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Film Festival Day 13, 07/08/2013

Is there some sort of prestige associated with having the wrong time on your clock if you’re a Wellington bus driver? Is it like young folks who like having a cracked screen on their iPhone? I think I’ve only had one bus that had the right time in all the rides I’ve had during the Festival.

Film #63: Village at the End of the World

This was a documentary about a small Inuit community in Greenland. The fish processing factory closed, and the people are slowly draining away. One of the people that the film focused on was a 17 year-old who has been raised by his grandparents – his mother lived in a nearby house, and his father… well, he believed he knew who he was, but the man refused to talk to him about it. Given that there were only about a dozen houses, that’s pretty impressive, in a sad way.

They are dependent on a government subsidy to ship goods out to keep living out there, but their young people are slipping away to the larger towns and cities. During the film, they are trying to set up a collective to buy the factory from the company that shut it down, but that company is being uncooperative. And the ice is getting thinner, and coming later in the winter, making some of the hunting more difficult.

They talk to the rubbish collector, who also collects the nightsoil from large buckets in each house; he’s an outsider from southern Greenland, who met his wife over the internet. Because he’s was the only one who speaks Danish and English, he’s also ended up being the guide for the tour groups that occasionally come from visiting cruise ships. There was that weird vibe that you get when people show traditional ways of life as theatre for tourists, who go away thankful that there is this corner of the world unspoiled by modernity, while around the corner a child checks her Facebook profile on a pink laptop.

I’m not sure whether these places can last; but while they do, I wish them well.

Film #64: Like Father, Like Son

A high-flying architect and his wife discover that their six year-old son, who they’ve been grooming to get into a good primary school, is not their biological child. Instead, their son is living as the oldest of three with a couple in a slightly run-down electronics shop; the wife works part-time at a take-away food place. The architect’s house is clean, orderly, quiet, and focused; the rooms behind the electronic shop are jumbled, raucous and fun. The parents must decide – should they leave things as they are, swap, or do something else?

The hospital staff in the film say that most parents in this situation choose to swap, which just boggles my mind. By the time a child is six, they’ve been a person for a while, a person who you have hopefully grown to love – I cannot imagine any circumstances that would induce me to swap. I mean, I can imagine offering to help with a scholarship for the blood relative, and I don’t think I’d exclude them from my life if they wanted to know me; but I can’t imagine handing someone who I’d been responsible for to strangers like that. Then again, there are the legal isssues, and I understand feeling a sense of responsibility to your biological child, and that the other parent might feel the same. And it’s a different culture, so priorities might be different.

The movie itself is fairly spare and quiet, without much in the way of flashy emotional display (although the emotions are definitely there). The architect’s gradual growth as a person that this event prompts is believably gradual – he doesn’t leave architecture to become a clown or write children’s books or anything, he just… thaws slightly. And the kids, while mostly pleasant, are not as pliant as they might first appear.

I enjoyed it.

Film #65: Valentine Road

This film made me very angry.

One fifteen year-old asked a fourteen year-old to be their valentine. This severely embarrassed the one being asked, and all their friends hassled them; so the next day, they bought a gun to school, and shot the other kid in the back of the head, paused, and shot them again. The basic argument of the defence was that the kid who shot their classmate in class hadn’t gotten in trouble before, that they had been provoked, and that it was at most manslaughter, not murder; and that they should definitely be tried as a juvenile, not an adult.

The kid who was shot was a small male half-Latino who had fought for his right to wear makeup at school; the kid who shot him was a white male associated with a white pride gang.

Now, I have a certain amount of sympathy for the proposal that he should have been tried as a juvenile rather than an adult, since the reason there was legislation allowing them to charge him as an adult was introduced to prevent gangs from using minors to commit murder – he was not being used by adults in that way. On the other hand, there was no question that this was not premeditated, since he had to return home after he headed out to retrieve his gun. His defence claims that he was considering not to kill the boy, until he heard that the boy had decided he wanted to be called by a female name. It was the defence that brought that up, mind you, not the prosecution.

I guess the key for me is – what if it was a girl who had been embarrassed by an unacceptable guy in front of her peers. Would anyone try for a provocation defence then? Or a Hispanic girl asking a guy in front of his white power friends? And yet the jury hung the judgement, and five of them turned up on national television with “Free Brandon” wristbands, along with the sort of “well, dressing like that meant she was asking to be raped” victim-blaming that is incredibly frustrating.

After the trial dragging on for three years, he plea-bargained out to get 21 years without parole. His victim, of course, still got life.

Film #66: Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia

He was a witty, incisive man who knew what he wished America would be, and was constantly disappointed when it failed to live up to what he saw as its potential. I don’t agree with everything that he said or thought – for example, while I doubt Cheney was a Machiavellian genius, I’m not sure that he was as bumbling as Gore suggested.

I liked that they let their subject speak a lot, and that they let some of those that disagreed with him speak, and I enjoyed both. Oh, and by showing a bunch of archival footage, they got to relive some of his best, most cutting moments – for example, his debates with William Buckley, and the crack about Reagan’s presidential library (that there was a tragic fire, and both books were lost; and the second one he hadn’t finished colouring in).

But I think they also succeeded in showing more than just the acerbic humour and intellect; that he was something of a shy man, who used humour to defend himself as much as to attack those that he felt needed attacking.

I enjoyed this film.

Film #67: Blood Brother

A slightly aimless American called “Rocky” goes to India, visits an HIV orphanage on a whim, goes away… and is drawn back. The film is the result of his best friend visiting after Rocky’s second visitor’s visa is granted, and filming what he saw.

He is completely unworried about dealing with the kid’s cuts and bruises, and the kids are exuberant. They’re naughty sometimes, since they’re kids, but they do seem to genuinely love him, and he loves them back. It is very far from easy, and he talks about the kids that he has lost, and we see him at the hospital bedside of one of the children we’ve previously met, who is very near death.  We also hear him when he is trying to deal with some of the things that he sees, when he’s not sure he can handle it.

He is a lot braver than I think I could be, and while there’s a certain amount of weird cultural stuff going on (with the villagers ranging from mildly friendly to openly hostile), he desperately does not want to let these kids down, no matter how hard things are for him to deal with. So he doesn’t. (Or at least, he hadn’t by the time the movie was finished.)

I liked it.

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