AFIDOCS Reviews Part Two

Saturday was a full day, and I had not thought I was choosing films with a theme, but at the end of the day I realized it was a day about strong women. And it was a day of mostly strong filmmaking. Sunday, the final day of the festival turned out to be a day of films about the importance of community. And when it was all over, I was exhausted, but as usual my head is now full of ideas and new heroes, and I’m very thankful for the Girl Power on the screen.

La Libertad del Diablo is a very arty look at the victims and perpetrators of violence in Mexican drug cartel land. All the interviewees and everyone around them are masked with the same mask, like Lucha Libre without color, showing only their eyes, noses, and mouths. The masks were no doubt necessary to save the witnesses from reprisals, but they became distracting to me. I was looking more at the differences in eyes and lips than listening to the speakers. And while the shooting was well done, it too took me out of the stories that were being told. Those stories that I did hear were of torture, murder, police corruption, and horrifying violence. Sadly, the art of the film, and it was beautifully composed, took away from the story and left me confused about who did what to whom.


 

Mama Colonel is Honorine Munyole, a police officer in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She’s in charge of a unit that fights violence against women and children. In the DRC there have been so many wars and more violence that can be documented. But when she is relocated to a new town, her call for women who’ve been raped to come forward brings more than a dozen women to her. They were all raped, their husbands killed and their children either killed or taken during what they call the Six Day War. They are all broken women, mostly homeless and deeply emotionally scarred. Mama Colonel finds them a place to live and heal, and raises money from the community to take care of them. She also finds a group of abused and unwanted children who she eventually brings to the mothers. You only wish there were more Mama Colonels out there.

 

Dolores is an eye-opening documentary. I knew her name, but I had no idea how powerful she actually was. Partnered with Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta was the heart and soul of the Farm Workers movement. Her place in that movement has been largely portrayed as one of the people was also there, but this film shows that she was the leader, every bit as much and in some cases more so than Chavez. Too bad she was born a woman. This is a powerful and very well-made doc. I hope a lot of women (and men) see it.

There is no trailer yet, but this is a good explanation of its importance.

 

Chavela was a surprise to me. Chavela Vargas was a Costa Rica-born singer, well known initially in Mexico City then later in life internationally. She was different from all the other Latina female singers of her time. She sang what had traditionally been a male form, the ranchero. But her style of singing them was entirely her own – more guitar, less trumpet, more soulful. She dressed as a man and was known to have had many lesbian affairs, including one with Frida Kahlo. But she retired early, mostly because she had become an alcoholic and was notoriously undependable. 20 years later though, she was sober and made her comeback, this time with some big fans and backers, notably Pedro Almodovar who brought her to Europe and the biggest venues of her life. She wanted to die singing on stage, but missed it by a few hours. What an interesting and amazing woman!

 

Spettacolo was my favorite film of the festival. It takes place in Monticchiello, a small medieval hill town in Tuscany with a current population of 202. Every year since 1967, the town has put on a play known as Teatro Povero. It began with historical dramas that concerned the town — the resistance, the wars — but evolved into a community discussion. Each fall, the whole town gets together and asks, “What will our play be about this year?” It is a great community building exercise with lively discussions and great participation by all. But this particular year after the financial crisis that has made everyone fearful, they decide the play will be about the end of the world and what that means to this town. Though none of them are “professional” actors, they have been doing these plays for so long now that many of them have their own styles and they’re written for and cast accordingly. The director/writer has been involved since 1981, and the writing, designing, and rehearsals are every bit as serious as any professional play. It is an incredible film!

Another one without a trailer, yet. So here’s a back story to the film.

The Opposition is a story that is sadly all too familiar. This time it is in Papua New Guinea. It’s the tale of a village of poor people in the way of big developers and who fight being evicted from their little slice of paradise. They live on the beach at the edge town, but a big company wants to make it into a resort. In the beginning they have a partner in their fight, a member of congress, but she eventually buys into the developer’s idea of progress and deserts the town. It is definitely a David-v-Goliath tale, only this time Goliath has the government and big money on his side. David in this case is the indefatigable Joe Moses, leader of the Paga Hill settlement, who does everything one can do to assert his village’s right to stay. Very sad.

Saving Brinton is about a film lover/hoarder who has a room full of early silent films and pre-silent movie entertainments, and finally finds people who were interested in his trove. At the center is Michael Zahs. (He was sitting next to me at the screening.) He knows that the collection should be of interest to film historians. It belonged to the Brintons, a rich couple from his town who were some of the first exhibitors of silent films in the central states of the US. Among the films, once they are finally taken to be copied and catalogued, they find an unknown Méliès, which is extremely rare and valuable. But Michael really only wants to share these treasures with film lovers around the world. It is a sweet film, though there is extraneous footage of Michael around town that takes away from the story. Nevertheless, it’s worth watching.

 

Year of the Scab is definitely a film for football lovers. (I am not one, so…) It isn’t particularly creative, but then again it is a standard sports doc. It tells the story of the 1987 NFL strike and the guys who came in to play for the Washington Redskins for just three games, but won all their games and put the team in the Super Bowl that year. The fans and the striking players were against them, until they won. It’s the underdog story. The last chance for a bunch of players story.

No trailer, but here are some clips from the news of the time.

Tune in to this edition of the Cinema Clash podcast with Charlie and Hannah (Mainstream Chick) – and special guest, me – for lively discussion about the AFI Docs! Also available on iTunes!

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