THE FILM YAP » 2009 Heartland Film Festival http://www.thefilmyap.com We Never Shut Up About Movies Mon, 10 Mar 2014 04:16:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 Bag It http://www.thefilmyap.com/2010/10/11/bag-it/ http://www.thefilmyap.com/2010/10/11/bag-it/#comments Mon, 11 Oct 2010 04:05:35 +0000 http://www.thefilmyap.com/?p=15584 Continue reading ]]>

I know what you’re thinking…not another “save the environment” documentary, right?

Yes, but no, really, this one’s worth it, focusing on a specific issue, listing the harmful effects associated with this issue, and at least some of the things we can do to help.

“Bag It” starts off with a simple question: why do we use so much plastic? The answer of course is that it’s sturdy, versatile, easy to make, cheap and…is made from oil.

Yes, oil. That same fossil fuel we pump into our vehicles is also the prime ingredient in every bit of plastic in our lives, from grocery bags to pens to televisions to the little things on the end of your shoelaces.

So in other words, those conspiracy theorists who claim the government wants to keep us addicted to oil, they have one more pretty big-time piece of evidence to support their claims.

Director Suzan Beraza is smart to use a “regular guy named Jeb Barrier who is sort of a less-polarizing, less-smarmy and more likable Michael Moore type. He is our guide, but is a much more passive, informative one, much less confrontational than Moore, so maybe that comparison isn’t the best.

Jeb discusses the role of plastic in our lives, why we use it and why perhaps we should second guess that decision. He goes into great detail on plastic grocery bags, which he points out have been banned in a lot of foreign countries and in a lot of states as well.

He wonders aloud why we must use these bags, which do not break down and clog landfills, drainage ditches, seaways, and junk drawers in our homes. Bits of bags are increasingly being found in the stomachs of sea turtles and other marine life. Why can’t we just use paper, or better yet reusable bags, to do our shopping?

Barrier expands his discussion to include plastics of all sort, and specially looks at plastics that are used to line our disposable cups. Why, he asks, are cups designed to be used once, such as fast-food and coffee-chain cups, lined with plastic, which, by the way, is associated with diseases and disorders ranging from autism to ADHD to cancer?

It’s a compelling discussion, and an enlightening one too, full of information that your average person might not know otherwise. It’s presented in a fun, light-hearted manner, at least as light-hearted as the suggestion that a substance we all use every single day, many times over, might be the cause of a myriad of health problems and might be poisoning us and helping to make our environment that much less hospitable to us.

I’d call it an important social issues film, certainly an above-average one, that mixes entertainment and accessibility with an urgent call to action.

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Precious http://www.thefilmyap.com/2009/11/19/precious/ http://www.thefilmyap.com/2009/11/19/precious/#comments Thu, 19 Nov 2009 05:49:07 +0000 http://www.thefilmyap.com/?p=4186 Continue reading ]]> Precous - inside

“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” is a harrowing, if occasionally hoary, story of a teenager’s survival and self-reliance amid demonic domesticity.

First-time screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher’s screenplay thankfully strikes with more coiled instinct than clichéd incidents. And although director Lee Daniels (the writer of “Monster’s Ball”) sometimes pushes the plot’s most exploitative elements, “Precious” addresses its characters’ afflictions head-on and features two remarkable performances – from Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe and Mo’Nique – that are instant Oscar frontrunners.

Constant worry radiates from the face of Precious (Sidibe). She’s a severely overweight 16-year-old black teenager from Harlem circa 1987, whose dim eyes are sunken in her face and perpetually squinting. The better with which to retreat into her bright fantasy world, where everything from religion to romance is sexualized like a music video, even her milquetoast white math teacher.

Cinematographer Andrew Dunn brings a ripened, pancake-makeup feel to these flights of fancy, which Daniels uses sparingly and effectively. Precious is not dumb, only cuffed to pop-culture notions of beauty and success and incapable of truly freeing expression. Precious is illiterate and still in junior-high school, which are just initial reasons why her reveries run counter to a downwardly spiraling reality.

She’s pregnant with her second child of incest – raped by a now-absent father and physically, verbally and sexually abused by her bitterly rancorous mother, Mary (Mo’Nique).

