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We Believe in Dinosaurs

I had first heard about The Creation Museum by way of the Duggars. You remember them. The Quiverfull family who had their own hit show on TLC that went from 17 to 18 to 19 Kids and Counting. It was eventually pulled off the air when their oldest son was involved in a sex abuse scandal and a spin-off show eventually replaced it. On one episode of the 18 Kids and Counting, the Duggar clan visits said museum and I was both fascinated and horrified by what I saw. The fierce protection of their literal interpretation of the book of Genesis meant that dinosaurs had to be explained and Darwin’s theory of evolution had to be debunked. Led by Ken Ham, the president and founder of Answers in Genesis, the museum’s sole purpose is to prove that the Bible is scientifically accurate.

A new documentary, We Believe in Dinosaurs, directed by Clayton Brown and Monica Long Ross visits Petersburg, KY, home of The Creation Museum and the center of a turbulent battle between creationists and pro-science communities. Shot over the course of four years, it chronicles the building of the Ark Encounter, a life-size replica of Noah’s Ark. In addition to interviews with creationists who work for the museum or support its cause, the documentary also follows two outspoken critics. First there is Dan, a pro-science geologist who has had a lifelong fascination with dinosaurs. Then there is David, a former creationist with a lifelong membership to the museum whose Christian beliefs have evolved away from the psuedo-science of creationism. The events in the documentary lead up to the unveiling of the Ark Encounter and the consequent protest. As a whole the film serves as a portrait of a rural conservative town that has a complicated relationship with the Creation Museum and the economic growth that it promises to bring but ultimately fails to.

I’m impressed by how We Believe in Dinosaurs takes a balanced approach to this subject matter even though it’s clear that this is a critique on creationism. We hear from both sides which is quite extraordinary as the creationists are very protective of their ideology. Ken Ham is not interviewed but several others are including a lecturer, one of the artists working on the Ark Encounter and a pastor who orchestrates a protest to the protest.

“The film echoes the present political climate as Americans stare across a divide at one another, science growing ever more politicized and truth dependent on one’s worldview. Given this highly polarized state of affairs, we understand that WE BELIEVE IN DINOSAURS will not convert creationists to the truth of evolution. However, we do believe the film will spark a vibrant dialogue about the thorny intersection of belief, religion, and science, penetrating the cultural “bubbles” in which so many Americans seem to exist.”

–    from the directors’ statement by Clayton Brown and Monica Long Ross

As someone who grew up in a Christian denomination that promoted a problematic interpretation of Genesis, I felt closest to David. I wanted to hear more from him. In fact, this would have been a better documentary had David been the center of the story. He’s an in-between figure; someone who’s been on both sides of the creationist vs. science debate and can offer a unique perspective. It would have grounded the story and made it more relatable.

We Believe in Dinosaurs opens up a dialogue about America’s problematic relationship with science. It’s a difficult subject to broach and will make some viewers angry. Where it lacks in storytelling it makes up for in starting the much needed conversation that we’ve all been avoiding.

We Believe in Dinosaurs had its world premiere at SFFilm.

Instant Dreams Poster

Instant Dreams

“The digital dark ages took over our lives…”

Edwin H. Land in The Long Walk

In 1947, Edwin H. Land introduced his invention to the world. The Polaroid camera would revolutionize photography. Inspired by his young daughter, who just couldn’t wait to see a photo that was just taken, Land decided he would develop the technology that would shorten the time gap between the shutter click and the final product. With Polaroid technology it would reduce the time to just one minute.

Fast forward to 1970, when Land was filmed for the short documentary The Long Walk in which he narrates a helicopter tour of several Polaroid facilities in Massachusetts and discusses at length the company’s new technological advancements and his predictions for the future. Land envisioned a day when we would have a portable camera, the size of a wallet, that would be used as regularly as the telephone.

In 2008, the bankrupt Polaroid announced it was no longer producing its trademark film stock. Although Polaroid still exists today, in a new iteration after the brand had been sold, and re-sold, it’s a shadow of its former self. What was once revolutionary is now obsolete in the rapidly changing landscape of the digital age. Have we lost the magic of Polaroid forever?

“It felt like I was confronted with the death of a friend.”

