"It's like a fly caught in amber," says documentarian Chris Hegedus of her cinematic calling. "You're there with your camera and you catch bits and pieces of events and circumstances." Startup.com, the documentary she co-directed with Jehane Noujaim, captures the rise and fall of a promising Internet company in all its sticky glory. Compellingly structured with plot twists, character development, and soap-opera intrigues worthy of a good novel, the film is a metaphor for the spiraling virtual economy as well. "We didn't know we were catching that exciting time as the bubble was bursting," says Hegedus. "We thought the ending of the film would be everybody becoming millionaires and showing us their new mansions."
Another of the 18 feature-length documentaries screening at this year's film festival, Rithy Panh's The Land of Wandering Souls, examines the dot-com economy at its harshest, most basic level: the Cambodian migrant workers digging the ditch for their country's first fiber-optic cable. "We used to talk of magic eyes and magic ears, and now we have them," says one ragged worker, recounting wondrous tales of a machine that can offer up the sights and sounds of a man's family halfway around the world. But as another ironically notes, "I don't have electricity, I have an oil lamp." While the men dig into the rocky soil, avoiding poisonous snakes, land mines, and human skeletons, their wives and children lunch on red ants, beg for rice, and dig for crabs in leech-infested waters. In such a setting the benefits of the Information Superhighway are debatable at best.
Four films are nominated for the 2001 Golden Gate Award for best Bay Area documentary. Sophia Constantinou's Divided Loyalties relates the strife-ridden history of Cyprus through the memories and mementos of its homesick refugees. Fresh, forthright attitudes about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are expressed by seven Jerusalem youngsters of differing faiths in Promises by Justine Shapiro, Carlos Bolado, and B.Z. Goldberg. Micha X. Peled's Store Wars is an exciting look at the populist spirit that engulfs a small Virginia town when retail megagiant Wal-Mart comes a-courting, blueprints in hand. And in We Just Tellin' Stories Lawrence Andrews delves into the Medea Project, a rambunctious theater company for women incarcerated at the S.F. County Jail. Each film belongs to the great documentary tradition of capturing life's myriad truths through the unblinking eye of the movie camera. -- Matthew Stafford
Startup.com: Friday, April 20, 9:40 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Monday, April 23, 1 p.m., AMC Kabuki
The Land of Wandering Souls: Saturday, April 21, 1:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Friday, April 27, 6:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki
Divided Loyalties: Saturday, April 28, 2:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki
Promises: Sunday, April 22, 6:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki
Store Wars: When Wal-Mart Comes to Town: Wednesday, April 25, 9:15 p.m., AMC Kabuki
We Just Tellin' Stories: Tuesday, May 1, 6:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki