Saturday, April 29, 2006

Film Baraka (Ron Fricke, 1992)

Tonight we saw Baraka, one of my all-time favorite films, as part of the Documentary Film Series at the Carrboro Century Center (where some classes that I teach are held). The unique film is a documentary with no dialogue but with stunning photography of how people around the world spend their time, focusing on cultural traditions.

The photography is stunning! This is the third time that I've seen the film, and each time on the big screen. I definitely want to continue to see it and be inspired by its amazing images!

The film is probably technically superior to the earlier (1983, directed by Godfrey Reggio) Koyaanisqatsi, another dialogue-less film that comes from a Hopi Indian word for "Life out of Balance", but Koyaanisqatsi gets the credit in my book for pioneering such a style of film, and remains, as well, one of my favorite films. It's part of a trilogy by Godfrey Reggio - I would love to see, on the big screen, the remaining two films, Powaqqatsi ("Life in Transformation", 1988) and Naqoyqatsi ("Life as War", 2002). Wikipedia has an interesting discussion of Koyaanisqatsi as well as of Baraka.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Film Darwin's Nightmare (Hubert Sauper, 2004)

Tonight I attended a popular showing, followed by a panel discussion, of Darwin's Nightmare that was shown as part of the Duke University Screen Society. It was a sobering film, worth seeing though it seemed it could have benefited from a little bit of editing down, that portrayed a rather hopeless situation for sub-Saharan Africa - in this case, Tanzania. From the Screen Society website:
Some time in the 1960's, in the heart of Africa, a new animal was introduced into Lake Victoria as a little scientific experiment. The Nile Perch, a voracious predator, extinguished almost the entire stock of the native fish species. However, the new fish multiplied so fast, that its white fillets are today exported all around the world. Huge hulking ex-Soviet cargo planes come daily to collect the latest catch in exchange for their southbound cargo and Kalashnikovs and ammunitions for the uncounted wars in the dark center of the continent. This booming multinational industry of fish and weapons has created an ungodly globalized alliance on the shores of the world's biggest tropical lake: an army of local fishermen, World bank agents, homeless children, African ministers, EU-commissioners, Tanzanian prostitutes and Russian pilots.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

4th and last day of Full Frame Film Festival

First some exciting news - in the early afternoon today, awards were announced and my favorite film (Smiling in a War Zone) won the Full Frame Women in Leadership Award! My second or third favorite film, I for India, won the Charles Guggenheim Emergine Artist Award. (I wish that The Twelve Disciples of Nelson Mandela would have also won an award.)

I also very much liked two films about Iraq, especially My Country, My Country, and it won the Full Frame Inspiration Award for the film that "best exemplifies the value and relevance of world religions and spirituality"); Iraq in Fragments won the big Grand Jury Award. Now the bad news - the festival is over!

Today we started with the second half or so of Time Piece, a commissioned work by the Full Frame Institute. Six U.S. and six Turkish filmmakers put together this collaborative effort, with each responsible for a short film on a particular time (early morning, morning, etc.) of the day. The last film on New York City food pushcarts and a film about an autistic child were my hilights.

I enjoyed the tangible realism and perspective in My Country, My Country, about the 2005 elections in Iraq, the first since Saddam Hussein's overthrow. It focuses on a doctor in Baghdad who decides to run, and his feelings about the state of occupied Iraq. It was well shot and included home, doctor's office, street, and Abu Garaib settings.

We saw Last Pullman Car, a film about the closing of the Pullman railcar factory. Interesting issues of labor vs. management were raised.

In the afternoon after awards were announced, several of the winning films were shown. 26-minute long No Umbrella Election Day in the City won the Full Frame Jury Award for Best Short, and I am glad that I got to see it since I missed it on Friday morning. It portrays difficulties that an African-American precinct in Cleveland experienced on election day in November 2004.

I didn't much enjoy Intimacy of Strangers, which won the Full Frame President's Award. It featured the private cell conversations of people in public places in London. I would have enjoyed talking with the filmmakers about how they were able to capture the audio from the phones and how they filmed unobtrusively.

