37 Uses for a Dead Sheep
Ben Hopkins / International Documentary
Evocative title, that. Could the film itself possibly match it? Director Ben Hopkins finds the Pamir Kirghiz, a small Central-Asian tribe now living in eastern Turkey, and works together with them to craft a fleet-footed, intriguingly pomo documentary about this little-known group of nomads. Hopkins uses the tribespeople to reenact moments from their history (shot in grainy 16mm), then shoots himself shooting them, then interviews them about it, while intercutting it all with images of their life today, in a village the Turkish government pretty much settled just for them. Oh yeah, there’s also a framing device in which the director talks to an old Kirghiz man about—you guessed it—all the things they can do with a dead sheep. It’s all very meta, but once Hopkins reveals the odd backstory of this people, pingponging between the Great Powers (Russia, China, the U.K.) who controlled their homeland at various times, it’s hard to think of a more appropriate approach to this material. The result is an inventive look at some truly unwitting victims of history’s relentless, unforgiving march.—B.E.
American Cannibal: The Road to Reality
Perry Grebin / NY, NY Documentary Feature
Parental advisory: What follows is the most outrageous line of dialogue I’ve found at Tribeca: “I could make ten tapes of Paris Hilton and she could suck off the Queen of Jordan. It’s still going to be Paris Hilton sucking dick. You’ve never seen anybody eat people on television, have you?” That’s Paris Hilton porn-video promoter Kevin Blatt, speaking from the back of a strip-club in the Tribeca documentary American Cannibal by Perry Grebin and Michael Nigro. In this oddball film, two frustrated writers end up selling a show to Blatt based on the idea of stranding contestants on an island, starving them, and then convincing them to become cannibals. The premise itself is a bit shaky and unclear—and, not so surprisingly, the show crumbles before they’ve filmed the pilot, as a mysterious cast member falls ill (and, crew members claim, into a coma). The quotes from industry experts, including the founder of Sex.com and Debbie Demontreaux of IFC, are fairly fascinating, as they suggest how low reality TV may soon go. But the gaps and elisions are too sloppy to be convincing—including the bizarre inability to determine the name and fate of the cast member who supposedly fell ill. There are so many odd incongruities that the end result—whether a put-on or not—feels like one (think: more Incident at Loch Ness than Control Room). But then again, reality TV has rarely cared much about truth—and maybe this is the doc it deserves. Besides, the crass truthiness here is far more apt than any of the glossy satire in American Dreamz.—L.H.
Eric Steel / International Documentary
Fictional suicide—that predictable end to the disappointing first novel, that bogus thrill of the mythic artist, that shrill threat in so many pop songs and intense teen tales—has been so endlessly romanticized on screen that perhaps a documentary filmmaker must do something extreme to capture the terrible, real thing. In this new documentary, scheduled for release later by IFC Films, Eric Steel set up cameras at two points near the Golden Gate Bridge and waited for all of 2004, as twenty-four people jumped from the bridge to their deaths that year. More people commit suicide at the bridge than any other place in the world, the filmmakers state. Their footage—of tiny bodies leaping from that great red bridge—is deeply unsettling, and interviews with the dead’s families are terribly sad. There’s nothing terribly literal in this film that explains why people kill themselves. Instead, you get the sense that the filmmakers are just as baffled at the end of all their family interviews as they were at the beginning. I was left with just as many unresolved questions about their film. No doubt, the interviews are sensitively executed, and the footage is powerful. But does this film further romanticize suicides? You can’t help but feel a sickly sadness creep in, as you watch that last man stand high up on the rail and fall slowly into the ocean—not just because he is dead, but because you and the filmmakers just sat there and watched him do it.—L.H.
Brothers of the Head
Louis Pepe, Keith Fulton / Showcase
Do conjoined twins rock twice as hard? And do they hurt as hard too? That’s the idea behind this operatic faux-rockumentary about conjoined-twin rock-stars who suffer doubly through the VH-1 rise-and-fall in seventies Britain. Clearly aspiring to be 24 Hour Party People more than Ray, this Toronto Film Festival pick never quite reaches Michael Winterbottom’s comic heights, in large part because there’s no actor of Steve Coogan’s caliber to electrify the film’s more predictable lulls. It’s all shot with a glossy music-video director’s eye and some of the visuals are strong, but the gimmick never really delivers and the narrative seems to, well, double in on itself. But maybe it’s not the fault of directors Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe. Stuck on You, the Farrelly brothers comedy about conjoined twins, was a flop as well. Maybe this whole Siamese-twins craze is finally over and Chang and Eng can finally rest soundly in their doublewide grave.—L.H.