Past Screenings

Nov 7, 2018. Buena Vista Social Club – Cuba – 1999 – Music Documentary.

“The music is incredible enough on its own–but the lives and the culture behind it, that’s what makes this documentary a must-see.”-Widgett Walls.  In 1996 famed musician Ry Cooder travelled to Havana, hoping to find some musicians who were legends in the 1950’s.  If they were still capable of making music, he would record them.  People who had been languishing in obscurity not only were still alive, but proved able to make an astonishing recording that swept the world – the Grammy-winning “Buena Vista Social Club”.  Cooder returned to make further recordings with his newly minted stars, and brought along director Wim Winders to record their stories. “One of the best and most impactful docs of the 1990s, Wim Wenders exhilarating feature is at once a tribute to a pre-Castro generation of musicians as well as a largely bygone genre.”-Emanuel Levy.

Oct 24, 2018. From Mao to Mozart – Isaac Stern in China – USA – 1981 – Documentary

In 1979, violin virtuoso Isaac Stern embarked on a goodwill tour of Red China. Filmmaker Murray Lerner went along for the ride, and the end result was the unforgettable feature-length documentary From Mao to Mozart. The best scenes involve Stern’s tutoring and coaching of gifted Chinese students, and Shanghai Conservatory of Music director Tan Shuzhen’s recollections of his travails in the less enlightened China of the 1960s. The film is extremely well balanced, treating Eastern and Western musical culture with equal respect and (sometimes) awe. From Mao to Mozart won the 1981 “best documentary” Academy Award. This 2000 edition includes a short film documenting Stern’s return visit 20 years later.

Oct 10, 2018 The Weavers: Wasn’t That a Time – USA – 1982 – Documentary

Most of you who know of Pete Seeger know of his pioneering folk group The Weavers – but do you know the individual members?  26 years before Pete’s definitive film biography Pete Seeger, the Power of Song was released (our most popular film to date), the same director, Jim Brown, made this documentary about the Weavers’ final group performance.

Formed in the late ’40s by Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, Fred Hellerman, and Ronnie Gilbert. , the Weavers made history in 1950 with their recording of the Leadbelly song “Goodnight, Irene,” which stayed on top of the pop charts for an astonishing 13 weeks. Two years later, the Weavers ran afoul of anti-communist politicians and activists dedicated to rooting out all entertainers with affiliations or associations with that party. The Weavers were blacklisted for several years, then made a stunning comeback with a New Year’s Eve 1955 concert at Carnegie Hall, which became their most popular recording. Seeger left the group in 1958 for a solo career, and the Weavers carried on with several lineups for another five years.

For this film, the original quartet re-formed in 1981 and performed a final show at Carnegie Hall, with the ill Lee Hays in a wheelchair. He died before the film was released, and it’s clear that, although Seeger went on to the greatest fame among the original members, Hays’ spirit guided the group throughout its existence and fuels this film. Ronnie Gilbert’s powerful voice and equally powerful personality made her a groundbreaking performer perhaps even more influential for female singers than Pete was for men.  Director Jim Brown mixes footage of the group in their heyday with reminiscences by the members as they prepare for their last waltz together.

 

Sept 26, 2018. Who Are the DeBolts? – USA – 1977 – Documentary – The tale of Dorothy and Bob DeBolt’s challenges concerning their 19 adopted children, many of who are physically disabled war orphans.  Never sentimental, the film treats this multiethnic cast of kids as heroes who belie the stereotype of the handicapped as they tackle adversities with compassion, joy, and perseverance.  The story continues with the follow-up film STEPPIN’ OUT, THE DEBOLTS GROW UP, catching up with the family five years later as the kids grapple with adolescence.  Director John Korty skillfully captures the boundless possibility of the individual human will and the importance of family and friendship.  Surprisingly joyous and uplifting!

Sept 12, 2018. Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, the – USA – 2005 – Documentary. If you haven’t seen this movie, you must.  If you have, you probably want to see it again.  If you’ve seen it again, how about another go?  A deceptively simple story about a loner, Mark Bittner, who befriends feral parrots in San Francisco. “In many ways, this is a movie for outcasts and outcasts at heart — most of us, I’ll wager.”-Slate.  “Bittner is calm, intelligent, confiding, wise and well-spoken.”-Chicago Sun-Times.  “What might have been a static portrait has become a true story, with tragic turns, joyful surprises and provocative glimpses into the meaning of life.”-Arizona Republic.  “An absolute delight and nothing like the wimpy nature film its title suggests. It’s a soaring — figuratively and literally — documentary with a surprising emotional power.”-Atlanta Journal-Constitution.   “Turns out to be that rarity: a movie that makes its audience happier for having seen it.”-Seattle Times.  “The film is that rare documentary that has romance, comedy and a surprise ending that makes you feel as if you could fly out of the theater like a cherry headed conure.”- San Jose Mercury News.  

