Full Reviews
Complete reviews of My Father, The Genius

THE BOSTON GLOBE
August 15, 2002
"Director's 'Genius' stirs old family history"

THE BOSTON GLOBE
August 23, 2002
"Offbeat film is perfect portrait of oddball father"

THE BOSTON GLOBE
January 22, 2002
"No Small Achievement"

THE BOSTON HERALD
August 24, 2002
"Bold look at dad nears `Genius' "

BOSTON HERALD
April 1, 2002
Family explorations form basis for two of festival's best films

The Boston Phoenix
March 29, 2002
Home movies: Family matters at the New England Film & Video Festival

THE CAPE COD TIMES
June 16, 2002
"Festival documentaries outstanding offerings"

FILMTHREAT
January 12, 2002
MY FATHER, THE GENIUS

indieWIRE
January 19, 2002
PARK CITY 2002: Less Biz, Less B.S.; Slamdance Returns for it's Eighth Year

Los Angeles Times
March 28, 2002
What Was So Great About Dad Anyway?

The Los Angeles Times
January 21, 2002
SUNDANCE FESTIVAL
Women and Their Stories Merit Prizes

newenglandfilm.com
N.E. Filmmakers Go for the Gold in Park City

by ALLISON WALTON

Slamdance

THE NEW YORK TIMES
January 22, 2002
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK

Salon.com
January 23, 2002
Doing the Sundance Shuffle

VARIETY
February 25-March 3, 2002
MY FATHER, THE GENIUS

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THE BOSTON GLOBE
August 15, 2002
"Director's 'Genius' stirs old family history"

Lucia Small thought she knew the risks she was taking by making a documentary called ''My Father, the Genius.'' She worked hard, she says, to find a balance between making a movie that would please her father, who had asked her to document his career as an architect, and creating a movie for a broader audience about the tensions between family life and art. She braced herself for the trauma of stirring up old family business, and she took pains to enlist the support of her mother and her two sisters.
She thought, in short, that she had prepared herself for what she was getting into.
But even as her film has pleased audiences and critics alike - it took high honors at the Atlanta, Newport, Slamdance, and New England festivals, and it begins a run at the Museum of Fine Arts Aug. 23 - it has created ripples that Small simply wasn't expecting.

Some members of her family thought she was too hard on her father, Glen Howard Small; others thought she cut him too much slack. Her younger sister wouldn't attend the Los Angeles premiere. Her stepbrother expressed disappointment at being shown briefly in one scene but not named or interviewed.

''I've created distance from people that I didn't intend to,'' Small says ruefully, in the garden of her Jamaica Plain home.

The biggest ripple, though, and the one that may upset Lucia Small the most, is the generally negative reaction to her father's architecture as it is portrayed in the film - and the way he's reacted to that reaction.

In his '70s heyday, Glen Small received mostly adoring press coverage for his utopian, eco-friendly, organically flowing designs. Now, the generally positive reviews of the film have likened his work to ''vintage Yes album covers'' and called it ''cartoonish'' and ''derivative.''

''That's been very painful to watch,'' says Lucia Small.
(Her first name is pronounced ''Loo -sha.'') ''He's gotten to the point of asking friends, `Is she ruining my career?' That utterance, even though it comes out of a very emotional state that he's in, makes me question my ability as a filmmaker and as an artist, because that was never my intent.''

Just what was her intent? That's a more complex question. The project began a decade ago, when Glen Small wrote a will asking Lucia, then in her late 20s, to write a book about his work. She considered the request, then announced that, because she was a filmmaker, she would make a film instead. She also made it clear from the outset that she wanted to create not just a document of her father's work, but a personal reflection on his life and his relationship with his children - a relationship that was vastly complicated by his decision to divorce Lucia's mother when their three daughters were young.

Because of that painful history, it took years for Lucia Small to persuade her mother and sisters to participate in the project; all three do appear onscreen, as do a second ex-wife, an ex-girlfriend, some clients, and a number of former colleagues. The result is a poignant, quirky, 84-minute film that's by turns hilarious and wrenching.

We see Glen Small, brash young architect, and his wildly ambitious designs (still unbuilt) for a ''Biomorphic Biosphere'' and a ''Green Machine,'' both large-scale projects that were intended to transform the relationship between people and their planet. We hear former students at the Southern California Institute of Architecture speak reverently of Small's inspirational effects on their thinking.

But we also see Glen Small commit career suicide onscreen, in stunning footage of a conference where he mocked and belittled some of the biggest names in contemporary architecture. And we can't help gasping when he says, to his own daughter, that he generally finds women ''controlling and yappy.''

