FILM DIARY: Planete Doc Review 2010

Reviewing every single film I watch is a bit impractical time-wise (and this has been on my mind for a long time now despite appearances ;-P). The reason I keep doing it is that I like having a record of what I watched and how I felt about it.
I’ve finally decided that while I want to continue keeping track of everything I watch, I’m going to start cutting down on “full-length reviews”. Planete Doc Review feels like a good moment to try out a different approach, so here goes…

Friday, 7th May 2010

Shanghaj Space (Denmark, 2009)
Rating: -0 (Ok)
Mumbai disconnected (Denmark, 2009)
Rating: -0 (Ok)
These two were shown together at one screening and the comparison between Shanghaj and Mumbai was what made the screening interesting. They’re two of the biggest and most dynamically developing cities in the world and both have very similar problems (lack of housing, need for new roads etc.), but the contrast between them could not have been larger. In Shanghaj these problems were being solved in a very organized manner - the people in charge would make specific development plans and then everyone would just comply with those plans regardless of how they effected local communities, what sort of historic heritage would be destroyed in the process etc. Whereas Mumbai was complete and utter chaos - a public debate on the plans was necessary, everyone for and against the plans would speak up almost ending up in fist fights and the development plans themselves were extremely chaotic and often stopped before they were completed, with lots of money lost in the process.

A Blooming business (Netherlands, 2009)
Rating: +0 (Liked It)
It was a very striking picture of how Western companies (in this case flower farms based in Kenya, which supply the Netherlands) abuse African workers and resources. The Kenyans who spoke about their lives and how those companies have effected them made a very powerful impression on me - there was so much calmness and wisdom in them.

Podziemne Państwo Kobiet (Poland, 2010)
Rating: -1 (Disliked It)
The film intentionally doesn’t show both sides of the abortion debate. It just portrays what the state of affairs is - abortions take place in Poland regardless of the law. I found the film a bit purposeless (the one bit I found informative was the history of how abortion was delegalized in Poland after the communist regime fell). It’s clearly a pro-choice film, but despite that I found most of the women who spoke about their abortions very unsympathetic.

Saturday, 8th May 2010

The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun (Denmark, 2006)
Rating: -0 (Ok)
It’s a cute and funny story about a man whose life dream is to start a monastery. The relationship between Mr. Vig and Sister Ambrosija develops in a very interesting way and Mr. Vig himself is a bizarre character (his nose obsession is particularly going to stay with me - apparently one of the reasons he never married is because he didn’t meet a girl whose nose he’d like). The film is a bit on the slow side though.

Sunday, 9th May 2010

The Miscreants of Taliwood (Australia/Pakistan, 2009)
Rating: +0 (Liked It)
This is a film about the film industry in Peshawar, Pakistan. Peshawar is close to the Afghan border and is a Taliban stronghold, so making commercial films there requires a lot of guts. The Miscreants of Taliwood reminded me of Michael Moore in style, but IMO George Gittoes wasn’t able to pull the style off well enough. The content, however, is brilliant (if the style had been executed better I would have probably enjoyed it enough to rate it +1) because it touches upon pretty much all of the issues of that region in a very open manner. It’s the first time I’ve seen a film broach the subject of homosexuality and male prostitution in Pashtun context (women are completely separated from men, so men are much more likely to have sex with each other).

Born Into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids (USA, 2004)
Rating: +0 (Liked It)
A photographer is trying to help a group of children born unto prostitutes by sending them to a boarding school. One of the ways she tries to get the money to do this is by teaching them photography and selling their photographs at charity auctions.
The biggest strength of the film is that each of the children is portrayed in a lot of detail and they all have their own unique story. One of the most heart-wrenching tales is that of Avijit, who is a very unique talent (he became one of 10 children from all round the world invited to a photography panel in Amsterdam), but a lot of things go against him and it seems his future is doomed. Even the Amsterdam trip seemed doomed not to happen as he had problems obtaining a passport from the Indian autorities. Finally, one day before the planned day of departure they manage to get his passport and you can see the world open up in front of him. It’s an amazing moment. I also loved how every story had its own ending - some of them are happy and some are sad.

Wednesday, 12th May 2010

The Oath (USA, 2010)
Rating: +0 (Liked It)
The film follows Abu Jandal’s daily life in Yemen, as well as Salim Hamdan’s court case (see one of the most famous Guantanamo trials - Hamdan vs Rumsfeld). Hamdan had connections with Bin Laden, but was never involved in any terrorist or military activities and yet he was held in Guantanamo. Jandal recruited and taught all of the 9/11 hijackers, but was never incarcerated by Americans.
There’s a wealth of information in the film, but Kin made me realize that I probably managed to get a lot more out of it because I’ve already been reading around the subject. For somebody who has not done much reading on this, a lot of things might be unclear.
But in the end the most powerful moment in the film for me was the story of Jandal’s interrogation. Jandal gave American intelligence all the information he had on the 9/11 hijackers and Al-Qaeda the moment he understood the tragedy of 9/11. He never supported that kind of jihad. The interrogators used no torture on him. The intelligence he gave was so valuable that the attack on Afghanistan was postponed by a few days to give the interrogators time to finish extracting all of it.

Nenette (France, 2010)
Rating: -0 (Ok)
The story of Nenette, the oldest orangutan in the Paris zoo. It was a nice film to have watched, but a bit too slow for my taste. And although focusing the camera on the orangutans was a cool idea, I would have preferred to have seen some of the people rather than only have heard their voices. I really wanted to see Nenette with her keepers to see their relationship.
Orangutan sexuality is fascinating. I particularly loved the story of a male orangutan in the zoo blowing kisses to a redhead girl and then shooing away a brunette ;) But Nenette observing couples kissing and then trying out their techniques with her own partner was kind of interesting as well ;-P And I never realized there have been cases of orangutans in the wild raping women (I wasn’t sure the film was serious on that count, but google confirmed).

Thursday, 13th May 2010

The Red Chapel (Denmark, 2009)
Rating: +1 (Loved It)
Two Danish comedians of South Korean origin and a Danish director come to North Korea. The concept was to expose the regime for what it is through sarcasm and irony.
The main reason the film worked so well was Jacob - the 18 year old paraplectic comedian. He’s extremely easy to like - there’s something very honest and genuine about him. Even Mrs Pak, their guide, is very taken with Jacob and they develop a very weird sort of bond.
But also, in North Korea there are no handicapped people - they are not allowed to live. So in a way Jacob exposes North Korea just by being there. But most importantly, as Jacob’s speech pattern is distorted by his disability, the North Korean censors can’t understand his Danish. So he’s the only one of them that can freely speak his mind.
Ironically, IMO Jacob exposed not only North Korea, but also the director of the film. The director was willing to go as far as it takes to expose North Korea, no matter how much dishonesty it would cost. Jacob was not able to go through with that level of lies. There’s a couple of times when he completely breaks down - for example by refusing to salute at a North Korean parade.

Friday, 14th May 2010

GITMO (Sweden, 2005)
Rating: -0 (Ok)
A documentary trying to uncover what happens in Guantanamo prison. I thought it was a bit lame (most of it consists of just showing us how they can’t get any information rather than showing us actual information). But the reason I thought it was worth a look was the Bacchus and Karpinski story. Bacchus and Karpinski are US army generals. Bacchus was fired from Guantanamo, most likely because he did not agree with the policies there. Karpinski, on the other hand, was completely removed from the army after the Abu Ghraib scandal (she was the one in charge when the abuses took place, but she claims not to have known about them).

On a final note, I was hoping to shorten the notes on these films a lot more ;-P I think this means I will still need to think things through *sigh*

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