Chale Nafus's blog
It's unfortunate that Austin Jewish Film Festival and Cine Las Americas International Film Festival overlap for four days this week, but you can treat yourself to a whirlwind of images, stories, music, and themes by jumping back and forth between the two. AJFF is already underway (my preview). Cine Las Americas starts tomorrow night and runs through Sunday with a full and varied lineup.
You can buy film passes and tickets from the fest's website, or individual tickets at the theaters before the screenings (space available). Films at the Mexican American Cultural Center are free; other venues (where you need tickets) include Stateside at the Paramount and Alamo Drafthouse Village.
As it has since the initiation of each festival, Austin Film Society is co-sponsoring films in both fests. For Cine Las Americas we are helping to present a fascinating elegiac documentary, Carriere: 250 Metros (Juan Carlos Rulfo, Mexico, 2011) at Stateside Theatre on Thursday, April 18 at 7 pm. The director should be available for a Skype Q&A after the screening.
The always-popular Austin Jewish Film Festival is back with a selection of stimulating films. The fest starts tomorrow night (Saturday, April 13) and runs through Friday, April 19 at Regal Arbor. Tickets and festival badges are still available, and some noon screenings are free.
Austin Film Society is co-sponsoring two of the fest's movies this year:
- The Other Son (pictured above) (Lorraine Levy, France/Israel, 2012) is a powerful, yet hopeful, portrait of two young men -- one Palestinian, one Israeli -- switched at birth. They learn to transcend cultural, national and religious boundaries after they meet. [screening info]
- Out in the Dark (Michael Mayer, Israel, 2012) joins the growing list of well-made Israeli films exploring gay life in Israel. In this film, we see the difficulties of love between a young Palestinian student and a slightly older Israeli lawyer. In a well-acted but tough role as a homophobic cop, new Austin resident Alon Pdut proves his ability to inhabit unflattering roles, just as he did in The Long Journey, which AFS and AJFF screened a few weeks ago. [screening info]
Watch the Out in the Dark trailer below:
The Middle East continues to be a hotbed of socio-political upheaval, sometimes with cautious hope, more often with sorrow and loss. Nonetheless many of the countries of the region continue to provide a fertile ground for the imagination of filmmakers. In keeping with what has become an Austin Film Society programming tradition, we present our seventh consecutive year of the Essential Cinema series, "Children of Abraham/Ibrahim: Films of the Middle East and Beyond" (Feb 19 – April 9, 2013).
We begin tomorrow night with one of the most important films to come out of Iran, one made by an Iranian filmmaker forbidden to write screenplays, direct movies, discuss cinema publically or travel to other countries for film festivals for a period of 20 years. This Is Not a Film (2011) is Jafar Panahi's answer (and shrill raspberry) to his repressive government's decree.
With the help of his friend and technical assistant Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Panahi shares a day in his life with us as he talks about the film he was planning to make before his arrest and harsh sentence. He transforms one room of his large apartment into the bedroom of a young woman forced to remain captive in her own home while her parents are away. In a crucial moment in his acting out of the script, Panahi suddenly stops as he finds this exercise frustrating and unfulfilling. Never have we so clearly seen such a creative mind gagged and bound by such an idiotic law charging an artist with demeaning the image of Iran and Islam. Perhaps the point of making this "non-film" is that the attempt to silence his artistry is what demeans the image of the country and the religion. This Is Not a Film is an absolute must-see for all people disturbed by censorship and inspired by unbridled creativity.
I can't abide prolonged cold weather, so I have avoided the Sundance Film Festival every year. Until now. Austin Film Society Associate Artistic Director Holly Herrick has persuaded me to go this time. After looking over the titles, I have gotten excited about the prospects. So, off I go today to Dillard's to add to my paltry "winter wardrobe" rarely worn in Austin. On Thursday, I fly to Utah for six days of movie-watching. Among the 21 films I propose to watch are a dozen (eight documentaries, four narratives) that I must see, provided I don't slip on the ice or get deterred by a flash mob surrounding a celebrity.
When I Walk -- Filmmaker Jason DaSilva had been making films since he was 17, but when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 25, he kept on making films. In his latest, he has turned the camera on himself and his struggles to pursue his craft.
Running from Crazy -- Born four months after her famous grandfather's suicide, Mariel Hemingway eventually followed her older sister Margaux into acting. After Margaux committed suicide in 1996, Mariel began to contemplate the self-destructive family trait. Veteran documentarian Barbara Kopple (Shut Up & Sing, Harlan County U.S.A.) explores the Hemingway family history and Mariel's mission to prevent suicide.
