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Notes on the 13th Annual PIFF

Henry Thoreau said of the song of the wood thrush: "Whenever a man hears it, he is young and Nature is in her spring; Whenever he hears it, it is a new world and a free country, and the gates of heaven are not shut against him." For some reason, Provincetown is full of these birds, appropriately so given the film festival's avowed intent to present "filmmaking on the edge."

Had Thoreau been waiting in line with John Waters for a screening Friday afternoon at the Schoolhouse Theatre, he might also have found in him another emblem of liberty even though the veteran cinematic transgressor was immersed on his iPhone (he would later turn up in a cameo in Ash  Christian's "Mangus").

 The film we were waiting for was "Hit So Hard," a profile of Hole drummer Patty Schemel by P. David Ebersole. It included some of the hundreds of hours of video footage that Schemel took of the band, its lead singer songwriter Courtney Love, her husband Kurt Cobain, and their baby Frances, from the openly gay musician's heyday of creativity and success to her nadir of addiction and finally her rehabilitation. Not your typical home movie, though Schemel's mother brings a touching element of small town normality. "She had job at Microsoft," she says about her daughter's decision to dedicate her life to rock and roll. "What was she thinking?"

Ebersole managed to interview Love for the film, and her blowsy black comic attitude and what-the-fuck frankness, coupled with make-up that could best be described as whimsical, alone makes this a film worth watching.

Another artist on the edge, though with fewer incidents of binge drinking, addiction, suicide, overdose, and smashed instruments, is the twenty-something chef Paul Liebrandt in Sally Rowe's  documentary "A Matter of Taste."  Shown posing for photos in a blood-spattered apron next to a dripping, severed pig's head, Liebrandt says "I'm not a nutcase. I'm just an artist." It's a calling that has him working in kitchens 18 hours a day creating such challenging dishes as chocolate covered scallops and wasabi-apple sorbet.

As a sympathetic food critic puts it, Liebrandt obsessively deconstructs traditional cuisine, creating the culinary equivalent of twelve tone music. Rowe's film is likewise a labor of love, though in a more conventional style, as she followed Liebrandt from 2001 when the post-9/11 mood made everyone want comfort food like burgers and fries, through subsequent years when he struggled to find a suitable venue for his avant garde foodie visions and finally get a three star review in the all-important "New York Times," up to the present day where he reigns in triumph at the hot Corton restaurant.

Speaking of artistic triumphs, the festival annually serves up a version of its own in its awards ceremony, which includes a Q & A with the honorees and is one of the most entertaining such events around. That's due in part to the ubiquitous Waters, the winner of the first "Filmmaker on the Edge" who has interviewed on stage the winner of that prize every year since. Impeccable in a jacket with a black and white skulls and daisies print, Waters good-naturedly grilled the this year's  recipient, "Black Swan" (director Darren Aronofsky, and as usual had most of the best lines. On a serious note he commiserated with Aronofsky, about the NC-17 rating he got for "Requiem for a Dream" (2000), it to his own censorship problems with the innocuous "A Dirty Shame" (2004).  Incredulous about the MPAA's puritanical standards, he asked Aronofsky, "What was it [the NC-17]  for? The drugs?" Aronofsky replied, "Well, there were the dildos. Though they had condoms on them, so we were actually promoting safe sex."

But maybe the edgiest remarks came from the Career Achievement Award  winner, Albert Maysles, whose pioneering films such as "Primary," "Salesman," "Gimme Shelter," and "Grey Gardens" helped shape the documentary movement and perhaps bear some indirect responsibility for the all-pervasive perversion know as Reality TV. Asked by an audience member what he thought of the latter he said, "I'm a big fan of reality. I think that answers your question."

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