Firefly Festival Day Two: 21 July 2012 - Dover, DE

Raymond Lee
Bombay Bicycle Club. Photo Credits: Valentina Collas

Friday’s incompetency and Saturday’s inconsistencies leading up to The Killers had prepared me to write off the entirety of Firefly.

Firefly Festival

City: Dover, DE
Venue: Dover Racetrack
Date: 2012-07-21

The second day of Firefly saw a surge in attendance, and though the rain clouds remained there was a palpable lifting of spirits amongst the stony eyed campers and festival followers. A cool breeze shifted fine mist from low hanging, heavy clouds giving the fair-grounds the appearance of a vaulted ceiling. A crepuscular light without source only served to enhance the other worldly scene at hand, as the hung-over students strung out from long drives and late night after-parties rubbed their eyes and prepared for the onslaught.

Along with the reasonably priced festival beer Ra Ra Riot was a fine choice to ease the pain of the night before and into the day. Their set was too brief, and perhaps their slot too early as the draw was minimal and somewhat subdued for such a raucous baroque performance. Then again, Policia with their 1:30 slot fared little better.

It wasn’t until Michael Franti took the main stage with his band Spearhead that the festival began to resemble the celebratory atmosphere of the night before. It might have been the unrelentingly positive vibrations issuing forth that drew the masses, or it might be the fact that since the legendary James Brown’s passing Michael Franti has become the hardest working man in show business. More often in the audience than on the stage, Mr. Franti interspersed his uplifting and often romantic tunes with personal anecdotes and everyman wisdom. And though only a fraction of the crowd knew enough of the band’s music to sing along, it seemed to increasingly multiply as the set continued. Contrasting the recent tragedy in Colorado against the power and simple joy of loving and being loved, Mr. Franti delighted his freshly won fans, drawing them in as if the performance held the intimacy of a house concert, to the lengths of even pulling festival goers onto stage to sing along and revel before the multitude. Without bias or favor, it is easy to report Micheal Franti and Spearhead’s performance as best to date for the Firefly line up.

Up next and also playing the main stage was Young the Giant who seemed to squander the excitement if not audience the previous act had summed up. They were technically proficient, sounding near studio quality, however their stage presence left much to be desired. As well it seemed they shied away from their better known tunes, only really coming to life for the finale and favorite, "My Body".

Across the way, on a stage known as the ‘the lawn’ all filler no killer, Cake did what they do best, played easy, catchy radio-friendly tunes to fill up the air. As was expected, between songs prima donna front man John McCrea generally insulted the crowd and took much too long to talk about himself in pointless meandering stories. And though not much of interest has happened with the group since “Fashion Nugget”, I’m ashamed to admit I stayed for the whole set in addition to being mildly entertained by it. There is no sweet in this life without bitter.

And if Cake be bitter, what could be sweeter than Trampled by Turtles? Relentlessly energetic despite all acoustic instrumentation the group played highlights from their severely under appreciated and starkly beautiful last release, Stars and Satellites, in addition to older material, all at finger bleeding speeds and with an intensity that stood in glaring contrast to the band’s rare ability with the slow and desultory numbers encompassing the bulk of their repertoire. In attendance were perhaps seventy people, but those fans -- the word is rarely used more appropriately -- danced wildly from the pure sonic joy of Trample’s performance, and sang with a conviction to drown out the noise bleed from the forty thousand cheering for Modest Mouse playing the main stage concurrently some hundred yards away behind a thicket.

The apt amongst you will realize here PopMatters correspondents have the physics defying ability to attend two separate shows at the same time. And since we’re on the subject of higher education, why don’t we shift the focus from science to mathematics? It’s a hard thing to grasp the staggeringly impossible odds Modest Mouse has overcome. This is a band that pulled massive success from the jaws of certain obscurity. They were the nineties equivalent of Trampled by Turtles. By this we mean in regards to their music there existed only two classes of people, the unknowing and the hopelessly devoted. Isaac Brock was much more likely to hit Powerball than to grace the stages of Firefly as sleeper-pull, guest artist.

And though the tension in the air looked like it could be cut with a knife, Modest Mouse played as if they were earning a paycheck. That’s not to imply the set wasn’t enjoyable, they spanned their entire career playing deep cuts, if not outright unpopular choices, for nearly two hours. It simply means Mr. Brock’s insanity and desperation has somewhat cooled with maturity. Song themes may have been radical, but their delivery was family friendly, creating out of a previously enchanted crowd a listless mob.

The rain had quit but the sky was grey and there was no sunset. All the rumors proved true. Passion Pit had dropped out of the show owing to physical/mental exhaustion, break up, stage fright or else (insert excuse here) and in their place played the poorly chosen Yeasayer. Nothing more will be related about this group’s less than stellar performance.

With disappointments mounting The Killers came as a sweet release. Due to the vice like grip of their hooks and the sickly sweet over production of their singles, it’s easy to assume the band is nothing more than another studio act. Their closing set Saturday night should serve as proof to any but the most jaded this is far from the truth. Ever dapper Brandon Flowers has a knack for showmanship that meets or exceeds his choice of fashion, and the combined choreography of fireworks and hot air balloons in conjunction with the ecstatically vibrant and tight sound of The Killers’ live performance created nothing less than a spectacle.

Friday’s incompetency and Saturday’s inconsistencies leading up to The Killers had prepared me to write off the entirety of Firefly as another east coast failure, another money grabbing one off scheme. But I couldn’t do that… not yet.

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Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

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Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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