Friday, August 12, 2005

Locarno Films part 1

Here are reviews of the films that were included in the international competition. All independent juries, in addition to the international jury, must see all the films in competition. I saw 22 films, 17 of them in competition. Two of the films are from the Human Rights track of the festival, something Locarno started two years ago. It is the only major festival to feature such a track. I apologize for the punctuation but this is an Italian/Swiss keyboard


We are All Fine – Iran, direcrted by Bizhan Miraqeri, 2005


The story of an Iranian family whose eldest son left five years previously for a foreign land to make his fortune. They have not heard from him in two years when they last received money from him. Now a man who says he is a friend of the son comes to the house and tells the family that their son wants them to make a video tape of each of them so he can bring it to the son. The younger son takes a week leave from the military to rent a camera. Each member of the family, including the missing son,s wife and daughter, his sister, parents and mute grandfather all have a message for the son that reveals how the family wishes it was. The ending is a sad, poignant, surprise about those left behind.


Although the hand-held video camera technique seems to be a cliche now, I think it works well for the film. They are a poor family and the son and daughter at home make great sacrifices to support everyone else so it is easy to imagine how they want to please the missing son but want to reveal an anger burning just below the surface. The acting is excellent and despite different countries and cultures, families are the same everywhere when it comes to children ... especially the first born son. I liked this film very much and it would be a fine film for international release.


Teenage Wasteland (Keller) – Germany, Austria, Italy-  directed by Eva Urthaler (first film) 2005


Two 16 year old boys, one poor and the son of an alcoholic mother, the other from a rich family, meet on the bus on the way to school and become friends. They start shoplifting and get caught by a shopgirl who is about 30. For no reason and with no plan, they kidnap her from her home, where they see her boyfriend hitting her, and take her to an abandoned warehouse where they have been spending their time looking at pornography. For no reason, they tie her up for a couple of days. Things go from bad to worse. The poor boy has a conscience but he is dominated by the other boy who is attracted, not to the woman, but to his so called friend. The woman tells the poor boy she needs her medicine and when he goes to her home to get it, he ends up gettting chased by the boyfriend, and on and on.


This is a very uncomfortable and violent  film centered on adolescent sexual explorations and its surreal ending does nothing to explain the actions of the two boys. The director admitted before the screening that she is not a specialist in adolescent behavior, but asked herself what would happen if... this film never came close to being on my short list. I hope it is not released  in the US. Like many films in the festival, the fathers are missing or play a minimal role in the lives of the families.


Fratricide – German, Luxemburg, France, directed by Zilman Arslan, 2005


They leave their homeland to reach goals only to realize they left themselves behind, says the voice of the child in the film, to reach money


People start to die, even if they live....


A Kurdish man (from the Turkish part of Kurdistan) sends money home so his 17 year old brother can join him in Germany. When the boys arrives he stays in a home for refugee Kurds run by Kurdish activists. The boy discovers that his older brother is a pimp and he is ashamed. The boy starts his own business as a barber to make some cash to send home. In a series of coincidents, the boy attracts the violent attention of some young Turkish thugs. Meanwhile, a very young Kurdish boy ends up in the home, and the older boy befriends him. Both are extremely kind-hearted and they take care of one another. The actions of the pimp as well as the Turkish immigrant thugs collide to a violent climax for the two younger boys.


Fratricide is an extremely well-made film that highlights the terrible situation of Kurdish immigrants and refugees to Europe, the struggles within the Kurdish community in Germany as well as the secularization of first generation young people who lose their values to violence in their new world. This film gives a whole new meaning to the word visceral – it is dark, violent and at the same time filled with kindness, goodness and friendship that asks nothing in return. I can see this film traveling well across the Atlantic, though to art house theaters.


Face Addict – not in competition, Italian, Swiss, directed by Edo Beroglio, 2005


A feature length documentary by Beroglio who returns to the New York fifteenyears after leaving it in order to find himself. The short version of this seemingly endless film is that Beroglio is a photographic artist, who was also a drug addict, though now clean. We meet his friends from New York of the late 60s and early 70s, from Andy Warhol,s Factory and the other artsy nihilistic drug heads that made up his world. As he tries to find the ones who did not die of drug overdoses, we learn that most have finally given up a life of art and drugs, to pursue their art.


Most of this film is slow and so utterly self-conscious I could hardly stand it. Then towards the end, we witness one of Beroglio,s friends actually coming clean and choosing life over certain death. This man (sorry, cannot recall his name) was at the screening and looking quite well. I did not know much about Warhol,s culture before and I don,t think I care so much now, but the film provided a close-up of a part of American life I did not know before. It is a strong anti-drug film as well.