Unlike the backlash against his work, the reaction to that line didn't take the filmmaker by surprise - even if her father still seems puzzled by it. ''It upsets women, but I continue to have that in my own life,'' he says by phone from Nicaragua, where he's at work on a huge hotel complex whose design is the last image in the film.

''I think he was a little shocked when he saw the final film,'' Lucia Small says. But, she notes, she'd tried to warn him. ''I would say, `Dad, I'm exposing the divorce, I'm exposing your attitude toward women.' But his arrogance - well, not arrogance but ... '' She laughs, looking for the right word. ''His big ego didn't see it as a threat. ... He was the one who said, `Be honest, be honest. It's your thing, Lucia.'''

It is indeed, and that may be the hardest thing for Lucia Small's older sister, Christine Small-Shook. ''I have my perspective, which is very different from Lucia's,'' Small-Shook says by phone from California, where the sisters grew up and where she and the youngest one, Julie Small, still live. (Julie Small didn't respond to phone and e-mail inquiries for this story.) ''The pot was stirred up, and the resolution to it was just left very `there it is.' I guess it was cathartic for her, but for me it's kind of stirred up stuff.''

Small-Shook says she's proud of her sister and thinks she tried hard to paint a fair picture of their father. Still, she says, it's been hard to read some of the reviews and to watch audiences laugh at her father's more outrageous remarks. (They've laughed even harder at some of the things he's said in person at screenings, including an earlier one in Boston. When an audience member asked what he would have done differently with his life, Lucia Small notes wryly, he joked, ''Well, I used to think that I would've stayed with my first wife, but after seeing this film ...'')

''My heart goes out to Lucia; my heart goes out to Dad,'' Small-Shook says. ''And then there's also this little part that's `What about me?'... There are some very poignant moments in there, but it's not exactly everybody's take on it.''

As a result, Small-Shook says, ''there's been these sort of weird fallouts'' in the family since the picture came out. ''It's a very volatile dynamic, let's just put it that way, and it doesn't take much to ignite it,'' she says. ''It leaves me thinking that everybody should get together and have a family therapy session - a slew of them.''

For her part, Lucia Small says, laughing again, ''Therapy has become very essential at this point.'' But, when asked jokingly if she'd recommend making a personal documentary as a form of therapy, she emits a startled whoop. ''No! No, it's not that therapeutic.''

What it is instead, she says, is ''a way to tell a story and pack an emotional wallop. People are seeking honesty and truth, and movies have gone so far away from that. All those stories, which everybody struggles with on a daily basis - they're harder to find in movies.''

Ultimately, the desire to tell that kind of story was what pushed Small past all the fears about causing trouble at home by making this film. That, and the desire to give her father his due. (Whatever, exactly, that may be.) ''He really cares about the world in this very important way. That's why I wanted to take on this challenge,'' she says.

But the decision to make a work about real people, real lives, comes with costs. ''At some point, you have to say, `OK, this is a film, I have to engage people with a drama, with a story.' His warmth, his teddy-bear side - that doesn't come through as much.''
If Glen Small has a problem with his daughter's movie, though, that's not it. ''If I was going to make a movie on my work, I would definitely go at it much more from a scholarly standpoint so people would understand it,'' he says. ''She said, `People are interested in divorce; they're not interested in architecture.' And she's absolutely right. That's what makes the movie great. It's a little disheartening to me, because I actually wanted something more substantive.''

But there's one thing he must have noticed in seeing his daughter's vision of himself onscreen. If ever there were a person who could understand Lucia Small's decision to put her own creative ambitions and intentions first, to make art instead of just making nice, it would have to be Glen Howard Small.

As ''My Father, the Genius'' illustrates in a hundred small but telling ways, the tension between art and life, between work and family, between being responsible in relationships and being true to your dreams, is never simple or simply resolved. You don't have to be a genius to see that.

Seeing 'Genius"
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, will screen Lucia Small's documentary, ''My Father, the Genius,'' this month and next. Here's the schedule:
Friday, Aug. 23, at 8 p.m. (Lucia Small will attend and answer questions.)
Saturday, Aug. 24, at 12:15 p.m.
Sunday, Aug. 25, at 12:15 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 29, at 6 p.m. (Small will attend.)
Friday, Aug. 30, at 6 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 31, at 12:15 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 1, at noon.
Wednesday, Sept. 4, at 6 p.m. (A panel discussion with Small and others will follow.)
Sunday, Sept. 8, at noon.
Sunday, Sept. 15, at 4 p.m. (Small will attend.)
Friday, Sept. 27, at 8:20 p.m.
Louise Kennedy can be reached at kennedy@globe.com.
This story ran on page C13 of the Boston Globe on 8/15/2002.

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THE BOSTON GLOBE
August 23, 2002
"Offbeat film is perfect portrait of oddball father"

The first thing you have to wonder about ''My Father, the Genius'' is whether to read the title straight or with a roll of the eyes. Are the words intended to be literal, playful, reverent, mocking?