Photographer Stefanie Schneider
Scientists at work on developing Polaroid technology for the Impossible Project

Directed by Willem Baptist, Instant Dreams is a moody and atmospheric eulogy to a lost technology. It’s a quirky documentary that explores the importance of Polaroid as both art and science. The subjects in the film feel the profound loss of Polaroid. Scientist Stephen Herchen can be seen in the film trying to reinvent the lost formula of Polaroid for the Impossible Project. Other subjects include photographer Stefanie Schneider who uses the last of her Polaroid stock to capture her unique aesthetic and Christopher Bonanos, a Polaroid historian.

Instant Dreams captures the essence of Polaroid through its poetic approach in storytelling and visual artistry. If you’re looking for a more traditional documentary on the history of Polaroid, this isn’t it. It does require some patience from the viewer and it won’t be to everyone’s taste. 

Instant Dreams is my cinematic ode to that longing for magic, mystery and a celebration of the dreams of the future that are interwoven with this medium.”

director Willem Baptist

Instant Dreams opens in NYC and L.A. and 10 other North American cities today. Visit the official website for more information.

Maniac Landscapes

Maniac Landscapes is a hypnotic dream. One could even call it a beautiful nightmare. Windows serve as portals through which ethereal sources of light and energy feed the flowering pants below. These life forms snake toward the light, their buds opening dramatically. Streams and drops of liquid fall from an unseen source. Shades of red, pink, blue and purple are set against an infinite black landscape. In the background we hear ghostly sounds that are indistinguishable and haunting. The scene shifts when a skeleton appears, reconciling life with the concept of death. 

Maniac Landscapes is a 7-1/2 minute short film written, directed, edited and animated by Matthew Wade with sound design by Jacob Kinch. It is co-produced by Wade and Sara Lynch. Their short Eyes at the Specter Glass recently premiered at Slamdance (check out my review here). Wade describes the film with the following synopsis:

“As disembodied cries move through the rooms of a house, their emotional intensity provokes a reanimation of the dead, cosmic shifts, and the manipulations of time and place.”

Inspiration came to Wade from a series of dreams which he then interpreted into this this film. He gives it “a kind of dream logic in its final presentation.” It’s quite a surreal experience, as was Eyes at the Specter Glass and I’m looking forward to more from this innovative filmmaker.

If the events in the film were from my own dream, I’d interpret them as representations of the creative forces within us. The light, the liquid and the sounds are all sources of inspiration and the plants would symbolize the growth of ideas and the formation of our creative endeavors into their final artistic form. The skeleton’s presence would be thematic of how we take from past creations and breathe new life into them.

Maniac Landscapes premiered at the San Francisco Film Festival as part of their Best Animated Short competition line-up. It’s also part of the upcoming Alchemy Film and Arts Festival that takes place in Scotland next month.

Electric Love

“A movie about love for those who think they’ve found the one… but quickly regret swiping right.”

Directed by Aaron Fradkin and written by Fradkin and Victoria Fratz, Electric Love follows a group of 20-somethings as they navigate the dating landscape of modern day L.A. These interconnected stories feature young single people in various states of courtship whether it’s a blind-date, hook-up or a long-term relationship. The film explores straight, bisexual and gay relationships as well as polyamory and monogamy. In an increasingly technological world, our smartphones have become an integral part of not only how we approach dating but how we connect with others.

Searching for normalcy in the complicated world of dating can be trying at best. That’s what photographer Emma (Mia Serafino) and filmmaker Adam (Zachary Mooren) discover as they search for potential mates on dating apps like Bumble, JDate, Tinder, Grindr and OkCupid. Their friends are not having much luck either. Adam’s gay BFF Greg (Matt Bush) is struggling to move from clandestine hook-ups to a solid relationship. Emma’s roommate Charlotte (Misha Reeves), a sex and relationships podcaster and outspoken advocate for polyamory, is dealing with an equally outspoken adversary, internet troll Abe Rosen (Ben Faigus). Other characters in this L.A. bubble include relationship vlogger The Love Zoltar (Fahim Anwar) who offers the protagonists much needed advice in their dating journey, William (Kyle Howard) a clueless single guy who has an eye out for Emma, and a long-distance couple who’ve decided to take a giant leap forward and move in together. When Emma and Adam start dating, will they be able to set aside their dating hang-ups to experience a meaningful connection?

