alycewilson (alycewilson) wrote,

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The Art of Life

This was the first weekend of the 2008 Philadelphia Film Festival,and The Gryphon and I had purchased tickets in advance for several films.

On Saturday, our first film was at Ritz East, by fledgling director Emily Hubley, who had previously directed short animated films and done animation for Hedwig and the Angry Inch. She's the daughter of Faith and John Hubley, both animators.

The movie blended live action with animation, which sounded intriguing. The film, The Toe Tactic, stars Lily Rabe as Mona Peek, a young woman struggling with renewed feelings of loss stemming from her father's death, since her mother is selling the family home. Unbenownst to her, several animated dogs are playing with her fate. They serve the dual purpose of Greek chorus and manipulators, as they play a strange card game that allows them to intervene in her life, doing such things as stealing her wallet, for example.

Because of these actions, she meets an interesting group of characters, including a young boy who wants to play the piano, the boy's mom, a piano teacher, an aging literary agent, and the elevator man who works in the agent's building.

This film needed more attention to the storyboarding stage. It was all over the page and disjointed. Hubley seemed more enamored of the process of filmmaking than telling a story. While nonlinear narratives can work, they still need to be shaped in a way that drives the film. The film was much like the abstract, free-form variation on Tic Tac Toe that Mona played with her father on the beach as a girl. That wasn't so much a game as a collective art project.

The most effective use of animation of the film was when it was used to represent Mona's internal life, such as when she'd see herself in reflections as an animated women who would voice her internal dialogue.

Afterwards, during the Q&A, I asked the director what her inspiration was for the film. I thought perhaps she had a purpose that wasn't immediately apparent. She said she'd wanted to do this film because she'd done previous short films combining live action with animation. So it seems we were right in our conclusion that she was more interested in the process of filmmaking than in the story being told.

All day long, we experienced interesting examples of synchronicity. When we were waiting in the lobby before The Toe Tactic to pick up our tickets for the festival, the woman in line behind me, who was in her late '20s, asked me what films we were seeing, since she hadn't yet decided what to see. So I told her what films we were seeing that day. She picked up a schedule and starting flipping through it.

When I told her we would be seeing Eleven Minutes, about the winner of the first series of Bravo's Project Runway, Jay McCarroll, she told me that he used to sell some of his designs out of a hair salon in Philly, and she remembers having seen them back then. She said she loved Jay but wasn't sure she'd see the film.

Also, while we were waiting for The Toe Tactic to start, the woman seated next to me, who seemed to be in her late '60s, started talking to me. When she found out we'd be seeing In a Dream, she was jealous, because she couldn't get tickets to see it. And she happens to know Julia Zagar, the wife of Isaiah Zagar, who is a well-known mosaic artist in Philadelphia. The film chronicles the story of his art and their family. She told me about Julia's art gallery, Eyes, on South Street and encouraged me to visit it.

Our second film was In a Dream, also in Ritz East, in the same theater, but we had to step outside and get in line.

It became apparent quickly that it was an extremely popular movie. We got asked a couple times if we were willing to sell our tickets, and we declined. Then a festival staff announced that the showing had been accidentally oversold.

They were offering free tickets for a 5 p.m. showing at The Prince Music Theater for anyone willing to trade in their tickets. I really don't know how many people took them up on the offer, but the people at the end of the line probably had little choice. Due to the confusion, the movie started about 15 or 20 minutes late. But Scott Johnston, who runs the independent film track, thanked everyone for their patience and made us all laugh before the film started.

I didn't know quite what to expect from this film: I thought it would primarily examine Isaiah Zagar's artwork, discuss what had inspired him to make so many mosaics, which cover buildings that he and his wife own in the South Street area. As the film progressed, the film became an intimate portrait of the family. Much of Isaiah's work is based on his life, and on his family, and since the filmmaker was his son, he had extraordinary access during the shooting.

The portrait delves into some stark, shocking truths about the family, as they reached a turbulent time of wrestling with personal issues such as infidelity and drug abuse. And while family members argued, weighed options, and finally found some healing, through it all, they were surrounded by these mosaics, which decorate the inner walls of the home, as well.

The visuals of this movie were stunning. Isaiah declared, in the beginning of the film, that he loves close-ups in film, the idea of a big head filling the screen. And so the film makes much use of close-ups, but at times would pull back to show the vastness of the art that surrounds these people. Sometimes, it was awe-inspiring, and sometimes, through the most difficult times, it seemed almost alienating, or ironic, as it chronicled happier times in the family.

