RENDEZVOUS WITH MADNESS FILM FESTIVAL Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
You might think the scope of the Rendezvous With Madness festival is too narrow: films dealing with the facts and myths about mental illness or addiction.
But it's surprising how much that covers, and the quality of the festival's films remains consistently high.
Cruel And Unusual (Friday, November 10, 7:30 pm) is a gripping documentary about a half-dozen transgendered women and their lives in and out of the U.S. penal system.
The film tells us that approximately 30 per cent of transgendered people in the U.S. have been incarcerated at one time, and then sheds light on why that might be.
Often ostracized by society, shut out of higher education and jobs, they resort to marginalized activities. Linda, for instance, was trained as an oil rig worker, but once she came out as a woman, got fired, couldn't find another job, got turned out of shelters and resorted to stealing.
Because many of the subjects have male genitalia, they're placed in male prisons, where they're targets of violence and rape and often end up in solitary confinement for their protection. Worse, if they were taking hormone treatments, those abruptly stop.
The directors limit their attention to transgendered women. But the film is informative and moving, with articulate and brave subjects who understandably seek fairness and freedom in their lives.
The Alma Drawings (Saturday, November 11, 7:30 pm) looks into the mystery of Alma Rumball, a Huntsville-born woman with no formal artistic training who in the last 25 years of her life created a series of intricate drawings and paintings with obvious spiritual significance. In a series of recovered audio interviews (she died in 1980), Rumball discusses her process, which she says consisted of watching her hands move.
Director (and Rumball's nephew) Jeremiah Munce investigates the meaning behind the works - which include Tibetan deities and depictions of the lost world of Atlantis - and subjects them to all manner of interpretations.
Munce gives us a good look at the fascinating art, but relies a bit too much on gimmicky techniques like playing back Rumball's voice multiple times. He's also hired an older woman to play Rumball, which adds to the kitsch factor. But the art, some of which goes up at the Workman Theatre from November 11, remains mysterious and powerful.
Another bona fide mystery artist is filmmaker Arthur Lipsett, who, after an early brilliant career (his experimental short film Very Nice, Very Nice was nominated for an Academy Award), descended into madness and committed suicide in 1986.
Martin Lavut's Remembering Arthur (November 17, 7:30 pm) brings us a little closer to Lipsett's creative sparks and his difficult later life without offering easy explanations about either.
There's terrific footage of Lipsett's lesser-known works, some glimpses of the swinging 1960s scene and some very candid recollections by those closest to him, including former partner Judith Sandiford, the recent managing director of Artword Theatre.
Lipsett remains an enigma. If the film lacks a satisfying ending, it's not clear if it's because the filmmaker has failed to dig deep enough or simply a matter of some human mysteries remaining unsolvable. (November 9 to 18 at the Workman Theatre)