Monday, April 23, 2012

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 5

The first Monday of the festival, and I celebrated by seeing four films. That's right, I celebrate Mondays by watching movies.

First up was an absolute delight, ¡VIVAN LAS ANTIPODAS! Antipodes are spots on Earth diametrically opposed to each other. Since most of the Earth is covered in water, antipodes with dry land on both sides are kind of rare. Antipodes with people on both sides are even rarer. But this film takes a contemplative, poetic, and highly visual adventure to four sets of such antipodes (eight location in all) as a way of exploring the diversity and similarities of human existence. Entre Rios, Argentina is paired with Shanghai, China. Lake Baikal in Russia is paired with Patagonia in Chile. Miraflores Spain is paired with Castle Point, New Zealand. And the lava beds of the Big Island of Hawai'i is paired with a village in Botswana. And the film is full of beautiful cinematography, inverted cameras, clever transitions (the lava beds to the elephant's skin was my favorite.) I don't think I can tell you in words how beautiful it all was. This film doesn't just celebrate the diversity and possibilities of human life. It also celebrates the endless possibility of cinema to change the way we see the world around us.

¡VIVAN LAS ANTIPODAS! plays again April 26 at 6:00 at the Film Society Cinema and April 30 at 9:00 at the Pacific Film Archives. And the director Victor Kossakovsky is supposed to be there for those screenings. My only regret is he wasn't around for a Q&A at this screening.

But then, I didn't really have time to stick around for a Q&A, because I was off to Kirby Dick's (THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED, TWIST OF FAITH) new film, THE INVISIBLE WAR. Right to the point, it's about rape in the military. And Kirby gets right in there and interviews the victims, bringing painful personal stories to light. And he backs it up with statistics, all of which come from government reports. About 20% of women serving in the military have been assaulted at some time (a smaller percentage, but larger total number of men are also assaulted.) New recruits into the military are twice as likely to have committed or attempted rape than the corresponding demographics in the civilian population. And most upsetting is how rarely anything is done about it. Since you don't report to an outside police force but to your chain of command, often the victim has to report the assault to either a friend of her attacker or sometimes (bizarrely) to her attacker himself--and then he gets to decide whether to investigate.

You know, I hate this argument but I can understand that in a macho, high-testosterone environment rape will sometimes happen. Heck, it happens in the civilian world and maybe it can never be totally eliminated. But the military can address how they respond to incidents. Some of the most distressing moments of the film is when it shows the pathetic efforts at training to prevent assaults. The words "security theater" have been tossed around a lot lately, well this is nothing more than "rape prevention theater." The best prevention is harsh punishment of rapists, not the buddy system or a cheesy rap video telling you to help prevent assaults.

I remember the Tailhook scandal being in the news when I was in high school back in 1991. And it appears nothing has changed since then. Maybe this movie, and the take action page on its website, can force some change. So far, it's a very well made movie that's painful and difficult to watch.

THE INVISIBLE WAR plays again May 1 at 9:15 at the Kabuki.

Next up, my doc day afternoon continued with AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY. Back in 2008, there was a documentary I saw at SF Indie's Docfest called BIRD'S NEST: HERZOG AND DE MEURON IN CHINA. I thought it was moderately interesting, but there was this one character--a dissident Chinese artist who helped design the Bird's Nest stadium but then spoke out against the Olympics. I thought they totally missed the boat on that movie, because he was by far the most interesting character. There should have just been a movie about him. And now, thanks to Alison Klayman, there is. At one point, Ai Weiwei describes himself not as an artist but as a chess player--his opponent makes move, then he decides his next move. His opponent, of course, is the Chinese government. He really came to prominence not from the Olympics but from his work in the Sichuan earthquake shortly before. He was upset at the shoddy "tofu" construction of schoolhouses that led to thousands of students dying in the collapsed buildings. And beyond that, the government wouldn't release the names or numbers of students who had died. So he researched it himself and on the one year anniversary of the earthquake he released his list of names. That was just the start of an ongoing career of challenging the powers. Luckily, his fame makes him a little hard to touch. Hard...but not impossible. After the earthquake incident, when he was going to testify at the trial of another earthquake activist, he was beaten by cops to the point where he needed surgery to reduce swelling on his brain. Later, he is "disappeared" for months, and when he's released the government declares he owes the equivalent of $2.4 million in back taxes (donations come in from all over the place.) Currently he's forbidden to travel outside Beijing, but that ban is supposed to be up in June, and I guess we will all find out more then. As it is, I'm very happy this movie was made, I'm happy to get a better look at this remarkable man, and most of all I'm happy that people like this exist in the world.

AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY plays again April 25 at 9:15 at the Kabuki

And finally, I saw my one and only narrative film of the day, but GUILTY was still based very closely on a real incident. Alain Marecaux (Philippe Torreton, who does a magnificent job) is a family man--a bailiff with a wife and three kids. If there's one thing wrong in his life, it's that he works too hard and doesn't spend enough time home with the kids. And then in the middle of the night he and his wife are arrested, accused of being part of a widespread pedophile ring. There's not a shred of actual evidence, just an allegation by a mother who admitted to prostituting her own children and named tons of names. An overzealous investigating judge (I don't know the French legal system at all, they call him a judge but he didn't seem to be the same as a judge in an American court) makes things worse, and Alain is in jail for years. He can't even get released on bail, despite no physical evidence against him and completely inconsistent statements from his accusers. Of course, if any cellmate finds out what he's accused of, his life could be in danger. As it is, he attempted suicide many times, including a harrowing hunger strike. Since it's based on a true story you can look up, I won't worry too much about spoilers. I'll just say it became the biggest French legal scandal in living memory. And I'll say the film is expertly made and often (appropriately) hard to watch.

GUILTY plays again April 25 at 6:00 and April 27 at noon, both times at the Kabuki.

Total Running Time: 389 minutes
My Total Minutes: 279,308

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