Contests of speed and skill offer a natural attraction for documentarians looking for a story, particularly when serious competitors transform a seemingly mundane action into something extraordinary. Directors Justine Jacob and Alex D. da Silva found a good one for their new film National Grocers Association Best Bagger Championship in Las Vegas.
This documentary premiered last June at the Los Angeles Film Festival, went on to screen at fests in Austin and Indianapolis and is scheduled for others in Hawai'i and Arizona before coming to Madison for the Wisconsin Film Festival this spring. It was made after Jacob won the best pitch award at a Sundance Producers Conference shortly after learning about the nascent competition; the filmmakers subsequently visited with the winners of 21 state competitions before selecting the characters featured at the heart of the story.
Paper or Plastic? is being cited by reviewers as the one of the latest in a recent line of documentaries that offers drama via competition, others including Word Wars for Scrabble, Spell Bound for the National Spelling Bee, and Word Play for competitive crossword. An example closer to home is Triviatown, a doc about the annual radio call-in trivia contest in Stevens Point that screened at the Wisconsin Film Fest in 2006. Jacob emphasizes the film looks beyond the competition, though, centered as it is on a familiar everyday experience.
The 2009 edition of the Best Bagger Championship was held at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel on Thursday, February 5. Wisconsin was represented by the 18-year-old Jared Seidel, who works at a Festival Foods in Marshfield, winner of the Great Wisconsin Bag-off that was held in Madison last October. He didn't win the national competition, but did the Badger State proud nevertheless.
The official trailer for Paper or Plastic? follows.
The documentary premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival last summer also included a promotional event in the form of a bagging competition, of which a brief video clip captured the spectacle. There are plenty other online videos out there that feature bagging competitions, including one from the Utah Food Industry Association Best Bagger championship for 2008, and another from a competition at the Iowa State Fair.
More information about Paper or Plastic? can be found on Facebook, and MySpace, as well as in a preview by Austinist and a review from with indieWIRE in advance of its screening in L.A. " We want to tell a contemporary American story," declared the latter, "and show how a trivial and very common part of everyday life can become the celebration of achievement and courtesy."
The eleventh Wisconsin Film Festival runs from Thursday, April 2 through Sunday, April 5. Tickets go on sale on Saturday, March 7.