowy hand juxtaposed against the deep-set emotional turmoil of the little guys fighting to preserve this colossal fossil and their reputations. Collection of bones though they may be, this T-Rex skeleton becomes so much more to this group of fledging South Dakota scientists who have lovingly named it “Sue.”

Peter Larson and his younger brother began collecting fossils as children and have since opened the South Dakota’s Black Hills Institute of Geological Research where they prepare fossils for museums, private buyers, and, most of all, for their own love of the craft. Wandering in a sandstorm, one of their volunteers, Susan Hendrickson (for whom Sue is named), discovers the distinctive arc of a dino vertebrate emerging from the graystone of a cliffside. When the Larsons arrive to access the situation, they find that they have come across what is arguably “the greatest paleontological find in history.”

It all seems well and good for the few years to follow as the Larson’s buy the fossil from (almost sketchy) landowner Maurice Williams and proceed to undergo the timely process of preparing the fossil for its eventual reveal. It’ll be the treasure of their musuem to be, a savior for the struggling town and a hot ticket destination-maker for non-tourist friendly South Dakota.  Nearly two years pass in which Larson and company tediously sculpt and scrape millennium of build up from the preserved bones when, out of thin air, the National Guard show up with a small army of thirty-plus men, armed to the teeth, and demand the seizure of the Sue.

In the most WTF twist of the year, it takes the rest of the film to really unfold exactly what went down with the Larsons and their Sue but it all revolves around the tricky wording of land ownership laws and ends up as more or less an inditement of the US government sticking its nose where it doesn’t belong. A circus of a trial plays out, players are sent to the same prisons that held the likes of Timothy McVeigh and John Gotti, and the most persistent note to follow is one of sorrowful disappointment. “I thought this was America” has never rang so true.
 
With it’s solid tenor of us vs. them and a crystalline case of the judicial system failing on the most basic of levels, Dinosaur 13 is a beast. But trying to wring all he can from the emotional recounting of events, Miller takes too many detours and let’s the paltry production budget shine through more than he ought. Matt Morton‘s repetitive guitar-plucked score sounds recorded in a matter of minutes while the unnecessary wealth of recreation play with the limp zeal of a daytime news special. With a topic this strong and subjects welling with emotion, it’s really a head-scratcher why Miller takes these missteps. With a good 20 minutes or so shaved off, this is a great documentary. As is, it’s still worth the trip down the rabbit hole.

C+

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