P.O.V. Shorts

Tue, 08/18/2009 - 10:00pm
nutkin_140.jpg
Pictured: Nutkin Squirrel
Credit: pov.org
Features aren’t the only game in documentary filmmaking. On Tuesday, August 18 at 10 p.m., WXXI-TV (DT 21.1/cable 1011/cable 11) presents POV's Shorts Program, which showcases four award-winning short films that demonstrate the punch and poetry of short-form filmmaking.
 
On the bill are Sam Green and Carrie Lozano’s Utopia, Part 3: The World’s Largest Shopping Mall — and it isn’t in Minnesota; Nicholas Berger’s Nutkin’s Last Stand, in which a hardy band of English nature lovers rises up to fight the most successful invader of the island since 1066 — the American gray squirrel; Jesse Epstein’s 34 x 25 x 36, an inside look at a mannequin factory where the perfect female form is crafted (or is it?); and Eva Weber’s City of Cranes, in which we share a soaring view of man’s urban works, not through the eyes of the birds but through the eyes of the men who sit in steel cages atop the giant machines that make and remake our world.

Is nothing American sacred anymore? The largest mall in the world turns out not to be the famous Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn. It’s the South China Mall outside of Guangzhou, China. Outdoing the techniques of American consumerism, South China Mall is Disneyland, Las Vegas and Mall of America rolled into one. There are carnival rides, mini-parks, canals and lakes amid classic Western-style buildings with space for hundreds of shops.
 
But along with the glitz and glory of middle-class shopping, the mall’s Chinese developers seem to have imported something else — a cautionary tale of capitalist hubris. Alex Hu, a local Guangzhou boy who made it big in international business, wanted South China Mall to be a hometown monument to his success — even though Guangzhou has no major airports or highways nearby. And four years after its construction, the mall sits virtually empty of both shops and shoppers. But the Chinese have imported yet another concept familiar to Americans — South China Mall is considered too big to fail. So, employees line up for flag-raising ceremonies and pep talks about “brand building” before going off to maintain the deserted concourses meticulously. If China is the future of the world economy, Utopia, Part 3: The World’s Largest Shopping Mall just may be a startling peek at what’s to come.
 
Talk about sacred! The aggressive North American gray (or grey, when it gets to England) squirrel is threatening to displace the English red squirrel. Immortalized in Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin and much beloved by English nature lovers, the red is the island nation’s only native species of squirrel. But it is being driven to extinction by the invading gray’s combativeness and a squirrel pox it carries, against which the reds have no resistance. And so, with characteristic national pluck, a cross-section of English men and women — from lords to priests to artists to farmers — has risen up to turn back “the grey menace” and save the reds. Nutkin’s Last Stand is touching and often humorous. But species loss is no laughing matter, and the film rises to a haunting evocation of the stakes in the survival of a little red squirrel.
 
34 x 25 x 36 is Jesse Epstein’s third installment in a trilogy of films (along with “The Guarantee” and the Sundance award-winning “Wet Dreams and False Images) examining issues of body image from quirky and revealing angles. This time, we are taken into the inner workings of the Patina V Mannequin Factory in the City of Industry, Calif., where the artistry, craft and marketing that go into creating “the ideal woman of the moment” — in plastic — are accompanied by a remarkable amount of reflection on just what that ideal means (one thing it means is a 34” x 25” x 36” figure). Patina V is a place where the owner will tell women (and then run for cover), “There are no perfect bodies out there. We make the perfect body.” And the chief designer harkens back to the roots of his craft not only in French 19th-century wax figures but also in the religious icons of medieval times.
 
It used to be said the most distinguishing feature of European cities and towns was the cathedral spire. City of Cranes convinces us that even more than the skyscraper that has long since overshadowed the church, these cities’ most distinctive feature has become the construction crane that erects the skyscraper. A rhapsodic visual meditation on cranes, the power and grace of massive loads in motion and the life of the city (in this case, London), City of Cranesis narrated by the reflections of the operators who sit in steel cages atop the giant machines. Called “sublime visual/audio poetry” by indieWIRE, the film demonstrates that if you ask working people about their jobs, you may well receive answers in which shoptalk is mixed with generous amounts of poetry and philosophy.
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