With the onset of fall, Bay Area moviegoing options start to multiply like crazy. The Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF), October 6-16 2016, is hard to beat. The 39th edition offers a line-up of 200 films—winners from Cannes, Berlin, and Toronto as well as an eclectic mix of features, documentaries, shorts, world cinema and films with a Bay Area stamp—all selected for our discriminating Bay Area audience by programmer Zoe Elton and her seasoned team. The legendary festival kicks off on Thursday evening, October 6, with two of Hollywood’s hottest fall films—La La Land, Damien Chazelle’s (Whiplash MVFF 2014) love letter to dreamers, artists, and Hollywood with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone and Denis Vileneuve’s (Sicario) riveting and thoughtful drama, Arrival, starring five time Oscar-nominee Amy Adams as a linguistics professor who communicates with aliens in a bid to save the planet. Actually, in a move to satisfy everyone’s tastes, there are four films screening on Thursday evening, so add Mick Jackson’s Denial starring Rachael Weiss and Rob Nilsson’s Love Twice to the mix but they are not being billed as opening nighters. Special Tributes will honor Academy Award winning actress Nicole Kidman in a program that includes a screening of her new film with Dev Patel, Lion, and acclaimed filmmaker and author Julie Dash, who will appear in conversation following a screening of her recently restored Daughters of the Dust (1991). The festival closes with Jeff Nichols’ Loving, which tells the real life story of the struggle, imprisonment and 1960’s Supreme Court battle Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred (Ruth Negga) Loving experienced in one of America’s early interracial marriages.
The festival unfolds in San Rafael, Corte Madera, Larkspur and Mill Valley. For North Bay residents, getting there and parking is considerably more time efficient and cheaper than it is in San Francisco. If you want to go, pre-purchase your tickets now as this popular festival tends to sell out before it starts. There is ample choice right now but not for long. I recommend seeing films where the filmmaker or actors will be in attendance. Also, check the new program guide for Smith Rafael Film Center. Several of the festival films are screening there within the next two months and it doesn’t make sense to pay a premium to see them at the festival and wait in long lines unless there are special guests attending that make it worthwhile.
ARThound’s top picks:
Neruda/Spotlight Gael Garcia Bernal—Mon, Oct 10
The foreign film line-up is especially strong this year. Chilean Director Pablo Larrain’s Neruda, Chile’s foreign language Oscar nominee, takes center stage in a special Spotlight presentation honoring Mexican actor-director-producer Gael Garcia Bernal. The drama is set in 1948 and Bernal plays a police inspector who is charged with finding the fugitive Communist politician and poet, Pablo Neruda, when he goes underground. In Larrain’s capable hands, the film morphs into a soulful exploration of Chile’s historical dance with heroes and villains and Bernal as the inspector becomes a key figure, obsessed with finding Neruda who has managed to make him his pawn. Bernal will appear in an onstage conversation covering his extensive career.
The Salesman—Fri, Oct 7 and Wed, Oct 12
I can’t remember when the festival last hosted an Iranian filmmaker but, over the year’s, we’ve reveled in their creativity, courage and unparalleled story-telling. This year, acclaimed Academy Award and Golden Globe winning writer-director Ashgar Farhadi (A Separation) will appear in person to answer questions after the two screenings of his new Tehran-set drama The Salesman. The film picked up Best Screenplay and Best Actor awards at Cannes and was selected as the Iranian nominee for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. The Salesman is the suspenceful story of a young Persian couple who are part-time actors in Tehran in the Arthur Miller play Death of a Salesman. Their relationship is strained after they move into a new flat and the wife is attacked while she is taking a shower. The flat’s previous occupant, a woman who was allegedly involved in prostitution, is never seen but her presence grows as the film progresses. At Cannes, Shahab Hosseini, the husband, won the award for Best Actor.
Lamb—Sat, Oct 8 and Tues, Oct 11
A rarity for MVFF is an Ethiopian film, in Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia. Writer-director Yared Zeleke’s first feature, Lamb, was the first Ethiopian film ever named an official Cannes selection. The 37 year-old director made Variety magazine’s “10 Screenwriters to Watch” list for 2015. The story revolves around an Ethiopian boy who loses his mother and moves in with relatives and becomes attached to a pet lamb, Chuni, as a way of dealing with loss and grief. He also takes up cooking which is unacceptable to his uncle who considers it girl’s work. The story hits close to home for the director. When he was just 10, Zeleke’s own father was imprisoned by the Derg regme (the ruling military Communist regime that was in power in Ethiopia from 1974 to 1987) and his mother remarried and he went to live with his grandmother. Ultimately, Zeleke was reunited with his father and they lived together in the US but the happy days he had with both loving parents together were long gone. Filmmaker in attendance for both screenings.
Frantz—Fri, Oct 7 and Fri, Oct 14
French director François Ozon (Swimming Pool, 8 Women, Under the Sand) always stirs me with subtle demonstrations of his artistry and deep understanding of human nature. His latest film, Frantz, a romantic drama set in the aftermath of WWI in the small German town of Quedlingburg, is a layered portrait of grief. The story evolves from a strange graveside encounter between a young German woman (Paula Beer) grieving her fiancé and a Frenchman, Adrian (Pierre Niney), who also visits the fiancé’s grave to leave flowers. He claims to have been friends with her fiancé and, slowly, she begins to develop feelings for him. Shot in black and white, with brief interludes of color, the film is a loose adaptation of Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 drama Broken Lullaby which itself was based on a play by French playwright Maurice Rostand. Niney, whose elegant face would have inspired Michelangelo, won a Cesar award for his outstanding performance in Jalil Lespert’s Yves Saint Laurent (2014).
