Editor's Note:The following documentary will stream on the Film web site Fandor for 24 hours starting midnight Friday July 29, 2011 until midnight Saturday July 30, 2011.
By Edward Copeland
Press Play Contributor
When the Welsh documentary Sleep Furiously begins, a colorfully costumed man traverses a barren rural road bearing a walking stick, followed by two small dogs, ringing a bell. Promotional photos identify the individual as the town crier, but he's not relaying any news, not that anyone is near to hear it if he had anything to share. That's similar to the approach director Gideon Koppel takes with his unusual documentary about a small farming community in mid-Wales. The film, which played around Europe and the U.K. in 2008 and 2009, will make its U.S. theatrical release debut Friday at New York's Cinema Village while, beginning at midnight Eastern time Sleep Furiously also will be available for 24 hours online at Fandor.com along with its companion featurette A Sketchbook for the Library Van. Following that 24 hour period, Sleep Furiously will vanish from Fandor's library as it continues to play theatrically but A Sketchbook for the Library Van, a shorter film Koppel made that enabled him to make Sleep Furiously, will remain on Fandor.
Sleep Furiously is the second time a film's distributor, in this case Microcinema International, has teamed with Fandor to pioneer a new way of coordinated digital-theatrical releasing of films. Fandor's first effort came in June with the re-release of the previously unavailable classic 1967 mockumentary David Holtzman's Diary. For most living in America, Fandor remains the only place David Holtzman's Diary can be seen since it has never been released on a Region 1 DVD, though Kino Lorber has announced that a DVD and Blu-ray are forthcoming on Aug. 16 and are available for pre-ordering now.
In Koppel's director statement that's included in press materials, he emphasizes that when he set out to make Sleep Furiously, he sought to make a film that was "evocative" of the mid-Wales farming community of Trefeurig where his Jewish parents sought refuge rather than being "about" the area as you would find in a more typical documentary and that's exactly what hel does.
The title's origin comes from a sentence composed by Noam Chomsky in 1955 that said "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously." Chomsky was making the point that a sentence could be grammatically correct while at the same time being semantically nonsensical. That serves as a useful bookend for the quote that closes the film:
It is only when I sense the end of things that I find the courage to speak. The courage but not the words.
The featurette by Gideon Koppel, A Sketchbook for The Library Van, works almost as the exact opposite of Sleep Furiously. Koppel filmed it in 2005 as he was seeking funding to make Sleep Furiously.
Filmed in black and white, while there are some shots of Trefeurig and The Library Van, the bulk of its running time consists of members of the community standing against a white background and sharing tales about themselves and Trefeurig. In a way, it might be more interesting to watch Sketchbook first so when some of the same people pop up in Sleep Furiously you'll have a better idea who they are.
The one detail both films have in a common is the focus on The Library Van, which is interesting, considering what a small, rural area John Jones continues to service, bringing books, in both Welsh and English, to members of the community to read. The synopsis may say the feature's emphasizes the dying of a way of life, but both Sleep Furiously and the short may have agriculture in their hearts, but they have reading on their minds and that's always a good thing, and while some modernization inevitably occurs, at least they know nothing of a Kindle and read the way you should.
Edward Copeland is a former professional journalist and critic whose career got sidelined by multple sclerosis and other medical mishaps. Now, he just writes what he wants to write about and is editor-in-chief of his own blog Edward Copeland on Film where he has many contributors and covers topics besides film including TV, theater, music and books. This piece can also be found at Edward Copeland on Film here.