Today I was a volunteer again. The first film I saw was called Czech Dreams. It was a documentary about two guys (film students) who invented a fake hypermart. They got a makeover to look more professional, they went to a real advertising agency to develop the ad campaign, they did market research. And then they plastered Prague with ads letting people know about the Grand Opening of the store. Their fliers mentioned that there would be a big surprise for all the people who visited the store. The surprise was that there was no store, just a giant colorful facade in the middle of an empty field.
The film focuses on three things:
1. The development of the marketing campaign. As manipulative as it is, is probably no more cynical than the way such things unfold anywhere else in the world. In fact, the filmmakers and the ad agents get into an ethical debate over whether they can use a phrase that the ad agents deem to be misleading. That's pretty amusing, since they've agreed to create a campaign for a product which doesn't exist, but somehow it also makes sense.
2. People's reaction to the marketing. It's unusual to see the unmitigated, powerful reaction people have to consumerism. A little surprising to hear them talk so openly about how going to the giant supermarket and buying things makes them feel. After a while you you may start to wonder if it's mean to exploit the trusting nature of people who take billboards, fliers, and TV commercials at their word. I mean, sure, we're used to folks like Tom Green pulling stunts like this (though not on such a large scale), so we might be tempted to feel a little sorry for an entire population that doesn't realize it's being Punk'd. But, there's two reasons why that isn't necessarily the appropriate reaction. One audience member asked the filmmakers how they feel about introducing such cynicism into the culture, and they pointed out that Czech culture has a long history of cynicism. Nothing new there. The other thing is that you get the feeling that these guys are not just pulling a prank. They really have something they're trying to say. Which brings me to...
3. People's reactions to finding out that the hypermarket is a hoax. This is a tough to describe, partly because I don't want to give away what happens, but also because the reactions are more complex and varied than you might expect.
I really loved this film (it's the reason that I specially requested to work that shift), and I highly recommend it to anyone who gets the chance to see it (as long as you aren't allergic to cynicism).
Next up I saw a short film series called Found Footage. There were four short films, made up of old films that told more or less personal stories about families (in some cases it was the actual family history of the filmmaker, in one case it was a fictionalized story about strangers, and in one case I honestly have no idea what it was about).
Not originally in the plan, I stayed to help out on a screening of Special Thanks to Roy London. This film was about an acting teacher and coach who has helped make the careers of a lot of people in Hollywood. He died in 1993, but it's taken them a while to put this documentary together. The movie was pretty interesting, despite the fact that it was composed almost entirely of interview footage with his students, after his death. Several of his famous students were in attendance, and spoke after the screening. Garry Shandling, Hank Azaria, Arye Gross, Elizabeth Berkley, Lois Chiles, and Julie Warner. Also there (but for some reason they didn't speak): Famke Janssen and Richard Kind.
Tomorrow I'm taking a break from Tribeca, but I don't want to go into film withdrawal. I'm going to see Channel 102 at the Upright Citizen's Brigade Theater.