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Film Festival Day 4, 28/07/2014

Kiwibank called yesterday, during my first movie, wanting to know whether I knew of a vendor called “Kickstarter”, and if I was likely to have paid them anything.  Since I have backed 660 projects on Kickstarter, many of them since I joined Kiwibank, and some of them for larger amounts than the one they are querying, I don’t really understand their logic.

I guess it’s good to know they’re watching, even if it’s obvious they’re not really paying attention?

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Queenie was the short that preceded Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy; it was not as good as it, though impressively made (animated with cardboard).  An uncomfortable story of pseudo-academic rationalization and mysticism being used to deal with a breakup; I can see that other people might find it funnier than I did, but I don’t particularly like comedy that feels like it’s punching down.

Michel Gondry’s animated film of his conversations with Noam Chomsky, on the other hand, made me miss university — or at least, my idealized memory of university.  Though it also reminded me of the dangers of talking with academics, or at least the subset that appear not to be arguing with you, but the echoes of their colleagues that they hear in your questions.  There were a number of times that Gondry tries to ask a question or make a statement, and Chomsky runs over him… and sometimes Gondry shows how he feels about this in his animations, or by inter-cutting a longer explanation of what he was trying to ask, after which he agrees that the point that Chomsky raises is interesting, so he’ll leave it in, even though it makes him seem stupid.

One thing that came up among the linguistics and personal history, and it’s a thing that I had never considered, is that those liberated from the concentration camps had to wait many months for transport and supplies, and had to choose between wearing their old uniforms, or the uniforms of their captors; and it was hard to know which was worse.  This was during a discussion about how France is treating the Roma.

I might see if C wants to watch this at some point.

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The Noble Family is a Spanish “father realizes his rich kids are spoiled, concocts a plan to fool them into working, and then everyone grows as people” sort of film.  Also, sponsored by Whiskas for some unfathomable reason.

Fun and inoffensive, apart from an unfortunate implied prison-rape-played-as-joke fate for the main bad guy in a short scene in the end credits.  So, if you’re watching at home, I’d suggest stopping as the credit starts, you won’t miss much.

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Tycho Brahe, when asked by the new king what he had been doing with royal funds from the previous administration for the last 25 years, said he had been watching the sky, charting the movements of stars.  When asked what practical use that was, he said something along the lines of, “I had hoped to learn the meaning of the universe. I have failed, but I hope that I have saved the person who discovers it 25 years of work.”

This was a story told by Ben Ferencz, a former US Army prosecutor who was at the Nuremberg trials, to explain why he feels what he’s doing is important, even though he knows that he won’t reach his goal within his lifetime.

But the main focus of Watchers of the Sky was Raphael Lemkin, Polish Jew, lawyer, coiner of the word “genocide” after failing to convince a collection of lawyers that the slaughter of the Armenians by the Turks should be a crime.  Once the Nuremberg trials refused to make genocide (as opposed to killing innocent civilians during wartime) a crime, he was a prime mover behind the U.N. resolution classifying genocide as a crime against humanity.  He was nominated seven times for the Nobel Peace Prize, never won, died penniless and alone of a heart attack at a bus stop while travelling to the U.N.; he had less than a dozen people at his funeral.

And as far as the resolution goes, the U.N. proceeded to be mostly unable to agree to use or act on, since there’s very little national self-interest in intervening in the quagmire of other people’s internal massacres.

(I feel I should point out the weird conflict between this thread of thought, the “the law should do something to punish people who perform atrocities” thing, and the whole “stop characterizing Africa as a victim” narrative.  I wonder what Emmanuel Uwurukundo, a guy who survived the Rwandan massacres and now works for the U.N. helping refugees, would think about it?  And there’s the oil thing, and Sudan’s subsequent relationship with China muddying the waters.)

I guess I feel that the U.N. is a young institution, ham-strung by the conflicting interests of it’s internal power-blocs.  But it feels like it’s better than the League of Nations, and the vacuum that preceded that.  I mean… as a programmer, I understand the feeling that something would be better if it was rewritten from scratch.  On the other hand, I know how wrong that almost always is, since you’re not just throwing away buggy code, you’re also throwing away all the time that was spent getting the right bits right, and committing to spending the time remaking mistakes that were already made, and fixed, in the old code.

Um, I’m not sure that’s a coherent metaphor.

But it was ultimately a hopeful film about a depressing subject, and I’m glad I saw it; I might try to read Samantha Power’s book A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, which inspired the movie.

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As a great philosopher once said, “Wherever you go, there you are.”

Well, that’s actually from The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension, a film that I’ve sadly never seen. Nevertheless, the point is that you don’t escape your problems by travelling to paradise, if the problem is inside you.

The Galapogos Affair: Satan Came to Eden is almost certainly a true crime film, probably a murder mystery, set on a deserted island with three groups — a Nietzian doctor and his female disciple, both of whom deserted their partners; a fairly conventional husband, wife, and two sons; and an almost certainly self-styled French Baroness, with two lovers in tow and grand ambitions for a hotel for millionaires.

There were various details that seem outlandish: the Baroness had a keepsake that she took with her always, the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.  The doctor and his partner were vegetarians.  The husband and wife were installed them in old pirate caves near the other side of the island when they first arrived by the doctor, who was infuriated that they assumed that he would help them with the wife’s pregnancy. And this is all happening in the 1930s, and most of those on the island are Germans, who had lived through one war, and believe another war is coming.

Now, add a drought, and leave to simmer.

There was a fair amount of 16mm footage, taken by a scientific expedition sponsored by an American millionaire, who visited the island five times in a row; there was even a small short film that the Baroness had persuaded them to make, with herself as a fierce piratess, that the documentary makers had discovered and assembled for the project.  And they interviewed many of the people who lived on the other islands around the time (or children of the same), and some of the kids of the couple.  But apart from two books, one written by the doctor’s partner, the other by the wife, we have no documentation about what really happened.  Which, I guess means that we have no documentation of what really happened.

I liked the film, and might check out the DVD for the special features, since I’d like to hear a bit more about the people living on the other islands.

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Finally, there was a short, The Light Harvester — NZ-made sci-fi that felt a little steampunk inspired, and made me wish that there was a Twilight Zone-esque compilation show for filmmakers to make a bunch of these.  I thought it was well made, but not especially compelling; but let someone make 30 or 40 of these, and you’d get some real gems, I suspect.

The Rover was much more self-assured. Set 10 years after a never-explained “collapse” we watch an unnamed man implacably pursue a group that casually did him wrong across a blasted landscape.  The film very carefully avoids telling you anything more than you need to know, while explaining just enough to make it feel like the writers know the answers.  The violence is shocking, and the shadow of violence makes even trivial things tense.

Of course, one problem with post-apocalyptic films is that it triggers the RPG pack-rat in me. “Look at all the guns lying around, you’ve got a vehicle, gather them up! Search those bodies! If you really can’t carry away all those resources, at least cache them so you can come back later!” Unfortunately, what would make sense in a resource-management centred game or actually surviving a resource-poor environment probably wouldn’t make good cinema.

A grimly serious, good film.  I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure it would be to C’s taste.

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