The short answer is yes.

Nothing in Boston filmmaker Lucia Small's complex and entertaining documentary about her proudly oddball father wants to be one-dimensional or easily sized up. Like the wavy wire models he sculpts to represent his futuristic visions (''Buck Rogers kind of stuff,'' one wife labels them), her film touches the ground only where it has to, generally preferring to be exploratory, wistful, and untethered. His truth and her truth only occasionally intersect; that's what makes the tale feel so right.

Glen Howard Small is known to some as a founding member of the Southern California Institute of Architecture. But his belligerently harmonious ideas never much caught on (ever hear of the Biomorphic Biosphere?), and his academic career eventually imploded with public trashings of contemporaries such as Frank Gehry. Consequently, Small has spent recent years being bitter about the client-driven projects he takes on to pay the rent (''serving the rich,'' he scoffs) and scheming ways to achieve immortality.

When he dictated that Lucia should write his biography, it didn't seem to matter that the two were largely estranged, or that she preferred camera to pen. Small is a round peg in the square holes of our world, a subject as blunt as he is magnificently layered. Not surprisingly, the ambitious pair found a way to work together.

The director also admits a desire to get closer to her father through the project, having been only 5 when her parents divorced. Her two sisters from that marriage speak candidly about the family's dysfunction, describing limited contact with a dad who was more about his agendas than theirs.

Even before all three ex-wives show up to take their shots on camera, Glen Small owns up to being bad at relationships and too focused on his work. He's apologetic but disinclined to change, going so far as to say that he finds women ''very sort of controlling and yappy.''

Still, there's something disarmingly lovable about this man, and the filmmaker does a sly job of capturing it. Despite her enviable access to a subject all too eager to hang himself, her movie never crosses into a portrait that seems disrespectful or unfair.

Vintage media clips, home movies, and the architect's vast garage archives help tell his story, along with interviews, contemporary footage, and Monty Python-esque animations. Scenes in circular frame effectively convey a fresh daughter's-eye view of her father's nonlinear universe; skillful editing keeps the whole package in balance.

Lucia Small has a distinct advantage over filmmakers such as fellow Bostonian Tom Curran (''Adrift''), whose cinematic exploration of the father-child bond came after his father's death. She makes full use of the fact that her father is still around, and always ready to say the darnedest things, by putting him on camera as much as possible. The result is a more organic and immediate film than Curran's, though even Small recognizes this brings her no closer to having all the answers.

What becomes a legend most? After all the talk of concrete monuments, it could just be the architect with a daughter who sees the lasting beauty in his life story.

A panel discussion titled ''Through a Daughter's Lens: Creating Narrative From Experience'' will follow the 6 p.m. screening of ''My Father, the Genius'' on Sept. 4. The full evening is $15 for MFA members, seniors, and students; $16 general admission. Tickets to the discussion only are $7. Call 617-369-3770 for reservations.

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THE BOSTON HERALD
August 24, 2002
"Bold look at dad nears 'Genius'"

``My Father, The Genius.'' Not rated. At the Museum of Fine Arts, today, tomorrow, Thursday through Aug. 31, and Sept. 1, 4, 8 and 15.

Like two other recent standout movies, ``The Kid Stays in the Picture'' and ``24 Hour Party People,'' Boston-based filmmaker Lucia Small's documentary ``My Father, The Genius'' thrives on having a central figure we sometimes adore and sometimes dislike.

He's Glen Small. He's Lucia's father.
At one point, the elder Small was a rising star in architecture. In the 1970s, he co-founded the iconoclastic Southern California Institute of Architecture and had grand, eco-friendly designs. But his most grand, the Biomorphic Biosphere Megastructure, literally and figuratively never got off the ground, while SCI-Arc later elbowed him off its faculty.

At about the same time his career started to slide, the architect left Lucia and her siblings' mother, embarking on a series of relationships with other women and becoming an absent dad.

The separation between Lucia and her dad is the filter through which ``My Father, The Genius'' flows. Miffed at how undocumented his work was, he asked her to write a biography of him. Instead, she made this movie.

The central question the title and the movie beg is: ``So is Glen Small a genius?'' Although every viewer will have an opinion, Lucia Small offers no simple answers and serves up her father, warts and all.

Glen Small turns out to have a very interesting mix of professional integrity and personal selfishness. The most amazing moment in ``My Father'' is a video clip of Small moderating a 1976 architectural panel discussion and tearing down all the participants as he introduces them. You shake your head at the lack of diplomacy, but are amazed by his boldness.

You'd have to sit through many a fiction film to find a character such as Small. And through her movie, Lucia Small lets us share her own ambiguous feelings toward him. ``My Father, The Genius'' is fascinating.