Because of Precious’s girth, it’s impossible to gauge how far along she is, and as for determining by time passed, days have slipped into a thick haze of horror. Precious and her mentally disabled daughter (cruelly nicknamed “Mongo” by Mary) are welfare meal tickets Mary does not want to lose. There are corners of hell with better lighting than their squalid apartment and, almost certainly, kinder creatures than Mary, who pushes Precious to ditch school in favor of additional welfare to pilfer and is a parasite to Precious’s potential at every possible turn.

On her principal’s advice, Precious begins attending Each One, Teach One – an alternative school overseen by the patient, porcelain-skinned Blu Rain (Paula Patton of “Déjà Vu”). For the first time, Precious has an outlet and options, but will she grow into her own skin or continue in a cycle of violence, abandonment and resentment?

Although unquestionably bleak, “Precious” isn’t as relentlessly without hope as Daniels’ “Monster’s Ball.” Where that film paraded out so much tragedy in its first hour that it bordered on parody, “Precious” is more measured and mature.

It also suggests, in a heartbreaking late scene, that there are similarly awful and seemingly inescapable lives for children in the film whose day-to-day existence we don’t see. Like many other directors, Daniels confuses amateurish “verite” zoom-ins with honing in on actors’ emotions. And there are several lapses into film-school indulgence, as well as portions that feel more like Tyler Perry than taut drama. (Perry came on as an executive producer after seeing “Precious,” as did Oprah Winfrey.) At the same time, “Precious” is the sort of graphically forthright story of poverty and familial strife Perry thinks he’s telling when he usually resorts to a vaudevillian drag show.

“Precious” is an unflinching film that musters striking inner-city iconography for communion and baptism, carries welcome respites of light humor and includes two divergently emotional performances to beat this year.

A 26-year-old first-time actress playing a teenager, Sidibe puts forth brave, fearlessly resilient work in casting off Precious’s shell. It’s a marvel to watch her become proactive, informed, instructive and empowering, and it’s genuinely inspiring, not ironically humorous, when she addresses her as-yet-unborn child: “Listen, mama not dumb.”

On the flipside, Mo’Nique’s is the most atypical actress-to-role matchup since Charlize Theron in “Monster,” and the sassy comedienne has altered her body in no way other than posture, attitude and charred disposition. It’s not the sort of performance you’d expect from the brassy co-star of “Beerfest” and “Soul Plane.”

Mary’s emotional deprivations have morphed into vengeful personal demons – the kind no amount of vindictive behavior can exercise. What’s brilliant about Fletcher’s screenplay, Daniels’ direction and Mo’Nique’s characterization is that they each realize there are some people in this world whose actions cannot be forgiven.

Mo’Nique’s showcase moment is a soliloquy that, in a softer film, would attempt to solicit sympathy. (That said, a softer film wouldn’t have included all of her many misdeeds.)

Instead, this sequence rationalizes Mary without redeeming her and summons more scorn for this exhaustively evil, jealous and manipulative harridan.

Both performers are complemented by Patton (graceful but grittily determined to help Precious), as well as pop stars Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz. Playing a social worker, Carey dresses down and delivers her dialogue with the no-nonsense working-class cadence of Marisa Tomei. Also, her character’s indeterminate ethnic origin clears up any connotations that the themes of “Precious” might be exclusively aimed at any one audience.

In a lesser role as a male nurse, Kravitz has some brief, gentle touches reminiscent of Mos Def. There are no simple answers or easy outs in “Precious,” only hard confrontations and tougher conclusions.

Whatever lies ahead on Precious’s path is unknown, but that uncertainty is underwritten by an inspiration to rise, if only to the middle. “Everything is a gift of the universe,” a title card reads, and this tale of deliverance from adversity into even the most hardscrabble independence lives up to that notion.

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Gloria La Morte http://www.thefilmyap.com/2009/10/19/gloria-la-morte/ http://www.thefilmyap.com/2009/10/19/gloria-la-morte/#comments Mon, 19 Oct 2009 20:25:31 +0000 http://www.thefilmyap.com/?p=4070 Continue reading ]]> Gloria La Morte - inside

“Entre Nos” isn’t just a powerful drama about a recent emigrant from Colombia struggling to survive in New York City after her husband abandons them. It’s also based on the true story of Paola Mendoza, who stars in the film and partnered with Gloria La Morte to write and direct it.