Christmas was the most wonderful holiday for my mother. Not for religious reasons, since she adamantly avoided organized religions, but for the opportunity to decorate the house. Her specialty was "the village," covering two long tables with a wintry scene of miniature buildings, people, animals, ponds and my small train set. Some of our most joyful moments were spent setting up this miniature idealized community.
Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol was also part of that season's celebration, first with my mother reading it aloud over several nights and later by listening to a radio version (Lionel Barrymore's). Having spent six of her teenage years in a Texas State orphanage in the 1920s, my mother loved and understood Dickens in ways I could not yet fathom. When the British film production of A Christmas Carol arrived in Dallas in December 1951, my parents took my niece and me to see it. I honestly can't remember my initial reaction, but I have thoroughly enjoyed repeated viewings over the intervening 60 years. Putting nostalgia aside and ignoring the awkward special effects of the time, I still consider it a remarkable film.
One might have expected David Lean, the master of Dickens adaptations, to have brought A Christmas Carol to the screen. With Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1948), Lean had revealed an eye for the grimmer aspects of Dickens' view of industrial Britain. Perhaps the Christmas story wasn't really big enough for Lean's imagination. Instead, a less sparkling director, Brian Desmond Hurst, received a contract with Renown Pictures Corporation to turn Noel Langley's screenplay of A Christmas Carol into Scrooge.
For info about tonight's films, read Part One of Chale's preview.
This weekend the Austin Polish Film Festival continues with a variety of events, starting Saturday with a selection of children's films (1-3 pm). Then a workshop led by Austin artist Mig Kokinda will celebrate world-famous Polish poster designs, followed by a return screening of Marcin Latałło's illuminating documentary The Other Side of the Poster (2010).
Saturday evening showcases three gems of contemporary Polish cinema. Jan Komasa's 2010 movie Suicide Room (Sala samobójców) is a brilliant, harrowing portrait of a teenager who descends into a dark world. Dominik seems happy enough in high school, but a suggestion that he may be gay leads to merciless cyber-bullying and the boy's withdrawal from society. His parents, wealthy, well connected, and both engaged in extramarital affairs, seem oblivious to the boy's growing depression.
Finding a website called The Suicide Room, Dominik becomes immersed in a world of equally depressed people. Through online avatars, gracefully depicted through animated sequences in the film, these loners interact, while romanticizing suicide. By the time his parents seek help for their son, it may be too late. Suicide Room is a cutting-edge film, both in style and through its theme of children lost in cyberspace. The film and its director have received various international awards.
80 Million (80 milionów, directed by Waldemar Krzystek, 2012) will fortunately be introduced by University of Texas professor Dr. Gilbert Rappaport. I say "fortunately" because as much as I was intrigued by this complex thriller, I was somewhat at a loss to understand the complex characters or their actions. On the eve of the imposition of martial law in 1981, five anti-government activists legally withdraw 80 million złoty (US $25,000,000) from various trade union bank accounts in Wrocław, a Solidarity stronghold. They had been tipped off by a shadowy character who warned them of the coming crackdown.
This is no Hollywood heist, committed by a gang to enrich themselves. Instead, it is a political act designed to fund the underground activities of Solidarity during the impending darkness. As in other political thrillers, the cast of characters is complexly motivated, and friends may turn out to be spies. All of this adds to the intrigue and tension of 80 Million, which is rightly a candidate for Poland's 2013 Oscar submission.
The seventh annual Austin Polish Film Festival starts tomorrow (11/1), and runs through Sunday. There are always plenty of wonderful films, discussions, Q&A sessions, posters and food, and this year will be no exception. All the fest's screenings and events will take place at The Marchesa Theatre in Lincoln Village.
Kicking off the festival's opening night is an (eventually) uplifting drama, Women's Day (Dzien kobiet), in which the Polish "solidarity" of the 1980s gains a feminist point-of-view in the 21st century. In the same vein as American cinematic characters Norma Rae, Karen Silkwood and Erin Brockovich, Halina Radwan reaches a point in her professional career where she won't "take it anymore."
What seems to be a great opportunity at first turns into a nightmare, as Halina is promoted from cashier to manager of a Butterfly grocery store, one in a nationwide chain of supermarkets in post-Communist Poland. As could be expected in any society, there is the inevitable jealousy on the part of some former colleagues, who now function as her employees. But Halina is told by her district boss that she has to be tough in dealing with them. He also makes it clear that she needs to do him favors of a sexual nature. She hasn't had a husband for four years, she hasn't dated because of long working hours and a daughter, so she eventually gives in to his demands, but without much feeling. What is harder for her to do is reprimand women who are late because of hangovers, absent with morning sickness or generally difficult.