(``My Father, The Genius'' contains adult themes.)

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THE CAPE COD TIMES
June 16, 2002
"Festival documentaries outstanding offerings"

If you like documentaries (and if you don't, you should), you're in luck. The Provincetown International Film Festival is presenting three outstanding documentaries today as it wraps up this year's event. "My Father, the Genius," "Promises" and "Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns)" all are must-sees. Problem is, you won't be able to see all three today: The screenings for "My Father" and "Gigantic" overlap. But you can catch one of them, and then move on to "Promises."

In "My Father, the Genius," director Lucia Small presents a personal portrait of her father, architect Glen Howard Small. Early on, we get a sense of what we're in for, as daughter trains her hand-held camera on her father as he's driving. Lucia (off-camera): "Do you really think you're the world's greatest architect, Dad?" Glen (eyes on the road): "You always say that with such doubt, Lucy."

As you might expect from this exchange, we're talking about someone with an ego to match the size of his structures. He's also self-obsessed, more concerned about career than family. "Nobody ever sat me down and told me kids were important," he says. As for women, he describes them as "controlling and yappy." Is it any wonder that his family life is a disaster? But director Small - the middle daughter of three from Dad's first marriage - isn't doing a hatchet job on her old man. When he asks her to do his biography, and she agrees to do it in film form, she sees it as "a good opportunity to finally get to know him." Her sincerity is clear, and it's one of the things that makes the movie so special.

"My Father, the Genius" goes beyond biography. It provides an overview of her father's checkered career, and builds a case for him being a visionary, if not a genius. But it also depicts a troubled family and becomes, in itself, a unique way for a daughter and a father to connect in a way they never have before. It's fascinating and funny and surprisingly touching. No wonder it was named Best Documentary at the recent Newport International Film Festival.

My Father, The Genius
Rated 4 stars out of 4.

Tim Miller is the Times' entertainment editor. He can be reached at
508-862-1140 or tmiller@capecodonline.com.

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THE BOSTON GLOBE
January 22, 2002
"No Small Achievement"

Jamaica Plain-based filmmaker Lucia Small was one of two filmmakers to win in two categories at the just-concluded Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Her film, ''My Father, The Genius,'' won best documentary and best editing. Winning the Special Grand Jury Honor and the Audience Award was Mark Moskowitz 's ''Stone Reader.'' Penelope Spheeris, director of ''Wayne's World'' and the three ''Decline of Western Civilization'' punk/metal documentaries, called the festival '' exhilarating - one that all mainstream filmmakers could use to get back in touch with the passion that made them filmmakers in the first place.'' Spheeris was one of the jurors. ''The Holy Land,'' directed by Eitan Gorlin, won the Jury Prize for Best Feature.

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THE BOSTON HERALD
April 1, 2002
Family explorations form basis for two of festival's best films

Two fascinating personal documentaries highlight this year's New England Film & Video Festival, which opens today and runs through Saturday at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, Brattle Theatre and Museum of Fine Arts.

An interesting overlap exists between Lucia Small's ``My Father, The Genius'' (Friday, MFA), which took the Best of Festival prize, and Irene Lusztig's ``Reconstruction'' (Saturday, MFA), the Best Documentary winner.

Both are documentaries told in the first-person, through the director's own narration; both are about the relationship between the filmmaker and a family member they don't know well and both dig up painful family history. Above all, they are very involving emotional quests.

In "My Father, The Genius," Jamaica Plain resident Small trains her camera on her father, Glen Howard Small, an iconoclastic West Coast architect who has never achieved the widespread success that some expected.

Filmmaker Small had had only limited contact with her dad since she was a child, and the custody visits stemming from her parents' divorce stopped. Although the film was initiated by her father, who was peeved no one had ever written a book about his work, the younger Small uses it as the chance to figure out her enigmatic subject: Is he really an unheralded genius or just the guy who left his wife and three daughters and emotionally never looked back?

"My Father, The Genius" comes up with no definite answers, just richly lifelike ambiguities: that Glen Small has an admirable professional integrity, that he's not the most well-adjusted person, that he's a dreamer scarred by reality.

``Reconstruction'' is equally intimate, but it's even more of a mix of the ordinary and the extraordinary.

Here, Harvard graduate Lusztig explores both the life of her late Romanian grandmother, who in 1959 was convicted of taking part in a rare Iron Curtain bank robbery, and the emotional ripples the long-dead woman still stirs.

By traveling to Bucharest and beyond and interviewing relatives including her mother (who now lives in Greater Boston), Lusztig digs into her Eastern European roots, her Judaism and her family's dark secrets, as well as the relationship between fact and legend.

