After the Film Fest Sun Sets

The Sixth Annual New Orleans International Human Rights Film Festival came to a close last night. It is coined as the intersection of art + social justice. This year, organizers dubbed the festival’s front name “Patois” as a means of embodying the various languages and perspectives and meeting of those cultures throughout the 10 day event.

It once again introduced me to films (and people) I would otherwise never have seen (until the DVD release) in this rather ghost town for film known as New Orleans. Of course, I missed several films that ended up winning awards and I’ll be catching up with at a later date: William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe, St. Joe (to be a doc feature: “Land of Opportunity”), Robot + Girl (by a friend of mine!), Some Place Like Home: the fight against gentrification in downtown Brooklyn (dir. by Families United for Racial and Economic Equality – FUREE)

I managed to see:

Homeless Power (short doc)
Katrina: man made disaster (feature doc)
Medicine for Melancholy (narrative feature)
Under the Bombs (narrative feature)
Made in L.A. (doc feature)
A Day in Palestine (narrative animated short)
Crips & Bloods: made in America (doc feature)
Hunger (narrative feature)

Exodus (narrative feature) presented some challenges as a viewer – a flat cliched script and meaningless direction – which is why I walked out, a first, after 30 minutes. The only potential going for it were the sets, which had the feel and ambition of “Children of Men,” but knowingly had to work with a severely smaller budget. I’m wondering how much of a coincidence it was that one of the actors was the pregnant woman from “Children of Men.”

Corazon del Tiempo (Heart of Time, narrative feature)
Nerakhoon (The Betrayal, doc feature)
The House that Herman Built (doc short, will be a feature)

Justice for All (doc feature) builds a compelling argument for the complete overhaul of the juvenile “justice” criminal system in the United States by meticulously detailing six or seven egregious cases in different states. For instance, one seventeen year old was sentenced to life in prison without parole in Texas for marijuana possession because a judge retained complete power over the sentencing. He was pardoned by the governor after a long campaign to win his release. However, the system took 16 years of his life. The filmmakers even visit the U.K. to see the rehabilitation programs available to youth as a method of introducing new ideas into our system. I liked the film as a historian likes primary documents–for new facts and stories that make a convincing case for change. The filmmakers inserted themselves too much for me, especially in the editorializing and occasional unprofessional phrases in the narration. But it would be worthy to watch for an educational purpose or in an educational setting.

Cajun New Wave (doc short) is a brief insight into the traditions of Cajun music as talked about by its rising generation of twenty-something musicians. Often hand-held and with sound and visual hiccups, this film might be better as a printed translation of the interviews conducted and released with a CD of the varying worthy musicians such as Pine Leaf Boys, Lost Bayou Ramblers, Beth Patterson, Amanda Shaw, etc.

Crips & Bloods, Hunger, Nerakhoon and Under the Bombs were my top picks from what I saw.

further comments to come…

UPDATE: Here is the lovely ROBOT+GIRL short by Erin Wilson that won the Audience Choice Award.

Published in: on April 6, 2009 at 6:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Prior to a full on Into the Wild film/book review…

Though I am thinking/writing/observing on the subject of Christopher McCandless, the main (but not only) character of Jon Krakauer’s superbly written “Into the Wild,” I am just going to post my response to a film review by Kyle Smith of the New York Post. It is largely in reference to a brief paragraph on Timothy Treadwell, a man who spent thirteen summers alone with brown/grizzly bears on the Alaskan coast before he was attacked and eaten by a bear. The reason the bear attacked is still unknown. I recently finished two books on Treadwell, so I was compelled to share.

First, Kyle Smith’s comments about Treadwell:
Both the cruel beauty of the film[Into the Wild] and this quality of its main character[McCandless] call to mind Werner Herzog’s similar, and similarly brilliant, documentary “Grizzly Man,” about Timothy Treadwell, a nature lover who lived among the bears in Alaska and treated them as big fluffy pets, until they ate him. Treadwell claimed, not very convincingly, to have a girlfriend (a woman he brought along who also died but whom he almost entirely ignored in his many video diaries). He too seemed uninterested in sex, or any other kind of human interaction.

