Sunday, August 2, 2009

Jason goes to Jewfest--Day...whatever

I've lost count. Anyway, it was last Saturday in Berkeley, and I just went up to see three shows.

The first program started with the short GROWN UP. An Israeli story of adolescence, as a 15 year old girl and her friend entertain her mom's date until she shows up. A serious film, but there are some very funny moments.

This was the lead in to the documentary LADY KUL EL-ARAB. Duah Fares is a Druze Arab from Galilee, and a real beauty. She's doing very well in the Lady of the Arabs beauty pageant. But she knows that this pageant won't get her noticed and won't get her the modeling career she wants. So she makes a controversial decision to enter the Miss Israel pageant. The controversy comes about from the swimsuit competition and the fact that the Druze are a conservative community that consider it immoral for a woman to appear in public in a swimsuit. It's a tense story as she has to drop out of the Lady of the Arabs pageant (although I wasn't quite clear as to whether she really had to do that and why) and essentially go into hiding while her family deals with death threats over matters of honor. The Miss Israel pageant provides for increased security, which means for the most part she can't even visit her own parents (who I should stress are totally supportive of her decision). Nevertheless, at one point, her own uncle and two conspirators are arrested for planning to kill her to protect the family's honor. A fascinating and heartbreaking story, and very well made.

Next up was another program in this year's Social Justice series. Starting with the short 575 CASTRO STREET. That was the address of Harvey Milk's camera shop, and while Gus Van Sant had recreated it for MILK, they asked local experimental filmmaker Jenni Olson to make a short film they could use in the promo. What she made is a series of shots in the empty set, while playing the audio of the original tape Milk made to be played in the event of his assassination. It's a chilling feeling, like listening to a ghost. Particularly when he talks about who he'd want mayor George Moscone to appoint to replace him (Moscone, of course, was assassinated at the same time).

That was the lead in to the documentary SHOUTING FIRE: STORIES FROM THE EDGE OF FREE SPEECH. Director Liz Garbus starts by interviewing her own father, famed first amendment lawyer Martin Garbus (yup, with this and the William Kunstler doc, the festival has two civil rights lawyer documentaries made by the daughters of the lawyers) . But this movie is more all-encompassing than just Martin Garbus. She interviews people from both sides of the issues, talking about free speech, security, and especially political pressure and censorship after 9/11 (e.g., the University of Colorado firing Ward Churchill for his essay critical of the U.S.) There's a wide range of cases--Garbus talks about the ACLU defending the neo-Nazis in their case to hold a rally in Skokie, Illinois. To me, the movie is really at it's best when they focus on cases where I don't really agree with the central figure. Like the high school kid in Poway who wore a t-shirt in protest of a school-sponsored Day of Silence (to protest bullying and harassment of gay students). It are these cases that remind us that if we only support free speech for those we agree with, then we don't really support free speech. Lest there be any doubt where I stand, let me reiterate the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution (as best as I can remember):
Those assholes in Congress shall make no god-damned law respecting an establishment of any shitty religion, or prohibiting the free cock-sucking exercise thereof; or fucking abridging the freedom of speech, or of the motherfucking press; or the right of the shit-for-brains people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the son-of-a-bitch Government for a redress of their fucking grievances. Ya got that, bitches!?
(Interesting note, the movie completely skipped over the religion clause in the first amendment. Not really the point of the movie, but it's interesting in repeating the first amendment they took that out).

And then I ended my night there with ZION AND HIS BROTHER. This first feature by Haifa native Eran Merav is a knockout in more ways than one. It's a movie that eschews traditional plot structure to instead build the love/hate (mostly hate, but sometimes it comes from a place of love) relationship of two brothers. Zion is the younger brother, and is generally a sweet, timid mama's boy. Meir, on the other hand, is angry, and at no one more than his own mother. While their mother dates Eli, a pretty nice guy with his own auto shop (i.e., a way out of poverty and into a nice apartment for her family), Meir jumps to the conclusion that a) it won't work, and b) mom's a bitch for trying to use Eli like that anyway. One night, Meir bullies an Ethiopian kid who Zion (incorrectly) thinks stole his shoes, leading to a tragic end. And that strains their relationship more, with Zion getting moodier and Meir getting angrier and more violent. It's an excellent story of how violence belittles us all, and ultimately Zion proves to be the more mature brother.

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