Recommended Films: 8/6-8/14
This week, two of the most interesting festivals get underway with their tenth programs: The Arab Film Festival and the Madcat Women's Film Festival. Both, as you might expect, get my highest recommendation.
The Arab Film Festival offers Americans the all-too-rare chance to see films produced in countries that our pathologically perverse leaders would rather have us experience through their own myth-making apparatus. Almost none of these films will be distributed widely in the U.S., so this is your best chance to see the world through different eyes. Turn off your television and go learn something at the movies. These are the ones that look most exciting to me:
Zozo (2005) is about a young Lebanese boy who makes his way to Sweden as a direct result of the Lebanese Civil War in 1987. Director Josef Fares contrasts the harsh reality of Zozo's life in both countries with elements of magical realism (including Zozo's pet chicken) to craft what looks to be a compelling story about the prospects of a stranger in a strange land. Check out the film's trailer here. A clip from the film can be seen here. Fares is a 28-year-old Lebanese who fled, with his parents, to Sweden at the age of 10, where he's become a successful film director. Zozo won the Swedish Film Institute's Golden Beetle for cinematography (Aril Wretblad) and music (Adam Nordén), the Spirit of Freedom award at the Bahamas International Film Festival, and was Sweden's entry in the 2006 Academy Awards. It shows in 35mm film at the Roxie Cinema at 7 p.m. Friday, 9/8 and at 9:15 p.m., Tuesday, 9/12. You can also catch it at San Jose's Camera 12, Sunday, 9/10, 4:30 p.m.
Waiting tells the story of Ahmad, a Palestinian theater director whose plans to leave the country are disrupted when he takes on the job of assembling a new troupe for the Palestinian National Theatre. Director Rashid Masharawi uses a mock documentary style as the camera follows Ahmad as he travels through refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, seeking performers who best embody the current zeitgeist of Palestine: waiting. Masharawi was born in a Gaza refugee camp in 1962. He's made six documentaries. Waiting is his fourth feature. In the press notes, he writes: “We Palestinians have the feeling of not being in control of our destiny. The hope of a possible solution comes around regularly, but has fallen apart and then we just start waiting again. Waiting has become an integral part of our lives. It’s at the root of our entire being.” Waiting plays in 35mm at the San Jose's Camera 12 , 9 p.m. Sunday, 9/10, and at Berkeley's California Theatre, 5 p.m., Saturday, 9/16.
The Blood of My Brother tells the story of what happens after an Iraqi civilian—a portrait photographer—is killed by American troops. Director Andrew Berends offers an Iraqi-produced look at what is motivating the Shia uprising in the country America “liberated” so effectively that it must keep a force of 140,000 troops there. The official website is here, and you can see the trailer here. See it in Beta SP video at the Roxie Cinema, 6:30 p.m., Monday, 9/11, and at Berkeley's California Theatre, 9:30 p.m., Saturday, 9/16.
Sound of the Soul (2005) is a documentary about the Fez Festival of World Sacred Music, held annually in Morocco. Jewish musicians perform alongside African Berbers, a Portugeuse Fado singer, a gospel band from Harlem, and artists from Ireland, Afghanistan, Russia, England, Mauritania and Turkey. Director Stephen Olsson captures a Sephardic singer as she says “I think the organizers of the festival are very brave, because it is not really easy at this time in history to invite Jews to play in public. But everything here felt fine. It was a very powerful moment.” Sound of the Soul screens in Beta SP video at the Roxie Cinema, 6:15 p.m., Saturday, 9/9.
Sacrifices (2002) is Oussama Mohammed's startling look at the ways that power and violence work in tandem to support each other. A Syrian patriarch is dying, and his family coalesces around him as his dissolution prompts changes. Compared to the films of Andrei Tarkovsky, Sacrifices is not an easy film to see in this country, so take this opportunity if you can. It's at the Roxie Cinema, 6:30 p.m., Thursday, 9/14. It's also at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, 8:45 p.m., Saturday, 9/9.
Sacred Space Denied: Bethlehem and the Wall (2005) is a 20 minute short video documenting the human cost of Israel's security barrier in the sacred city. Peter J. Nagle and Hanna Musleh demonstrate how the large structure occupies more and more Palestinian territory while it divides families and creates more disruption than security. It's part of a program of short films that screens at the Roxie Cinema, 2:15 p.m. Sunday, 9/10.
I Know I'm Not Alone is Michael Franti's documentary about his trips to Iraq and Palestine. A founding member of the Beatnigs, the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, and currently the singer and composer for Spearhead, Oakland native Franti uses the camera and his music to document the human cost of perpetual war. It screens at the Roxie Cinema, 9 p.m., Monday, 9/11.
Goal Dreams follows the exploits of the Palestinian national football (soccer) team as it works to overcome obstacles (the players speak different languages, it has no home field, it's surrounded by soldiers, etc.) as they try to qualify for the 2006 World Cup. This Palestinian production, by directors/producers Jeffrey Saunders and Maya Sanbar, was screened on the Bethlehem Wall during the World Cup matches this past summer. See it in Beta SP video at the Roxie Cinema, 4 p.m., Sunday, 9/10, at Berkeley's California Theatre, 9 p.m., Friday, 9/15, and at San Jose's Camera 12, 2:30 p.m., Sunday, 9/17.