La Morte sat down to discuss the feature film that’s truly from the heart.

Christopher Lloyd: So this is based on the real life experience of Paola?

Gloria La Morte: Paola and I worked in 2006 on a documentary. She was co-director and I was the co-editor. When we premiered at the Southwest Film Festival, she approached me and said, “You know, Gloria, I have a story I’ve been wanting to tell my whole life. It’s the story of my mother when she came to the U.S.” When she told me this story, I was floored. I knew that I wanted to be a part of it. And I was grateful that she trusted me artistically.

We started writing the story about three and a half years ago; it took us two years to write the story. When we were writing it, our focus was to write the good story. Then our script at the script package won an award, it was through the IFP. We said, “Oh my God, we’ve got to make this movie!”

She told her mother we were in the middle of casting, and her mother said, “I’ll help you with is going to play me: It’s going to be you!” So it was at her mother’s request. And naturally, I think it was the right choice.

CL: Did you guys shoot in New York?

GLM: We shot in New York City, in the community of Queens. Now Queens is really I think the hub to the world. More languages are spoken per square mile in Queens than anywhere in the world. It’s a place where people come to set roots, from all over the world.

We were both born in Colombia, and the family in this story is Colombian. There’s a very large Colombian community in Queens, in Jackson Heights. Without that community we couldn’t have done the film. Because we were very low-budget. They would let us use the front of their restaurant while they were serving dinner in the back. People opened up their homes, their businesses to shoot.

CL: Where did you get financing for the film?

GLM: It was private financing. IndiePix Studios was our main investor. Bob Alexander, who runs IndiePix, is one of our executive producers. He read the script and he believed in it right away. Also the camera package (award) that we won was a three-week camera package. And we also received a grant.

CL: We’ve seen a lot of stories about immigrants coming to America, and they tend to focus on the immigration process — getting to America, legally or illegally. Whereas your story is about this mother who’s already here and trying to survive on her own.
 

GLM: We identified it as a family story. It’s about a family who is abandoned by the father after arriving in the U.S. The story takes off when he abandons them.

CL: Has Paola ever reconciled with her father?

GLM: She hasn’t been able to reconcile with her father. However, in the writing process we needed to deal with every individual character. And when we dealt with the father, we examined why he did this, how could he do this. You go through all those questions. But it didn’t end up in the movie. We realized that’s not what’s important for our film. What was important was her journey. His departure is just what kicks it off. Why he did it could be another film.

CL: How did you find those two extraordinary child actors, Laura Montana and Sebastian Villada?

GLM: We knew that the film was going to ride and die with the performance of the children. They are onscreen almost as much as Paola. Unfortunately, a lot of kids, if they’re acting in commercials, we couldn’t use that. We needed something very organic and natural. So we had a huge casting call. We must have seen over 400 kids.

We met Laura there. We knew we were onto something when we met her. But we didn’t find the boy. Literally two days before rehearsals, we didn’t have the boy cast.

So we knew July 20th was Colombian Independence Day. And in Queens there is a huge, huge celebration. Thousands of people go there. So Paola and I put on our suntan lotion and went out scouting. We were stopping kids who looked about what we were looking for. He needed to speak Spanish, and more importantly they needed to be able to carry that heavy content. We found Sebastian sitting with his grandmother on the ground having a picnic. And that’s how we found him!

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Welcome http://www.thefilmyap.com/2009/10/18/welcome/ http://www.thefilmyap.com/2009/10/18/welcome/#comments Sun, 18 Oct 2009 20:58:21 +0000 http://www.thefilmyap.com/?p=4110 Continue reading ]]> Welcome - inside

Philippe Lioret’s Welcome is a powerfully moving film about love and to what lengths one will go to for love. The story is engaging, but what makes this film something special are the superb performances from its primary leads.

Bilal (Firat Ayverdi) has trekked 4,000 km in three months from Iraq to be with the girl of his dreams and now he stands just 32 km from the English shore and her. After a failed attempt to get into England by truck, Bilal concocts the idea of swimming the channel to reunite with his love.