In a sense, this film does what Isaiah himself has been doing for ages, turning the family's life into art. You can see a short interview with Jeremiah, as well as some clips from the movie, at

Jeremiah, Isaiah and Julia, as well as producer Jeremy Yaches, answered questions after the film. One of the first questions was how is everyone doing now. Jeremiah responded that the marriage is stronger than ever, which everybody applauded. They answered other questions about the process of the film. He started making the film, he said, because his mother urged him to make a film about his father, saying it was important. He ended up working on the film for seven years.

One audience member asked him if there was ever a time when he'd thought, "Wow, I just can't keep going with this film." I think the questioner meant to imply the fact that what he was getting on film was so revealing. But Jeremiah answered that the only time he'd had doubts was when he was first starting, because he wasn't happy with the quality of what he was getting. He only used a small amount of that early footage in the final film.

I asked about the archival films, because some of them seemed to be home movies while others looked like clips from short films. Isaiah responded that he'd tried a hand at filmmaking for a short while but decided it wasn't the art form for him.

As the audience filtered out, I approached Jeremiah and told him I'd like to interview him for Wild Violet. He told me that it was better to set things up with his producer, since he was better organized, but that he'd love to do an interview.

So just to be safe, I walked outside and found the producer, to give him my card. Interestingly, as I was talking to him, Jeremiah came up and was going to give my card to the producer, as well!

Before we left, I told Isaiah how much I'd enjoyed the film and how much I'd enjoyed his art when I saw it in person. I also told him that, as a young man, he'd looked a lot like my brother. He said, "Your brother, huh?" and kissed me on the cheek.

As we were walking down 2nd Street, we saw a guy across the street who looked a lot like the older brother we'd just seen on-screen. So I took a chance and said, "Zeke?" He said yes. I told him that we'd just seen the film that his brother made about their family and thought it was amazing.

He said, "Oh, is that over? I was supposed to be there for the Q&A." I told him that the Q&A was over, but his family was still greeting well-wishers outside and he could travel with them to the extra 5 p.m. showing that had been scheduled due to the film's popularity. He thanked me and walked towards the theater.

We had some time before the last movie of the day, which wouldn't be until 9:30. We'd scheduled it that way deliberately, because The Gryphon wanted to attend a special in-person get-together for players of the online game Eve. It was being held at the Dark Horse Pub at 421 S. 2nd Street.

When we arrived, we looked for the group. At the top of the stairs was a room with a chalkboard that said this was the room for EVE players to meet. It was a cozy little room with a bar, a big-screen TV set to the college basketball playoffs.

At a table in the corner, a bunch of guys in their 20's and 30's were gathered, a couple of them with laptops open. I said, "This must be your group." One of the guys laughed and asked, "What was your first clue? A bunch of guys sitting around with laptops?"

EVE players (Click to enlarge)

I was not feeling great, because I'd been having indigestion problems ever since the morning. I hadn't even eaten anything weird: just whole wheat waffles with bananas on top at the Marathon Grill. Perhaps it was the last stand of my lingering cold. I'd been chewing on Rolaids, which didn't do much good. I stayed away from anything spicy, having a portabella sandwich with a small salad, working on a poem inspired by the film we'd just seen. It needs a lot more work, though, when I'm feeling better.

The Gryphon ordered a salmon sandwich with a wasabi sauce. Really, the food was very good for a pub. After we ate, we took our drinks over to the nearest table of gamers and chatted with them. The first table of people consisted primarily of pirates, like The Gryphon, but they were from different groups.

When I asked how long they'd been playing, they said four or five years and then launched into a conversation about how much has changed since the early days. That was entertaining, but it became clear after a while that they were interested in using the meeting for strategic purposes and finding out information that might come in handy in the game. Since The Gryphon was just another pirate, he wasn't of particular interest to them, and they began infiltrating other conversations.

Fortunately, The Gryphon met up with someone with whom he had a better rapport, although they hadn't met in-game. They were members of allied groups in the same sector of space, and they talked a lot about what's been going on lately.

I don't play EVE and don't intend to start: I've got enough stuff taking up my time. But I got into some conversations, as well, with people who were happy to fill me in on aspects of the game.

