Film Review: I Touched All Your Stuff (2015)

“It all started with the hippos.” Sitting in a yellow jumpsuit, somewhere in a Colombian jail, American Chris Kirk begins to tell his story — the story that I Touched All Your Stuff, examines and re-examines with no easy answers.

chris3
Credit: Primo Filmes/Cinema Slate

 

The story focuses on Chris, who after feeling restless and bored with his life in Olympia, Washington, decided to seek adventure — and drug lord Pablo Escobar’s hippos — in Colombia. While abroad Chris meets and falls for the mysterious V (the film’s somewhat forced femme fatale), and from that point on our story gets kind of convoluted. The film focuses on this relationship for a good amount of screen time, but the conclusions about it feel fruitless in relation to Chris and how he even ended up in prison in the first place. We don’t even get to hear from V, just about her and even then it’s not contributing much to the story. There’s also a bit of time spent on a practical joke involving Chris’s apartment being completely covered in aluminum foil  that garnered national attention (and gave the film its english title), but it also feels pointless — except for finding out that Chris has had an interest in books on con men. Stuff can sometimes feel like it’s trying too hard to find or assign meaning to all of this — but when this happens it mostly feels like grasping at potential significance instead of discovering something actually significant.

There’s no clear-cut path or answers in Stuff, but what is clear are the questions the film raises about believability and artifice — specifically in how it frames its main subject. Thanks to the 80GB hard drive Chris gave to filmmakers Maíra Bühler and Matias Mariani, we are given a mixed-media portrait of Chris, along with the usual doc techniques (some interviews with friends from Washington and Michigan, his home state). Chris is not only the film’s subject but its unreliable narrator helming most of the narrative with his voiceover, his computer files, and his side of the story. Despite all this access and the fact that Chris is also used for narration, there’s something that feels insincere about him.

Early on in the film one of his friends describes Chris as a Pinocchio-type character, saying, “he wanted to be real.” This line resonates increasingly as the film plays on. Chris tries his hardest to sell this story — at times you can see him trying to will the words into something believable — but it still feels hollow, the tip of the iceberg.  The film never finds the massive, intricate structure below the waves, but instead focuses on the surface, with little payoff.

Instead of reaching a moment of clarity, Stuff leaves us with unanswered questions, sometimes about its often incoherent narrative, but mainly about its subject. Chris never reveals anything below the surface of his story, and what we’re left with is something that feels abrupt and incomplete. Maybe that’s the point — that some stories and some people are simply unknowable.

Author’s note: This review was originally going to be published on http://www.austinvida.com/ in August 2015, but has been self-published here.

