July 27--What do Richard Nixon, Anita Hill and "Night of the Living Dead" director George Romero have in common?
All are subjects of documentaries playing at the 22nd annual Woods Hole Film Festival, which opened Friday and runs through next Saturday.
I've seen five of the feature films playing at the festival, three documentaries and two narratives, and if you could flip a five-sided coin to determine which one you'd see, you couldn't lose. Of course, why see just one? Try to see them all.
Freida Mock's "Anita" details the experiences of Hill, who, in 1991 as a young law professor, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Hill essentially accused Thomas of sexual harassment, Thomas denied it, Thomas was named to the high court.
"Anita" gives us an insider's view, particular the perspective of Hill herself, as well as those of outside observers. We get a sense of what she went through at the time, why she spoke out, the mixed responses she received (including death threats), how her actions affected her life and career, what her life is like now.
Those who continue to believe Thomas' denials will be quick to note that the film is one-sided, in Hill's favor. We certainly don't hear much from the other side. But if one believes what they see and hear in "Anita," Hill emerges as a dignified, heroic figure who has had a powerful impact on American history.
Penny Lane's "Our Nixon" focuses on another controversial figure. Back when Richard Nixon became president, in 1969, his team included H.R. Halderman, chief of staff; John Ehrlichman, domestic affairs adviser; and Dwight Chapin, a special assistant. All three took Super 8 home movie of their experiences as part of the Nixon White House, and these form the bulk of the footage.
It provides a trip through the past, covering the Vietnam War, Nixon's trip to China, Watergate and its aftermath -- mostly through the eyes of Halderman, Ehrlichman and Chapin, who all served jail time for various offenses while under Nixon. It's terrority that's been covered before, but as presented here by director Lane, it's a compelling reminder (or, for younger moviegoers, history lesson), along with an up-close-and-personal look at the three men and their leader.
Rob Kuhns' "Birth of the Living Dead" details the making of the granddaddy of all zombie flicks, "Night of the Living Dead," in 1967 by then 27-year-old director George Romero. Based in Pittsburgh, Romero had been making industrial films, commercials and, yes, short films for Mister Rogers before embarking on the low-budget project that would make him a horror-movie legend.
Kuhns' documentary includes interviews with Romero and others, and clips from "Night of the Living Dead" as it recalls the making of the film -- made for the minuscule budget of $114,000 and featuring many nonprofessionals in roles (a steel worker as a sheriff, ad-executive former clients of Romero as flesh-eating zombies, etc.). It also provides the context of the times, and how the fact that one of the leads was a black man and the film didn't blatantly make note of the fact that he was black was actually ground-breaking.
If you like the dry, yet silly comedy of Christopher Guest movies like "Best in Show" and "Waiting for Guffman," or TV's "The Office," you should check out Joseph Laraja's "The Golden Scallop." Shot on the Cape and featuring many Cape Codders in the cast, it's a very funny "mockumentary" about three rival fried fish businesses that compete in a contest in which each must serve 100 customers in an hour.
The humor of "Scallop" is based largely on the absurdity of the characters and their situations, and how it's all presented as relatively normal. The funniest character, short-order cook Seth (Tobias Jelinek), for instance, has a side business in which he makes small teddy bears of deceased celebrities. And what does he call them: Obitubears. Hilarious.
Director Dan Mirvish's "Between Us" stars Julia Stiles, Taye Diggs, Melissa George and David Harbour (amazing as a neighbor in "Revolutionary Road") as two couples who seem to be playing "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" only taking turns as George and Martha.
In their first meeting, at the large Midwest suburban home of Joel (Harbour) and Sharyl (George), the hosts get into an ugly fight about their marriage as Carlo (Diggs) and Grace (Stiles) look on. The next time they meet, at the New York City apartment of Carlo and Grace, Joel and Sharyl seem to be in a better place while their hosts seem miserable.
There are a couple of intentionally funny moments, but overall this is a raw look at the choices people make in life, the tradeoffs, and how they deal with them. It's in-your-face drama that, like all of the films mentioned here, provides food for thought.
Tim Miller's reviews can be found at www.capecodonline.com/miller.
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