“Escape the Dullness of Life” – Renaldo Kuhler, “Rocaterrania”

jrff09posterAlthough the James River Film Festival ran for 8 days (April 12-19), I did not manage to see any of the films until the last two days. Fortunately I was still able to see 6 films. As with previous years many of the films I was unfamiliar with and always pleasantly surprised!

Many of the filmmakers and subjects of the films embody the independent spirit of the James River Film Festival. I feel lucky to live in Richmond and have enjoyed this festival for so many years. A big thanks goes out to Mike Jones, James Parrish, and all of the other volunteers and supporters.

Saturday I saw:

“Monster Road” a documentary on clayation-extroidinaire Bruce Bickford. Director Brett Ingram introduced his film about the reclusive filmmaker who’s claim to fame was the collaboration with Frank Zappa, “Baby Snakes.” His obsessive, solitary life is portrayed in Ingram’s 2004 documentary. It was fascinating to watch Bickford work and see his massive collections of clay figures and sets that have accumulated in his house over 30 years. Bickford attended the festival and ran an animation workshop on Friday. He answered questions after the showing of the documentary about his work.

“The Exiles” was a b&w 1961 film by Kent Mackenzie. Mackenzie, who only made two films, portrayed a group of Native Americans who had left the reservation to live in the Bunker Hill neighborhood of Los Angeles. The film has a documentary style and follows a group of friends’ night out on the town in this neighborhood which had become a haven for Native Americans. Never finding a major distributor, “The Exiles” floated around the fringes of the film world for years and gained a cult status as one of the few films depicting contemporary Native Americans.

At Gallery 5 we attended a screening of 2 of Bickford’s films, “Prometheus’ Garden” and “Cas’l” with Richmond musicians, Coby Batty and Johnny Hott providing the live soundtrack for the latter. More of Bickford’s armies of mutating, sword wielding soldiers and landscapes.

Sunday I spent the day at the Byrd:

“Rocaterrania” (2009, 74 min) also by Brett Ingram is a documentary about the scientific illustrator, Renaldo Kuhler, a fascinating individual who has created a society, complete with culture, history, clothing, political parties, myths and stories. Renaldo has created his fantasy world, “Rocaterrania” through drawings that he has drawn over decades. In the film Renaldo says that, “Reality is like meat, potatoes, and green beans, while fantasy is like fruit and dessert…” and that we need both. Ingram said that to gain the trust of Renaldo was a process that took over 12 years. This was my favorite film of the festival, a portrait of a true individualist, idealist, who lives life on his own terms.

“Raiders of the Lost Ark: the Adaptation” (1982-1989, 100 min). Chris Strompolos introduced his fan film of Steven Spielberg’s “Raiders of the Lost ARk.” Strompolos and his two compatriots, Eric Zala and Jayson Lamb, who grew up on the Mississippi gulf coast, started remaking Raiders every summer as teens and 7 years later they finally finished.
After sitting on the shelf for years it was dusted off and has been met with much humor and created quite a bit of buzz. To follow their dreams of film making, Stromolos and Zala have since formed an independent film company,Rolling Boulder Films. We look forward to seeing more from these two!

“Stalin Thought of You” (2008). Kevin McNeer’s film is a thoughtful and amazing documentary of Russian political cartooninst, Boris Efimov. Efimov who recently passed away at over 100 years of age lived through the Russian revolution, WWII, and survived the Stalin years. Stalin imprisioned Efimov’s brother who eventually died in a labor camp and as Efimov worked his satire and sarcasm, he was always fearful that he also could be taken away. Once he was even instructed by Stalin himself,to draw a cartoon depicting Eisenhower and ridicule his plans for defending the U.S. from the USSR from the frozen north.

McNeer, who grew up in Richmond, VA, says he sees Efimov as a Zelig-like character, an observer, as well as a participant of history and having the skills and luck to survive. McNeer is still tweaking his film and looking for more festival opportunities.

I can’t wait until next year! See you at the movies!

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