Pro-Syrian Refugee Protest Takes Place at Wooldridge Square Park

Carrying signs urging tolerance and acceptance, hundreds of people gathered in Wooldridge Square Park on November 22 to protest Governor Greg Abbott's remarks on Syrian refugees. Days earlier, Governor Abbott sent an open letter to President Barack Obama, informing him that the state would not be accepting Syrian refugees. "Texas cannot participate in any program that will result in Syrian refugees - any one of whom could be connected to terrorism - being resettled in Texas," Abbott wrote. Demonstrators attended the protest to counter the statement, which they considered inflammatory and Islamaphobic.
Carrying signs urging tolerance and acceptance, hundreds of people gathered in Wooldridge Square Park on November 22 to protest Governor Greg Abbott’s remarks on Syrian refugees. Days earlier, Governor Abbott sent an open letter to President Barack Obama, informing him that the state would not be accepting Syrian refugees. “Texas cannot participate in any program that will result in Syrian refugees – any one of whom could be connected to terrorism – being resettled in Texas,” Abbott wrote. Demonstrators attended the protest to counter the statement, which they considered inflammatory and Islamophobic.
After hearing about Governor Abbott's remarks, Miriam Kubary contacted several organizations and found out about the demonstration. Myluhu, Kubary and a third friend drove in from Houston earlier that morning. "I was born in Dallas, Texas. I'm also a Muslim and my dad came here from Syria in '84. Governor Abbott is supposed to represent me just like he represents all these people who think people like me are all terrorists."
After hearing about Governor Abbott’s remarks, Miriam Kubary contacted several organizations and found out about the demonstration. Myluhu, Kubary and a third friend drove in from Houston earlier that morning. “I was born in Dallas, Texas. I’m also a Muslim and my dad came here from Syria in ’84. Governor Abbott is supposed to represent me just like he represents all these people who think people like me are all terrorists.”
Graduate student Jasmine Myluhu, and two friends drove from Houston to attend the demonstration. "There are 2 billion Muslims on the planet. It's completely ridiculous to make an entire nation of 2 billion people pay for the mistakes of, literally, a group of assholes."
Graduate student Jasmine Myluhu, and two friends drove from Houston to attend the demonstration. “There are 2 billion Muslims on the planet. It’s completely ridiculous to make an entire nation of 2 billion people pay for the mistakes of, literally, a group of assholes.”
News of the demonstration reached Jill Lewis on Facebook. Lewis hoped that the demonstration would draw attention to the human dimensions of the debate. “Just to remind people that we’re all humans, you know? It doesn’t matter what color you are, what race you are.”
News of the demonstration reached Jill Lewis on Facebook. Lewis hoped that the demonstration would draw attention to the human dimensions of the debate.
“Just to remind people that we’re all humans, you know? It doesn’t matter what color you are, what race you are.”
Moved by the images from Syria, Rawlinson and Lewis felt compelled to show their support.“We’re both mothers, you know? I think the images that have been coming over have been really heartbreaking. I hope that people would open their hearts a little bit and minds and understand that the refugees are people who are not a threat to us.”
Moved by the images from Syria, Lisa Rawlinson (pictured) and Lewis felt compelled to show their support.“We’re both mothers, you know? I think the images that have been coming over have been really heartbreaking. I hope that people would open their hearts a little bit and minds and understand that the refugees are people who are not a threat to us.”
Members of The Syrian People Solidarity Group lead protestors in chants. The group organized the event, which garnered significant attention. According to the Facebook Event page for the protest, 6,400 people were interested in attending.
Members of The Syrian People Solidarity Group lead protestors in chants. The group organized the event, which garnered significant attention. According to the Facebook Event page for the protest, 6,400 people were interested in attending.
A protestor holds up a sign in English and Arabic that references a verse from the Quran.
A protestor holds up a sign in English and Arabic that references a verse from the Quran.
Demonstrators hold a banner with the word “Coexist” made with various religious symbols.
Demonstrators hold a banner with the word “Coexist” made with various religious symbols.
A protestor carries a sign comparing the Syrian refugees’  search for asylum to Mary and Joseph’s biblical search for shelter the night Jesus was born.
A protestor carries a sign comparing the Syrian refugees’ search for asylum to Mary and Joseph’s biblical search for
shelter the night Jesus was born.
Eventually the protestors ended the demonstration at the Governor’s mansion, where they chanted and held their signs.
Eventually the protestors ended the demonstration at the Governor’s mansion, where they chanted and held their signs.

Austin Continues to Be Green With New Solar Initiative

Austin’s tendency to uphold green energy continued at a recent City Council meeting
where a plan was approved to have one of Austin Independent School District’s newest schools
use supplemental solar power.

The unfinished school broke ground in August of last year, and still lacks a name, but for
now it’s called “North Central Elementary School Number 2.” The campus is set to open this
August.

The agenda from the April 10 meeting of the Austin City Council describes a ten-year
plan “to provide a performance-based incentive for the generation of solar energy.” The
undertaking is part of a collaboration between AISD and Austin Energy.

This won’t be the first time AISD has used solar energy for one of its campuses. Scott
Rouse, senior project manager of AISD’s Department of Construction Management said that
because solar energy has been successful at other AISD campuses, the district plans to
implement it broadly.

“Although the 245 kilowatt installation at North Central Elementary School Number 2 will
not bring this facility to a net-zero school, the energy generation and 12-year return on
investment will greatly reduce the yearly electrical cost at the campus,” Rouse said.

Local environmentalist Luke Metzger, director of the advocacy group Environment
Texas, said he believes solar power in schools is a logical step forward.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Metzger said. “Solar is a pollution-free energy source [that]
never runs out. Solar power at schools makes a lot of sense; you can really include it into the
curriculum to have the kids learn about the environment.”

Although plans to have any AISD school go completely solar are not in the works, the District
will continue to be increasingly green.

“There will not be a full transition from electric to solar power at a campus, but there are
plans (through the 2013 Bond Program) to supplement the energy usage at various campuses,
using solar and other efficiency improvements,” Rouse said.