My comment:

I appreciate the mccandless observations, but i’ve just finished reading “The Grizzly Maze” and “Among Grizzlies,” two books on Timothy Treadwell, and wanted to append some info short-changed in Herzog’s documentary.

His relationship with bears was much more complicated than “big fluffy pets” despite how some of Herzog’s video footage plays side of Treadwell up. Treadwell certainly behaved in his own eccentric way to pass the time, but he also had a unique talent to discern bear behavior and intentions, often forced into split-second decisions (whether respectful retreats, holding ground or bluffing an attack) when a bear got to close to him or began to charge. His knack held up for thirteen summers, but all along it was a risky business to convince himself that he too was bear, as he often remarked on video and wrote in his memoir “Among Grizzlies.” More than anything else, McCandless and Treadwell shared an independent spirit and over confidence grown from previous successes. However, sometimes it is also terrible luck–running into a desperate, potentially mentally-ill bear or (spoiler alert!) eating seeds previously unknown to be poisonous.

Treadwell actually had several girlfriends over the years and never seemed to have an aversion to sex, self-described and collaborated in interviews with friends.

From what I gather, he had selective problems with humans depending on whether they were sympathetic to his mission and trips to Alaska every summer or not. His best friend in Alaska, Joel Bennett the filmmaker, was amazed that a person who enjoyed attention and social interaction would go into the bush for months at a time thirteen years in a row like Treadwell.

Published in: on November 27, 2007 at 10:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Ralph Ellison’s Juneteenth

Having not read Invisible Man, this review may be premature, as with anything lacking the proper context of the preceding history and foundation. Because of this, I’ll try to stick to talking just about his second book.

Juneteenth, as the introduction and preface make clear, is not a complete work. Published five years after Ralph Ellison’s death in 1994, a friend and editor was given permission by Ellison’s wife to pare down the 2,000-plus pages of manuscripts and notes compiled on the characters over forty years into one cohesive novel. Easier said than done.

The central storyline is compelling: a white boy, Bliss, is orphaned and left in the care of a black man, Reverend Hickman, but despite the love and care with which Hickman and the community share, Bliss becomes a prominent white racist US Senator and this is where much of the mystery of the novel lies and what the flashbacks reveal. We pick up the story as Hickman and friends visit the Senator’s office, trying to reach out to him one last time, to allow him the opportunity to confront the childhood he has denied. Unsuccessful, cast aside by a secretary, the senator never even hears that they came.

“We came when we sense the circle was closing in upon him. Poor Bliss, he had wrapped up his heart in steel, stainless steel, and I guess he’d put his memory down there in Fort Knox with all that gold. He wouldn’t see us and he only had to remember us as we were and as he was to know that we didn’t come here to rebuke him, his own heart would do enough of that, considering the line he’s been taking against our people all these years. . .I told him way back when he seemed bent on leaving us that I would live a long time and that I would arrive in his presence when he was in sore need. So why’d we come, why’d we hold on so hard to hope? Is this one more test of faith put to us in our old days, or just our own foolishness, just some knotted strings of slavery-time weakness still clinging to us? . . .Maybe we’ve been following the wrong man all this time. Naw, it’s him and there lies the nation on its groaning bed.  I lied and denied so he could climb higher into the hills of power hoping that he’d find security and in his security and power he’d find his memory and with memory use his power for the good of everyone.” [316]

The next day, the family sits in the balcony as the Senator is giving a speech on the Senate floor, when he is suddenly assassinated. Hickman descends to the floor, to his son’s side.

The novel becomes an unraveling of memories and flashbacks to Bliss’ childhood and his origins from both Hickman’s verbose lucid sentimentality and the Senator’s jumbled thoughts as he phases in and out of consciousness while in a hospital bed.

In real time, we (and Hickman) never leave the Senator’s bedside, but instead are taken to a specific past before the Civil Rights Movement in the south in which consequences for even the simplest interracial relations could be grave.

