The COVID-19 shutdown has hit independent theaters and film programs especially hard. But the DocYard, perhaps the Boston area’s best resource for new documentaries and a fixture at the Brattle Theatre, has like others taken their show online. They tested out the venue last month with a virtual screening of “No Data Plan” (2019), followed by an interview with the Filipino-American director Miko Revereza. That proved successful, and they are following up April 24-27 with Marnie Ellen Hertzler’s meditative, dreamlike, visually arresting, and philosophically challenging debut, the docu-fiction hybrid “Crestone.”
DocYard guest curator Abby Sun found these two films especially relevant to the current crisis. “They intelligently and gracefully address subjects that have been heightened during COVID-19,” she wrote in an e-mail. “And [they] were being distributed independently . . . meaning that we could work very closely in figuring out terms and ways of doing virtual screenings & Q&As. One thing I am very wary about is how the stampede to online screenings has actually further wrestled negotiating power away from theaters.”
Sun finds “Crestone” especially resonant in this period of isolation, uncertainty, and fear. “Crestone” “illustrates millennial dread and ennui better than any other film I’ve seen, especially the way it merges form and content,” she explained. “It does so by placing its subjects in a fictional ‘end of the world’ apocalyptic scenario, and in a way that is pastel-hued instead of overbearing, with its subjects living as hermits and shying away from outside interaction. This is a feeling that a lot of people had before mass lockdowns, and it happens because of a view of the future that accepts large-scale catastrophes as a part of life. It’s only now that almost everyone has a taste of what this might feel like.”
“Crestone” establishes its apocalyptic tone from the beginning, with a music video featuring men in masks wielding guns and giving the finger to the camera. “This movie is a love letter,” Hertzler says in voice-over. “This movie is about the end of the world.”
The love letter is to high school friends, aspiring rappers who fled the world and found refuge in the stark, picturesque desert of Crestone, Colo. Living in abandoned buildings, they grow pot, smoke weed, paint ominous images like the giant bunny from “Donnie Darko” (2001), make impressive rap videos for SoundCloud, scavenge for food and water, pillage abandoned habitations, eat fried baloney sandwiches with mayonnaise, and expand their consciousness. “Things are not linear,” says one of the young men in voice-over while Sloppy, their informal leader, engages in gladiatorial exercises with a sword and shield. “The world is collapsing within itself but opening into a new world.” He might well be describing the film itself.
When a genuine, apocalyptic danger approaches, the group is unmoved. A wildfire threatens the Crestone area, filling the air with the smell of smoke. The filmmaker urges them to evacuate, but to no avail. Meanwhile a stranger passes by on a homemade motorized bicycle. He is en route to California in search of an idyllic place to live. Sloppy gives him a pair of goggles, the bicyclist rides off, and is seen later blithely riding along an empty highway. The wilderness he is passing through is ablaze.
Though the film evokes doomsday, the future of the DocYard seems secure. “The DocYard is a program of the LEF Foundation, a private family foundation,” wrote Sun. “We’re very lucky that they understand the need for supporting filmmakers and film programming.
“One thing I am very wary about,” she added, “is how the stampede to online screenings has further wrestled negotiating power away from theaters and placed a lot of information, like mailing lists, addresses, and box office reporting, more firmly in the hands of distributors. If we can organize screenings independently and with transparency we can uplift theatrical partners, those handling the films, and filmmakers, together.”
Further streaming events have yet to be confirmed, Sun noted, “but we’re definitely interested in doing so and working towards making it happen.” One complicating factor is a happy one, she wrote: “People are hopeful about in person screenings in the fall, so that is delaying decision making even further!”
“Crestone” can be streamed April 24-27 via thedocyard.com. A Q&A with Hertzler will take place at 8 p.m. on April 27 via Zoom and mirrored live on YouTube.
Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.