Saturday, October 6, 2007

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 8

Two movies tonight, and the next time I'll have time to write, I'll have seen another 14, or I'll have failed miserably.

First up was possibly the best movie of the festival. Maybe the best, but not my favorite, as it deals with the extremely unpleasant subject of torture. "Taxi to the Dark Side" uses the story of Dilawar--an innocent Afghan taxi driver who was picked up by militia and turned over to American forces at Bagram prison--as a jumping off point to deconstruct the entire US policy on torture. Dilawar was tortured (they thought he was the getaway driver in a rocket attack) and died of his injuries just 5 days after entering Bagram. The movie interviews the dishonorably discharged soldiers who beat him, all of whom come off as contrite and disappointed in the leadership who gave them either unclear or illegal rules for torture (a point of view the movie adopts). It also follows the torture issues from Bagram to Abu Ghraib to Gitmo, and really takes the administration to task for it, cleverly together statements from Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfield that contradict either other statements or the plain facts on the screen. Director Alex Gibney ("Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room") and his team have put together another wonderful documentary, which untangles all the bits and half-truths and spin that the mainstream media give us. It's kind of a no-brainer to be "against torture", but this movie gets to the heart of what's really done (in our names), the rationale/rationalizing behind it, and the true ineffectiveness of it all. Most pointed moment in the movie, when a British national is released after years in Gitmo, the soldiers releasing him even admit, "If you weren't a terrorist before, you'll certainly have reason to be one now." Again, there's a lot of graphic, unpleasant footage, and it's a hard film to watch, but possibly the best film of the festival (so far).

After that I was ready for a good light-hearted movie--like an illegal pirated look at the Cuban sex trade. But first a couple of shorts, also about the sex trade. "Amazon Highway" is a humorous look at a female body builder (but not the grossly over-muscled type--she still has boobs) who travels around and wrestles men in her hotel room for money. As far as the movie shows, no sex takes place, although the men get off on it somehow. Oh yeah, and she's from Texas, so it fits the festival theme. Then there was "Overdue Conversation", where two gay friends/lovers, one of whom is a hustler, film each other having a conversation. Each one talks while filming the other, and the movie presents the conversation in split-screen (which is cool movie-wise, because you can see who has trouble keeping the camera steady, and what they're saying at the time). Anyway, not to give anything away, but the overdue conversation is about AIDS.

And finally the look at the Cuban sex trade in "Luchando". The word traditionally means "struggle" and was originally applied to the Cuban revolution, but these hustlers and prostitutes have co-opted it for themselves. There are moments of humor, pathos, and drama. This movie was shot in secret cinema-verite guerrilla-style, and it has the potential to be a close, intimate look at these people's lives and their predicament. However, there seemed to be almost no editing, and nothing to tie it together as a story. Adding a narrator or just a few words on screen to explain what's going on would make this movie a hundred times better. As it was, the brief where-are-they-now text at the end tells more of a story than the rest of the movie.

And that's Friday at Docfest.
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