An example of Ellison’s style, often called jazzy, rhythmic like poetics with unending momentum:

Walking her along Fifth Avenue with a ll the eyes reacting and she no flapper but something more formed, more realized, more magically achieved, and the crowds’ imagination whirling like these blossoms tossed in a whirlwind and blown in the million directions of their hopes, hates, fancies, dreams, and we, she and I, become all things to all minds, drawing out their very souls, their potentialities set athrob by the passage of our forms through their atmostphere, sending them ever seeking for some finer thing. (p.72)

This excerpt about slaves traveling in the underbellies of ships crossing the Atlantic reminded me, cryptically, of the federal flood in New Orleans:

Worse than old Jonah, Rev. Hickman?

Worse than Jonah slicked all over with whale puke and gasping on the shore. We went down into hell on those floating coffins and don’t you youngsters forget it! Mothers and babies, men and women, the living and the dead and the dying–all chained together. And yet, praise God, most of us arrived here in this land. The strongest came through. Thank God… [121]

The book’s compelling characters tend to be overbearing as we never get respite or an objective position; each paragraph is a memory from either Hickman or Bliss subject to scrutiny and connected the sentimentalizing and dramatizing of the past.  However, because of what was at stake in this sort of growing up, and the societal pressures brought to bear for a black man to raise a white boy in the pre-Civil Rights Era, the memories remain vivid in Hickman’s accounts, but confusing and scattered in Bliss’s.  This seems to be due to Hickman being an adult, fully formed and informed, while Bliss was still only a child.  Not knowing how to handle or react to drastic events as a child can play out for the rest of one’s life, which is what Bliss rejects, until the end as the recurring psychological consequences take such a toll.  On his death bed the Senator no longer has the defenses to stop the reminiscences from resurfacing in a tactile blur.

For Hickman, his hope forever remained that Bliss would find the way, use his teachings and love and nurturing to further love

“Yes, and sometimes that man gets hold of the idea of what he’s supposed to do in this world and he gets an idea of what it is possible for him to do, and that man lets that idea guide him as he grows and struggles and stumbles and sorrows until finally he comes into his own God-given shape and achieves his own individual and lonely place in this world. It don’t happen often, oh no; but when it does, then even the stones will cry out in witness to his vision and the hills and towers shall echo his words and deeds and his example will live in the hearts of men forever

…That kind of man loves the truth even more than he loves his life, or his wife, or his children, because he’s been designated and set aside to do the hard tasks that have to be done. That kind of man will do what he sees as justice even if the earth yawns and swallows him down, and even then his deeds will survive and persist in the land forever…And in the words my slavery-born granddaddy taught me when I was a child:

Ole Abe Lincoln digging in the sand/Swore he was nothing but a natural man./Ole Abe Lincoln chopping on a tree/Swore a mighty oath he’d let the slaves go free./And he did!

So let us pray, not for him but for ourselves and for all those whose job it is to wear those great big shoes he left htis nation to fill…”

And to think, Hickman thought, stirring suddenly in his chair, we had hoped to raise ourselves that kind of man . . .” [282-283]

Published in: on July 18, 2007 at 5:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Most Important Post-Katrina Writings

what lies beneath

What Lies Beneath: Katrina, race and the state of the nation is a radical anthology of essays published by South End Press. Probably the most important text on the pre/post federal flood era. A great starting point for moving forward in a socially conscious, sustainable and locally-oriented way. An education unto itself.

Particularly insightful, provocative essays:

An introductory essay by Kalamu ya Salaam — a New Orleans poet, educator, filmmaker

The extremely moving “a raging flood of tears,” a poem by Ewuare Osayande

“To Render Ourselves Visible” by members of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence

“Slum Clearance” by Lewis Lapham, the recently retired editor of Harper’s

“Corporate Reconstruction and Grassroots Resistance” by Jordan Flaherty of Left Turn Magazine

This wonderful resource of radical analysis, personal reflection and humanity will be referenced much as I continue to write on these topics in this blog and beyond. Thank you all for producing this book.

Published in: on June 29, 2007 at 10:25 pm  Leave a Comment