Finally, I ended the Festival with Iraq in Fragments, which I could not get into for lack of seats on Friday. It was a three-part film, the first featuring 11-year-old Sunni Muslim Mohammed Haithem in Baghdad who had failed first grade several times and was working as a mechanic for his uncle. In the second section focusing on Shia Muslims in their stronghold of Naseriyah south of Baghdad, remarkable footage is shot of a kidnapping. I enjoyed the third part the best about the Kurdish north, photographed in a visually poetic manner. Unlike those in the first two parts, the family of focus seemed to be happy with the U.S. intervention in Iraq.

Other films that I would have enjoyed also seeing today include one about the New York Times crossworld puzzle, Wordplay. We missed all the Katrina films in the Festival, alas. We saw the first few minutes of Terry Sanford and the New South about legendary NC politician Terry Sanford, before we had to go to another film.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Day 3 of 4 of Full Frame Film Festival

It's too bad that Full Frame is almost over! Today was the best day for me.

We saw a great film and met its two Danish filmmakers, Smiling in a War Zone Simone Aaberg Kærn and Magnus Bejmar (and their cute infant!). Danish press report on a 16-year-old Afghan girl named Farial who dreams of being a fighter pilot. Artist Simone who has been trained to fly, read about this and decides to help make a dream come true; stretching what she can afford, she buys a small Piper-Colt plane made out of canvas, and flies 6000km to Kabul, along with her (slightly) more practical boyfriend Magnus to take Farial up and let her try flying. The film relates the bureacratic hoops they have to jump through to make this humanitarian mission happen (including getting visas and even flying illegally into American-controlled Afghan airspace), and the joy they bring to an Afghan teen. It was presented in a light and funny fashion, and was the first film I've attended this Festival this year to get a standing ovation. We need more Magnus and Simones in this world! I was so happy to have some time to chat with both of them after the screening. I am hoping that this film will win one of the Festival awards tomorrow.

I had wanted to see A Stravinsky Portrait, a tribute to filmmaker Richard Leacock, but seats weren't available. I went to see a film that I hadn't planned on, Thin. I'm glad I saw this well-made film, as it gave me an education about people with eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa. It followed a group of girls and women who have checked themselves into the Renfrew Center's Eating Disorders clinic in South Florida (Coconut Creek). In a surprisingly open and unjudgemental verité style, the filmmaker reveals the serious issues these patients face as they are filmed in private as well as in therapy and group sessions.

I had known a little about the revolutionary 1960s and 1970s Weather Underground who reacted to the Vietnam War and social injustice with violence and an avowed desire to overthrow the U.S. government, and learned much more by seeing The Weather Underground film. This wasn't a film in competition, but was chosen in the curated series on Class in America. It was a powerful film that, to me, reinforces the value of non-violent struggle for social change.

I saw Hammer and Flame, a short film about where ships past their useful life go in the Gujarat state of India to be disassembled. Only 10 minutes long and with no dialogue, the images of hard working folks often dressed in sandals, as well as repetitive hammering sounds, will stay with me for some time. Along with it was shown the feature-length Matthew Barney: No Restraint, a film about avant-garde performance artist Matthew Barney and his recent project he created on a Japanese whaling ship with Björk (who formed the Sugarcubes back in the 80s); the film was fine, but the art was a little beyond me.

I also saw the last half hour or so of The Chances of the World Changing, about an admirable man who has dedicated years of his life to helping endangered species in improving their chances of survival. There were several other films I would have liked to have seen, including Mr. Conservative about Barry Goldwater, the father of the contemporary conservative movement in the U.S.; Sir! No Sir! about soldiers who opposed the Vietnam War; the 20-minute The Intimacy of Strangers that let us drop in on cell phone romances; the almost 3-hour The Drug Years (sold out); and several New Orleans films; but a festival like this often requires tough choices to be made amongst up to six films being screened concurrently!