Hitting the local pool, he enlists lifeguard Simon (Vincent Lindon) to train him and we learn that Simon is dealing with his own issues with love, as his imminent divorce looms over him. The two befriend each other and Bilal informs his new mentor of his hopes to cross the channel.

As their relationship grows, the duo finds themselves in major struggles. First, Bilal is an illegal immigrant and it’s against the law for Simon to be housing or even helping the young man. As Bilal’s story draws Simon in, he risks all that he has to help the young Kurd make his way to England.

The other major issue Simon must deal with is still being in love with his wife and the regret he feels for not making it work. His persistence to help Bilal grows as his relationships continue to crumble. Simon looks at helping the young man reunite with his love as a way of exorcising his own demons.

With Bilal getting closer and closer to setting off on his journey, his love Mina (Derya Ayverdi) confides in him that her father has set up a marriage for her and his window of opportunity is running out.

Simon’s housing of Bilal and his friend has rubbed his neighbors the wrong way and they call down the law on him. Knowing the youngster had stayed the night, he reluctantly lets the officers in, who find nothing. He realizes that Bilal has set off across the channel.

With one failed attempt under his belt, Bilal focuses on what he has to do and begins to train at night also. He is taken into custody after the first attempt and while he is being housed, Mina attempts to contact him and tells Simon that she is to marry and Bilal should stay in France.

Being informed of this, Bilal leaves a pile of clothes on the beach and makes his final push for the British coast and in the process shows the sacrifices some are willing to lay down for love.

Lindon and Ayverdi are glaring opposites of each other. Lindon has a face careworn and shows the experience only age can bring to someone, while Ayverdi has a doe-eyed baby face who begs for the audience to love him. The emotions in this movie are stirring. The desperation to which the leads attack their lives is haunting, yet in Bilal’s case uplifting.

The emotional rollercoaster is what makes this such a wonderful film. Lindon and Ayverdi give undeniably superb performances and it’s hard to find a weak moment is Lindon’s heartfelt portrayal throughout the film.

Welcome is a mesmerizing film that is haunting, uplifting and gut-wrenching. Lindon and Ayverdi give great performances and this is one of the rare films that you consider yourself lucky to have seen. A truly moving piece of cinema.

4.5 Yaps 

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“Welcome” wins Heartland’s top prize http://www.thefilmyap.com/2009/10/18/welcome-wins-heartlands-top-prize/ http://www.thefilmyap.com/2009/10/18/welcome-wins-heartlands-top-prize/#comments Sun, 18 Oct 2009 04:01:30 +0000 http://www.thefilmyap.com/?p=4085 Continue reading ]]> Welcome - inside

The Heartland Film Festival celebrated and honored some of the world’s most talented and inspiring independent filmmakers during the 18th annual Crystal Heart Awards Gala at The Murat Centre last night. Awards and $200,000 in cash prizes were presented to 17 films. Heartland announced Welcome by Director Philippe Lioret as the $100,000 Grand Prize Award Winner for Best Dramatic Feature; P-Star Rising by Director Gabriel Noble as the winner of the $25,000 Award for Best Documentary Feature and Bicycle (Jitensha) by Director Dean Yamada as the winner of the $10,000 Vision Award for Best Short Film.

Award-winning Extra correspondent and Indianapolis-native Carlos Diaz emceed the glamorous awards ceremony. Special guests Greg Paul (Trustee of The Stewart Foundation and President of Castle Rock Entertainment) and Don Hahn (Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Waking Sleeping Beauty) presented awards. Co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios and president of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, Dr. Ed Catmull, was honored with the Pioneering Spirit Award for his creative spirit in filmmaking and his contribution to Heartland’s mission.

“Really this award is over due,” said Jeffrey L. Sparks, President and CEO of Heartland Truly Moving Pictures. “Every feature film from Pixar has received a Truly Moving Picture Award from Heartland. No other studio has that kind of record with us. Dr. Catmull and the entire Pixar team are true pioneers in the world of filmmaking. Their films continue to inspire and entertain everyone who sees them, and we’re thrilled to honor him with this award.”

During the program, Heartland honored 17 dramatic and documentary short and feature-length films. Two student films received Jimmy Stewart Memorial Crystal Heart Awards and 15 films were honored with Crystal Heart Awards. These films were selected from more than 600 international film submissions for best meeting Heartland’s mission and demonstrating excellence in filmmaking.