After some managerial training exercises, which involve singing, running around outside in a circle and chanting "Productivity" as loudly as "Stalin" was yelled out 60 years before, Halina begins to accept her role as boss. After all, she is able to get a new apartment, buy a computer for her teenage daughter Misia, and pay some much needed attention to her own happiness. But then disaster strikes, and Halina sees that she is nothing more than a discardable tool in a very corrupt, inhumane business. Only when she succeeds in enlisting the aid of other women is she able to confront the powerful corporation.
Veteran actress Katarzyna Kwiatkowska, with over 30 films and TV shows to her credit since 1992, gives a flawless performance as Halina. Her face reveals a wide array of thoughts and emotions as she rises, falls, and rises ever higher (on her own terms) in this righteous film.
A dramatic film about transgender issues in Iran seems unlikely. A positively sympathetic Iranian film about a young woman desperately trying to secure gender reassignment seems impossible. And yet here is Facing Mirrors, made in Iran by a first-time feature director, Negar Azarbayjani, dealing with that very subject in a sensitive way almost unthinkable in an American film. The Austin Film Society is co-presenting a screening of Facing Mirrors as part of aGLIFF Polari on Thursday at 6:45 pm at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz.
Thanks to the 25th annual fest, we are reminded that global cinema presents a rich array of people so very different from the two-dimensional stereotypes shoved into our brains by "the news" or TV programs and movies. For at least 25 years, wonderful films have been coming from Iran, visually rich, humanistic, and profound, despite the socio-historical absurdities spouted by some of the leaders of that complex, ancient land. This 2011 feature is the most amazing recent one because of its subject matter and treatment.
At the heart of Facing Mirrors are two women. Rana is a young mother, forced to surreptitiously drive the family car as a gypsy cab to earn money while her husband is in prison for debts. The young couple had dreams of owning their own business, but an unscrupulous business partner stole the money and left Sadegh (and thereby his wife Rana) with a debt which might take 20 years to repay.
Toronto never disappoints. I have just returned from my fifth year at the Toronto International Film Festival, which featured over 300 films. Since most of those films are from many countries besides the U.S., I always feel like I am in paradise. At least one of these movies will screen in Austin soon, and I hope more will make their way here by next year.
Most of the time I avoid English-language films, since many of them will eventually make their way to Austin theaters or on-demand services. However, I broke my rule the very first day by going to see On the Road, Walter Salles's adaptation of Jack Kerouac's classic novel about young men driving through late 1940s America.
I went into the theater with the wrong expectation initially. I wanted a film that grabbed me by the arm and rushed me through a multitude of scenes and events, as had Kerouac's glorious novel and movies like Scorsese's Goodfellas. After 15 minutes I settled down and let the film work its own kind of magic as a character study of the charismatic Dean Moriarty/Neal Cassady, gay Carlo Marx, and mama-ridden participant/observer Sal Paradise/Kerouac. I can hardly wait to see the film again -- it will feel like revisiting old friends in an America long gone. Please don't ask me about Kristen Stewart.
It all started with a tract house in suburban Louisville, Kentucky. Andrew Wade, an electrical contractor and veteran of WWII, and his wife Charlotte tried to buy a new house. After countless rebuffs, one sympathetic realtor suggested that the young African-American couple get a white friend to buy the house and then transfer the deed to the Wades. This was a time when virulent segregation laws were still rigidly enforced in the South (and much of the rest of the U.S.). New suburban developments provided the landing space for white flight from inner cities.
Local journalists Anne Braden and her husband Carl bought the house, signed over ownership, and then the troubles began. First with rocks through the windows, followed by shotgun blasts and burning crosses planted by white-robed KKK members. A bomb explosion finally drove the young couple and their three-year-old child out of the house.
At other times that might have been the end of the whole affair, but it was 1954, the year of the Supreme Court's ruling against school segregation. White racists redoubled their determination to fight any form of integration.
Rather than find the actual person or persons who dynamited the Wade home, a Louisville grand jury charged the Bradens with sedition against the state of Kentucky. Proof? Purchasing a house for an African-American couple in a white neighborhood, explicitly against housing laws and contract restrictions. They were even suspected of blowing up the house themselves in order to enflame racial hatred and stir up a Communist revolution. In December 1954, Carl Braden was found guilty of sedition and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Furthermore, both Anne and Carl were branded "traitors to their race."