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Film Festival Day 16: Saturday, 11/08/2012

Except for the first movie, today was my day at the Paramount. This was not as idyllic as I hoped  it would be. (First World Problems follow.) For example, the $3 pot of tea was large, true; but it had a metallic tang to it, suggesting that they may need to descale whatever they use to boil the water (though I suppose it could have been the mik). And the iced chocolate was more merely chilled than icy. And the gaps between movies were quite small, meaning there was always a crush at the counter between films, and no real time to order and eat food. (I scooted out to Burger Wisconsin in a 20-minute gap instead.) Still, I’ve no complaints about the theatre, or the slice I actually managed to order.

Film #77: Chasing Ice

This film is undeniably beautiful, and the guy organising the Extreme Ice Survey is definitely dedicated, both to the project and to his calling – three knee surgeries in pursuit of pictures says something about how much he pushes himself. And I think that, sadly enough, images are much more convincing to most people that statistics; these are definitely striking images.

But – and did I foreshadow the “but” sufficiently? – I don’t think that this film would convince a climate change denier. Not just because people seek out material that confirms their views, rather than things that challenge them; but because that’s not who the film is really aimed at. There’s no attempt to win people over; it’s more, “I used to be sceptical, but I was wrong.” So, if that was a goal, then I’m not sure it succeeded.

But if the main goal was to show the beauty of the glaciers and ice, the scale of the change, the challenge of filming these things, and the tenacity of the people doing it – well, they succeeded just fine.

Film #78: Bully

This was a very difficult film to watch.

In a way, I’m a little ashamed that it affected me more than some of the other documentaries I’ve seen about people in far worse situations. For example, the story of the boy with no friends who gets punched and stabbed with pencils on the school bus, who finds out that his younger sister is worrying about going to middle school because she already gets harassed in primary school because people think that he’s weird; why should that be more affecting to me than Mexican prostitutes addicted to crack, or gay Ugandan men who have to live in fear of being murdered? It’s a boy who is bullied for, essentially, being awkward, dorky-looking, and sufficiently desperate to be accepted that he’ll take the punching-bag role because at least it means they’re interacting with him; he’s not starving, or having legislation passed to allow the state to kill him.

I think – I hope – that at least part of it is that these are kids. They’ve been taught that they shouldn’t tell on other kids (both by peer pressure and the fact that it hasn’t worked when they’ve done it), and they haven’t had time to learn any coping mechanisms. I remember an incident on a school bus when a kid was mocking me, but I was lucky enough to realise that the best response was to do a double take, and act confused as to why he thought what he was saying was a big deal, which diffused the situation nicely.

And that, I suspect, is the reason why this was such a difficult film for me – because I recognized myself, and it’s a little disappointing that the visceral part of my empathy is tied so closely to having similar experiences to the people suffering. Nothing like the degree that these kids suffered, of course: St Patrick’s College, at least my year, was by-and-large decent, and there certainly wasn’t any of the physical stuff (at least that I saw). Oh, except there was one vile kid (who had a couple of hangers-on, as I recall), who would pick on anyone they thought they could get away with; eventually, I remember, he stole a car, crashed it into a telephone pole while trying to escape police, and returned to school with a scarred face. I don’t remember whether he stayed past fifth form, and while I know that his behaviour probably indicates that he had problems I didn’t know about, I find it hard to let go of my dislike… which isn’t the sort of person I’d prefer to be.

But I never experienced anything like the girl who came out of the closet in a small southern town: she had kids run into her with a mini-van, teachers humiliate her in front of her class (talking about “burning faggots”); her parents were ostracised, and after trying to stick it out and change people’s minds for a couple of years, they all ended up moving out of town. That made me frustrated – how can people ignore what a person is genuinely like, day after day, and reject them based on what they think that people “like that” are like?

