Past Screenings

 

October 11 – Jesus Camp – USA – 2006 – Documentary.  Anyone seeking an understanding of  Trump supporters who seem immune to “the Truth” need to see this movie.  Although it was made during George Bush’s presidency, it is even more relevant today.  “No matter your religious or political affiliation (or lack thereof), this supremely even-handed documentary from Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady is cinematic dynamite.”-Philadelphia Enquirer   “On one level, the documentary Jesus Camp is all about evangelical Christians keeping up with the terrorists.”-Seattle Times.  “What (directors) Ewing and Grady have accomplished here is remarkable — capturing the visceral humanity, desire and unflagging political will of a religious movement. “-Chicago Tribune.   “A frightening, infuriating, yet profoundly compassionate documentary about the indoctrination of children by the Evangelical right.”-New York Magazine.  Jesus Camp follows Rachel, Levi, and Tory to Pastor Becky Fisher’s “Kids on Fire” summer camp in Devil’s Lake, North Dakota, where kids are taught to become dedicated Christian soldiers in “God’s Army.”  The film follows these children at camp as they hone their “prophetic gifts” and are schooled in how to “take back America for Christ.”

September 27 – Gabbeh – Iran – 1996 -Drama, directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf.  Gabbeh is a kind of carpet woven by the Qashqa’i people of Iran.  “The movie plays like a mix of documentary and dream”-Liz Braun. “Has visual eloquence to spare, a rhythm that pulls you along and a sense of yearning not too often encountered in movies.”-Joe Baltake
Sacramento Bee. Gabbeh was scheduled to be part of the first Festival of Foreign Films, but was not shown due to technical difficulties.  The film was made for an Iranian audience that already knew about the Qashqa’i, and had a native understanding of what to us will seem foreign concepts, so I believe some background is in order.

The word Iran is derived from Aryan, people who migrated from the steppes of southern Russia/Ukraine to central Iran thousands of years ago. The language of the Aryans, part of the Indo-European family, evolved into Farsi or Persian. It is the dominant language and Aryans are the dominant people in Iran today. However, over 1/5 of Iran’s people belong to other ethnic groups and speak other non-related languages.

The Qashqa’i, the subject of the film Gabbeh, are the last of Iran’s nomads – people whose lives are dictated by their flocks of sheep and goats –people who are constantly on the move, following autumn’s greening grass down from the mountains to the plains near Shiraz, and on to the marshes of the Persian Gulf. It is an annual migration of over 300 miles – the longest in Iran.

The Qashqa’i are a confederation of Turkic-speaking tribes who travel in smaller clans. Clan size is dictated by the size of the herd, which is dictated by available grass. A clan that falls on hard times is helped by donations from other clans. The entire migration is coordinated by tribal chiefs, who decide how long a clan can stay in one place, so as to leave edible grass for others. Everyone in the clan lives for the good of the clan, as directed by the clan chief – there is very little individual choice for anyone – male or female, as the clan and its animals only survives if everyone cooperates.

With few possessions and much time spent travelling, a woman’s time is largely spent working with the byproducts of the herd. That means milking, making butter and cheese, spinning and dyeing yarn, and weaving carpets – all done on the road. Mostly, they’re making carpets, which are known for their exceptionally high quality. Most carpets termed “Shiraz” are made by the Qashqa’I, and require the efforts of several women. They are made from traditional patterns, to bring money or prestige to the clan.

A woman may also make a carpet for her own use, known as a Gabbeh. Gabbeh is a Farsi word meaning something raw, natural, uncut or “in the rough”. These are smaller, coarser, and the design is the creation of the weaver. It may tell a story, depict a landscape or scene, or even convey an emotion.

The film’s director, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, originally intended to film a documentary about the Qashqa’I, but during production decided the culture would be better served by a drama. The film’s plot is only incidental – a girl’s longing to unite with her suitor. The film is really about a people at one with their natural surroundings: about feelings, colour, beauty, the spirit of a place, and its effect on the psyche: where myth becomes reality and reality myth.

 

September 13 – Pete Seeger, the Power of Song – USA – 2007 – Documentary.  Director Jim Brown documents the life of one of the greatest American singer/songwriters of the last century.  Pete Seeger was the architect of the folk revival, writing some of its best-known songs including “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” and “If I Had a Hammer.”  Largely misunderstood and criticized for his strong beliefs, he was  picketed, protested, blacklisted, and, in spite of his enormous popularity, banned from television for more than 17 years.  Musicians including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, Natalie Maines, and Peter, Paul, and Mary appear in this intimate portrait and discuss Seeger’s lasting influence on the fabric of American Music.