The filmmakers honored with Crystal Heart Awards were: After the Storm – Producer/Director Hilla Medalia; Bicycle (Jitensha) – Director Dean Yamada; Big John – Producer Dag Hoel and Director Håvard Bustnes; The Eagle Hunter’s Son – Director Renè Bo Hansen; Entre Nos – Directors/Writers Gloria La Morte and Paola Mendoza; The Final Inch – Producer/Director Irene Taylor Brodsky; For My Father – Producer Zvi Spielmann; Marbles With Thoreau – Producer/Director/Writer Melody George; P-Star Rising – Director Gabriel Noble; Rough Aunties – Executive Producer Debra Zimmerman; Sergio – Producer/Director Greg Barker; Seven Minutes in Heaven – Director/Writer Omri Givon; Side by Side – Director Christian Sønderby Jepsen; Small Collection – Producer/Director/Writer Jeremiah Crowell and Welcome – Director Philippe Lioret. The filmmakers honored with the Jimmy Steward Memorial Crystal Heart Award were Acholiland – Producer Daniel Harrich and Kavi – Producer/Director/Writer Gregg Helvey.

Additional highlights included Heartland recognizing recipients of the prestigious Truly Moving Picture Award, which is bestowed upon theatrically released films that uphold the values of Heartland. Also, three-time GRAMMY® Award-winner and producer of the Official Selection documentary feature, Kabul 24, Michael W. Smith was in attendance. Smith performed a song from his instrumental album and a brief medley of favorite movie scores.

Additional special guests at this year’s Crystal Heart Awards Gala included: After the Storm – Executive Producer Ed Priddy and Executive Producer/Featured Individual James Lecesne; Big John – Featured Individual Ole Klemetsen; The Final Inch – Associate Producer Sophie Harris; Kavi – Editor Chris Witt; Marbles With Thoreau – Editor Robin George; P-Star Rising – Featured Individuals Jesse and Priscilla P-Star Diaz; The Perfect Game – Star Ryan Ochoa; Rough Aunties – Featured Individuals Eureka Olivier and Ladyfair Sdudla Sibiya; Seven Minutes in Heaven – Star Eldad Prives and Small Collection – Star Chris Stack.

Also, filmmakers and stars from the following Official Selection films were in attendance: A Shine of Rainbows, Americana, Another Harvest Moon, Beauty, Being Bucky, Facing Extinction: Christians in Iraq, Fifty Cents, JesusFreaks, Kabul 24, Like Dandelion Dust, Mandie and the Secret Tunnel, The Mighty Macs, My Name is Jerry, Pearl, Quest for Honor and She’s a Fox.

In addition to the total $200,000 awarded, winning filmmakers received a Crystal Heart Award designed by Mark Aronstam and Aronstam Fine Jewelers. The $100,000 Grand Prize Award for Best Dramatic Feature was underwritten by The Joshua Max Simon Charitable Foundation, the $25,000 Award for Best Documentary Feature was underwritten by Godby Family of Services and the $10,000 Vision Award for Best Short Film was underwritten by KeyBank. To date, Heartland has awarded more than $2.2 million to support filmmakers in their quest to create uplifting and inspiring films.

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Hachi: A Dog’s Tale http://www.thefilmyap.com/2009/10/16/hachi-a-dogs-tale/ http://www.thefilmyap.com/2009/10/16/hachi-a-dogs-tale/#comments Fri, 16 Oct 2009 18:56:07 +0000 http://www.thefilmyap.com/?p=4030 Continue reading ]]> Hachi - inside
“Hachi: A Dog’s Tale” is unapologetically a tear-jerker. You might resent being emotionally manipulated by this film, but I challenge even the most hard-hearted moviegoer not to spill some saltwater while watching it.

“Hachi” is based on a true story that is very famous in Japan of an Akita dog that waited every day at the train station for its master — even years after the man had passed away.

There’s an iconic statue of Hachiko at the station, and a Japanese film version came out in 1987, but the story remains largely unknown in the States.

Director Lasse Hallström teams up again with Richard Gere to tell an affecting Americanized version that retains many of the Japanese notes about loyalty and love between man and canine.