The festival's other films include winners and finalists in categories such as cinematography, performance and animation, in addition to several student film categories.

The New England Film & Video Festival, today through Saturday at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, Brattle Theatre and Museum of Fine Arts. Tickets: $8-$10. For a full listing of titles and showtimes, log on to www.bfvf.org.

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The Los Angeles Times
January 21, 2002
Women and Their Stories Merit Prizes

PARK CITY, Utah -- Women, as subjects and behind the camera in documentaries and dramatic features, were very much in the majority when the Sundance Film Festival announced its prizes at a Saturday night event that, apparently for economic reasons, did without a closing party for the first time in memory.

"Personal Velocity," the stories of three women (Parker Posey, Kyra Sedgwick and Fairuza Balk) leaving troublesome relationships with deeply clueless men, won the dramatic grand jury prize. Written and directed by Rebecca Miller, who wrote the short stories the film is based on, "Velocity" also took the cinematography award for Ellen Kuras, who has now won the prize an unprecedented three times, including once for Miller's previous Sundance feature, "Angela." The film will be released by United Artists.

"I can't believe this, I just can't believe this is happening," said an ecstatic Miller, who thanked her husband, actor Daniel Day Lewis, for his help in the editing room and in watching their child, as well as her parents (playwright Arthur Miller is her father) "for letting me move into their house and cut the film in their barn." Also winning two prizes, including the coveted dramatic audience award, was HBO's "Real Women Have Curves," set in the Latino community of East L.A. and directed by Patricia Cardoso. This warm, affirmative effort, a pleasant surprise among the usual Sundance detritus of films about addled slackers and women who bark like dogs, explores the conflicts between a bright, ambitious high school graduate and her caustic, difficult mother. Co-stars America Ferrera, a 17-year-old L.A. resident, and the veteran Lupe Ontiveros shared a special jury prize for acting and wept in each other's arms when accepting the award.

"I've been trying to get my first feature made for 10 years; there were many times when I was ready to give up and be a farmer or something," said director Cardoso. Co-screenwriter (with George LaVoo) Josefina Lopez, whose play was the basis for the script, thanked HBO: "I wrote this when I was 19 but it took 11 years to get made because no one had the courage to show real women on the screen."

On the documentary side, the grand jury prize went to "Daughter From Danang," directed by Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco, which explores how unexpectedly wide was the cultural gap between a Vietnamese American woman who was adopted by a U.S. family when she was 7 and the Vietnamese family she reunites with 22 years later. Franco thanked "our protagonists: They opened their lives to our cameras at moments so intimate we didn't know what to do."

The only documentary to take two prizes was Lee Hirsch's "Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony," a stirring examination of the role music played in South Africa's battle against apartheid, which earned the documentary audience award and the Freedom of Expression award.

Perhaps as frustrated as observers were by the dramatic competition's absence of completely realized films on the order of last year's "Deep End," "In the Bedroom" and "Memento," the jury overcompensated by handing out awards to numerous films. The dramatic directing award went to Gary Winick (one of the producers of "Personal Velocity") for "Tadpole," to be distributed by Miramax, a lightweight sex farce about a sophisticated 15-year-old boy who has a wicked crush on stepmother Sigourney Weaver.

Taking the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award was Gordy Hoffman for "Love Liza," acquired by Sony Pictures Classics, which stars his brother, Philip Seymour Hoffman, in a bravura performance as a husband who takes refuge in sniffing gasoline fumes when his wife commits suicide.

Aside from its award to "Real Women," the dramatic jury gave out two more special jury prizes. One, for ensemble cast, went to seven actors from "Manito," written and directed by Eric Eason, a gritty cinema verite drama about a Latino family's hard times in Manhattan's Washington Heights. And one for originality went to "Secretary," directed by Steven Shainberg and starring Maggie Gyllenhaal as a young woman whose life brightens up when she welcomes the sadistic attentions of attorney James Spader.

Some of the most satisfying features at Sundance didn't win anything, such as Finn Taylor's hard-to-classify "Cherish," one of the dramatic competition's better films. A whimsical screwball comedy linked to a dark stalker scenario, "Cherish" (to be distributed by Fine Line) details the relationship between a woman under house arrest (Robin Tunney) and the man who comes to check her electronic bracelet (Tim Blake Nelson).

Though it screened outside the competition, "Coastlines" was one of the strongest and most involving dramatic films at Sundance, showing once again why Florida-based Victor Nunez is the most impressive of regional filmmakers. "This is where I'm from," he said, "this is the only way I know how to make films." A thoughtful melodrama about the dislocation caused when a hunk of an ex-con returns to the small town where the sheriff and the sheriff's wife are his best friends, "Coastlines" mixes sense of place and the texture of everyday life with a menace-laden narrative about wanting to emotionally have it all.

