Saturday, March 21, 2009

Jason goes to SFIAAFF--Day 10

One final weekend for the festival in San Jose.

First up was a political documentary double feature, starting with the longish short (~30 minutes) A SONG FOR OURSELVES, about Chris Iijima. Chris Iijima was an activist, a folk singer, and an inspiration for a generation of Asian Americans, pioneering a vision of a politically and culturally powerful Asian American identity. The movie's a solid tribute to him, interviewing friends and family to get a brief look at the man.

Next was the longer documentary (~60 minutes), PATSY MINK: AHEAD OF THE MAJORITY. Patsy Takemoto Mink was elected to Congress in 1964 and was the first woman of color in Congress. She spoke out against the Vietnam War, and worked on a lot of civil and gender rights legislation, most notably Title IX. The movie traces her early life, frequent discrimination, eventual triumphs, her failed Presidential bid (nominated by an Oregon grass-roots group), her years out of politics, and her return to Congress in the 1990's. Patsy is definitely an inspiring character, and a true original. But the movie is a less inspiring simple PBS biography, with an unfortunate overuse of voice-over narration. I've seen narration used well and narration used poorly, and this is sadly one of the latter examples. One clear example of unnecessary narration is when she graduates from college as pre-med, but can't get into Medical school because none of them will take women. The voice over narration goes on to explain that she faced gender discrimination. No duh! If you believe you had to spell that out, you must not think much of your audience.

Anyway, I had to skip out on the last few minutes of PATSY MINK because I made a horrible miscalculation on time (maybe because A SONG FOR OURSELVES wasn't originally listed in the program?) I hate it when I do that, but I skipped over to the other screen to walk into THE EQUATION OF LOVE AND DEATH about 10 minutes late. I came in just in time to see two men talking to a guy with long hair sitting on the railway of a highway overpass. Suddenly he jumps off to his death, landing on a car. The driver gets out, and looks up at the men looking down at him. Suddenly one of the men accidentally drops a magazine. The driver picks it up, and it's fully of pictures of himself clipped inside. So he chases them to find out WTF is going on. And it gets weirder still. The two men get into a cab (I figured out later they were originally in the cab, and stole the magazine from the driver) and escape. The older, dominant one complains of a stomachache and goes to sleep after taking a few pills. The younger one starts going on about the girl he's looking for. The cab driver (oh yeah, who is played by the lovely Li Mi) thinks based on the description he might be looking for a waitress at a restaurant she frequents. He's overjoyed. Meanwhile, his partner wakes up, starts ranting about something, and a knife falls out of his pocket. It becomes clear that they're criminals, and suddenly the cab drive turns into a kidnapping. And it gets weirder still. This is the fast-paced, exciting, dangerous, and also romantic world of THE EQUATION OF LOVE AND DEATH. It's a movie that kept me intrigued from the get-go, and kept surprising me with each new reveal. Absolutely awesome.

Next up was the winner of the special jury award for narrative feature, CHILDREN OF INVENTION. Based on director Tze Chun's true life childhood, it's the story of a single mother and her two children Raymond and Tina (another family picture) are struggling to survive in the Boston suburbs. She works a variety of odd jobs, mostly in direct marketing, but still can't make the payments on their house. Their father has left them, and although he claims to be in Providence RI, he's really in Hong Kong (and doesn't pay hardly any of his court-ordered child support). Nearly homeless, they move into a model home run by a friend of hers. They can live there rent free, as long as they're not discovered. They still go to school, and she goes to a number of odd jobs, but they are forced to live in secret. Things just get worse when the mother joins a marketing company that is obviously a pyramid scheme (worse still, a scheme that targets new immigrants). It could be a wrenching tragedy, but Tze Chun has a unique sense of humor that can wring some laughs out of children left to fend for themselves. The title comes from a series of inventions Raymond has created (e.g., a handheld electric fan + plastic fork + tape = spaghetti spinner), and when mom is gone for a long time they decide they have to make and sell these inventions in order to survive. Very well done.

CHILDREN OF INVENTION is currently playing at many festivals, and they're self-releasing on DVD, selling it after their screenings. I've picked up my DVD ($20), which includes Tze Chun's precursor short, WINDOWBREAKER (which I could've sworn I've seen, but looking back at my archives I didn't. At least not when it played at SFIAAFF 2007)

And finally, the last film I saw Saturday night was Deepa Mehta's HEAVEN ON EARTH. The title is ironic, to say the least, and not just because it takes place in Canada. Chand is moving from India to Toronto for her arranged marriage. However, she doesn't realize she's moving into a family where her mother-in-law berates her, her husband beats her (not so subtly, he's named Rocky), she's responsible for earning a living (with her paycheck deposited directly into her husband's account) and for cooking and serving the whole family. And then it takes a weird magic realism fantasy turn, as a love potion a Jamaican friend gives her to slip into Rocky's drink first nearly kills him and then awakens a giant cobra in the yard. The cobra can take human form, and takes the form of Rocky, but a tender, loving Rocky. The fantasy element is interesting...but just weird. Mostly it's about a woman who gets beaten a lot and can't do much about it. And I'm tired of watching those stories. Overall, this was a big disappointment.

And that was Saturday. Just one last day (5 movies) left to write up.
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