In the Morning, USA, Danielle Laurie, 2004, documentary, 10 mins. – not in competition



This well-written and directed brief fictional documentary is about ,honor killings, carried out in Islamic cultures – a human rights issue that the UN is monitoring. The film cuts back and forth between the brutal rape (though we do not see it) of a young woman and a back room conversation her father and uncles are having two months later when the young woman is pregnant. We think they are taking about tracking down the rapist and killing him, that the 13 year old brother of the young woman can do it because if he is caught he will only get a few years in prison but they would probably get much more time if caught. The next morning, the young boy kills his sister.



Faces of Change, USA, Brazil, Mauritana, India, Bulgaria, South Africa, Michelle Stephenson, 2005 - not in competition



In preparation for the UN Conference on Discrimination held in South Africa two or three years ago, director Michelle Stephenson, an attorney and human rights documentary maker from New York, obtained a grant from the Ford Foundation to help local people document their situations for the conference. This project was four years in the making. Though it is going to sound like BORN INTO BROTHELS, it is decidely not. The main difference is that in BROTHELS, the director was present everywhere in the film and in FACES OF CHANGE, the voices are only those of the five people and their communities, one each from Brazil, the USA, Mauritania, Bulgaria and India.


A few months before the UN conference, the five local activists, selected by their communities or identified by the Ford Foundation, were flown to New York for a two-day training session. The first day was how to use commercial video cameras and sound equipment and the second day on how to beging framing their stories which were all centered around some kind of systemic discrimination in their countries. The people then sent in their tapes, more than 300 hours by the end, every week, and were directed by Stephenson via email and phone, based on what they sent in. Helping the new filmmakers to focus on one aspect of their stories was the most challenging part of the initial effort for the UN Conference, and finally for this longer version screened at the festival


Bulgaria- How the Roma children are not given equal educational opportunities. The filmmaker is a Gypsy himself, but who was raised by his parents away from the community. He had become a doctor, and then a lawyer, to help advance his people. He now realizes he must become a teacher and that it is the Roma community itself, not the state officials, that must generate its own advancement. He has married a non-Roma woman who does not think their children should claim their Gypsy roots when they go to school


Mauritania – 40% of the people in Mauritania are slaves, without any rights, whose children can be taken away and sold, though the government does not acknowledge this problem and reality. This section documents the situation. The local filmmaker is elected mayor of his town but shortly after the anti-slavery political party he is part of, is declared illegal by the government. However, he continues to be mayor and to fight the situation


USA – The story of environmental racism in New Orleans. A housing development was built near downtown New Orleans on top of a toxic dump and the selling of the homes tageted at African American families. When the people started getting tumors, cancers, and serious respitory diseases, one local woman gathered the community to go to the EPA (enviornmental protection agency) in Washington, the City of New Orleans, etc. The EPA came out and tested the site, agreed it was toxic and nothing happened. When a lawsuit was finally brought, and publically posted in the Times-Picyune, the woman was elated. She said it was front page news for them (the irony I saw was that as usual, news about the Black community in New Orleans is listed in the back pages, not the front pages, and in this case, the page fcing the obituaries.)


India – The filmmaker belongs to the ,untouchables, the lowest of the Hindu caste system. They are untouchable because they make the drums that are played at Hindu funerals. The drums are made from cow skins, which no one can touch – except these untouchables. The man himself was taken by his parents and raised in a city, so that no one knows he belongs to the ,Dalit, people. He has also married outside his caste and though his wife knows of course, they do not tell anyone in her family so that her sister will be able to find a husband and not suffer from being linked to an untouchable


Brazil – The filmmaker is a woman who wanted to become an actress in Rio, but she always lost out to actresses who were white. She became pregnant and returned to her village. She saw how young unmarried non-white pregnant girls were treated, and she documents this reality while working as an activist and going to school. Today she has returned to Rio with her son where she continues this work while building a business that makes wedding videos


Can this film effect change, asked Stephenson at the screening. She has no illusions of grandeur and believes in the ripple effect that the work of the local videographers has generated – just by having a camera and the power to speak


The film includes footage of the UN conference on racism in Durban, SA


Stepheson,s next film will be on survivors of domestic violence in the Hatian community in Brooklyn and the after that a feature film on the life of Toussaint Overture who led the Hatian Revolution in the 18th century.


Peter Malone and I met the director on the bus from the hotel one morning and she invited us to see FACES OF CHANGE. The entire jury was able to see it as well.

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