Sunday, March 15, 2009

Jason goes to SFIAAFF--Day 3

I'm way behind in my updates. In fact, I'm a full week behind, further behind than I've ever been. It's daunting. I think it's pretty much guaranteed that next Monday will be spent updating this blog. But in the meantime, I'll try to catch up a little bit.

Saturday morning, The Kiyoshi Kurosawa theme continued, starting with his short film SOUL DANCING, starring Tadanobu Asano (the coolest freakin' actor in all of Japan, if not the world). A weird little movie about a stranger who goes to a village, makes friends, takes them to the city. There's fighting, then there's friendship, then there's (more) dancing. Apparently commissioned by a drink company, the only requirement is that he show the drink label sometime in the movie (which he does in the opening and closing sequences). They got a lot more than they bargained for.

That was followed by the feature, LICENSE TO LIVE. The movie starts with a young man awakening from a coma. His name is Yoshi, he's 24 years old, and has been in a coma for 10 years. One of the first people to visit him is the man who put him in the coma (Yoshi was riding his bike when the man hit him with his car). He wants Yoshi to know that his life has been hell over it. Yoshi goes to find his family, only to discover his family has disintegrated. His parents have divorced and aren't talking to each other, and his sister has moved out. Although they come visit him, they have their own lives and aren't about to go out of their way to incorporate him into it. So he goes to work for an old family friend who has turned the old family dude ranch into a carp farm. Eventually, he decides he wants to reopen his father's dude ranch, starting with a pony ride. As he tries to build a life from what he has an what he remembers, weird things happen. All around, it's a weird movie, with scenes of slapstick absurd comedy and high melodrama. Interestingly, "family" has been a bit of a theme in the festival, especially broken families (okay, family is always important, but it seems this year it features in the festival even more prominently). But in LICENSE TO LIVE, family becomes the most important element by virtue of not existing. This is the strange world that Kiyoshi Kurosawa plays in.

Next up was the documentary, PROJECT KASHMIR. Two women--Senain Kheshgi and Geeta Patel--travel to the Kashmir region, where India and Pakistan are fighting for control (and have been practically since partition). Senain is a Muslim, Geeta a Hindu, but they've been friends in America for a long time. Now they travel to a world where that difference--which isn't normally important to them--means everything. Rather than attempting to make a comprehensive movie approaching the conflict from a political or military perspective, they make a very personal movie about their experiences there. They meet friends--journalists, activists, community leaders--who are trying to do something about the situation. And they interview ordinary people on the street (at least those who aren't afraid to speak to them). But there's something very strange about their approach (or about that region), that things are left unsaid and unexplained. The way the movie is edited emphasises the confusion, the end result feeling like a cinema verite dream sequence. In the Q&A afterwards, one of the directors (oh yeah, Senain and Geeta co-directed the movie) made a comment about "The kind of silence that makes you feel like there are explosions everywhere". And that pretty much sums up this odd but compelling movie.

Next up was a more conventional hero documentary, WHATEVER IT TAKES. Edward Tom is the principal of a high school in the South Bronx--the Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics. The Bronx is one of the poorest school districts in the nation, and consistently has some of the lowest graduation rates. This is the first year for the Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics, and principal Tom, a Chinese-American in a predominantly African-American and Latino community, has his work cut out for him. But he's up for the task, with charisma and dedication (to the point where his wife is almost left taking care of their young children alone). The movie is definitely a bit of hero worship, but isn't afraid to show the failures, too. Like the student who drops out because of drug charges, or the teacher who leaves after one year. Of all the students, the most compelling (and the one they follow the most) is Sharifea. She's a bright student, but has trouble doing her schoolwork because her mom has...issues, and that forces her to take care of her younger siblings. She could get into a prestigious Dartmouth summer program (that would help her on her path to becoming a doctor), if only she can get her grades up. The movie itself, as I said, is some fairly conventional hero worship. But Edward Tom is worth a little hero worship.

And finally, I wrapped up last Saturday with the 3rd i South Asian Shorts program:

ANDHERI: An Indian servant girl runs away from home, meets an interesting Muslim lady on the bus. Then tragedy happens, and she returns home.
MIDNIGHT LOST AND FOUND: Love blossoms in the middle of the Mumbai night...between a prostitute and the pharmacist she buys her condoms from.
REWIND: Awesome, Russian Roulette played backwards with a blind man.
GUNS: A comedy about prop guns for a movie being mistaken for the real thing. At least, it's a comedy up until it becomes a tragedy.
LOVE STORY: A family story about a girl and her parents. A man explains to his daughter why he loves mommy. Turns out, he loves her a bit too much.
TALA: Another family story. Tala is a Bengali-Australian girl, who learns her mother is not quite faithful to her father, leading to a crisis of conscience.

And that was Saturday at Asianfest.
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