The Indies – January 2005
by Oren Golan
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Ask and ye shall receive - plenty to consider this month, from poetry to romance, from the Middle East to the south side of Chicago, it’s all here. Also check out FilmMonthly’s reports from Sundance…
Voices in Wartime is a very compelling documentary from Cinema Libre (distributor of Outfoxed, www.cinemalibrestudio.com) that’s directed by Rick King (Road Ends) and slated to hit theaters this March. This gem takes a look at poets’ responses to war over the centuries, going as far back as Homer’s “Iliad” but focusing on poetry from World War I onward. The film shows the damage that war does to the soldiers on the ground, and how civilians today are just as likely to feel the brunt of the horror due to changes in warfare. As one of the commentators points out, in war death does not happen as it is dramatised on TV shows or films (with a small bullet hole oozing blood), but in war victims have limbs ripped off and sometimes simply explode. King uses the story of the poetry symposium planned by Laura Bush to occur in February, 2003, to show how poets today rallied against the war in Iraq to “fill the air with poems, so thick even bombs can’t pull through.” The first lady cancelled the symposium when she learned that many, if not all, of the poets would be speaking out against the administration’s Iraq policy. Interspersed with current poets are some history lessons and poems from the past from such poets as Whitman, Hughes, and Auden. There’s a particularly excellent synopsis of the relationship between two British poets/conscientious-objectors of WWI, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. As the film quotes Owen’s views on poetry in wartime, “I am not concerned with Poetry, My subject is War… All a poet can do today is warn.” This documentary should be required viewing for anyone who leads or orders soldiers into battle.
4th Annual Media That Matters Film Festival - This compilation of short films that won awards at the title festival in 2004 makes for a nice little call-to-arms for liberals and a wake-up call for others. The shorts run the gamut of current issues - the AIDS epidemic in Africa, corporate farms, the fear of the return of internment camps in the U.S., the difficulties of under-employment, rehabilitation vs. imcarceration, and subversive art against corporate domination of free speech. Some of the shorts were made by children with a refreshingly innocent perspective, while a couple are heavy-handed, and quite a few are critical of the Bush administration. All in all, it’s a worthwhile compilation that might inspire some people to take a fresh look at the world, and maybe even to take action on their own (most of the shorts contain info on how to get involved). This DVD is available through Netflix, and at www.mediamattersfest.org.
Next up is the documentary Peace, Propoganda & The Promised Land (Arab Film Distribution, www.arabfilms.com) directed by Bathsheba Ratzkoff and Sut Jhally. Full disclosure: I am the offspring of two Israelis, and a holder of an Israeli passport, though I have no firm position on Israeli politics. There is no doubt that the filmmakers stand squarely on the Palestinian side, as this film is actually a look at the American TV news bias in favor of Israel. For the full review, go here.
Two short films made in 2003 by Gary Schultz (Highertribe Productions, www.highertribeproductions.com) are up next, but first some more full disclosure - Gary Schultz is a fellow contributor to FilmMonthly, however I have never met him nor have I received nearly enough money from FilmMonthly to do some Armstrong Williams advocacy. Now, if the Republican Party would like to buy some support, please send the checks to…
Every Other Day is a short filmed on the south side of Chicago where high school student Max has fallen in with a bad crowd. He reluctantly cuts school and goes to a party house (which reminded me of Kids) where he’s offered drugs and the opportunity for sex with a 16-year old pregnant girl, but something snaps Max out of his haze. The best part of the film are some intriguing characters - there’s Max, Bergman (the older punk who sets Max up with pregnant girl) and Morgan (the pregnant 16-year old who brings her 3 year old boy to the party house) - and this film would certainly benefit from more time to build up the characters. But made on a budget of less than $1,000, this 23 minute short is engaging. Human Red is a macabre short of about 15 minutes, with most of the action in a claustrophobic and creepy warehouse. That’s where teen Scott and his little brother have been dragged in the middle of the night by their father. The father is an off-kilter doctor who hopes cure his sickly youngest son with some radical surgery in the warehouse, unless Scott can stop him. This little thriller kept me intrigued with its creepy sets, characters, and overall feel. It might not be right for those squeamish at the sight of blood (see the title) but should certainly appeal to thriller and horror fans.
The Kiss (street date February 8th) is a new romance from MTI Home Video that has a pretty good cast - Terence Stamp (The Limey), Francoise Surel (Good Advice), Eliza Dushku (Bring It On, Wrong Turn), Billy Zane (Titanic, Silver City) and Illeana Douglas (Ghost World, To Die For) - but still manages to miss the mark. The story centers on a book editor (Surel) who finds an old unfinished manuscript of what she believes is a marvelous romantic novel. The manuscript is missing the final chapter, so she and her impulsive roommate (Dushku) set out to find the mysterious author (Stamp) and learn a little about love… parallels to the reunion of long-lost lovers wanting to be found, as in Before Sunset, abound. But there’s none of Linklater’s magic here, and this one suffers from a lack of humor or some bad production decisions - if it’s going to take half the film before we get to see Stamp (who would be great even in a McDonald’s commercial saying “I’m loving it”) couldn’t some humor be infused in the tedious first half of the film? Word of mouth is that the script was wonderful (which may be why these actors signed on) and that an earlier version of the film was heavily edited. It’s not a bad film, but in the end may only please hopeless romantics, or those who wonder what Stamp would look like dressed as a gas station attendant.
Coming next month: Liberia: An Uncivil War by renowned documentarian Jonathan Stack, about the final stages of Liberia’s civil war which received a lot of buzz at this month’s Hot Docs Festival in Toronto.
Oren Golan is an attorney in Chicago when he isn’t arguing that Streets of Fire is the greatest movie ever made.
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