Dates 22 - 31 May 2009 Venues Vancity Theatre, Pacific Cinematheque & Granville Theatres Reviewer Ed Farolan
Act of God
75 min. Canada, 2009 dir. Jennifer Baichwal
Baichwal documents different happenings from people who experienced being struck by lightning, or friends or family who suffered lightning tragedies. In this film, she interviews people from Mexico, Cuba, and North America. Writer Paul Auster was 14 years-old when his friend Ralph was struck and killed by lightning and it changed his whole outlook on life. A Mexican woman recounts the death of her son, but doesn't blame God for it. For her, she is resigned to God's will, and that her son was taken from her to be an angel. In a small town in Cuba, lightning is a gift from the African god Shango who is also Santa Barbara for the Catholics. In a ritualistic procession of song and dance (which I found too long and should be edited), the townspeople sacrifice chickens so as not to anger Shango. In Las Vegas, an ex-marine who was declared clinically dead for twenty-eight minutes after being struck by lighting went through a spiritual rebirth. "Lightning and change go hand in hand, and in a single moment I was changed," he says. From the standpoint of testimonials, this documentary is excellent. However, a lot of padding was put in that shouldn't have been in the film. Although I found Fred Firth's music interesting, there was a lot of footage which I thought was unnecessary as he performs with his guitar and other instruments. This should have just been left as part of the soundtrack. I also didn't think it necessary to have him improvise with his guitar music while all kinds of gadgets were attached to his head. This is an about face digression from the testimonials of people who had first hand knowledge of being hit by lightning or of close family or friends struck and killed by lightning. But all in all, this documentary with stark and amazing images of lightning was indeed educational as it did give us an insight into an interesting phenomenon of nature.
Who The Jew Are You?
50 min. Canada, 2009 dir. Alan Goldman
This is a personal journey of Goldman, as he looks for his Jewish roots and wonders what to do about his son whose mother is a Shiska. When his son is born, he is faced with the decision of whether to circumcise him because his son Sacha is not completely Jewish. His mother as well as his grandmother are both Shiskas. And so begins a journey that asks, ‘What does it mean to be Jewish?’ Alan’s peregrinations take him from Vancouver to Orthodox communities in Crown Heights, New York, where the faithful debate points of scripture. From Jewish rappers to a lesbian couple who wants their adopted Chinese daughter to have a traditional Bat Mitzvah, Judaism means different things to different people. In an interview with the lesbian couple, one of them says ‘That’s the point of being a Jew, you don’t have to believe in God". The film explores everything from dressing up as Santa Claus and meeting up with a Jewish merchant from Montana who sells merchandise that combines Judaism and the rituals of Christianity, to his grandfather who is an atheist and comments after reading Sam Harris's book The End of Faith, "I no longer believe in God...it's poppycock." This is an interesting film as it gives us an insight on interfaith, intermarriages, and the search for a religious identity, especially for children who are caught in the middle.
Afghan Girls Can Kick
50 min. UK/Afghanistan, 2007 dir. Bahareh Hosseini
Under the Taliban, women’s freedom in Afghanistan didn't exist-- women went through life veiled, excluded from education and sports. Today, in the post-Taliban era, these freedoms are coming back to the Afghan women and in this film, teenage girls break stereotypes set by a once repressive conservative Afghan society. As players in Afghanistan’s first ever women’s national football team, these young women escape poverty, gain self-esteem and confidence. The team is invited to a tournament in Islamabad, and the film follows the team’s preparations for their first international matches. The star of the team, Roya had to collect waste paper on the filthy streets of Kabul’s slums to provide fuel for her family, but through Aschiana, an Afghan charity, she receives an education and discovers her talent for football. She plays centre-forward for the national women’s team, and the team wins second place. This is an eye-opener on Afghan women during and after the Taliban, with some graphic shots of women being beaten by the Talibans, and one gruesome scene where a woman is shot to death. Personally, I liked this film as it recounts the problems of women in Afghanistan and how women now are not as oppressed as they once were.
103 min. South Africa, 2008 dir. Kim Longinotto
Quite a long film for a documentary reflecting child abuse and other matters. The film is about a remarkable group of women unwavering in their stand to protect and care for the abused, neglected, and forgotten children of Durban, South Africa. Although the theme is relevant to today's issues, It lacks focus, and needs a lot of editing. There are too many scenes with a lot of crying and the use and abuse of tissue paper. Many of the scenes in this film reflect child abuse around the world, and this is just another perspective, done through interviews. It's an admirable film, nevertheless, as we see a lot of good work that these women are doing under a charity organization called Bobbi Bear. Award winner Longinotto (Sisters in Law, Divorce Iranian Style) has worked indefatigably with this film, but I find her style so much like Ingmar Bergman and doesn't suit the fast-paced audience of today.
Carmen Meets Borat
85 min. The Netherlands, 2008 dir. Mercedes Stalenhoef
17 year-old Carmen lives in a gypsy village in the mountains of Romania, where we see the men of the village getting drunk and spitting out nonsensical profanities with each other in her father’s bar. Carmen works in this bar as well as another business he owns: a grocery store. At home, she learns spanish by watching Spanish soap operas and dreams of a better life in Spain, where the men are romantic and decent. However, herr plan to emigrate falls to pieces when an American film crew descends on her village to shoot Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. The villagers cooperate on what they believe is a documentary, but the film depicts the villagers as primitive caricatures supposedly from Kazakhstan. In the Borat film, Carmen’s grandfather unknowingly plays the part of a backstreet abortionist and poses for the camera with a welding apparatus. Borat embraces a woman he introduces as his sister and brags about her status as the fourth best whore in Kazakhstan. The villagers don’t understand a single word of English and laugh in good faith into the camera. As soon as they find out that the English director has made fools of them, they are outraged. When the film is released, the world press throws itself on the village. The situation becomes more complicated when a Jewish American lawyer persuades Carmen’s father, grandfather, and the mayor to sue Twentieth Century Fox for $30 million, money that could be used to improve the impoverished village. But the case is thrown out. The film ends with carmen throwing out her old boyfriend Christi for stealing her money and marrying another handsome village boy. It's an interesting documentary especially for those who saw the Borat film. The film doesn't tell us whether Borat apologized for making fun of these townspeople.
© 2009 Ed Farolan