Saturday, August 18, 2012

Factory of One (movie review)

I've not been to the annual Burning Man Festival, which is about to start up again in a couple weeks.  I'd become peripherally involved, as "burners" (as they call themselves) had a kind of "decompression party" at Circadia, a kind of art colony (like Milepost 5).  Lindsey, new in Portland, had been attracted to that spot as a likely place to perform (which panned out).  I was her chauffeur / roadie at the time, exploring another side of Portlandia.

This movie, A Factory of One, is about the artistic seriousness of one particular individual who likes to make the large multi-purpose structures that characterize Burning Man.  People feel inspired to make prototypes and also to show off lifestyle ideas.  They do this in blazing heat, wind, terribly challenging conditions, which is its own kind of field testing.  In some ways, new generations are giving birth to themselves in this event, even though it only lasts for six days.

The film starts out months ahead of time and teases us through months of tedious welding and metal work in the garage.  Computer graphics spin around, showing the Emerald City that's planned (hexagons and pentagons, a kind of "Stockton stockade" (per global matrix)).  A story unfolds.  Not everyone who planned to go ends up going.  No keys to the city this year (spoiler?).  Free haircuts are a big hit, great idea.

This was a debut public showing of a smartly edited interestingly scored documentary.  Not only was it set in Portland, but the producer, director, main star, and musician were all on stage to answer questions afterward.  I asked if they'd considered showing more of the film-making process as a part of the film.

I've been watching The Story of Film, fifteen hour documentary, and am hip to the idea that an artist doesn't always try to paint him or herself into the canvas.  By keeping a certain psychological distance, even in intimate settings, the film becomes a parallel project with its own pattern of interfacing with the public, such as this occasion at Hollywood Theater, one of Portland's finest and an historic venue for great films.

Friend Timothy Travis was there, and also shared a statement.  He thought people could relate to the solo labor of love, the private passion, that people bring to their work.  He expected the movie would be a big success because people would resonate with the main character.

I was there with Matt, more of a skeptic and less blown over by the Burning Man culture, which was great for contrast.  We're used to getting cues from the music as to how we're supposed to feel about a scene, and sometimes those cues would seem at odds.  I got used to the style though and don't blame the craftsmanship.  This is a well designed film that makes innovative use of time lapse and speed up, to show a project progressing.

People who like Myth Busters and This Old House, other crafty DIY shows, will likely like this film.  Make: Magazine should do a rave review.

Matt's older brother's son, Nathaniel, was the producer and one of the cinematographers, also the editor (director: Sage Eaton).  Talk about a labor of love.  I hope this film gets to the viewers who would benefit most from seeing it.  There's much to learn from its simple story against a somewhat extraordinary background, like the birth of a new nation (but different).