Electric Love is an enjoyable little indie about modern day dating. It’s refreshing to have two approachable and accessible protagonists (played by Serafino and Mooren). It felt like I was watching two real people date each other rather than two movie stars pretending to do so. I didn’t quite get an L.A. vibe from this film that I was expecting. It did however capture the awkwardness of being single, the miscommunication, the mixed messages and the disappointments. The thing that stays true is that regardless of the generation, dating is and always will be difficult. The film ends of a positive and hopeful note. It’s not a groundbreaking story but a reassuring one.

 

Electric Love is available to watch on iTunes.

SXSW: Sister Aimee

On May 18, 1926, celebrity evangelist Sister Aimee Semple McPherson disappeared. Presumed drowned in Ocean Park Beach, Santa Monica, the news of her disappearance caused a national frenzy. Just as her devoted followers were ready to mourn her death, she resurfaced over a month later claiming that a woman named Mexicali Rose and a man named Steve kidnapped her and held her hostage. When she returned, the story of her escape raised some eyebrows and while Sister Aimee stuck to her story there were many who didn’t believe her tale. A case was brought against her in court but eventually dropped. What exactly did happen to Sister Aimee?

This story is 5-1/2% truth… the rest is imagination.

Written and directed by Samantha Buck and Marie Schlingmann, Sister Aimee is reimagines the events that happened during her disappearance. Based on truth, the film is primarily fantasy that blends elements of a period piece, a Western, a road trip movie, an LGBT love story and even features a climactic musical number. Anna Margaret Hollyman stars as Sister Aimee. Frustrated with the trappings of fame, she decides to fake her own death and runaway with her love Kenny/Steve (Michael Mosley). The two go undercover and travel to Mexico to start a new life together. Kenny hires Rey (Andrea Suarez Paz), a tough-as-nails Mexican woman who serves as their bodyguard and guide on the treacherous journey ahead. Along the way, the trio meet a variety of nefarious characters. Juxtaposed with the road trip scenes, is the investigation into Sister Aimee’s disappearance and the affect on her religious following. Aimee and Rey eventually get arrested and must plot their escape. 

If you’re looking for a Aimee Semple McPherson biopic, this is not it. Instead of a period piece about a fraudulent evangelist, I got a lesbian road trip movie instead. And let me tell you I was very happy with this. I attended the SXSW premiere of the film, settled into my seat, had a couple of mojitos and went along for the ride. Sister Aimee is my favorite film I saw at SXSW. Set in the 1920s, one of my favorite eras, with strong female protagonists and plenty of Latino characters… I was very happy with the end result! 

“As a Latino coming into a project… a period piece, it’s something that rarely happens. Apparently we didn’t exist back then… To have the freedom to not speak in an accent, when you speak in English or Spanish for the character… for me it was pretty revolutionary… [the directors] were very free to let the person be the person and not the stereotype.”

Luis Bordonada

Aimee is a complex character who evolves as the story progresses. Rey is just a bad ass through and through. I developed a massive crush on her. If I’m getting too personal in this review it’s because this film spoke to me on so many level and I can’t separate my emotional reactions enough to write an objective review. I just loved this movie. It does start off a bit slow but picks up. The performances, especially from Paz and Hollyman, were fantastic and Hollyman’s music and dance number is the highlight of the film.

Director-writer duo Schlingmann and Buck are partners in work and life and I wonder how much of their relationship worked its way into the script. In a Q&A after the SXSW screening, Schlingmann said the idea to make the film came to them from Anna Margaret Hollyman, who starred in their short film The Mink Catcher, who was interested in L.A. local history. The filmmakers did research and found the perfect subject for their debut feature-length film. 

For those of you, like me, who are very particular about period detail, you’ll find a lot to enjoy here. The finger waves were a little too ironed on for my taste but I thought the costumes and the sets were on point. It was shot on location in Austin, TX and seeing it in that city added something special to the experience.

Sister Aimee is a brilliant road trip movie centered on empowered female characters and reimagines an obscure event from early 20th century American history.

Sister Aimee screened at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival as part of their Festival Favorites series.

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