On the documentary side, Rob Fruchtman and Rebecca Cammisa took the directing award for "Sister Helen," about a holy terror of a Benedictine nun who began a halfway house for recovering addicts in the South Bronx. Filming the feisty sister, said Fruchtman, was "like riding a wild pony." Added Cammisa, "we just basically showed up and she let it rip."

Daniel B. Gold won the excellence in cinematography award for "Blue Vinyl," which was co-directed by Judith Helfand and himself. Helfand, whose previous Sundance documentary "A Healthy Baby Girl" won a Peabody Award, has constructed that rare muckraking film with a sense of humor. Motivated by her parents' decision to put vinyl siding on her childhood home, Helfand and Gold take a personal and scientific look at the perils of manufacturing and disposing of what some people call "the most environmentally hazardous consumer product on Earth."

The documentary panel also gave out some special jury prizes. One went to documentary veteran Lourdes Portillo for "Senorita Extraviada," her investigation into the mysterious slayings of between 200 and 400 young women in Juarez, Mexico. And another went to John Walter's "How to Draw a Bunny," a droll look at elusive, enigmatic underground figure Ray Johnson, sometimes known as "the most famous unknown artist in America."

Not getting a prize but deserving one was Kristi Jacobson's "American Standoff," a deeply human, surprisingly heartbreaking look at a long and bitter ongoing strike the James P. Hoffa-led Teamsters are waging against Overnite, a powerful and union-hostile trucking company. Produced by Barbara Kopple, "Standoff" tells the always emotional stories of workers willing to give up everything they have for what they believe in.

Though the documentary field was especially strong this year, it doesn't justify one of the best documentaries in the festival, Lucy Walker's "Devil's Playground," being sadly left out of competition. Not only does "Playground" enter the rarely filmed Amish community, it deals in a poignant way with a little-known custom called rumspringa, where 16-year-old Amish kids are allowed to experience the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll of the outside world before deciding whether to give themselves to their restrictive church forever. This examination of the life-changing question one teen calls "to be or not to be Amish" is haunting, provocative and unexpected.

Shown as a work in progress was "Only the Strong Survive," the latest documentary by veterans Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker, which, like a vibrant American "Buena Vista Social Club," captures the performances of legendary rock and rhythm and blues stars like Wilson Pickett, Mary Wilson, Jerry Butler and Rufus and Carla Thomas, singers whose infectious music remains everything it ever was.

Documentaries also did well at the rival Slamdance Festival. "My Father, the Genius," Lucia Small's look at her dad, architect Glen Howard Small, was picked as the best documentary, while the audience feature award and a special jury honor went to Mark Moskowitz's documentary "Stone Reader," about the director's search for the vanished author of a highly praised novel.

The best dramatic feature was Eitan Gorlin's "The Holy Land," about an Israeli rabbinical student who falls in love with a prostitute. (Some of these films will be shown at the American Cinematheque's "Best of Slamdance" program at the Egyptian Theater on Feb. 6 and 7.)

It remained for director John Waters, a member of the Sundance dramatic jury, to put things in perspective. After listing several of the weird pastimes of characters in competition films, Waters tartly theorized that "if we didn't act this out on film instead of in person, we'd all be in prison. And this wouldn't be a film festival but a parole board hearing."

Amen to that.

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newenglandfilm.com
N.E. Filmmakers go for the Gold in Park City

Once again this January, thousands of festival-goers from around the world descended upon the tiny town of Park City in the middle of the Wasatch Mountains to view everything from documentaries and dramatic features to experimental shorts. Sundance, Slamdance, Slamdunk, and Tromadance Film Festivals all screened films from New England filmmakers as part of their 2002 line-ups in chilly Park City, Utah last month. Here's a look at some of the New England films that competed at the 2002 Park City festivals.

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Slamdance Film Festival

The Slamdance Film Festival is the oldest of the smaller festivals that have sprung up as alternatives to Sundance. For the second year in a row, Slamdance was held at the Silvermine, which actually is a working silver mine about a mile and a half from Slamdance's former home on Main Street in Park City. Four films from New England were shown at the Slamdance festival this year: "My Father, The Genius," "Easy Listening," "Water From the Moon," and "Delhi House."

Lucia Small's film "My Father, The Genius," is a documentary about her father Glen Howard Small. The film opens with a letter from Glen asking Lucia to write his biography. Instead, Lucia documents his life on film using footage of Glen as an ambitious young architect, home videos, photos, and interviews with Glen, his daughters, ex-wives, girlfriends, colleagues, friends, etc. Lucia's intimate and powerful film reveals Glen's unstable professional and private life and demonstrates how his priorities and choices shaped the course of his life.