Gere plays Parker Wilson, a music professor who stumbles upon the lost puppy while disembarking from a train at his quaint little town of Bedridge. Hachi was sent from a Japanese monastery, but his shipping tag was torn off. The befuddled station manager (Jason Alexander) refuses to accept the pup, saying he’d have to just take it to the pound.

So Parker takes the little guy home, despite the stern warning of his wife Cate (the always-wonderful Joan Allen) that they not keep him. They’ve apparently recently lost a dog she was close to, and as middle-aged empty nesters, Cate isn’t eager to see a four-legged interloper.

Soon enough, of course, Hachiko (the name comes from the number eight, which was written on his collar tag) becomes a full-fledged member of the family.

The primary relationships is between the dog and Parker, but Allen has a great scene with Hachi where you can see the reluctance just melt away from her face.

Hachi is a loving but willful companion — for instance, he refuses to play fetch, despite Parker’s many training attempts. He also ignores his master’s instruction not to follow him to the train station for work every day. He even shows up again promptly at 5 p.m. to wait for Parker to step off the train again.

I don’t think I’m giving anything away in saying that Parker dies about two-thirds of the way through the film — after all, it’s the dog’s behavior after his master’s death that made his story so unforgettable.

The film really amps up the pulling of heartstrings at this point, as the dog continues his increasingly grim journey to the train station every afternoon, eternally hopefully that his master — his friend — will greet him again.

Eventually, a reporter hears the remarkable dog’s tale, and the town rallies around its most famous denizen.

The breadth and depth of Hallström’s work (“Chocolat,” “My Life As a Dog,” “The Shipping News”) suggests he might represent Sweden’s finest cinematic export since the Bergmans — Ingrid and Ingmar. He and rookie screenwriter Stephen P. Lindsey manage to toe the correct side of the line between overt sentiment and mushy smarm.

“Hachi: A Dog’s Tale” is a great, big wet lick to the face, and a welcome one.

4 Yaps

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Free Wall http://www.thefilmyap.com/2009/10/15/free-wall/ http://www.thefilmyap.com/2009/10/15/free-wall/#comments Thu, 15 Oct 2009 23:32:06 +0000 http://www.thefilmyap.com/?p=3992 Continue reading ]]> Free Wall - insideA competently made, interesting short, “Free Wall” explores racial and class tensions in a matter-of-fact, mature way, an interesting take given it’s about teenagers.

Cole (Joey Martin), the college-age son of a factory owner,  takes a job in dad’s factory over the summer, he meets Jermain (Moses Jones) and James (Sinclair Wheeler), two African-American dock workers. Jermain resents the rich white boy, and takes to teasing him, forming a contentious relationship with him.

James is more willing to give Cole a chance, and soon sparks a friendship with him. The duo bonds over a shared love and respect for graffiti art, which James practices at a “free wall,” walls where the local government and businesses allow graffiti artists to use their walls as canvases.

Filmed on location in Muncie and Indianapolis, “Free Wall” is another film funded by Ball State University’s film initiative, and is pragmatic and graceful in looking at race relations without the main characters really having many discussions about race.

Missing are heavy-handed discussions about how similar they are, or how despite their backgrounds they are able to overcome the stereotypes of “their” people.

We simply see two guys making friends, while one’s former friend becomes jealous.

The film’s conclusion is a little jarring and threatens to become hokey, but is still underplayed and handled well. Hints we see of a certain character throughout the film finally come to fruition.

It doesn’t tread much new ground thematically, but who says every film has to? When it comes to short films, “Free Wall” is as good as any.

Rating: 4 1/2 Yaps (out of 5)

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Rough Aunties http://www.thefilmyap.com/2009/10/15/rough-aunties/ http://www.thefilmyap.com/2009/10/15/rough-aunties/#comments Thu, 15 Oct 2009 12:49:14 +0000 http://www.thefilmyap.com/?p=3957 Continue reading ]]> Rough Aunties - inside

“There is no keener revelation of society’s soul than the way it treats its children.”

That Nelson Mandela quote introduces “Rough Aunties” – Kim Longinotto’s documentary about Operation BobbiBear, an organization of female advocates for child victims of rape and abuse in South Africa.

Taken on Mandela’s terms, there’s clearly a critical war going on for South Africa’s soul – tradition, silence and shame against progress, vocalism and candor.