August 23 – The Orange Thief – Italy/USA – 2007 – Comedy/Drama.  A man’s struggle against a life of crime takes an unusual turn during a stay behind bars in this offbeat independent comedy-drama. The title character (played by Andrea Calabrese) is an orphan who grew up fending for himself near a citrus grove in Sicily, where he kept body and soul together by stealing fruit. While the thief wants to go straight, opportunities for him are few and far between, and he’s no stranger to the inside of a jail cell. While serving time, the thief meets Turrido (Allessio Giottoli), a convicted murderer. Realizing the younger man could use a break, Turrido ask a favor of the thief – since he’s soon to be released, could he make some recordings of his girlfriend Rosalba (Micaela Helvetica Saxer), an aspiring singer?  Eager to stay on Turrido’s good side, the thief agrees, but his plan hits a snag when he discovers Rosalba doesn’t like the idea of having her music committed to tape.  The Orange Thief was shot in Italy by three independent filmmakers from the United States; each shot a third of the film, free of the creative input of their partners. The film received its United States premiere at the 2006 Woodstock Film Festival, where it received the award for “Best Of Show.”  “A paean to dreams, friendship, and the beauty of music”-Mill Valley Film Fest.  “WILDLY ORIGINAL..this is a world infused with magic realism.  Utterly delightful, imaginative and bold, this gem of a film features live music integral to the narrative and impossible to forget.”-Woodstock Film Fest.

August 9 – Divided We Fall – Czech Republic – 2001 – Drama.  Tells the true and bittersweet story of a Czechoslovakian couple whose village has been taken over by the Nazis during World War II.  “A very worthwhile entry in the proud tradition of Czech filmmakers examining serious social issues with dark humor.”-New York Post.  “Even in the most appalling circumstances, it suggests, human folly can be funny and even moving.”-Seattle Times.  “A lovely movie, one that allows its characters unexpected spurts of growth and regression, darkness and grace.”-Time Magazine.  “A stirring, affecting story about courage, trust and the inevitability of bizarre allegiances during times of desperation.”-Washington Post.  I might add it reminds me of a Hitchcock thriller, where ordinary people are thrust in extraordinary circumstances. “Shows that it’s not only possible to make a spine-tingling World War II saga without bloodshed, but also to use such stories to examine the agonizing-but-necessary values of conscience, loyalty and forgiveness.”-Newsday.  Nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film.

July 26 – Italian for Beginners – Denmark – 2001 – Romance/Comedy.  “An engaging Danish movie that rises from the ashes of loneliness and despair to spread feelings of happiness across the screen.”-Denver Rocky Mountain News.  A close-knit neighbourhood in Copenhagen contains several success-challenged, lonely 30-45-something individuals.  Each separately signs up for an Italian class in the hopes of spicing up their lives.  “The result is that rarest of things — a heartwarming love story that bears not a trace of cheap feeling or false emotion.”-Washington Post.  A product of the Dogme 95 movement (shot on location, no extra sets, props, lighting or sound, hand-held cameras only) the film has a natural intimacy that helps you empathize with these wonderfully ordinary people.  “A rarity: a humane picture about modern romance among believable adults.”-Chicago Tribune.

June 28 – Genghis Blues  – Mongolia/USA – 1999 – Documentary, nominated for an Oscar (Best Documentary), tells how a Nobel Prize-winning physicist’s stamp collection helped a down-on-his-luck blind American blues musician travel to Mongolia to pursue his passion for the extremely difficult art of throat singing.  As film critic Roger Ebert wrote “no fiction film could possibly have dreamed up this wonderful story”.  And wonderful it is, filled with warmth, compassion, amazing coincidences, fascinating music, friendly people, and celebrating the coming together of two very different cultures.

May 21 – Where Do We Go Now   –  Lebanon defies all the stereotypes about the Middle East. Half its population is Christian, most Christians are part of the Catholic church but speak Arabic as their first language, French as their second. The country’s relative peace is due to a willingness to co-operate, based on a history of contact with multiple points of view. The result is a unique constitution that divides the 5 major positions of power among the 4 major ethnic groups, so no single group can dominate.

The country is about 1/3 the size of Vancouver Island, and its geography is like a miniature BC – west facing, forested mountains (some of the ancient Cedars of Lebanon still exist) parallel to a narrow coastline, with a fertile valley similar to the Okanagan in the interior.

Lebanon is credited with inventing the alphabet, the foundation of Greek and other western writing systems. For nearly 4,000 years, Lebanon’s economy has been focused on trade – its location helped it become the ‘neutral’ crossroads between East and West. The Lebanese city of Byblos was where Greeks acquired paper – a product of Egyptian papyrus. Byblos paper was assembled into biblia – “books” – source of our words bible, bibliography, and bibliophile. During Lebanon’s “golden age” 3000 years ago Lebanon’s people were called Phoenicians, and the Mediterranean Sea was a Phoenician lake, with major Phoenician trading cities at Carthage (Tunisia) and Cadiz (Spain).

