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CUFF Brings Bold New Work To CUNY

November 9, 2010

CUNY Film Festival screens two new documentaries
by Scott Klocksin, Arts & Entertainment Editor of the Hunter Envoy

Since its inception in 2009, the City University Film Festival has been broadening the scope of its mission. More than a once-a-year affair, CUFF has been organizing events that bring industry professionals to CUNY to talk with students and share their work. On October 23rd, CUFF hosted a screening and reception at the Macaulay Honors College building on West 67th Street featuring two new documentaries which had both screened at the Mountainfilm festival in Telluride, Colorado this summer.

CUFF founder and Hunter senior Daniel Cowen recently served as co-producer and Director of Photography of a film called Facing the Waves (directed by Macaulay Honors College distinguished Lecturer Lee Quinby). Their film screened this summer at Mountainfilm, where Cowen and Quinby met the directors of two other films on the program, Tom Shadyac (I Am), and Jennilyn Merten and Tyler Meason (Sons of Perdition), who each accepted invitations to screen their films at M.H.C.

Sons of Perdition, directed by Jennilyn Merten and Tyler Meason, tells the wrenching story of several young people who fled the suffocating social order of a polygymist Mormon sect on the Utah-Arizona border. Its chilling opening scene, which depicts a woman escaping from her own home, hits the viewer over the head with just how serious a thing it is to leave a place where an unyielding patriarchy commands every aspect of peoples’ lives. “The Crick,” the nickname given to the tiny community these young people have fled, is a place of such institutional repression that movies and TV are banned in every home. Escapees tell of being beaten for having books or CD’s.
But what the filmmakers take great care to make clear is that it’s no picnic for these courageous kids once they are formally cut free from the shackles of enforced ignorance. Some can barely read. And all, it seems, get into heavy drinking and a reckless abandon that would understandably accompany an extreme crisis of faith and a shredding of all ties to the only life and the only people they’ve ever known. While the film ends on basically a happy note for the young people it chronicles, we are left with an uneasy feeling born of a sense that it doesn’t always end well for people who try to leave The Crick.

The evening’s other feature, Tom Shadyac’s I Am, shows us how Shadyac, the director of many blockbuster comedies including Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Nutty Professor, went from Hollywood heavyweight to humble humanitarian. After suffering a head injury that nearly cost him his life, Shadyac went on a quest to answer a basic question which the film’s title sheds some on light on: what’s wrong with the world and what can be done about it? What emerges is an indictment of modern materialism featuring interviews with scientists, cultural figures and academics, often intercut with gripping images of the best and the worst of what humanity is capable of. It all points toward a message that apparently hasn’t sunk in since it was first introduced a little over forty years ago: all you need is love. It’s a wild ride—and bumpy, at times—but I Am provides some real food for thought about how we live and how we might live. Particularly compelling are the snippets of a unifying, scientific theory that explains how humanity may actually be connected in ways that boldly challenge conventional wisdom and mainstream science.

After the screenings, Shadyac hosted a wide-ranging discussion with the audience. What was noticeably absent from the discussion—perhaps an indication that the audience had taken to heart the film’s message—were questions pertaining to what one has to do in order to “make it” in Hollywood. Questions were raised on the ethics of violence and which societal ailments should be the targets of a strengthened resolve to live in a more principled and harmonious way. Shadyac, who sold his multimillion dollar Berverly Hills mansion and how lives in a mobile home park, emphasized a shunning of materialism. “I have yet to hear somebody on his deathbed say, ‘man, I wish I’d invested that money in an IRA,’” Shadyac said. I Am is scheduled for release in theatres in the New York market late this winter.

CUFF is now shifting gears in preparation for its screening of selected films by CUNY students on March 26th and 27th of next year. They will begin accepting submissions at the beginning of the Spring 2011 semester.

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