Friday, March 26, 2010

Sunset Community Film Festival

I've been a fan of Wayland He's Life of Wayland since Rebecca Devlin first shared it with me a few years ago. At the 6th Annual Sunset Community Film Festival, held at Ulloa Elementary School in San Francisco on March 5, He made dozens more fans. His latest short, a funny animation called Worm War I, won the audience award for best film, and I heard many a serious discussion between 6th graders and uproarious laughter from the 3rd graders sitting behind me about the video.

The entire program, chosen and compiled by youth media group SCREAM members, was very good and it was professionally well presented. The best part was sitting in a theater full of an audience of young people, watching a program entirely made and presented by young people, and experiencing the extreme pleasure of everyone involved. Half of the time I had no idea why they were laughing, but they sure were having a good time.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Barbara Hammer and Silas Howard at the Hammer

What a great night. I wish this conversation could have lasted a lot longer- they were just getting started. But what an excellent combination, whoever thought this one up!


I can't believe I finally finished it. After three viewings over the course of two weeks I have finally finished watching David Lynch's enigmatic Inland Empire (2006). Clearly (well, I use that word loosely...), this film is about Laura Dern's character Nikki Grace's psyche. It's about psychology, movies and reality vs. make-believe in a hodge-podge of visual styles and genres, but mostly horror. I bet if I watched it again I'd get it, but I can't imagine I will ever, ever be driven to do that. If you know me, you know that I'm all about film and media that make you go, "WTF?!" But WTF?! And Whatever.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Part of the joy of staying with Mark and Andrea off and on for the past few months has been cooking for them. This also gives me a chance to return to the heart of this blog. Mark is an economist who sometimes works for the World Bank, though appallingly he's never eaten at the World Bank Cafeteria. Out of pity for that deprivation, I like to prepare meals for them when they return from work...

Monday, March 8, 2010

Nordwand Schmordwand

This looks miserable, right? Well it was. There was also a lot of ACTING! bleh. This was a big night out to the Royal with Andrea and Mark. And I guess I never got bored enough to think of leaving. But this movie was a one-trick-pony. What did we need this for? We didn't.

Les chansons d'amour

I finally watched Love Songs (Christophe Honoré, 2007)- and I loved it! Never has a musical worked so well, in my book. I actually didn't mind at all when the cast broke out in song, it seemed as natural as I ever do when I sing while walking down the street. And it was such a relief of a story. French, yes, and refreshingly real! The guy who looks like Albert from Little House on the Praiarie aka Ismaël (Louis Garrel) would drive me up a tree with his silly joker antics. But other than that, this movie did not annoy me at all, remarkable for a musical movie. The songs are actually good. And I'm sure if my French were better I would have appreciated it even more. I love the sexual fluidity, the matter-of-factness of the affairs and the way they affect everyone's lives in the film. And I love that it ends up GAY gay. And I love that it just ends abruptly in the middle of just another love story. And that it's to a Barbara song- no proprietary musical last song-ness. Yum.

The Yacoubian Building

Hmmm...this was a tough one. Admittedly, I am ignorant of classic Egyptian film and Egyptian cinema in general. But The Yacoubian Building (Omaret yakobean) (Marwan Hamed, 2006), touted far and wide as the biggest-budget Egyptian film to date and a great cinematic accomplishment, was hard to take. I'd been expecting something pretty great, since this was the talk of the International Film Festival Rotterdam during my first year there, and I was really disappointed to have missed it then. It was so soap opera-like that I wasn't sure I could finish it. Upon finally viewing it, the main thing I took away from it was that the story entailed a lot of gross sexual coercion in the name of social advancement. That and the realization that I don't know enough about Egyptian history...or ANYTHING about Egyptian history for that matter.

