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Film Festival Day 1, 26/07/2013

So, the first day. A bad start – I was meant to pick up pies for my parents, Celete’s parents, her brother, and us, but when I popped in to work to pick them up, it turned out that they weren’t going to turn up until “sometime before noon”, which was no use to me. (I sent a note to my team lead, asking that they be handed out among the team.)

And not a stellar finish – on the bus home, my Snapper card seems to have gotten a terminal case of “Please try again”s. This is particularly annoying because I’d put $50 on the card only last week, in anticipation of the Film Festival.

However, to balance that out, I got some good time with my two wee nieces, who are here briefly from Oz; and I got to see four pretty decent films. So overall, I can’t really complain. 🙂

Film #1: Stories We Tell

My first movie was the documentary Stories We Tell, about the Canadian actress Dianne Polley, though it’s less about her as an actress, and more about her relationship with the people in her life after her second marriage. The film was made by her youngest daughter, and it could have very easily been terrible; but instead, I found it very, very good. One of the people she interviews objects to her approach – art should stive to reveal truth, he claims, and you can’t get truth by talking to people who weren’t directly affected. But I think that this reveals more about the person than about Art, or perhaps that the truth he was interested in was narrower than the one the film-maker was looking for – all of the people she talks to were affected, and they all reveal things, on purpose or otherwise. I never felt that this was a movie just about the film-maker, even though it obviously involved her so deeply, and features her on screen in what feels like a very honest way… and that’s a great a tribute as anything else I could say.

One thing I’ll note – while watching, I thought, “Gosh, there’s some really good footage of stuff they’re talking about, she’s really lucky that so many of them had home movie cameras back then.” And then, during the film, they show her shooting some of those scenes, which makes you go, well… which of the clips were real, and which were fake? But that’s the sort of the point, I think – even the things that were “real” are just the bits that the director has decided to show you, and by pulling the rug out from under you a little bit, she’s reminding you to keep that in mind; another thing I admire her for.

Film #2: Omar

Next was Omar, a Shakesperian drama of loyalty and betrayal set in Palestine, with as excellent an Iago as you could ask for. One of the really interesting things that sprang out at me was that the main protagonist is what Robin D. Laws would call a “iconic hero” protagonist. His idea, and it’s an interesting one, is that the heroes that Hollywood films are good at are dramatic heroes – they go on Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey”, being transformed by the situation they find themselves in. Iconic heroes, in contrast, come into a situation, and change it by being true to themselves – something that you see more in television and books that are in a series. (He suggests that this is why Hollywood is much more comfortable with the origin stories of superheroes, rather than their stories once they’ve become heroes; and he also talks about the picaresque hero, but that’s not important in this context.)

Anyway, it might be a bit too violent for some tastes, but I felt that it did everything it should do well, and enjoyed it.

Film #3: Miss Nikki & the Tiger Girls

Miss Nikki & the Tiger Girls was an interesting thing to follow with. Nikki May is an Australian ex-pat and ex-singer/dancer, who decides to put all her resources and determination to help five girls to become Myanmar’s first girl pop band. There are a bunch of things going on – the hard-nosed Burmese businessman contrasting with the slightly idealistic Aussie, the different girls backgrounds and reasons for being involved (illustrated by giving each of the girls the opportunity to sing a signature song), the slow loosening of political control that goes on in the background, and the girls slightly cautious reaction to the looseness of Bangkok.

I felt a bit weird about a white Westerner coming in and trying to start a girl band, since there are weird cultural imperialism vibes going on there. But it was the people from their own culture, much more than Nikki, that seemed to be trying to exploit the girls; if anything, she was a bit too soft, determined to push the girl with the poor singing voice to do better, rather than booting her out.  And the contrast between the political attitude  of Nikki (and the film’s intertitles) and the attitude of the girls was sometimes a bit weird, though it underlined that these girls had no intention to be a Burmese “Pussy Riot” — just a pop band.

Not a deeply profound doco, and not an incredible band – but I’m glad I watched it.

Film #4: Who Will Be A Ghurka?

And finally, Who Will Be A Ghurka. Is the British Army’s relationship with Nepal exploitative? Yes… and no. There’s something very Roman about offering citizenship for military service, and while you can empathise to some extent with the Maoists in the Nepalese government who denounce the practice, the number of applicants that they get strongly suggest that the people struggling for this chance do not see it the same way. And while it comes out of the weird Victorian views on “warrior races” and the like, there is a certain mystique to the Ghurkas, and the impression that I get is that they are respected as soldiers.

And I wouldn’t be surprised if, by and large, the selection process was as free from corruption as they claim – and letting people in a culture where connections are so important compete on merit, even if it’s just military merit, seems like a good thing to do.

The documentary kept a very tight focus on the selection process, comparing archival footage of some of the testing with the present day. The film-makers kept themselves out of the film, letting their footage (and occasional snippets of other media) tell the story. I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure how much deeper (rather than wider) my understanding of their situation is.

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