March 8, 2018. Saltmen of Tibet – Swiss-German-Tibet – 1998 – Documentary.

For this Swiss-German documentary, filmmaker/Sinologist Ulrike Koch sneaked cameras into Tibet in order to film four men and 160 yak in a 2,000-year-old ritual — the annual spring pilgrimage to gather raw salt at remote lakes, a three-month Himalayan trek. Camping along the way, they engage in prayers, talk, and songs. Following nomadic traditions, the saltmen make the return trip with salt in backpacks made from yak pelts. In addition to Tibetan chanting, the film’s music includes a post-production blend of Hamburg musicians and native Tibetans.  “Koch’s achievement is not limited to ethnography…nor is it limited to the lyrical way in which she presents her subject.” Maria Garcia, Film Journal International.  “It’s an amazingly moving film of sublime beauty.” Dennis Schwartz, Ozus World Movie  Reviews.

 

March 22, 2018. Monsieur Lazhar – Canada – 2012 – Drama.  Among the best of films about immigration, the education system, and children.  In Montreal, an elementary school teacher dies abruptly. Having learned of the incident in the newspaper, Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag), a 55-year-old Algerian immigrant, goes to the school to offer his services as a substitute teacher. Quickly hired to replace the deceased, he finds himself in an establishment in crisis, while going through his own personal tragedy.  “The French-Canadian film Monsieur Lazhar has one of the most powerful openings I’ve ever seen in a movie.” Peter Rainer, Christian Science Monitor.   “.. the perfect school drama for people who hate the Hollywood version of the genre, but are open to simple and moving stories about people doing the best they can in a world that doesn’t always seem to encourage that approach.”  Sarah Boslaugh, PopMatters.  “Monsieur Lazhar” sustains an exquisite balance between grown-up and child’s-eye views of education, teacher-student relations and peer-group interactions.”  Stephen Holden, New York Times.  “Don’t be put off by its hokey-sounding subject: this unexpectedly powerful, subtle little film is exquisitely made, enormously moving and politically-charged.” Caryn James, James on ScreenS.  “Very few films offer a moral grandeur, as well as a political foundation; very few films have such poised and brilliant performances from unknown actors.” Paul Byrnes, Sydney Morning Herald.

April 12, 2018. Elling – Norway – 2002 – Comedy.  “immanently worthy of its Best Foreign Film Oscar nomination” Christopher Null, Filmcritic.com.  “really is about a couple of crazy guys, and it’s therapeutic” John A. Nesbit, Old School Reviews.  When his mother, who has sheltered him his entire 40 years, dies, Elling, a sensitive, would-be poet, is sent to live in a state institution. There he meets Kjell Bjarne, a gentle giant and female-obsessed virgin in his 40s. After two years, the men are released and provided with a state-funded apartment and stipend with the hope they will be able to live on their own. Initially, the simple act of going around the corner for groceries is a challenge.  “A witty and sophisticated sensibility brings individuality to the classic odd-couple comedy.”  Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times.  “Touches smartly and wistfully on a number of themes, not least the notion that the marginal members of society … might benefit from a helping hand and a friendly kick in the pants.” Ty Burr, Boston Globe  “The subtle strength of “Elling” is that it never loses touch with the reality of the grim situation.” Jeanne Aufmuth, Palo Alto Weekly.  “It is a life-affirming tale devoid of sappiness or pretention.”  Robert Roten, Laramie Movie Scope.

 

April 26, 2018. Vanaja – India – 2006 – Drama.  “Vanaja is a timeless story of dignity maintained against all odds.” Tom Keough, Seattle Times.  “Stunning portrait of caste oppression in South India, as well as the struggle of a young woman from the lower caste’s to elevate herself through dance.” Louis Proyect, rec.arts.movies.review.

Vanaja is fifteen, beautiful and far too impulsive for her own good. In a seaside village in India’s Andhra Pradesh state, trouble will find a girl like this and Vanaja meets trouble halfway.

“Sumptuously visual without being romantic or sentimental, Vanaja intelligently pits the social struggles of the Indian caste system against the beauties of adolescents.” Sara Maria Vizcarrondo, Boxoffice Magazine.

“It’s not easy to make a very sad movie that doesn’t make you want to jump out a window when it’s over. Vanaja pulls this off.”  Wesley Morris, Boston Globe.

“Vanaja, a beautiful and heart-touching film from India, represents a miracle of casting. Every role, including the challenging central role of a low-caste 14-year-old girl, is cast perfectly and played flawlessly.”  Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times.

Among its many beauties, the film features kuchipudi, a South Indian narrative dance usually reserved for highcaste Brahmins.