When Taha (Mohamed Imam) became involved with a more radical sect of Islam, it was such a relief to focus on something substantial, something beyond the shame of characters stuck in poverty and feeling yuck-o about sexual favors demanded according to class and status. I guess there was also a fair share of political corruption. And it was thick with the message that violence breeds violence. But the homosexuality stuff was a bit much, not to be celebrated as I'd been lead to believe. The film has caused great controversy in Egypt for  its depiction of homosexuality. But when the Bey Hatim Rasheed (Khaled El Sawy) indulges in a flashback montage in which he is talking to [hideously rendered] portraits of his parents, and his homosexuality is explained by an assertion that his black African caretaker molested him as a child, I had to groan.

The grossest part was probably the clown-like face and particularly the smile of the aged Pasha (Adel Imam) who somehow easily won the heart of the hot young thing of the film, a woman who'd been vehemently discerning till that point.

I haven't read the book, but it MUST be better than the movie...

When the Patriarchy Let's You Down

Nerakhoon (The Betrayal) (Ellen Kuras & Thavisouk Phrasavath, 2008) is not a typical documentary. More than most docs, it attempts to- and succeeds in- telling its story through images more than words, and that works for the most part. It's an interweaving of recent interviews with amazing footage captured in the 1980's when Kuras first started following her Lao tutor, Thavi (co-director Phrasavath) with a camera. Nerakhoon dramatically reveals long-buried and/or never-revealed ugly secrets of US imperialism and dirty work that left allies abandoned and families in ruin, in particular that of Thavi. To that end, it's also the story of botched patriarchy and how political betrayal ruined his father and eventually his family. The doc also reveals truths about new refugees in the US, the living conditions of new immigrants and the price of assimilation. Are things really better for refugees once they reach the US? Does their chance for survival truly increase? It's a story of multiple betrayals, what we're willing to forgive, who we trust.

Once the family gets to the US, the doc moves seamlessly back and forth between Laos and US, between 1984 and the present, requiring its audience to find clues to figure out where we are, why we're there. From Ellen Kuras we expect beautiful images, and she delivers. There are a lot of orange robes of novices, Buddhism all over the place. And then there is unexpected and horrible community destruction due to gang coersion and involvement of young new immigrants. What emerges is a highly compelling collaboration between documentarian and subjects, revealing the interconnectedness of humanity.

Viva Women Directors!

I am ecstatic! Driving home from watching the Oscars, I felt high like I felt when Obama was elected (which in itself felt like when Mandela left prison and when the borders were opened between East and West Germany).

OH MY GOD!!!!!! Kathryn Bigelow!!!!!!!!! Viva women directors! Viva women filmmakers!!! Viva our voices being heard!!! Viva women calling the shots!!! This is a dream realized- Finally a woman has won the Oscar for Directing. My next dream is to see a woman win for Cinematography- starting with a lot more women DP's being hired. What a beautiful day!!!

(As I just wrote to a kick-ass 19 year-old friend whom I've known since she was 4... Only 3 times before in the 82 year history of the Oscars have women even been NOMINATED for Best Director:
Lina Wertmüller in 1976 for "Seven Beauties" 
Jane Campion in 1993 for "The Piano"
Sophia Coppola for "Lost In Translation" in 2003
Today is an historic day! In 2010, Kathryn Bigelow is the first woman to win for Directing. Sad but true... and WONDERFUL! She also won Best Picture for "Hurt Locker!" Now what I really want to see is a woman win Best Cinematography. THAT is a male-dominated field...)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Maverick Mother

Australian humor is a particular brand of humor, something I'm not necessarily accustomed to. It's somewhat innocent and cheesy, like Canadian humor, yet it can be raunchy, but not as bad as British humor. That might threaten to ruin Janet Merewether's autobiographical 2007 doc, Maverick Mother. But somehow it works, her fantastical dramatic interludes serving only to illustrate her seemingly cliche desires to procreate, and they keep the tone of the work lighthearted and flowing.

My viewing partners and I questioned not the acquisition of sperm demonstrated here, but Merewether's stubborn, then annoying, then obnoxious, then incredible persistence in contacting the "father" long after he'd ceased to respond, seemingly making it clear that he wanted nothing to do with the wishes she'd manifested. But other than that, I found it entertaining and relatable as an illustration of modern motherhood. Well done.