The 2013 Bond Program, part of Proposition 1 that passed in 2011, set aside $20 million for
energy conservation and efficiency.

“Approximately half of this allocation will be dedicated to solar,” Rouse said.
Rouse said ,the decision to have North Central Elementary School Number 2 be the next
in AISD’s series of schools supplemented by solar power because its design was just right.

“North Central Elementary School Number 2, having just completed its design, was a good
candidate for its orientation, roof slope and schedule to receive a new roof system. A feasibility study was conducted with the project engineer, who confirmed and recommended the solar [photovoltaic] system at this site.”

The District will notice the savings right away.
“Once the Solar PV system is installed at North Central Elementary School Number 2,”  Rouse
said, “energy savings from the supplemented power generated will be immediate.”

 

The Artist

Growing up in a Mexican-American household, artist and University ofTexas senior Ashley Tristan was surrounded by her culture. Rich traditions like breaking piñatas at parties and hearing stories of lechuzas – witches who disguise themselves as owls – are all a part of Tristan’s childhood memories, which she heavily incorporates into her work.
In the Art Building at UT, Tristán is sitting against lockers in a quiet hallway, talking about her earliest interest in art. 
“I guess I really started liking it  when I was a kid because I wanted to get into animation for Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon.” She stops and laughs a bit. “It was a super ambitious kid-dream.”
Now, instead of animated aspirations, Tristan’s focus has shifted to a subject that’s closer to home. From her “kid-dream” about being a cartoon animator, Tristan now uses her artistic abilities to illustrate her childhood and start conversations about culture. She says that in her schoolwork she uses the Mexican/Latino lifestyle as away to talk about various subjects. “Mostly dealing with like childhood or poking at stereotypes, going through political movements and things like that,” she says while she leans her head against the lockers.
“That’s what I’ve been working on at school and I like it, I’ve developed my style [towards] that.” Tristán cites specific pieces of Chicano art, such as “Sun Mad,” by Ester Hernández, and performance groups, such as Asco, as highly influential on her work and style.
 Though she’s worked in different mediums, from sculpture (in the form of stuffed “bunnymen” and homemade piñatas that end up smashed) to painting, her medium of choice is printmaking, which furthers her exploration of Mexican culture because of its ties to the Chicano activist movement. When it was necessary to make protest signs and political posters, printmaking was affordable, therefore making the distribution of flyers and signs to a wide audience easier. 
In addition to the cultural and political ties that printmaking has, Tristán mentions that she enjoys going through the process of making prints and that printmaking is another way of adding character to her work.
Citing Tristán’s ability to raise awareness about issues regarding cultural identity, her peers and fellow artists appreciate the influences and cultural aspects of her work.“I appreciate the educational aspects of Ashley’s work and her efforts to bring awareness to issues such as racism, appropriation, immigration, etc.,” says Alexis Gardner, a fellow art student and friend of Tristán’s. “She enjoys learning about her culture, and I think it brings her a lot of joy and pride to share that with other people.” 
People also identify with her incorporation of her childhood growing up in a Latino household. Fellow artist and friend, Anastasia Miller thinks Tristán’s mix of personal experiences and her Chicano culture is something that stands out.
 “Her work comes from very personal place —  her own self-identity and past —  and I think it is courageous of her to continually try to get at something deeper and share the essence of her culture, through her eyes, with her viewer,” Miller says. 
While the bulk of her work is political, the core always goes back to Tristán’s roots and childhood. “…Mostly what always stick around is to my childhood and things that have to do with childhood.” Tristán says. “Every now and then there are, like, whimsical things going on .”
Her professor, Sandra Fernandez, says that while the roots of Tristán’s work remain the same as they did at the beginning, they’ve developed something new over time.“I think it has turned into something more interesting, which is having a point of view and a little bit of criticism, not accepting everything as it is. She’s not only reproducing her experiences, she’s recreating it,” Fernandez says. 
The hallway is quiet as Tristán passes the rows of lockers and walls displaying student art pieces to pick up her most recent series of prints. It’s part of an ongoing series that puts a twist on traditional Mexican bingo cards, or Lotería, by changing images to incorporate more women and infusing a political sensibility. The print Tristán takes out of her drawer is a re-imagining of the card for the hand, la mano. Instead of a single hand, there is a picture of a woman protesting, her hand raised in a fist.