Subject Versus Approach at Cinevegas

Subject Versus Approach at Cinevegas (photo)

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The “Pioneer Documentaries” program of the CineVegas Film Festival claims to highlight films that capture “subjects who defy odds and expectations.” And that’s an appropriate enough description for the seven docs featured this year, whose focuses range from poker to the anti-aging industry, but it’s also one that could be applied to over half the nonfiction films on the festival circuit today. A good subject can make a documentary, but it’s how a film presents and treats that subject that sets it apart, as two films in the line-up with thematically similar subject matter and extremely different approaches demonstrate so well.

“Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo” examines Japan’s long-standing obsession with bugs from a perspective that’s equal parts entomological, ethnographical and experimental. Whatever else it might be, it’s sure as hell not commercial; the film is more survey than story, with no character arcs or three-act structure to speak of. Even the voiceover about the origins of the phenomenon is spoken in Japanese, subtitled in English. Instead of any standard structure, director Jessica Oreck, an animal keeper and docent at the American Museum of Natural History and lifelong insect lover herself, combines glimpses of the Japanese beetle collecting scene — the men who hunt them, the children who buy them, the almost-literal flea market where the two sides meet — with poetic images of Japanese landscapes and rituals.

Oreck’s technique, which was rewarded at CineVegas with a Special Documentary Jury Prize for Artistic Vision, is unorthodox but highly cinematic. While a few talking heads and assorted readings speak to the historical context of this unusual national fascination with insects, “Beetle Queen” attempts, with a good amount of success, to explain the allure of bugs by showing instead of telling. People don’t explain what makes these creatures wonderful, instead, Oreck lets footage of excited bug fanboys (and some genuinely beautiful visuals of their beloved pets) speak for itself. Even now, after viewing the film, I cannot adequately explain the ancestral underpinnings of this bizarre attraction. But the imagery is so evocative, it requires no context. The how feels much less important than the why.

One of the more curious aspects of this subculture is its specificity: a man who sells bugs for a living (a profession so lucrative in Japan, by the way, that he’s able to buy a Ferrari with the proceeds) and who spends hours on end delicately capturing beetles will thoughtlessly squish a hornet under his heel when it becomes a nuisance. Later, we begin to note a similar and unsettling facet of these hobbyists’ pursuits: the fact that these nature lovers are more than happy to displace or even destroy the natural world so that they can possess it.

06182009_beetlequeen2.jpgOreck observes this behavior but doesn’t comment on it. Her quietly curious tone is in stark contrast to a film like “The Cove,” another documentary set amongst the wildlife of Japan that is currently working the festival circuit and that reaches theaters at the end of July. That film talks about all sorts of political issues — it, too, is set in a world of environmental commodification — but couches its entire narrative in what’s ostensibly a heist film: in order to uncover the truth about a mysterious dolphin slaughter, the documentarians recruit a veritable Pacific Ocean’s 11 of colorful and eccentric wildlife, diving and surveillance experts to help obtain the photographic proof of this horrific act. Despite its grisly subject matter, “The Cove” has proven exceedingly popular — it’s already won prizes at this year’s Sundance, Newport, and Hot Docs Film Festivals — perhaps because, despite it’s left wing politics, it’s an exceptionally conventional entry in the post-Michael Moore era of polemical documentaries.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.