Friday, April 07, 2006

Day 2 of 4 of Full Frame Film Festival

We had wanted to see No Umbrella but had to miss it. We were delighted to see the almost 3 hour work-in-progress by Ken Burns, The War, about WWII told from the personal perspective of folks from four towns in the U.S. I believe what he showed us was episode 5 out of around 8 episodes. As always, his films are fabulous and the bottoms-up approach of relating personal episodes nicely illuminate his subjects. I saw most of The Angelmakers, about women in a number of villages in eastern Europe who had poisoned their husbands (in the 1920s?) when that seemed their only out since divorce was taboo.

I found the story of The Photographer, His Wife, Her Lover fascinating. It is about the black and white photographer of night-lit steam trains, Winston O. Link (in whose honor there is the only museum dedicated to one photographer in the U.S.), and his marriage to Conchita. Conchita has an affair and leaves Winston. Did she steal from his stock of valuable pictures? It was a documentary of a very interesting crime investigation.

I had wanted to see Iraq in Fragments, but couldn't get in to the sold-out showing. My wife saw it and spoke with the director; she said it was a very well made film. Instead, I caught the last hour or so of What Remains, a peek into the life of fine art photographer Sally Mann and her most recent work, a study of "what remains" after death.

My wife and I loved Twelve Disciples of Nelson Mandella, Thomas Allen Harris' biography of his stepfather, who was part of a group of 12 who went into exile to fight for South African freedom. It was also great talking with Thomas afterwards and building a connection with him.

Links of interest:

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Opening day of Full Frame Festival

We had an unchangeable important appointment about 2.5 hours away in Charlotte, so only had time to get our registration materials and see the first 30 or 35 minutes of Stranger with a Camera - what we saw was an intriguing story about Hugh O'Connor, a filmmaker in 1967 filming poverty in Eastern Kentucky, who was shot by a man, Hobart Ison. We got back in time to see some evening films, but the first we wanted to see (Workingman's Death) was sold out. We did see Sweet Monster and Wide Awake in the last film slot; I particularly enjoyed the former, a short film about a family trying to sleep with their child repeatedly coming to complain of monsters in his room.

By the way, enroute back to the festival, we discovered a great find, an all (or almost-all) volunteer run cafeteria (with significant and labeled vegan selections) in Winston-Salem with all profits going to charity, California Fresh Buffet. The food was good, the staff acted professionally, and the restaurant was one of the very cleanest I've eaten at!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Full Frame Festival is tomorrow through Sunday!

I have been active doing outreach for Full Frame. We're very lucky to have this world-class film festival in the town I live in, Durham, NC. It's the country's largest documentary film festival and this year features over 100 films. More than 1000 were submitted for films-in-competition; there are also several curated film series and workshops and parties, including films about Hurricane Katrina. The festival begins tomorrow and runs through Sunday - I'm going to try to catch as many films as possible.

To help me with outreach, I've been able to privately preview several films. I already wrote about I is for India, which I loved (and am considering purchasing the DVD, if it's available). Last night, I enjoyed the unbelievable-if-it-were-fiction, sad but true Freedom Summer, about the civil rights struggle in the 1960s and the violence and intolerance it faced. I also "relished" a few nights ago seeing Asparagus! A Stalk-umentary about the asparagus industry in Oceana County, Michigan. North Korea: A Day in the Life was a privileged view into a very closed society. Finally, I previewed John and Jane Toll Free, about Indian call centers.

I will make some comments here, but possibly not until after the festival is over. I also hope to write some reviews and publish them on the Internet Movie Database.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Musical Patience: Or Bunthorne's Bride

My good friend Chris Newlon has played leading roles in performances of the Durham Savoyards; I normally don't like musicals, but his involvement brings me to see the Gilbert & Sullivan performances he is part of. Tonight was the penultimate night of a few-night run of this season's fun and interesting story updated to the 1960s - it was fun with witty and fast-paced dialogue and interesting historical allusions to the 1960s. The libretto is available in the group's library.