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SXSW: Show Me the Picture: The Story of Jim Marshall

“These people have let you into their lives… to violate that trust is criminal.”

Jim Marshall (1936-2010)

In Jim Marshall’s illustrious career as the photographer to the stars, he captured some of the most enduring images of Rock-n-Roll legends. He elevated artists with quality photographs, capturing their images with a level of intimacy that required trust and an attention to detail that signaled respect. And that’s what these artists had with Jim Marshall, a mutual admiration. The musicians offered him their vulnerability and he in return showcased them as the rock stars they were.

In director Alfred George Bailey’s new documentary, Show Me the Picture: The Story of Jim Marshall, we learn about the man behind the camera. From his early days making a photography scrapbook, to his legendary career as a celebrity photographer, this film charts the ups and downs of this talented yet difficult man’s life. It includes footage of Marshall reminiscing about his career as well as interviews with the people who knew him best including his former assistant Amelia Davis, fellow photographers, friends, musicians and a variety of experts. Notable talking heads include actor Michael Douglas (Marshall was an on-set photographer for the show The Streets of San Francisco) and Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Who did Jim Marshall photograph exactly? Everybody. In the documentary we learn about his work with some of the following artists:

  • Janis Joplin
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • John Coltrane
  • The Grateful Dead
  • Bob Dylan
  • Joan Baez
  • Jefferson Airplane
  • Ray Charles
  • Miles Davis
  • Crosby, Stills and Nash
  • Thelonius Monk
  • The Beatles
  • The Who
  • The Rolling Stones
  • The Doors
  • Johnny Cash

“Jim had an eye for the moment.”

Graham Nash

The biggest takeaway from this film is not the legends Marshall collaborated with, although that is pretty interest too, but the analysis of what it took for him to do his job and to do it well. We learn about how a photographer relates to his subject. Marshall was an active and passive participant. He blended in seamlessly with the scene yet was not afraid to plant himself into the personal space of his subjects. 

“He died like a fucking rock star.”

Amelia Davis

Jim Marshall was quite a character himself. His love of guns and his drug use got him into trouble. And his temperamental personality often ostracized those near and dear to him. There is a dark side to every great artist and Marshall was no exception. Yet his body of work speaks for itself.

Show Me the Picture: The Story of Jim Marshall is a compelling portrait of a difficult man with great talent who made an impact on the careers of the 20th century rock stars we know and love.

Show Me the Picture: The Story of Jim Marshall screened at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival as part of their 24 Beats Per Second series.

SXSW: Sakawa

“We are the hustlers.”

Director Ben Asamoah’s new documentary Sakawa explores the underground world of Ghanian internet scammers. They gather in a room sharing one source of internet and electricity and using smartphones and computer equipment that they’ve salvaged. The scammers work individually on different projects but advise each other on how to improve their techniques to get the most money out of their victims. By creating fake online personas and focusing on profile types, mostly caucasians in the U.S. and the U.K., they build relationships with their targets and work towards the big pay day.

Viewers will feel conflicted. This is a community of people living in a third-world country. They have few options available to them so they find an alternate way to make money to support themselves and their families. But on the flip side, they’re scamming innocent people out of their hard-earned dollars. These aren’t multi-millionaires, these are middle or lower class people who are gullible enough to fall for these elaborately crafted schemes.

“We use what we have to get what we want.”

There are no in-depth interviews and we don’t learn their names. The film holds the viewer at arms-length which is necessary I believe to keep us in as neutral a space as possible. Some might find the film and its subject matter off-putting but I found it fascinating.

Beyond the internet scams, we also get a look at the religious/cultural practices and home life of Ghanians. 

Sakawa is a compelling documentary that offers insight into the little-known world of internet scammers of Ghana, Africa. 

Sakawa had its North American premiere at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival as part of their Visions series.

SXSW: Qualified

“All I want to do is race cars.”

Janet Guthrie

Adventurous and determined, Janet Guthrie is a trailblazer in the auto racing world. As the first woman to race the Indy 500, she faced an uphill battle to break the gender barrier in the late 1970s. Her career was plagued with setbacks; from mechanical failures, to lack of sponsorship that kept her out of races, to injuries and the biggest of all was the engrained belief that women could not physically be race car drivers.

Guthrie is a fearless woman. At a very young age, she fell in love with flying and didn’t hesitate to jump out of a plane for her first skydive. But realizing that female pilots were banned from both the airline industry and the military, she decided to become an aeronautical engineer instead. This led to her discovery of sports cars, a fascination with their design and her infatuation with the sport. Developing her skills as a driver, Guthrie loved speed and racing took over her life. But was auto racing ready for a woman driver?

“What is this nonsense that women can’t do it?”