"My Father, The Genius" won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at Slamdance and the film's editor Karen Schmeer took home the Slamdance prize for best editing. Karen is a graduate of Boston University who has edited films for Errol Morris, the well known Cambridge-based documentary filmmaker. As an additional New England connection, Laurel Greenberg, who made the award winning film "94 Years and One Nursing Home Later," did the principal photography for "My Father, The Genius." For more details about the documentary, visit www.smallangstfilms.com.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES
January 22, 2002
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK
Outsiders Capture the Spirit of the Early Sundance

PARK CITY, Utah, Jan. 20 - The Slamdance Film Festival, held in the shadow of Sundance here, ended its eighth annual gathering with an award ceremony that captured its underground, renegade spirit.

The Friday night event, held in the drafty Silver Mine, once a working mine, was a low-budget affair that had an inclusive family atmosphere. At some point or other, it seemed, almost everyone in the small but enthusiastic audience got a mention from one of the presenters.

Penelope Spheeris, the filmmaker and a juror for the festival, observed that the humble surroundings and the excitement of the audience was what Sundance itself, now 20 years old, must have been like in its early days.

This was moments after the awards were given out, when Peter Baxter, a Slamdance co-founder, thanked Ms. Spheeris for serving as a guiding light, observing that she embodied the renegade spirit of the independent filmmaker, a point made abundantly clear by her filmography, which includes the three punk documentary films called "The Decline of Western Civilization."

Slamdance, which still doesn't receive the coverage it deserves, is too good to be dismissed as a home for movies not good enough for release.

One of last year's best documentaries, "Hybrid," Monteith McCollum's film about a family caught up in the politics of crossbreeding corn, was screened at Slamdance before being selected for the New Directors/New Films series at the Museum of Modern Art.

In 1999 Christopher Nolan's no- budget noir thriller "Following" was shown, revealing his predilection for playing with time and with the audience's trust. The movie could have easily been given a slot in the Sundance competition that year. Two years later Mr. Nolan turned up at Sundance with "Memento," a critically praised film that unfolds in reverse as its protagonist, stricken with short-term memory loss, tries to solve a murder.

This year's opening night presentation was "13 Moons," a slippery outsider comedy about the world of television clowns, and it has already been picked up for distribution by Lot 47 Films. It was directed by Alexandre Rockwell, who is one of the co-writers, and stars Steve Buscemi, who also appeared in a Sundance movie, "Love in the Time of Money," an ensemble melodrama about sexual liaisons in New York.

"The Holy Land," set in Israel, won the jury prize for best feature, and it is a movie that seems determined to skewer audience complacency. In it an exotic dancer, Sasha (Tchelet Semel), poses a question to a conflicted young rabbinical student, Mendy (Oren Rehany): "Religious people, are they happier than regular people?" Written and directed by Eitan Gorlin, "Land" dramatizes the life of the stricken Mendy, who can't control his sexual desires. He's chastised by a rabbi for masturbating when he is caught with a copy of "Siddhartha." When he visits the club where he meets the stripper he falls in love with, his eyes are aflame with guilt and pleasure. The magnetic Sasha, whose soft, inviting figure hasn't been whipped by Pilates into Marines-ready shape, taunts him for showing his desires. "You have beautiful eyes," she declares"My Father, the Genius," this year's grand jury prize documentary winner, is a haunted, slightly accusatory film by Lucia Small in which she exposes her father's claims of architectural brilliance to fresh air and finds that they deteriorate.

The theme underlying "Genius," which also received an award for best editing, is the damage that can be caused to a family by a parent's obsession.

Other noteworthy films at Slamdance were "Louder than Bombs" from Poland, the winner for best cinematography, which was by Jola Dylewska, and the cheeky short experimental award winner, "Vessel Wrestling," a 13-minute animated film.

In that same spirit of cheekiness, the dark winter night provided Slamdance a chance to tweak the bigger competition. "Downhill Racer," the 1969 picture directed by Michael Ritchie and starring Robert Redford as a cynical Olympic skier, was projected by Slamdance on a mountain facing the Silver Mine.

If the programmers at Slamdance were determined to cement their outsider status - or freeze it in the bitterly cold night air, anyway - they succeeded.

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Salon.com
January 23, 2002
Doing the Sundance Shuffle

"…The irony was that while the powerful studios and distributors were swarming over Sundance, many of the best discoveries were two miles up the mountainside in the relative obscurity of the alternative Slamdance festival, which has recaptured much of the youthful, scrappy spirit that Sundance had before it became so absurdly famous.

