Okay, the film festival is over, but I have my last half-dozen movies to write up, starting with last Monday, and a pair of fascinating documentaries.
First up was a rare glimpse into the most isolated nation on earth. KIMJONGILIA is a movie about North Korean leader and charter "Axis of Evil" member, Kim Jong-il (and the title comes from the name of a flower created in his honor). Director N.C. Heikin interviews a number of escapees from the totalitarian regime, who tell of horror stories there--imprisonment for questioning the leader, or being the grandchild of someone who questioned the leader, starvation, execution (in front of their family). She even interviews a rather well off and popular musician who left for ideological reasons (among them, artistic freedom). The most fascinating part for me is there's no mentions of nukes, there's very little talk about the relative merits of communism vs. capitalism. This is not a political story, it's a story of human suffering. Kim Jong-il's regime isn't presented as evil because it's communist or because it threatens it's neighbors. As on interviewee says, “If the person who created such a place isn’t a criminal, I don’t know who is.”--and that's all because of the suffering brought on his own people, not on his threats to the outside world. Heikin keeps it entertaining, and even has a bit of humor by mixing in North Korean propaganda newsreels and clips from movie musicals (Kim Jong-il is a notorious movie fan), but never takes the focus off the human suffering.
In the Q&A, she admitted that because of the totally isolated nature of the country, she doesn't have a complete picture of what's going on. She cannot interview anyone but escapees, and that will naturally paint a bleak picture (not necessarily an untrue one). As for the charge that this is just propaganda and she didn't make any effort to tell Kim Jong-il's side of the story, she simply said "I have no interest in defending Kim Jong-il." Might I add, Berkeley is just about the only city in the U. S. where someone can be attacked for not defending Kim Jong-il. And Berkeley, that is why the rest of America makes fun of you.
So next we moved to another world hotspot, Israel, for Z32. Avi Mograbi tells a confession and a tragedy, set to music. The confession part is easy to explain--an Israeli, while serving in the military, is sent on a revenge mission after the killing of 6 of his fellow soldiers. They go on the mission and end up killing two innocent Palestinian policeman. Just telling that story and exploring the moral and philosophical implications would make a pretty short film. So Mograbi uses devices to put some distance up and also draw us in. First off, he has the soldier confessing to his girlfriend, who has to deal with the fact that the man she loves is a murderer. Second, he masks their faces through a series of digital effects (if nothing else, the visuals are interesting even if the 10th repetition of the confession gets a little old). Third, he inserts himself in the story, first with a stocking on his head, and cutting holes showing how more and more identity is needed to tell the story (something he then mimics in the decreasing obfuscation of the digital masks). And finally, he writes a song which he sings about it (first by himself, then with a small orchestra). All through it, rather than a simple this-was-so-wrong confession, he unveils a national psyche that is torn between doing the right thing and protecting itself. Something that resonates in America today (torture debate, anyone?) Oh yeah, and just to explain, Z32 refers to the file number of this confession filed by Breaking the Silence, an organization of Israeli veterans who collect and archive testimonies from soldiers who have served in the IDF.