Lebanon became part of the Greek and later, Roman empires. In Jesus’ time its daily language was the same as Jesus’s – Aramaic, a branch of Arabic. By 400 AD the land had mostly become Christian, owing allegiance to the “Roman” capital in what is now Istanbul. After a spell under Moslem rule, the Crusades led to its occupation by the French. At that time, Maronite Christians pledged allegiance to the Pope. Even after Moslems recaptured the area, Lebanon has had continuous contact with and assistance from Europe. When the Ottoman Empire was dissolved in 1918, the French took control of Syria and Lebanon, further strengthening their ties. After WW2, Beirut became the “Switzerland of the Middle East”, as well as the “Paris of the Middle East” and the “Rivera of the Middle East”. To those titles I would add the “Los Angles of the Middle East”, as its western-influenced films, radio and television broadcasts are a hugely influential counterbalance to Islamic extremism.

That liberalism has been severely strained by the creation of Israel on its southern border. The immediate aftermath of Israel’s creation was a war in which 100,000 Palestinian refugees fled to Lebanon. The Palestinians’ militant brand of Islam slowly polarized Lebanon’s tolerant population, leading to a 1975 civil war, which destroyed much of the country. Intermittent conflict, partial rebuilding, foreign interventions, floods of refugees, and fragile ceasefire’s have been Lebanon’s lot ever since.

In Caramel, (2007) little of this is apparent.   We’re in the Christian quarter of Beirut, the peaceful Middle East you seldom hear about, where life goes on. The only signs of the larger political situation are glimpses of soldiers patrolling border areas, and the frequent power outages due to shattered infrastructure. Caramel eavesdrops on the lives and loves of women customers, co-workers, and neighbours of a beauty parlour.  It’s “Charming, lovely, and hard to resist”.

In Where Do We Go Now, (2011) a remote village near the Israeli border becomes a metaphor for Lebanon itself.  Here, Moslem and Christian women conspire to keep their menfolk from fighting, using ever-more outrageous methods.  It’s “Plucky, whimsical, mildly naughty, and blithely sentimental”.

May 21 – War Dance – 

May 20 – Latcho Drom –

May 20 – Benda Bilili – D.R.Congo – 2012 – A Musical documentary depicting the against-all-odds rise of Staff Benda Bilili, a dynamic band of street musicians from the Democratic Republic of Congo who overcame extreme poverty and physical disability to become beloved stars of the world music circuit.

May 20-  Caramel – Lebanon defies all the stereotypes about the Middle East. Half its population is Christian, most Christians are part of the Catholic church but speak Arabic as their first language, French as their second. The country’s relative peace is due to a willingness to co-operate, based on a history of contact with multiple points of view. The result is a unique constitution that divides the 5 major positions of power among the 4 major ethnic groups, so no single group can dominate.

The country is about 1/3 the size of Vancouver Island, and its geography is like a miniature BC – west facing, forested mountains (some of the ancient Cedars of Lebanon still exist) parallel to a narrow coastline, with a fertile valley similar to the Okanagan in the interior.

Lebanon is credited with inventing the alphabet, the foundation of Greek and other western writing systems. For nearly 4,000 years, Lebanon’s economy has been focused on trade – its location helped it become the ‘neutral’ crossroads between East and West. The Lebanese city of Byblos was where Greeks acquired paper – a product of Egyptian papyrus. Byblos paper was assembled into biblia – “books” – source of our words bible, bibliography, and bibliophile. During Lebanon’s “golden age” 3000 years ago Lebanon’s people were called Phoenicians, and the Mediterranean Sea was a Phoenician lake, with major Phoenician trading cities at Carthage (Tunisia) and Cadiz (Spain).

Lebanon became part of the Greek and later, Roman empires. In Jesus’ time its daily language was the same as Jesus’s – Aramaic, a branch of Arabic. By 400 AD the land had mostly become Christian, owing allegiance to the “Roman” capital in what is now Istanbul. After a spell under Moslem rule, the Crusades led to its occupation by the French. At that time, Maronite Christians pledged allegiance to the Pope. Even after Moslems recaptured the area, Lebanon has had continuous contact with and assistance from Europe. When the Ottoman Empire was dissolved in 1918, the French took control of Syria and Lebanon, further strengthening their ties. After WW2, Beirut became the “Switzerland of the Middle East”, as well as the “Paris of the Middle East” and the “Rivera of the Middle East”. To those titles I would add the “Los Angles of the Middle East”, as its western-influenced films, radio and television broadcasts are a hugely influential counterbalance to Islamic extremism.

That liberalism has been severely strained by the creation of Israel on its southern border. The immediate aftermath of Israel’s creation was a war in which 100,000 Palestinian refugees fled to Lebanon. The Palestinians’ militant brand of Islam slowly polarized Lebanon’s tolerant population, leading to a 1975 civil war, which destroyed much of the country. Intermittent conflict, partial rebuilding, foreign interventions, floods of refugees, and fragile ceasefire’s have been Lebanon’s lot ever since.

In Caramel, (2007) little of this is apparent.   We’re in the Christian quarter of Beirut, the peaceful Middle East you seldom hear about, where life goes on. The only signs of the larger political situation are glimpses of soldiers patrolling border areas, and the frequent power outages due to shattered infrastructure. Caramel eavesdrops on the lives and loves of women customers, co-workers, and neighbours of a beauty parlour.  It’s “Charming, lovely, and hard to resist”.

 

 

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