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Film Festival Day 15, 09/08/2013

With my ongoing sleep debt, my sleep credit rating must be terrible. I’ve certainly had trouble with my eyes foreclosing.

Foreclosing? Okay, well, it seemed hilarious when I thought it up. 🙂

Film #73: Maidentrip (& Strongman)

The short was a not-so-young intellectually disabled man who we see striding into the water, and starting to swim; we’re gradually lead to understand why. I thought that it was well done.

The documentary was about the young woman Laura Dekker, who decided to become the youngest person to sail around the world. After fighting a court case to prevent Child Services from making her a ward of the state (on the grounds that her father was negligent to allow her to sail off by herself), she sets out in the boat that she and her father restored from scratch. She deliberately builds in time to explore the places that she is going to visit along the way – she dismissing Holland as “boring” in that absolute way that teens can, and a large part of the voyage for her is the exploration of the new.

(There are a number of times where she makes sweeping, absolute statements, like saying her mum never came to anything for her. And we see her argue with her dad, which makes you realise how young she is. But she’s also determined, resourceful, and resilient, and she absolutely deserved the chance to try to do this.)

It is interesting to contrast her attitude to that of the teens in The Bling Ring. They crave the attention of their peers and the media, are excited by the label names, and see tiny setbacks as huge dramas; while this young woman is sometimes obviously annoyed by the media attention, comes to enjoy the solitude of the sea, and laughs at a kitchen accident that spreads ravioli all over the mess (and her).

I don’t trust the sea, and the idea that you could go to sleep and leave the boat to sail itself is crazy to me. And given the choice of pirates or storm waves bigger than my boat, I would choose to be at home in my armchair. 🙂 I know that she got sponsorship for this voyage, as well as working her butt off, but I don’t know how she’s going to support herself if she wants to keep sailing. But I hope she manages it.

Film #74: He Toki Huna: New Zealand in Afganistan

It’s good to see a journalist annoying the government enough to get the prime minister to call him a liar (that isn’t Nicky Hagar, bless him). Basically, the New Zealand public has been told that our army is there for “reconstruction”, which conjures images of the sort of disaster relief that we’ve done in the Pacific; but people aren’t shooting at us in Samoa or the Cook Islands, and we aren’t conducting patrols and handing over people we capture to groups that we know may well torture prisoners, as Job Stephenson has revealed we’ve done in Afghanistan.

This film is not, as some politicians have alleged, an attack on the integrity of the armed forces. In fact, it is because our armed forces have moral issues with orders that they have been given that we know many of these things. There are echoes of The Gatekeepers in this film, with an unclear and expanding mandate leading those on the ground into an untenable position.

(One weird thing about the Q&A afterwards – the person who introduced them basically asked them six or seven questions in a row, making it less a Q&A and more an interview. Then again, many of the questions asked weren’t much cop, being of the “I’ve got the mike now, so I’ll thank the film-makers and then give my vitally important views to this captive audience, without actually asking a question” variety.)

I hope that Stephenson stays safe, and continues to reveal annoying truths; and that these film-makers keep making films.

Film #75: Gideon’s Army

This film’s title refers to the man Earl Gideon, who was forced to defend himself because the state of Florida refused to provide him with the attorney that he couldn’t afford. His subsequent actions got the Supreme Court to rule that a defence lawyer must be provided for all cases, not just capital cases or cases where the defendant was intellectually disabled.

There are a number of things that this documentary makes clear. Firstly, these lawyers have ridiculous case-loads and pitiful pay – one of them talked about having $20 discretionary spending a month, after rent and gas.

Secondly, the system is biased towards pushing those arrested to plead out, because it takes so long for cases to go to trial, and the bails are set so high. Pleading a lesser charge is less of a risk than a jury trial, and results in a known outcome for the defendant… and most of the time, the performance appraisal for the DA and police rest on number of convictions, not the type of conviction, so they have an incentive to offer the plea. And bureaucrats like it, because it’s cheaper than a jury trial; and politicians like it, because it improves the statistics.

About the only people who don’t like it is people who want those who actually committed the crime to be captured and punished.

Thirdly, the job of a public defender is hard, hard work. Leaving aside the case-load, there’s the emotional involvement with the clients whose innocence they believe, but cannot prove (for example, because they lack the resources to do lab tests, or because associates have implicated their client as part of a plea deal). And worse, there the clients who are guilty, and admit that they’re guilty, but insist on a jury trial, and whom the public defender is morally required to represent to the best of their ability.

I kind of prefer the French inquisitorial system to the combative one that the Anglo-Saxon world has ended up with. But while we’re under this model, the public defenders are important people.

I thought that this was a really good film about really good people.

Film #76: Fantail

This film has the best use of the phrase “Physical challenge!” in any movie I’ve seen, hands-down.

Anyway, a petrol attendant who works the night shift (and then goes home to look after her mum) feels very strongly about her Maori heritage, even though she looks much more European than her brother, who is falling in with the wrong crowd. The siblings are making plans to go to Surfers to see their absent father; it is clear fairly early on that there is some issue in the relationship between the girl and this man. (We see him in the film, reading the story of Maui’s attempt to defeat death; the piwakawaka that causes the plan to fail provides that title for the film.)

As well as family issues, there’s also an audit going on at the petrol station, with a young, slightly awkward guy fresh out of university trying to assess the performance of the girl and her boss. There is a contrast between his casual disregard for his Maori heritage, and the girl’s defiant claim of hers.

This film is occasionally funny, but fundamentally sad. It started life as a dramatic monologue, and was made by a first time writer (who starred) and a first-time director. I enjoyed it, but there were a few Chekhov’s Guns put in place that were never fired (including what seemed to be an obvious Doomed Supermarket Display), and emotionally it was hard work.

Film #77: Which Way To The Front Line From Here

In contrast to He Toki Huna above, while Afghanistan did feature, this film was focused on the character of a journalist, rather than exploring a particular situation. The fact that he died while documenting a war is a low hum in the background throughout the movie, and his background means that there are plenty of images to go along with the narration.

There are plenty of graphic images of death, but he seemed to be more interested in capturing people’s lives. Accompanying the rebels in Liberia, he took photographs of the graffiti scrawled by these young soldiers, filled with drawings of AK47s and pleas that the reader “pray for this young man”. He was also involved in the documentary Restrepo, where he was embedded in an American outpost.

One of the features that he became interested in was the bonds that form between men in times of war; the man that he made Restrepo with claimed that it was the only situation where men are allowed to truly love one another, which I think is a very sad (and incorrect) belief.

It was well put together, and the humour and passion of the man came through. I don’t agree with all of it, but I did like it.

Film #78: You’re Next

A well-off family gather at an enormous remote house that the father bought as a hobby for his retirement. There are strong conflicts between the siblings (witnessed uncomfortably by the sibling’s partners), but that falls to the wayside when ruthless killers start eliminating people one-by-one. Actually, no, that’s a complete lie – even when they are terrified and people are dying, the brothers find opportunities to argue about things.

This is a messy horror film, with plenty of jump-scares, plenty of blood, a fair number of laughs, and some nice tension. There are some plot holes, but everything goes along at such a clip that you’re prepared to accept everything, and it’s a lot cleverer than the first section suggests.

While horror movies (especially gory ones) are very much something I only watch occasionally, I did like this one, though the more ridiculous deaths did tend to distance me. I thought it was pretty good.

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