WTF: An Okaymentary
Lately the only news stories about "social networking" have to do with either soaring stock prices or child predators, it's difficult to believe that this concept started out as imageless message boards people used to discuss their ideas and build relationships.WTF: An Okaymentary chronicles how hip hop group the Roots's website became a thriving tight knit community. All without a dime from Rupert Murdoch or a surprise visit from Chris Hansen.
Started in February 1999 by Roots drummer Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, the drummer of the Roots teamed upwith a friend who could write code built the extremely basic site (that hasn't changed that much in the subsequent 8 years) that started out as a way for the band to communicate directly with their fans. At first the site attracted only the most fanatic Roots followers but eventually became a touchstone for fans of hip hop and from all walks of life. People discuss everything in their lives including their romantic problems, Snakes on a Plane, what Americans can do to help people in Ethiopia all with relative anonymity. The site also attracted like-minded musicians who wanted to communicate directly with fans thus regular personal updates come from artists like Talib Kweli, Common and Erykah Badu.
Eventually people began to meet in person and have annual meet-ups, marriages, okayplayer babies and even create trans-atlantic records by exchanging audio files over instant messenger. And even though the story is predicated on computers and modern technology the film seems remarkably old-fashioned, like a traveling radio program where people share their stories that all have a thread of commonality.
RIYL: 24 Hours on Craigslist, Errol Morris's First Person, This American Life.
Radiant City is a "thoughtumentary" about suburban sprawl and excess from Canadian surrealist comedy and provocateur Gary Burns (waydowntown, Kitchen Party). The film hosts a series of community designers, philosophers, architects and economists who discuss the dire ending we're all steaming towards with our two cars and green yards. Posited against the cadre of academics are the Mosses, a family of four who have recently relocated to a planned community and are nearly at the breaking point of a passive aggressive apocalypse.
The film asserts that sick environments create sick people. And neighborhoods where people can go for years without ever speaking to their neighbors and spend hours every day in their cars can wrought psychic and environmental damage. We see in the Moss family that mom and dad are barely speaking, dad spends hours a day just "zoning out" during his three hour commute, mom and daughter spend hours driving from activity to activity while the affectionate but sardonic teenage son expresses quiet rage by moving things around on the family's massive wipeboard schedule.
Like WTF: An Okaymentary, the film utilizes animated sequences to demonstrate otherwise drab statistics. Cinematographer Patrick McLaughlin creates gorgeous tableaux that doesn't even allow the talking head experts to be boring. They hover over intricate models, deliver lectures from the backseat of buses and are placed in the endless rows of abandoned pre-fabricated housing like Mr. Hulot in Jacque Tati's Play Time.
Gary Burns has put a new spin on a well-worn set of criticisms, the film is
energetic, informative and fun to watch. The film is also one of just two (the other being Golden Days) that will screen at SF DocFest on film.
RIYL: End of the Suburbia, A Crude Awakening: the Oil Crash, Who Killed the Electric Car?, Wal-Mart: the High Cost of Low Prices.