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Film Festival Day 15: Friday, 10/08/2012

I was lucky enough to get to drop into Te Papa today, where my Mum is participating in the ongoing weaving exhibition, demonstrating her craft and answering questions. She’s a talented woman.

Film #72: Death Row: Portrait of Hank Skinner

The last of the Werner Hertzog films, and an interesting one. We got to see a man with hope – Skinner has had stays of execution, and been granted the right to get evidence tested even after his conviction. There were lots of details about prison life too – for example, the prisoners who prepare the last meal try to do the best job they can, both because it’s the prisoner’s last meal, and because they always order a lot, and often can’t eat any of it – at which point the cooks get to eat the leftovers.

It would probably have made more sense to just buy the documentary, rather than go to all these individual films. Nevermind, I’m glad I saw them.

Film #73: Sound of My Voice

A couple is making a documentary about a cult that they’ve infiltrated – a cult dedicated to a woman claiming to be from an apocalyptic future. There is a nice amount of ambiguity, and the film-maker splits up the narrative into chunks to good effect, with events in some parts throwing into question other, later events that we’d simply accept otherwise.

It reminded me of the game Phoenix, and I’d recommend it to the other people who were in that game. And others, actually – it was well done.

Film #74: Whores’ Glory

This was hard to watch. A lot of hypocrisy on all sides, with the customers in Thailand complaining about their wives cheating on them, or the Mexican man alternatively praising or swearing about the working women. The attitudes in the different cultures seemed different, with the Thai women feeling the least socially outcast, but that may be because we were looking at a higher-end establishment than the others. The bars where women pay for extravagantly expensive drinks in order to be doted on by good looking boys also indicate a different sex culture.

I was astonished about what the customers were willing to say and/or do in front of the camera. I wonder whether that’s cultural, as well? Speaking of cultural, the worship of the White Lady, Lord Death in Mexico were interesting; I might need to read up about this some more.

This was a sad documentary, with a lot of sad women in it; but also some who were able to find humour in their situation as well. So… people, in other words.

Film #75: Tongan Ark

An inspiring film about a weird tertiary institution set up in Tonga according to one man’s vision, taking students rejected from elsewhere and teaching critical thinking, Greek philosophy and opera, while respecting Tongan culture. The founder was also important in pushing forward the democracy debate in Tonga, which didn’t make him popular with the current elite.

I don’t agree with everything that was said – the dismissal of computers as “empty knowledge” because it is constantly changing displays an ignorance of the difference between I.T. and computer science, and I’m not sure that I’d fit into the faculty of what’s essentially a quirky liberal arts college plunked in a swamp without any cushy grants or foundations. But I’m glad that it’s there.

Film #76: No

This was a good, cleverly shot film. They deliberately graded very Kodachrome yellow, and gave it a definite grain and slight shadowing, so that it blended in with the archival footage that they used. I believe that many (or all?) of the advertising was from the original campaign, so the ominous steamroller of Communism crushing household appliances and threatening the little girl for the “Yes” campaign was contrasted with the upbeat and funny (for the 80s) ads for the “No” campaign.

(I was reminded of the infamous “Dancing Cossacks” attack ad that National used here in the 1970s.)

Anyway, it documents a remarkable event – not just in the result of the plebiscite, but in the fact that the result was actually allowed to come out, and was actually honoured. The film’s focus on the warring ad-men gives it an interesting structure and focus, and the advertising is eerily familiar to me (though I wonder what it would look like to children of the 90s or 00s). I’d probably watch it again.

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