The 26th Dallas VideoFest Opens Tonight to Wonderfully Weird, New Heights
"If you don't want to see sex with a duck, leave about an hour and 10 minutes in," says Bart Weiss, Dallas VideoFest's organizer and programmer. We're eating a sensible breakfast in Oak Cliff as Weiss describes a historical documentary called Natan, which screens this weekend at VideoFest. It's about an unsung silent-era filmmaker who was declared guilty of pornography without proof, stripped of his French citizenship and sent to Auschwitz. The film dissects Bernard Natan's exceptional career and builds to this duck-sex scene, presenting the damningly vague evidence responsible for his eventual conviction and concentration camp death sentence.
"It's powerful," Weiss says. "It looks nothing like him."
Weiss considered requesting an edited version of Natan, or finding some other work-around. Sex with a duck is, well, graphic. He knows that omitting it would have increased the film's palatability for a greater audience. But applying censorship that detracts from a work's thesis inevitably puts power in the unknown. That stunts the generation of factual dialog, and that's highly antithetical to Dallas VideoFest's mission.
The scene in question was the sole evidence provided to end a human life: Had a few more people watched it critically before declaring him guilty, history would have played out very differently for Bernard Natan. (Natan screens at 9:15 p.m. Thursday.)
Labeling Weiss a provocateur is unfair, as is saying he thrives on the divisive. For more than a quarter century, he's devoted himself to locating and retrieving the world's most authentic stories, then screening the things here in Dallas. He's particularly drawn to work that presents multiple sides of a tale, or gives a broader perspective of a pressing, contemporary political topic through an unconventional means.
For the festival's 26th year, Weiss has found a wacky sci-fi flick about African Americans attempting to escape oppression by colonizing Mars; a documentary about abortions performed on international waters called Vessel; and an "un-Kennedy Kennedy film" told through the recall of Tammi True, the head dancer at Jack Ruby's strip club, which opens the festival tonight at Gilley's. He's also holding a panel on Google Glass, to examine technology's reach into personal privacy.
There's levity, too, as in Sunday's panel discussion featuring the locals who create those Dallas Mavs Megatron videos, which immediately follows a film about Wilt Chamberlin working awkwardly at a resort in the Catskills, pre-NBA fame. The 26th Dallas VideoFest runs Wednesday through Sunday; the beef of it is carved out at the new Alamo Drafthouse in Richardson.
There's so much to see that we asked Weiss about the films and panels dearest to him. He humored us, but also promised that anyone looking for a day-by-day cinematic Sherpa should email him. He will happily custom-build you a schedule based on your interests, free of charge. Here's a few that we find especially exciting.
A couple years back, filmmaker Diana Whitten gave a talk for TEDxAmazonia about her new film Vessel, which gets a preview screening at DVF. The documentary focuses on an organization called Women on Waves, which uses a Dutch ship to provide legal abortion services and education near countries that outlaw the practice. Roughly half of terminated pregnancies in the world happen where abortion is outlawed, Whitten explained, and this boat provides a safe, sanctioned loophole: When it's off the coastline, it prevents women from seeking more harmful options.
Women on Waves anchors its floating clinic 13 miles from shore, then shuttles those in need out to international waters. Once aboard the Dutch vessel, abortion becomes legal. When considering Texas' recent restrictions regarding female reproductive rights, which go into effect on October 20, Weiss considers this film a critical selection.
"The dialog ended when Wendy Davis sat down," Weiss says. "The implications of what went on are happening now. This is very much something that could happen here."
Vessel will show at roughly 98 percent completion, so it will still be eligible for Sundance premiere status later this year. You'll get a first look at 6:45 p.m. Thursday and another at 9:45 p.m. Friday.
Music producer. Cultural archivist. Sound hoarder. All seem acceptable terms to describe Arhoolie Records Label roustabout Chris Strachwitz. Through the cameras of Maureen Gosling and Chris Simon you'll follow Strachwitz as he tracks beats from Appalachia to the bayou. He's insatiable in his hunt, searching for moments of musical authenticity that deserve or require preservation. Added bonus: This film has a killer backbeat.