And even for the kids that weren’t butting heads with cultural stereotypes – it was frustrating to see the teachers tell the bullied, “Can’t you be friends?”, and to the bullies, essentially, “Don’t let me catch you doing that again.” I mean, if they’re bullies, if they’re attacking a kid and saying that they’ll cut off their face because they’re awkward… well, telling them “don’t do this particular action” isn’t going to address why they’re acting in that way, any more than just sticking someone in prison is going to stop them re-offending when they get out. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for bullies, but if it’s a way to feel powerful, well, find them better ways to do that! Which is easier to say than do, I’ll admit.

(Oh, and the kid who felt that she had to take a gun on her bus to stop bullies in Texas, who was initially charged with a separate count of kidnap and attempted assault for every kid on the bus, which makes 22 felony charges… there’s something weirdly disproportionate going on there. I also heard the white, middle class, middle-aged male saying that there’s no justification for bringing a gun onto a school bus unless they had been physically assaulting her… and while she did a wrong, dumb thing, I’m not sure I’d be so quick to dismiss verbal threats and browbeating.)

I hope that the internet lets some of these kids in small communities find other kids like themselves to bond with; but that has it’s own set of problems, since there are horrid places and people online too, and social media can be just another avenue to ostracise people.

Watching parents of kids who have killed themselves because of bullying, and kids who are being bullied, is hard. It was a good documentary.

Film #79: Bonjour Tristesse

An older French film, about a spoilt girl who doesn’t want her playboy father changed from his life of gay parties and young women by an older, more responsible woman who he’s decided he wants to marry. While there are some comic turns, it’s essentially a tragedy. The structure of the film is a little odd, with extensive use of narration; but Niven is excellent in the role, as are many of the others, and overall I’m glad I saw it (though I’m not sure I’d re-watch it).

Film #80: Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

Ai Weiwei was travelling to testify on behalf of another dissident in a trial accusing him of trying to undermine the power of the State. While in his hotel, police broke down his door, and one assaulted him (hitting him hard enough that a shot time later, in Berlin, he had to have surgery to relieve swelling on his brain that would have killed him); he and his companions were held in those hotel rooms, without any reasons being given, until after the dissident’s conviction.

He isn’t perfect, but doesn’t claim to be – he has a son (who he obviously adores) by a woman who is not his wife, and admits that it’s something that hurt his wife, and that it’s not a good situation; but he isn’t afraid, and he makes other people less afraid. Subtly protesting the demolition of his brand-new workshop by organizing a river-crab dinner (where the word for “river crab” is a pun on a popular Party slogan), the fact that the authorities detained him without reason, but people turned up and did it anyway, is indicative of how freeing his actions have been.

This was a good documentary about a good-humoured and brave artist doing something important.

Film #81: Tabu

I saw four or five people walk out of this film. I wish I had been one of them. It was told in a stilted style, and I was reminded of nothing so much as the parody ArtHaus that featured in the 48HR film competition many moons ago. There were a few moments that I found interesting – for example, I think I will be able to reuse the essence of the fable about the explorer devoured by a crocodile, whose repilitian form continues to be haunted by his lost love — but it was all so awkward and slow that I found it very hard to care. Given the rapturous reviews, I feel I must be missing some key that would make it marvellous; perhaps someone with a more sophisticated palate might enjoy it more.

Film #82: Our Children

I don’t know why I decided to watch a bunch of difficult films in one day. A movie that starts with a woman in a hospital bed tearfully demanding that her children be buried in Morocco is never going to be a barrel of laughs; I am pretty sure that I am glad that I had read the summary, and so knew who killed them throughout… although I can see that the tension of not knowing could add something as well.

It’s not just a film about post-natal depression, it’s a film about power – the balance of power between men and women, between immigrants and those who sponsor them, between doctor and patient, between the person earning the money and the person looking after the home. It’s about what some people think an act of “charity” entitles them to, and family relationships – both those we are born into, and those we choose. And it’s about a couple of selfish men, each insensible to their selfishness. It’s not an easy movie, but I’d agree that it’s a good one.

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