Ahlaam may be the most exciting film in the festival. Shot in Baghdad during the ongoing American occupation and the various insurgencies, Ahlaam tells the personal stories of a young woman who's been in a psychotic asylum since her husband-to-be was seized at the wedding by Saddam Hussein's thugs. American shells destroy the hospital, and she finds herself wandering the streets of devastated Baghdad, where she meets other lost souls—damaged by Baathist brutality and ravaged by American “liberation.” The production of this film makes the experience of Roberto Rosselini and the Italian neorealists look like a walk in the park: The crew carried AK-47 weapons. Some were abducted by insurgents, others were kidnapped by American troops. It's miraculous that the film was made at all. It's even more miraculous that it's made its way through America's blockade of information that runs counter to its own propaganda. This one is not be missed. (I'd point you to the trailer, but the site's been down for the past two days, and even Google's cached site is eerily empty.) See its U.S. premiere in 35mm at the Cubberly Auditorium at Stanford University, Palo Alto, 8:30 p.m., Tuesday, 9/12, at the Roxie Cinema, 9 p.m., Thursday, 9/14, and at Berkeley's California Theatre, 2 p.m., Sunday, 9/17.
The Arab Film Festival continues through 9/15. Check out their site for more programs and information.
The Madcat Women's Film Festival consistently showcases outstanding features, documentaries and lots and lots of shorts by women filmmakers. This festival earned a warm spot in my heart by introducing me to one of my all-time favorite documentaries, Caroline Martel's The Phantom of the Operator, which is sadly, not coming to a theater near you any time soon.
This year's 10th anniversary festival opens with a program called Dwellers, featuring meditations on the concept of habitation (a difficult topic here in the Bay Area, where there's an avaricious clone with a line of credit burning a hole in his/her soul, anxious to become an evictor-in-common and take over your home for a Sunset Magazine-inspired nightmare). Among the shorts in the program is Dear Bill Gates (2005), an imagined correspondence on the co-opting of history and culture for commerce, by Sarah Christman, co-director of Bush for Peace. Also featured is Kerry Laitala's Terra Firma (2005), a montage of images by Eadweard Muybridge and other photographers, plus footage from A Trip Down Market Street (1906), a Miles Brothers actuality filmed from a streetcar on San Francisco's main drag four days before the 1906 earthquake and fire. There's also Viewmaster Documentaries with Live Narration by Greta Snider, a four minute 3-D collection of GAF nostalgia. Plus more, of course, at the El Rio, Tuesday, 8/12, 8:30 p.m. (barbecue at 6:30 p.m.)
The second MadCat show is a retrospective highlighting 16mm films that screened at previous MadCat gatherings, at the El Rio, 8:30 p.m. Wednesday 9/13 (barbecue starts at 6:30 p.m.). Included in the program is Chris Willging's Standing at Ground Zero (2001), which focuses on the original “ground zero,” the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the U.S. in 1945, through the memories of soldier-turned-pastor Warren Kremi, who was at Nagasaki following the destruction. Also on the program is Sorry, Brenda (2003), the ultimate in subversive fan-fiction TV re-editing. Samara Halperin takes scenes from Aaron Spelling's tortured-teen exploitation series Beverly Hills, 90210, and recasts two characters into a relationship that would leave Tori Spelling speechless.
Madcat continues with more programs next week and the week following. Check out their site, or look here next week.
The Mechanical Age series at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley continues Thursday, 9/7, with L'Uomo Meccanico (The Mechanical Man), an Italian film from 1921, an early science fiction story about a female criminal mastermind and a giant robot. This incomplete 35mm is provided by Cineteca di Bologna. With La Marche des Machines (March of the Machines), a 1929 French cinematic symphony by Eugene Deslaw, in 16mm courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art. Plus Robots, a 1930 film by Deslaw, in 35mm, from the Cinematheque Française. The show starts at 5:30 p.m., and it's FREE!.
PFA offers more Mechanical Age treats 3 p.m., Sunday, 9/10, with the animated/live action shorts of Charley Bowers, a recently rediscovered filmmaker of the silent era, who combined Mack Sennett-style slapstick with innovative animation and Rube Goldberg inventiveness to craft cinematic japes about the increasingly mechanized world of the 20th century. There are three Bowers shorts, Egged On (1926), in which he creates an “egg that Mother Nature never considered,” Many a Slip (1927), involving the slip-proof banana peel, and A Wild Roomer (1926), which I'll leave a mystery. These are all in 35mm, courtesy of the Cinematheque Quebecoise, Lobster Films, and the Cinematheque Française. It's followed by Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands (1990), with Johnny Depp, a blonde Winona Ryder and the final appearance of Vincent Price. One of Burton's better efforts, Depp plays the title character, a mad scientist's Frankenstein monster creation whose gentle nature alone can't help him to rise above his mechanical hands. With the Bowers-inspired Swiss short The Way Things Go, at 5 p.m.
The decks are awash with camp at the PFA as Judy Garland and Gene Kelly sashay through Vincente Minelli's 1948 musical parody The Pirate. With songs by Cole Porter, this witty send-up of the buccaneer films of Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn is a true gem that doesn't get half the attention it deserves. And combining the themes of nautical marauding with they exaggerated spectre of copyright infringement, the show also includes Negativland's Gimme the Mermaid (2000), which mixes up Disney's Little Mermaid with “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme” by Black Flag plus the ravings of a lawyer in the pocket of the major labels. Wednesday, 9/13 at 7:30 p.m.
The good folks at Oaklandish offer an unusual evening of films about Oakland at the Parkway Theater, Thursday, 9/14, at 9:15 p.m. Starting with something called Oakland Raider Parking Lot, the show continues with an hour-long collection of silent shorts about Oakland from the 1920s and 1930s, plus newsreels from the 1950s, footage of Bruce Lee in Oakland, the Black Panthers, Sun Ra, and more. This looks like it could be cinema verité that is truly verité.
Copyright 2006 by Richard Hildreth. All rights reserved.