Slamdance was where you could find intensely personal and risk-taking films such as "My Father, the Genius" by Lucia Small. The project began with the weird request of the filmmaker's father, Glen, who had been an extraordinarily promising and visionary architect in the 1960s and early '70s before his colossal arrogance derailed his career. During a period of especially harsh defeat, when he thought the world would never appreciate his genius, he put in his will that his daughter Lucia should write his biography after he died. Instead she made a gutsy documentary about him without waiting for his demise.

It was her way of finally getting to know her father, who she had seen only once a week as a child -- her parents divorced when she was 5 --and had rarely communicated with as an adult. The film shows Glen Small's brilliant and radical ideas about architecture and urban design that would harmonize with nature. But it also portrays how he pissed off the rest of the architectural establishment and caused his self-destruction. He could have been a giant like Frank Gehry, but he ruined his chances by making harshly critical statements about the real Gehry and their colleagues.

The film also shows Glen Small as a fiercely self-absorbed narcissist who largely abandoned his three wives and six children in his pursuits of his own talents and hedonistic pleasures. Glen was in financial ruin while Lucia Small shot the film, which forced her to max out her own credit cards and brought on the resentment of one of her sisters, who felt that she was using the project as a way of stealing away her father's attention and favor. The festival's premiere audience thrilled to the risky filmmaking and then gasped when Glen Small appeared afterward for the Q & A even though the movie often portrayed him so negatively. It was an awkward but charming moment. When asked what he thought of the film Glen was as egomaniacal and impolitic in person as on-screen: He said that he wished it had focused more on his work than his messy life."

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VARIETY
February 25-March 3, 2002
MY FATHER, THE GENIUS

The winner of the documentary jury prize at this year's Slamdance Film Festival, Lucia Small's "My Father, the Genius" is a touching and frequently illuminating inquiry into the life of a man who proclaims himself to be brilliant, regardless of the fact that only a few others support the claim. Pic, a natural for PBS and cable and for anyone interested in Southern California's architectural history, will screen March 28 in L.A. as part of the American Cinematheque's Alternative Screen series.

As title indicates, that man is director Small's father, the futurist and architect Glen Small, who despite a scattering of major work over 30 years, and his one-time prominence as a founding member of the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), never received the recognition given to his contemporaries Frank Gehry and Thom Mayne. In making this film, Small does much to draw attention to her father's work (the impetus for making the movie was Glen Small's request that his daughter write his biography), but it's also a gentle probing of a tender emotional realm.

Small and her two sisters were largely estranged from their father at the start of pic's making; as much as the finished work shows off her father's architectural gifts, it also depicts his utter failure to succeed as a husband and father. The results are both hilarious and heart-wrenching, as Small emerges with a clearer picture of her father, her sisters and herself than she could have imagined.

Small effectively positions her father as a trailblazer to set alongside Buckminster Fuller and I. M. Pei. Glen Small is a frazzle-haired, sunken-eyed visionary with a devil-may-care self-destructive streak. Among his designs: homes and apartment buildings, including some in the Hollywood Hills, composed of beautifully swooping, semicircular configurations. But Small is most passionate about some of his unrealized concepts, a series of eco-friendly, utopian designs with names like Biomorphic Biosphere and Green Machine. His mantra? "Practical things bother me to no end."

Glen Small considers himself a genius. It's what he's been telling himself, and anyone else who would listen (including two ex-wives and a few ex-girlfriends), for three decades, and Lucia Small is very good at showing how her father and his perceived brilliance have fed off of each other. While his youthful arrogance may have propelled the audacity of many of his designs, it also systematically cut him off from meaningful human relationships.

At one point, we see Small in heated conflict with a couple who have hired him to design their home -- his first major work in several years. They're concerned that the front door isn't visible enough; Small derides them for their predictability. He needs to be uncompromising in order to survive.

In addition to conducting present-day interviews with her father's contemporaries -- including his proclaimed arch-nemesis, Thom Mayne -- Lucia Small takes us through a brief history of her father's rise on the architectural scene, as part of the heralded "L.A. School" of architects that includes Mayne, Gehry and Eric Owen Moss. She marvels at the fecund imaginations of these men. And she digs up some marvelous archival footage, including a SCI-Arc panel from 1976 in which her father introduces Gehry as "a man about town; a hustler and an opportunist."

In visits to her siblings (one of whom is an artist) and her father's ex-wives, Small captures, so offhandedly that they seem like accidents, a series of deeply personal revelations, in which we see how profoundly Glen Small has affected the lives around him. His passion is contagious and his children are very much their father's daughters. For all the Smalls, who (like Glen himself) were initially reluctant to participate in the film, "My Father, the Genius" is a bridge over troubled waters.

Small's film is never as engaging visually as one would like. Even by conventional doc standards, there's a certain drabness to her images, goosed only by the appearance of Anne Loyer's occasional animations. It's a significant shortcoming for a movie about a man who relishes aesthetic pleasure.