Presented as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival, whose theme this year is "The Climate of Concern," this series runs 10/29-11/8 at Facets Cinematheque, 1517 W. Fullerton. Tickets are $9; for more information call 773-281-4114 or visit facets.org. Following are screenings through 11/1; for a complete schedule visit chicagoreader.com.
The Omega Man The second film version of Richard Matheson's apocalyptic horror novel I Am Legend, this one starring Charlton Heston and directed in 1971 by Boris Sagal. Not bad, but far from a classic. With Rosalind Cash and Anthony Zerbe. PG, 98 min. (JR) a 6:30 PM.
The Highwater Trilogy Bill Morrison (Decasia), who creates art films from deteriorated celluloid stock, created this 31-minute piece from footage of natural disasters. Screening with Lessons of Darkness and La Soufriere (see separate listings). a 6:30 PM.
Lessons of Darkness In his characteristically dreamy Young Werther fashion, Werner Herzog generates a lot of bombastic and beautiful documentary footage out of the post-gulf-war oil fires and other forms of devastation in Kuwait, gilds his own high-flown rhetoric by falsely ascribing it to Pascal, and in general treats war as abstractly as CNN, but with classical music on the soundtrack to make sure we know it's "art." This 1992 documentary may be the closest contemporary equivalent to Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will, both aesthetically and morally; I found it disgusting, but if you're able to forget about humanity as readily as Herzog there are loads of pretty pictures to contemplate. 54 min. (JR) Screening with The Highwater Trilogy and La Soufriere (see separate listings). a 6:30 PM.
La Soufriere Werner Herzog's maddest project (1977), a documentary filmed on the deserted island of Guadeloupe--deserted because it was expected to be destroyed in a massive volcanic eruption. Herzog and his crew wander the empty streets in search of the one man who refused to be evacuated. Although the disaster failed to take place (and Herzog, narrating, seems sorely disappointed), this 30-minute film remains a disturbing, even intimidating, meditation on the apocalypse and a frighteningly vivid display of man's love of death. (DK) Screening with The Highwater Trilogy and Lessons of Darkness (see separate listings). a 6:30 PM.
The Charcoal People Even as they discuss the effects of their labor on the rain forest and their lives, workers in Brazil cut down trees, haul the wood, and build kilns to burn it, creating the charcoal that's used by steel mills to make pig iron. If the mills were to shut down, one man says, charcoal production would cease, and there would be no more work; as it is, he adds, the process will continue until the Amazon is devastated--and the irony of his speculation is impossible to ignore. Some of the charcoal-industry workers, who believe they aren't capable of doing anything else, apologize for their role in the deforestation in one of the more contrived scenes in this documentary, whose frequent, subtle shifts from dialogue to voice-over almost conceal the filmmakers' craft. But the often melodically repetitive commentary, statistics-filled intertitles, and detailed yet minimalist images fuse activistic suggestion and ominous cynicism. Directed by Nigel Nobel; written by producer Jose Padilha. 70 min. (LA) a 8:30 PM.
RStarship Troopers Four friends just out of high school join the military: Denise Richards wants to pilot enormous spaceships, Casper Van Dien wants to be near her, Dina Meyer wants to be near him, and Neil Patrick Harris wants to pit his brain power against that of giant enemy insects--if they have brains. The plot of this 1997 feature may sound like silly, conventional science fiction and soap opera romance, but director Paul Verhoeven blends the conflicting elements of intentional camp and perverse sincerity into a single tone--and he doesn't resort to simple irony. Instead he revels in the contradictions and defies us to see fascist ideology in a story that allows us to identify with warmongering characters. Ed Neumeier's screenplay was based on the novel by Robert A. Heinlein. 129 min. (LA) a 6:30 PM.
RWho Killed the Electric Car? Chris Paine's documentary about General Motors' development and withdrawal of the innovative, environment-friendly EV1 automobile is bound to reverberate with anyone who's fallen in love with a product only to see it irrevocably yanked from the market. Nihilistic greed was the major factor when GM terminated the car in 2001, though Paine is also careful to note the passivity of the general public. Among his interviewees are Mel Gibson and Phyllis Diller, both EV1 enthusiasts, as well as GM spokespeople and ordinary customers. Martin Sheen narrates. PG, 91 min. (JR) a 9 PM.
RThe Future of Food I tend to approach green documentaries with all the enthusiasm of an unemployed logger, but this hard-charging digital video about genetically modified organisms kept me on the edge of my seat with its lucid exposition and frontal assault on Monsanto. Many people see the rapidly expanding use of GMOs as a recipe for disaster; writer-director Deborah Koons Garcia provides a political context by showing how corporations exploit the patenting of genetic variants to increase their hegemony over global agribusiness. Like The Corporation, this presents complicated economic issues in language ordinary viewers can understand and conjures up a chilling landscape of businesses that can afford to buy their own science and write their own laws. 88 min. (JJ) a Thu 6:30 PM.
Our Daily Bread Austrian filmmaker Nikolaus Geyrhalter looks at modern food production in this 2005 documentary, suggesting that the relationship between the earth and its tillers has become soulless and mechanical. Farms are eerily depopulated and automation has triumphed, reducing every harvest to a series of frighteningly efficient conveyor belts. There's little dialogue, and most of the soundtrack is provided by machines of increasing complexity, including one that resembles a sci-fi spaceship deploying outsize landing gear. One might argue that modern butchering is more humane, but the scenes of cattle being rhythmically slaughtered are still brutal enough to turn one vegan. 92 min. (AG) a Thu 8:30 PM.