Janet Guthrie on women race car drivers

Director Jenna Ricker’s Qualified follows the career of Janet Guthrie and all its ups and downs. And there were a lot of downs. The documentary consists of mostly archival footage of Guthrie’s races and television interviews. Guthrie herself and the various drivers and mechanics speak at length about her qualifying attempts, her races and all the struggles she endured in her career. I found Guthrie’s story both frustrating and awe-inspiring. I was angry at society for holding her back whether it was a sponsor not wanting to risk being associated with a woman driver or other people in the industry believing the sport was too dangerous for women. One pivotal moment show the dilemma of whether to call out “gentleman start your engines” when both Guthrie and the mechanic starting her engine were women.

As a woman who has experienced many career setbacks, I was really motivated by Guthrie’s tenacity. She explored every option, fought for every qualifier and race and only gave up when no options were left for her. If it hadn’t been for her tenacity, she might not have opened the doors necessary to pursue her dream. That’s a powerful message for any woman of any age.

Qualified takes its viewers on an emotional journey. I’m so grateful for Ricker’s film and the opportunity to learn about Guthrie’s story. I’ll have to admit, I choked up a few times. I can’t emphasize how important it is for a woman to have a strong female role model, even if she’s in a completely different field from your own. It can be life changing.

Qualified had its world premiere at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival as part of their Documentary Spotlight series.

SXSW: Nothing Fancy: Diana Kennedy

“She is a prophet for Mexican food.”

Nick Zuckin

Cookbook author and chef Diana Kennedy is the leading expert on traditional Mexican cooking. For over 60 years, Kennedy has immersed herself in Mexican culture and food, learning and respecting the traditions of one of the most celebrated cuisines. This feisty and unapologetic British woman may be an outsider looking in but because she has lived in rural Mexico, in Zitácuaro, Michoacán, for most of her life and sticks to the tried and true approaches to different dishes and recipes, she’s become what one of her friends calls an “adoptive daughter of Mexico.” 

Director Elizabeth Carroll, in her debut documentary Nothing Fancy: Diana Kennedy explores the life and work of this outspoken advocate for preserving Mexico’s culinary history. Nothing Fancy is a reference to one of Kennedy’s cookbooks but also speaks to Kennedy’s approach to cooking and to life. There are no variations, twists or updates. She sticks to the old ways. Kennedy is a fascinating subject. She’s scrappy, resourceful, and is a champion for organic gardening and sustainable living. She’s always on the road exploring different parts of her adopted country. Kennedy isn’t afraid to tell you what she thinks in her abrupt and frank manner.

In the film we mostly hear from Kennedy herself but Mexican chefs, including one of my favorites Pati Jinich, and other experts also chime in on Kennedy’s legacy. My favorite scene shows present day Kennedy making guacamole with spliced in archival footage from decades earlier of her making the exact same recipe. Kennedy is a free spirit who does not change and is true to what she believes in. 

Perhaps the only flaw of the film, which the director hinted at during a screening of this documentary at SXSW, is that the relationships Kennedy has with people in the film isn’t explained. In one case, she is very close to another chef and there is a lovely scene where they have their portrait taken together. But we really don’t find out much about who she is and how they bonded.

Nothing Fancy: Diana Kennedy is a charming documentary that allows its subject’s vibrant personality shine through. It also serves as one way we can ensure Kennedy’s contributions to preserving Mexican food culture is appreciated for decades to come.

Nothing Fancy: Diana Kennedy had its world premiere at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival as part of their Documentary Feature Competition.

SXSW: Tread

In 2004, Marv Heemeyer drove his bulldozer through Granby, Colorado destroying building after building. He carefully selected his targets. These were the townspeople whom he felt had been the cause of many injustices against his beloved muffler shop. Marv’s bulldozer was no ordinary machine. He’d modified it to function like a military tank and created an impenetrable seal armed with it cameras and semi-automatic rifles. He was on a suicide mission. Before that fateful day in June, Marv recorded his suicide note with incredible detail about his motivations behind. The rampage lasted for over 2 hours and no matter how many attempts by the local police force made to thwart his efforts the fact is that they couldn’t. A simple miscalculation was his undoing. Ultimately no one was killed in the incident, except for Marv, but it took years for his victims to recover from the loss. The event made national headlines before it was eclipsed by President Ronald Reagan’s death the next day. 

Director Paul Solet’s Tread is a compelling and slick documentary about this little known event. It explores Marv’s motivations for the rampage and features many interviews with his targets and also his girlfriend at the time. His family refused to speak on record for the project. Solet also recreates many key scenes with actors. The rampage itself is a thrilling reenactment done with very little CGI. The filmmaking crew created their own version of the modified bulldozer for those scenes.

I have mixed feelings about the film. Visually its stunning but perhaps a bit too slick. I usually don’t care for reenactments but these were tastefully done. I thought the film overall was a bit too polished with some fancy drone shots and slow motion action sequences that felt unnecessary. I did however appreciate the archival footage as well as Marv’s audio recording which juxtaposed with all the interviews made it feel very balanced. With that said, I was rooting for Marv the whole time. I’m not sure if that speaks more to my own feelings or to how Marv was portrayed in the doc.

In the end, Tread was for me a thrilling revenge story that probably should have been something else entirely.

Tread had its world premiere at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival as part of their Documentary Spotlight series.

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