 

May10, 2018. Mystic Masseur – UK/Trinidad – 2001 – Comedy/Drama.  A Merchant Ivory production of the novel by Nobel Prize-winner V. S. Naipaul.  Set amid the large and prosperous Indian community in Mid-20th century Trinidad, The Mystic Masseur is a magical, bittersweet fable about Ganesh, a young, aspiring author whose unexpected talents as a healer bring him local fame and enable him to realize his ambitions as a writer.  But he also realizes his limitations when his reputation as the legendary “mystic masseur” propels him to national renown and draws him far from his roots and his true self.  “The film is rich with colorful characters and enlivened by its strong, convincing picture of rural Trinidad.”-Orlando Sentinel.  “The result is an eccentric, amusing fable that moves at an unhurried island pace, a picturesque tale that Merchant seems to have invested with an almost personal sense of spirit.”-Los Angeles Times.  “A lyrical metaphor for cultural and personal self-discovery and a picaresque view of a little-remembered world.”  Duane Dudek, Milwaukee Journal Sentinal.

May 24, 2018. Triumph of the Wall – Canada – 2013 – Documentary. As fascinating as it is meditative as it is hilarious, Triumph of the Wall begins as a filmed chronicle about the construction of a 1000-foot dry-stone wall by a novice stonemason in rural Quebec. The stonemason, Chris Overing, is to complete the stone structure within eight weeks; the filmmaker, Bill Stone plans the film as a straightforward telling of this laborious yet creative task. But after Overing realizes he has woefully underestimated the time and energy required to construct the wall, both projects evolve into something altogether different. Triumph of the Wall is a film about expectations, about two guys who embark on an eight-week journey and spend the next eight years trying to figure out how to finish what they started…a reminder that sometimes art (and life) is as much about the process of creation as it is about the finished product.

November 15, 2017 – Central Station – Brazil – 1998 – Drama.  A profoundly moving tale of the human spirit.  Nominated for Oscars for Best Foreign Film as well as Best Actress.  Inside Rio de Janeiro’s bustling Central Station, two very unlikely souls are about to become inextricably linked.  When a young boy witnesses his mother’s accidental death. a lonely retired schoolteacher reluctantly takes the child under her wing.  Although initially distrustful of each other, the two form an uncommon bond as they venture from the bustling city  to Brazil’s barren and remote northeast region in search of the boy’s father.  Together, the two embark on a journey of the heart that restores the woman’s spirit and teaches the child precious life lessons.  Critic Roger Ebert says “The movie’s success rests largely on the shoulders of Fernanda Montenegro, an actress who successfully defeats any temptation to allow sentimentality to wreck her relationship with the child.”.

October 25, 2017 – Marooned in Iraq – Kurdish Iran – 2002 – Drama/Comedy.  A rare glimpse into the culture of the Kurds.  “A sorrowful road comedy set in a place where hardship and humor are brothers in arms.”-Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Even though the film’s tone grows ever more elegiac, it stubbornly remains a celebration of the Kurdish capacity to endure.”-Los Angeles Times.  Kurds, the world’s most numerous ethnic group (30-40 million) not to have their own nation, live in the mountainous borderland between Iran, Iraq, Syria & Turkey.  They’ve been there for thousands of years, mostly as persecuted minorities divided between more powerful states.  Marooned in Iraq is set in 1991, so this particular film’s villain is Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, who is bombing villages attempting to resist his dominance.  It could just as easily be Syria’s Assad, or Turkey’s Erdogan, or ISIS.  The plot centers around Mirza, a famous elderly Kurdish singer living in Iran.  He becomes concerned about the safety of his ex-wife and former singing partner, Hanareh, who over two decades earlier left him to marry another member of their ensemble and move to Iraqi Kurdistan.  Mirza rounds up his sons, fellow musicians Barat and Audeh, and together they set out to find Hanareh, constantly bickering along the way.  What happens is a journey funny, dangerous and touching – as the trio wanders on the edge of a war zone and witness the destruction that Saddam Hussein has wrought first hand.    In a Special Feature interview the director, Bahman Ghobadi, says near-constant persecution has forged in the Kurdish character an outsized appreciation of music, humour, and the absurdity of life in almost constant chaos.  His film shows the near-reverent deference given to musicians, and how music is vital to everyday living.  It also shows glimpses of the status of Kurdish women, who go about unveiled, are more free to speak their minds, and have a more equal position than in most moslem societies.

October 11, 2017 – 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, 2017 – 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, 2017 – 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, 2017 – 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, 2017 – 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, 2017 – 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, 2017 – 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, 2017 – 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, 2017 – War Dance – 

May 20, 2017 – Latcho Drom –

May 20, 2017 – 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, 2017-  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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