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Film Festival Day 3, 28/07/2013

 It’s weird the themes that jump out at you when you watch a bunch of very different films in quick succession. Today’s theme feels like “community” though I’m not sure I can completely justify it.

Film #10: Antarctica: A Year On Ice

This was the first film I’ve gotten to go to with C. I was a little worried when I realised that the director was there – that always means an intro, which means that the film starts late, and I only had twenty minutes to quick-step between the Embassy and Te Papa . Did I want to risk staying to hear the Q&A.

As it turns out, I did want to hear it – the film was a really cool (sorry) view into a world that I know very little about. The shots of the ice, dry valleys, skies and extreme weather were impressive and beautiful, but the interviews illuminating the culture that develops among those who stay on the ice over the Antarctic winter was what stood out for me; at times, it felt like it was a pointer as to how people going into space on long-term trips would talk about the experience. And the idea of being insulated from the world for six months, with nothing to do but work, read and keep yourself amused… I must admit, if it weren’t for missing family, I’d find it an attractive proposition.

And he also managed to show the feeling of impermanence amongst the unchanging landscape: the fact that most people don’t have much control about how long they get to stay, and the knowledge that the treaties protecting this unique place will run out.

Oh, and the way the extreme conditions affect life there – what happens when you throw a mug of boiling water into the freezing air, or the way that snow can work its way through any cracks to completely fill spaces.

Oh, and I liked the comment about a single woman’s romantic prospects on the ice: “The odds are good, but the goods are odd.”

I really enjoyed this film.

Film #11: 56 Up

You can’t understand a person from a bunch of snippets carefully edited together to tell a narrative. That’s an argument made by many of the subjects of this filmic experiment that has been going on for nearly five decades. (And, I suppose it should be noted, an argument that those who’ve put together the film have let us see them make.) And it’s certainly true – I can see why you might be frustrated if people told you that they know exactly how you feel, based on a few comments plucked out of hours of conversation.

But I think that another of the interviewees had it right when they said that you might not be able to show a particular person, but you could show a slice of people – a sketch of a group who, in this instalment of the series, can see old age coming with slow inevitability. Though I haven’t watched the earlier ones, it feels like these films might have moved away from illustrating the differences that class causes, and moved towards showing the similarities that a diverse set of people are experiencing. For example, the recession was something that made it’s presence felt in a number of different ways, though different people felt it’s effects differently – from the woman on disability forced back into work, to the well-to-do lawyer worried about the encroachment into the green spaces of England.

One of the other recurring themes seemed to be the importance of education for children – “that’s something they can never take away from you”, that sort of thing. (Which ended up raising one of the reasons that I was grateful to go to university here, rather than in Britain or the US – it doesn’t feel like there’s a great deal of difference perceived between a Massey degree and a Victoria one, whereas where you went to school seems to matter a great deal over there. I think it would be really weird to be in a situation where there’s an Oxbridge/Ivy League sort of thing, and to have that hanging over you all through secondary school. Though maybe the polytech/uni divide is our version of the same thing?)

I now want to go back and watch the others, if only to see how documentary styles have changed.

Film #12: Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer

I think that the most surprising things about the story is that they had such a visible trial, and that they were allowed to speak so freely. On the other hand, I guess that it could be seen as very shrewd, politically – everything that they said was likely to drive those who they’d offended further into the pro-Putin camp, keeping them silent might let more articulate (and more focus-grouped) people speak on their behalf, and the theatre of the justice system was seen to grind its way to its inevitable conclusion.

That said, when the film interviewed the prosecution, and they joke about how people are saying Putin is giving them direct orders, and hiding behind every bush, I think they’re right – Putin has no need to be involved directly. But is he using them to make a point? Of course. And are they charging them with a grossly disproportionate penalty for what they did? No question.

But… there was laughter in the audience when the film showed a “protest” organised before Pussy Riot was formed, that had women going up to female police officers and forcing a kiss on the mouth; I felt deeply uncomfortable about that (both as a form of protest, and the reaction). And protesting in the cathedral seemed counterproductive – if the goal was to persuade people, and attack the hierarchy rather than the flock (which is what they claimed to be doing), then they made it tricky to discern that, and easy to spin for the people that oppose them.

On the other other hand… I’m not there, and not having rights stripped away by a state at the behest of an organization that’s just finished with being suppressed, and is out to do some serious suppressing of its own. In fact, if their goal was to show the amount of influence that the Orthodox church has on the apparatus of the State, and draw some of the scarier elements of that group out of the woodwork where people can see them, then they’ve definitely done that. And just showing people who feel isolated that they’re not alone, that’s important too.

Argh. Unsurprisingly, I have no useful insights.

Film #13: Oh Boy (with Here Now)

The short, which was well shot and well acted, felt a little first-world-problems. A girl works alone in a boring retail job in an upmarket clothing boutique. She gets phased by a guy she fancies asking her over dinner, “Do you feel you’re really living?” Which made me feel, “Bah!” On the other hand, I’ve never worked in retail, so I may not have the appropriate experience to empathise.  On the third hand, the summary says it “explores” the idea, whereas I’d say it just points at it.

The main feature focused on a young man who… basically made a bunch of poor (in)decisions, and kept having people try to share their problems with him. But as the film progresses, there are hints that there is a decent person underneath the indecision. I don’t know. The film didn’t make me feel strongly, but I ended up sympathetic to the protagonist. So I guess that’s something? Not a bad film, but not one I can imagine getting a yen to rewatch.

And it’s one that I can’t link back into the community theme again, unless it’s something about people ending up drawing you into their worlds, even if you’re trying to stay aloof.

Film #14: Cheap Thrills

Pretty much what you’d expect to be in the Incredibly Strange section – a more violent and gross Indecent Proposal, with a rich guy and his much younger and blonder wife leading a couple of guys who used to be friends in high school into exactly what you might think would happen if a rich guy started offering someone desperate money to get slapped by a girl at the bar, or pee on his friend’s shoes. It’s the story illustrated by the old anecdote that ends with the punchline, “We’ve established what you are, madam; now we’re just haggling about price.” Except with more seeing people poop, and eviller rich people.

I enjoyed it, I think?  I won’t see it again, though.

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