The art of the real

Round two for the Mimesis Documentary Festival 

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Roy's World

Screening Aug. 4-10, the Mimesis Documentary Festival (MDF) takes over the Dairy Arts Center’s cinemas for a simultaneous return and debut. A return as this is the second summer MDF will immerse viewers in screenings, workshops and conversations, and a debut considering this is the first time MDF will be an in-person event. Not everyone plans to debut in the middle of a global pandemic, but MDF soldiered forth, bringing its artist-focused, community-oriented programming to the virtual world.

Some reliance on virtual lingers as this year’s featured artist, the great Portuguese filmmaker Pedro Costa, will not be able to attend in person. Instead, MDF will screen three of Costa’s films: Vitalina VarelaHorse Money and Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie? with Costa Zooming in for post-screening discussions.

Tired of Zoom? No worries, MDF is bringing Lynne Sachs in for the opening night festivities with a screening and conversation about her latest, Film About a Father Who — a portrait of her father that ends up looking like no portrait at all.

Pulling from home video and footage shot between 1965 and 2019 (on six different formats no less: 8 and 16mm, VHS, Hi8, Mini DV and digital), Film About centers on Ira Sachs, a successful bohemian businessman who worked out of a shoebox, looked at Park City, Utah, the way others looked at a tropical beach and had an Achilles heel for women. Sachs finds asymmetry in her father’s story, but the longer the cameras roll, the more Film About becomes her story — and her sibling’s story. At one point in the movie, Sachs describes it as “looking at something from the inside and outside.” The more you watch, the more contradictions you find and the more your assumptions are punctured.

You’ll find a lot of that in MDF’s programming. Costa and Sachs may be the headliners, but most MDF takes shape in thematic blocks, 20 in all, each featuring a handful of shorts and features tackling a common theme from diverse perspectives. Take the Images, Unearthed section: Four shorts exploring how humans and animals transform the landscape around them — and how information transforms the landscape of a narrative. Many movies playing MDF navigate the line between what we think we know and what is true, but Emma Piper-Burket’s Driving Dinosaurs stands out for its playful work-in-progress approach.

And it isn’t the only movie you’ll find with that level of playful investigation. Screening in the Sister Cities block, Roy’s World: Barry Gifford’s Chicago, from Denver-born filmmaker Rob Christopher, is a collage of Gifford’s writings, archival footage and narration telling how the Windy City came to be through corruption and graft.

Gifford, who has been hailed as “William Faulkner by way of B-movie film noir,” authored more than 40 books of fiction, nonfiction and poetry, and the bulk of Roy’s World concerns growing up in the 1950s, when the post-war boom was reshaping the American landscape and demographics. As Gifford’s words roll off the soundtrack, Christopher stitches together a river of images — still photographs, animation, newsreels and industrials — to compliment Gifford’s prose. Winters never looked this cold, newspapers never looked this culpable, and Mayor Daley’s cronies never felt so real.

There are more than just a few passing similarities between Roy’s World and A Film About a Father Who, not to mention any number of the 100 features and shorts screening at MDF. That’s the beauty of documentary cinema: The more disparate the perspectives, the more specific the stories, the more commonalities and connections emerge. 

ON THE BILL: The Second Annual Mimesis Documentary Festival, Aug. 4-10, Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder. Tickets and information at mimesisfestival.org.