Hopeful, horrifying and held together by the unwaveringly stoic determinism of these women, “Rough Aunties” is a film during which it’s impossible to not be moved. Its sheer emotional impact likely explains its win of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema-Documentary category.

That’s because, for a documentary topic so fraught with possibilities, Longinotto leans a tad too heavily toward sisterly camaraderie and personal tragedy among the mixed-race BobbiBear group. It plays out somewhat like a real-life “The Secret Life of Bees.” Too many insights into the sociological and financial hurdles that the women of Operation BobbiBear might face feel surface-level or are altogether absent.

Operating out of Durban, South Africa, Operation BobbiBear is composed of white Afrikaner and black Zulu women. Jackie and Eureka are the Afrikaners – Jackie the team leader and Eureka the take-charge phone-worker cutting through red tape.

Sbo, Thuli and Sdudla are the Zulu women – each one coping with the strife of black South African womanhood. Sbo is herself a victim of childhood rape. Thuli and Sdudla struggle with the single-mother challenge of raising boys into responsible men amid a culture where rape runs rampant. For each woman, the BobbiBear work can only subdue, not subside, pain.

Together, these women comfort child victims of rape and physical abuse using stuffed bears, coax out details about the crimes and collar suspected perpetrators.

BobbiBear’s battle is not just to curb abuse against children but also to circumvent the ineptitude of social services and bridge generational gaps of complacency.

Obviously, it’s great when they’re winning, but Longinotto wisely, and carefully, doesn’t diminish chilling violations against children when considering BobbiBear’s successes. At times, “Rough Aunties” takes on the raw investigative milieu of “Cops” – to the point where the worst scenario you can imagine is often the case (especially with a case involving a teenage girl who appears mentally handicapped).

Still, there are a lot of questions that “Rough Aunties” – its title derived from the “auntie” nicknames BobbiBear women give themselves – glosses over or ignores.

What’s the history of BobbiBear? Why do they use stuffed bears? How did they gain considerable leverage with, and access to, law-enforcement officers? From whom do they get funding (mentioned as having once been minimal)? Why would women outside of BobbiBear, who once fought against apartheid, now be so wary of protecting their daughters’ and granddaughters’ sexual rights? Credits point to a Web site for more information that could easily have been fit into a 103-minute film.

Also, it’s well documented as a causal factor for South African child rape that many males there believe intercourse with a virgin can cure AIDS. “Rough Aunties” never breaches that topic, nor does it hint at education efforts – successful or otherwise.

Instead, Longinotto hones in on personal tragedies that befall two of the BobbiBear women. One’s occupational resolve in the wake of what happens is admirable, and it’s in concert with the group’s compassionate mantra about the catharsis of crying. However, while “Rough Aunties” is a personally affecting story of perseverance, it’s not as culturally enlightening as it could be.

3.5 Yaps

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After the Storm http://www.thefilmyap.com/2009/10/14/after-the-storm/ http://www.thefilmyap.com/2009/10/14/after-the-storm/#comments Wed, 14 Oct 2009 19:18:20 +0000 http://www.thefilmyap.com/?p=3949 Continue reading ]]> After The Storm - inside

It was the natural impulse to help when people witnessed the images of destruction that Hurricane Katrina wreaked on New Orleans come cascading over the airwaves. Flashforward two years and there are areas still decimated by the destruction, with help being slow to come and in some cases seemingly not coming at all.

New York theater alums James Lecesne, Gerry McIntyre and Randy Redd have seen the damage done by the storm and have set their sights on St. Mark’s Community Center, a 100-year-old structure that withstood the storm, but was worse for wear in her aftermath. The trio decides to stage a theater production of Once on the Island, a story set on an Island where four storytellers attempt to sooth a small girl crying during a storm.

Obviously, the similarities between the story and what actually happen in New Orleans is striking and the three men hope to help raise funds for the community center to reopen and make some kids smile along the way.