Right in the middle of the David Bowie song, "Young Americans," they turned off the music so that the guy who'd organized the event, who's from the EVE-based magazine Eon, could speak. The first thing he said was, "I'm British, in case you haven't noticed." He was there to announce, in person, the various players' awards. Everyone cheered or reacted to the awards, although none of the winners was there. Not surprising, given how many thousands of people play around the world. He thanked everyone for coming and promised to hold another event next year.

The David Bowie song started up again and I cheered. "Bowie's back!"

I talked a little to the event organizer, asking him if he'd flown in just for the event. He said that yes, he had, but his girlfriend lives in Harrisburg, which is a bonus. I asked if he'd had anything to do with the broadcasting of the tournaments they'd held, which include play-by-play commentary, mainly by Brits. He said he hadn't this year but had the year before. He asked us if it was ever a problem that it was done by Brits, namely, if we were having any trouble following it.

We said not really. The accents of the commentators weren't troublesome to us, although we all agree that a Northern U.K. accent or a Scottish accent do tend to be almost indecipherable to the American ear.

If there's one thing they had in common, it was their mutual dislike of a group of Russian players, who would log on while all the Americans were asleep, go into their quadrants and mine valuable materials. If anyone tried to confront them, they would warp off, thus avoiding a battle.

It was fun to hear the conversations. Almost like being at an interstellar canteen.

At about 8 p.m., we headed out, which worked out perfectly, since they were about to lose their room to another group. The Gryphon exchanged some in-game contact information with the people he'd enjoyed talking to. He thanked me for having gone to it, and I told him it was no problem. I couldn't expect to drag him to artsy movies all day if he didn't get to do something he wanted, as well.

We headed for The Prince Music Theater, site of the last film. My indigestion problems were worsening, at times almost doubling me over with the pain and discomfort. When we arrived at the theater, I waited in line while The Gryphon got some medicine for me from a drug store a few blocks away. By the time he returned, the line was out the door.

This showing of Eleven Minutes was actually the premiere, in part because the filmmakers, Michael Seiditch and Rob Tate, along with the subject, fashion designer Jay McCarroll, have ties to Philadelphia.

The film chronicles the work and the set-backs that led to his first runway show at New York's Fashion Week, a couple years after winning Project Runway.

There was some press interest, as I saw a number of photogs milling around the lobby with press badges, who were allowed into the theater ahead of time. A number of fashionistas were also there, dressed in the latest fashions. I felt a little underdressed until I realized, later, that the filmmaker himself was dressed similarly, in dark jeans with a sweater and a blazer. In my case, I wore dark jeans, a chocolate brown tunic with red and orange sequins around the neck, along with a pink courdoroy jacket (primarily for warmth).

As the previous film let out, we saw Isaiah and Julia Zagar coming out. The recognized me, as well, from earlier in the day, and we greeted each other. I asked how the 5 p.m. showing went, and they said it went well. Isaiah asked what film we were seeing, and I told him about Eleven Minutes, which I said, is really about another kind of art.

The film started late, once more, as there were some delays in setting things up, but it was worth it just to hear the filmmakers and Jay himself introduce the film. Jay was dressed all in black with a little blonde streak in his hair, and he was clearly in high spirits, doing a little curtsey as the theater applauded. He told everyone to check out his Web site,, and buy stuff so that he can pay his rent.

As the film made clear, his iconoclastic approach to the fashion world has valued artistic inspiration and staying true to principles over playing the game by the rules. This has meant that, while many young designers would be happy to pimp themselves to any high-fashion magazine, regardless of what was in the pages, he has spoken out against the use of fur. In fact, his first runway show was sponsored by the Human Society of the United States and included no animal products.

Likewise, he dislikes the emphasis on super-skinny models, preferred his fashions to be shown on woman with "real curves" and leading to arguments with his marketing director.

Clearly, the aspect of the fashion industry that he loves the most is the inspiration, the creation, and the realization of those ideas. The business aspects, however, often seemed to frustrate and annoy him, and he made light of the system and himself, with the characteristic off-beat humor that endeared him to Bravo viewers.

I thought it was a great exploration of the intersection between art and the business world in American society.

Afterwards, there was no Q&A, because Jay and the filmmakers were headed for an afterparty at the Fells Planatarium in the Franklin Institute, which was open to festival goers. The event was supposed to include a special showing of some of fashions, along with "some surprises."

I was intrigued, but since The Gryphon was tired and we had another long day ahead of us, we decided to skip it.

Art is life; life is art.

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Tags: fashion, gaming, gryphon, movies, philadelphia film festival, wild violet

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