Thursday, June 17, 2010

Big River Man & Hole in the Head

I caught a documentary called Big River Man at the Roxie.

Big River Man directed by John Maringouin; (2009) - Official Website

Big River Man is about Marin Strel, a fiftysomething year old Slovenian who is a hero in his own country. Strel's claim to fame is that he has swam the entire length of the Danube, Mississippi and Yangtze rivers. The film chronicles his "training" and attempt to swim the length of the Amazon. This attempt would be amazing for a man half Strel's age but to add to his burden, Strel is a functioning alcoholic and likely has longstanding mental health issues. Although entertaining, in hindsight I thought the film was highly exploitive of Strel but given his nature, I wonder who is exploiting who.

Just the logistics are fascinating. The Amazon is 5,268 km or 3,273 miles in length. Strel begins his swim when the river is flooding and has to avoid debris including huge logs and trees that are floating down the river. In addition, Strel must avoid crocodiles, piranha and candirus which allegedly will swim up a man's urethra. They didn't include footage but apparently when piranha were in the vicinity, Strel's team would chum the water to attract the carnivorous fish away from him.

Although flooding at its mouth, once Strel swam downstream the region was in drought. Strel had counted on cloudy and rainy weather to protect him from the sun but the clear skies sunburned his face horribly. To protect his face, Strel's son and chief advisor, outfitted him with a white clothe or canvas bag with cutouts for his eyes, nose and mouth. Strel would swim with this covering and the effect was to make him look like the Elephant Man.

The main plotline for this film was like the opposite of Marlon Brando's character in Apocalypse Now. As Colonel Kurtz went up the Mekong River, he "went native" and lost his mind. As Strel swims downstream, he begins to behave erratically. Many factors affect his behavior - the long isolation while swimming, excessive alcohol consumption, physical exhaustion, etc. However, it seems clear that Strel had issues before he even started his swim. As his son recounts stories of Strel youth and the abuses he endured, his alcoholism and compulsive behavior become more understandable.

Equally amazing is that Strel's son, physician or friends didn't pull the plug on the swim when he mental and physical condition became alarming. Strel's son rationalizes continuing the swim because Strel would just swim out one night to continue the swim on his own. On two occasions in the film, Strel does exactly that and prompts a dangerous night search. As the days turn to weeks, Strel's son summarizes the group's opinion. As Strel is reduced to near catatonia while on a boat at night, he puts on his swimsuit every morning and starts a day of swimming. The son said, words to the effect, "We didn't consider him human anymore. He was like a mule that we saddled up and drove without consideration.

Strel's physician makes him sign a waiver indemnifying her of responsibility. Strel's best friend and river guide is a professional poker player from Wisconsin. He's never been to Brazil and frequently seems lost on the Amazon. He appears to lose his mind as the film progresses.

I won't give away the ending but an internet search will disclose the final result of Strel's swim.


SF Indiefest announced their Hole in the Head schedule. The festival runs from July 8 to 29. The Roxie will be the sole venue from July 8 to 22 and Viz Cinema will be the sole venue from July 23 to 29. There are also musical performances from July 9 to 13.

I was a little surprised because the website had said July 8 to 22 for several weeks but apparently they decided to expand to a third week. There are 32 film programs scheduled with a large number of Japanese films.

I haven't really examined the film schedule. I did notice Lady Terminator is on the schedule. I greatly enjoyed that film at a Midnites for Maniacs screening last year. Giorgio Moroder's 1984 version of Metropolis is also on the schedule. Undoubtedly, this was programmed with an eye towards the San Francisco Silent Film Festival's screening on July 16.

Speaking of which, Hole in the Head conflicts with the Silent Film Festival from July 15 to 18. In addition, there were a number of Kurosawa films I wanted to see at the PFA. I'll have to see how much conflict there is. 32 films in 22 days is a fairly leisurely schedule. Hole in the Head is screening 3 films per weeknight and 4 films on Fridays and Saturdays (with one exception).

With all the Japanese films, Viz may be a good fit for Hole in the Head. The Roxie is more conveniently located on the BART line but Viz Cinema's facility is much nicer.

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