Sunday, May 01, 2005

48th SF Intl. Film Festival - Day 10

Oh dear. I went a little nuts today. Since last night's midnight movie ended well after 2 AM, Maxxxxx the Parrot insisted on waking me up at 6:30 AM. This meant that I was up and ready to spend the entire day at the Kabuki, starting with the Member's Screening (which included bagels, donuts and juice!) at 10 AM of:

"The Syrian Bride" (dir. Eran Riklis, Israel/Germany/France (aka strange bedfellows), 2004, 97 mins.) This is a quirky little thing. A Syrian bride is residing in the Israeli occupied Golong Heights and is about to marry a man residing in Syria. This is much more complicated than it sounds due to some bureaucratic red tape having to do with Syrians not allowed into Israel, which considers the Golong Heights part of Israel, so once she does cross the border to marry him, she can not return to her family, but Syria doesn't recognize Israeli passports originating from the Golong Heights, so how is she going to crossover to marry him in the first place? Did'ja get that? Probably not, which is what I guess is the point. Actually, the real surprise about this film is that it was made with Israeli funding, as it criticizes its own policies. It's well acted and the complications are played out clearly enough via the domestic dramas and conflicts within the bride's family that I was never bored. I won't see it again and the ending is very muddy, but it is worth seeing once.

"The Gravel Road" (dir. Deepak Kumaran Menon, Malaysia, 2004, 92 mins.) Speaking of domestic drama, this story focused upon an Indian family in Malaysia and the teenage girl's attempt to leave their poor, agricultural lifestyle to attend university. The screenplay is pretty routine. However, the settings are quite lovely and the performances are actually kind of sweet. It is painless, but probably quite forgettable, by the end of this week, anyway.

"Relativity" (dir. Brenda Kovrig, USA, 2004, 57 mins.) This was the pleasant surprise of the day! I actually went to this to see the accompanying short subject, but found this to be quite worthwhile. Though its description sounds like another 'adoptee finds her birth parents and sibling' story, the director/adoptee has given her journey a unique voice. She diaries her expectations and anxieties as she undertakes her search. It is how she feels with the results that set this film far apart from any others that I have seen of this ilk. She has a really cool sense of humor and her adoptive parents are a treat to listen to in their interviews. Oh, yes, there are a lot of talking heads in this, which sets it back a step. But her resolution (which I won't spoil it here) was pretty refreshing, when all is said and done. This was preceded by the short:

"Buried in the Backyard" (dirs. Monica Bigler, Sarah Prior, USA, 2004, 30 mins.) This interviewed and profiled a half dozen or so individuals and families who have recently built bomb shelters. Of course, what made this sort of entertaining to me anyway, was that most of these people live in rural areas (how else would they have the space to build a bunker?), which makes their paranoia a subject of some mockery on my part, but sort of disturbing when you realize how SERIOUSLY these people feel threatened and how ready they are to turn against "those neighbors who will rush [their] shelter[s]" when the apocalypse occurs. These are scary people! Speaking of turning against each other...

"Whisky Romeo Zulu" (dir. Enrique Pineyro, Argentina, 2004, 105 mins.) This is a 'whistle blower movie' featuring a pilot's struggle against the Argentinean airline industry's lack of safety standards. Now, I found this to be pretty routine dramatic stuff. However, what does set it apart is that it IS Pineyro's (writer, director, star) true story! He has pulled together a very Hollywood (dare I say Movie-of-the-Week) quality production, which is it's best and weakest link, for me anyway. I did seem to be in the minority when talking to friends afterwards, but I really did find the screenplay and style to be trite. I am also in the minority in my views of the last piece of the day:

"Following Sean" (dir. Ralph Arlyck, USA, 2004, 87 mins.) This punched my 'documentary format' buttons. The program notes compared this piece to Michael Apted's "7 Up" series, which is a brilliantly conceived, and wonderfully objective, chronicle of a group of children, following them every 7 years of their lives. "Following Sean" revisits the subject of a documentary the director made 35 years ago: the 4 year old Sean, living in the middle of the Haight in 1968. What punches my buttons is that the film does not TRULY focus on the man that Sean becomes, but is actually a diary of how the director is reacting to the adult Sean. He actually spends more time bemoaning his own loss of idealism during these years than chronicling his subject. In fact, Arlyck spends more time giving us his OWN biography than focusing upon Sean himself. He uses Sean as an example of how the counter-culture of the late 60's, which he never seemed to approve of in the first place, failed. The film is not an effective Op/Ed piece, nor is it a 'pure' documentary. I became increasingly cognizant that it was actually the director trying to work out his own mid-life crisis. Perhaps it is a 'generational thing' and I am just not quite old enough to appreciate the cultural revolution that Arlyck seems to be struggling with. Or perhaps it really is just 90 minutes of self indulgent navel gazing and he is using Sean to justify (and fund) the "project." I found it quite annoying and did not stay for the Q&A, which was going to include the director, Sean and his parents, as well as the director of the short that preceded it:

"Radio Takeover" (dirs. Serena Down, Mike Seely, USA, 2004, 10 mins.) Who knew that there was a pirate radio station here in San Francisco that was transmitting highly progressive information for the homeless and other disenfranchised parties? Of course, since it only broadcast 100 watts, who actually HEARD it in the first place? Well, apparently the FCC did, as they were busted, the equipment confiscated and the group is now broadcasting over broadband internet. That last fact is the ironic punchline [paraphrased here]: "Yeah, 'Joe Homeless' is going to pull up his shopping cart and plug into a broadband modem."

Well, just 4 more days and another dozen programs to go...

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