As you watch the casting process and the children working to learn the play, it’s obvious how much the hurricane affected them.  At one point in the documentary, McIntyre decries “I’ve never been in a rehearsal situation where I’ve seen so many people cry”. It’s apparent that the thing most people overlooked in helping the New Orleans area was the people themselves

In video diaries, the kids describe their lives where parents reside elsewhere, seeing their first dead body and one young lady who has lost both parents early in her life. The children have a spirit that in unmistakable, but where the storm did the worst damage was to their psyche. It left a generation of youngsters as broken as the landscape that surrounds them.

As the troupe begins to fray to the point to where the play seems like it will be a disaster, something clicks and they all come together and bring down the house on opening night. They also learn following their opening night success that they’ve been invited to perform the show off-Broadway in New York.

The story that affected me the most was that of Griffin, a bright, clearly talent young man who hasn’t seen his mother in eight months. When there’s an opportunity for him to see her, he chooses to stay and rehearse with the group. Without his knowing, his friend Grant helps bring his mother to surprise him. When she comes in the door and surprises her unsuspecting son, it provides the most touching moment of the film for me.

After the Storm will leave you smiling as tears are welling up. At the beginning, the kids just want a sense of normalcy, but by the end, the purpose of the project has transformed them and they seem on their way to healing. The eventual camaraderie between Lecesne, McIntyre and Redd is touching and at times hilarious.

The film is a great example that no matter what happens in our lives, nothing can unwillingly break the spirit of the human condition. After the Storm is a moving documentary that shows despite the clean up, the healing process is far from complete. A real eye-opening, wonderful film.

4.5 Yaps


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Spooner http://www.thefilmyap.com/2009/10/14/spooner/ http://www.thefilmyap.com/2009/10/14/spooner/#comments Wed, 14 Oct 2009 19:13:18 +0000 http://www.thefilmyap.com/?p=3946 Continue reading ]]> Spooner - inside

Herman Spooner (Matthew Lillard) stands just days away from his 30th birthday, facing expulsion from his parents’ home and no sense of who his is or where he’s going. He has reserved his life to the what ifs and dreams that he hasn’t the courage to tackle. One chance encounter changes it all.

Spooner is a quirky little comedy that for the most part works and is powered by wonderful performances from its lead actors. It’s a movie that’s been made before, will be yet again, but has something to say and does so in a unique and engaging way.

Lillard stars as Spooner, a used car salesman who has yet to find his calling in life and is content to be a bottom of the barrel performer. He yearns for the life that he is too scared to encounter. He has holed himself up in his parents’ house, but those days are numbered. His parents have set the steadfast deadline of his 30th birthday for their baby boy to exit their home.

Spooner’s ordinary existence takes a turn after he encounters Rose (Nora Zehetner) stranded on the side of the road. Instead of being cool with chilling in his parent’s basement playing video games, Spooner now finds himself doing whatever he can to keep Rose in his life, up to, and including, sabotaging her car.

Rose, on the other hand, has decided to do “something monumental” with her life and is leaving in just a few short days for the Philippines as an English teacher. She slowly learns that the life Spooner speaks of leading doesn’t exist and wants to make a clean break and get on her way.

After finally standing up for himself, Spooner sets off to crash Rose’s going away party and set things right. He comes clean to her and convinces her to go to the Philippines when she begins to voice her feelings about not going. When he takes control of his life, he finally gets what he’s needed.

Lillard has a very difficult role in this movie. He has to strike a delicate balance of needing to be accepted and loved and not being a stalker. Admittedly, at times I found the character more stalkish than naïve, but it didn’t detract from the performance Lillard gives.

Zehetner packs a nice little punch. The petite beauty is a commanding presence on the screen. While she never has a moment to shine on her own, she steals most of the scenes she’s in and gives the film a believability that it wouldn’t have had without her charm.

The script is filled with moments that will leave you laughing, but none will hit you harder than the scene with Spooner’s boss Stan (Shea Whigham) and a sprinkled donut. Christopher McDonald and Kate Burton also give solid, funny turns as Spooner’s loving, yet fed up parents.

Lillard and Zehetner give heartfelt, charming performance as two characters standing at the brink, knowing that they must make a change, but too scared to take that first step. Zehetner seems just one step away from being a household name. Her elegant allure is powerful and she’s able to achieve so much with subtle movements and dialog. Zehetner is someone to keep your eye on.

Spooner is a lovable little comedy that has the right blend of charm, laughs and heart. A very enjoyable flick.

4 Yaps

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