Mom and Other Loonies in the Family—Sat, Oct 15 and Sun, Oct 16
Hungarian director Ibolya Fekete’s Mom and Other Loonies in the Family revolves around a 94 year-old grandmother with dementia who relates her life story to her daughter. It’s a heartwarming recounting, told through flashbacks over four generations of crazies. She was a mother on the run who moved twenty-seven times—and the film spans all of the 20th century, meandering through epic moments in Hungarian and world history. Her “present” is a time that is infused with struggles, declining health and the confusing intervention of past events. Her past was committed to keeping the family together at any cost. The story is based on the filmmaker’s own family and stories related to her by relatives. Characters appear in archival footage and in well-known Hungarian films as if they were actually in those films. Eszter Ónodi shines as the reliable yet somewhat whimsical woman who moved too many times and just wants to stand on her own two feet. Her ninety four-year old demented self is played by Danuta Szaflarska who credibly plays the role by reverting to childlike responses.
Green is Gold—Sat, Oct 8 and Sun, Oct 9
I have a weakness for films that are set in Northern, California, where I grew up. Sonoma State University graduate Ryan Baxter’s first feature, Green is Gold, is set in rural Sonoma County and is a family bonds over pot business story that picked up the Audience Best Fiction Film award at the Los Angeles Film Festival for its poetic filmmaking and emotional truth. Ryan Baxter, the writer, director, editor and star, plays the older brother, Cameron, a black market potrepneur ( a real word I picked up at the Heirloom Festival) who is forced to take care of his younger brother, Jimmy (his real life brother, Jimmy Baxter) when their dad is imprisoned. Cameron tries to put some distance between the kid and the cannabis business, which involves considerable risk but high payoffs, but, soon Jimmy is knee deep in buds and the two find themselves embarking on a dangerous pot delivery journey that will either leave them rolling in dough or six feet under. Ryan Baxter, actor Jimmy Baxtor, and rest of cast and crew in attendance at both screenings.)
Unleashed—Wed, Oct 12 and Thurs, Oct 13
What if your pets turned into full-grown men? I couldn’t resist the whacky premise behind Finn Taylor’s Unleashed, which has a thirty-something software app designer Emma (Kate Micucci) settling into her life in San Francisco when her cat, Ajax, and her dog, Summit, disappear only to reappear in her life as full-grown men (Steve Howet and Justin Chatwin). All their four-legged memories are fully intact and they vie for her affection in their very specific cat and dog styles.
Details MVFF 39:
The 39th Mill Valley Film Festival opens on Thursday, October 6 and runs through Sunday, October 16, 2016. Buy tickets online now at http://www.mvff.com/. Most tickets for films are $14 and special programs starts at $25.
CAAMFest—Asian American film, food, music and comradery kicks off Thursday, March 12, and runs for 11 days in San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland
The Center for Asian American Media’s CAAMfest turns 33 this year and continues its morph from a pure film festival into a series of festive happenings that fuse cutting edge independent film with music and food—all with an Asian American twist. CAAMFest takes place over the next 11 days in venues all around the Bay Area including the Asian Art Museum and the Oakland Museum of California, which add their enticing exhibits to the mix. Formerly the San Francisco Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF), CAAMFest 2015 offers more than 100 movies and videos focused on the discovery of new talents, voices and visions. It’s by far the largest festival of Asian American movies in North America. Under the leadership of Masashi Niwano, now in his fifth year as festival & exhibitions director, the event has become one of the country’s major platforms for conveying the richness and diversity of the Asian American multicultural experience. ARThound loves this festival because it’s so excellently curated, delivering rich and unusual stories from around the globe that stay with you for years.
This year, you’ll see Asian American broadly defined too. Iranian director Rakshan Banietemad’s new film, Tales, which picked up the award for Best Screenplay at Venice, caught the CAAMFest programmers’ eyes, not just because it’s a great film but because the director, working under dior conditions in Iran, creatively stitched together a series of shorts, stories from her previous films, to create a full length film. In so doing, she managed to navigate the bureaucracy of the Iranian cultural ministry which requires a license for a feature but not for shorts. Bravo! There are also stories involving the Asian diaspora. Juan Martín Hsu’s La Salada is set in Argentina’s bustling discount market, La Salada, just outside of Buenos Aires, and involves an ensemble cast of Korean, Taiwanese, and Bolivian immigrants whose experiences all converge at the market. It’s thus no surprise that “travel” is this year’s theme. Opportunities for armchair travel abound and over 200 guests will be flying in CAAMFest.
Opening Night: The festival kicks off at the historic Castro Theatre on Thursday evening (March 12), with Benson Lee’s Seoul Searching (2015), his new feature film which garnered quite a buzz when it premiered at Sundance in January. A tribute to the 1980’s teen movies of John Hughes, but infused with a Korean sensibility and Lee’s own experiences, this dramedy is set in a state run summer camp in Korea that brings together Korean teens from all over the globe for the purpose of teaching them about their culture. Lee uses the teen’s stories, and their unexpected twists, to explore the Korean diaspora. Lee’s Planet B-Boy, about break-dancers in an international competition, won best documentary and the audience award at CAAMfest in 2008. Lee and several cast members will attend.
Opening Gala: After the screening, there’s an opening night gala at the Asian Art Museum, with a 1980’s dance party with cocktails and fine food amidst the Seduction exhibit of Edo-period Japan. The exhibition has over 60 works of art and features Japanese artist Hishikawa Moronobu’s (1618-1694) spectacular 58 foot long painted silk handscroll, A Visit to the Yoshiwara, which is shown completely unfurled for the first time. The masterpiece, on loan from the John C. Weber, depicts daily life in the entertainment district in the 17th century.
CAAMfest’s Centerpiece movie: Shonali Bose’s Margarita with a Straw (2014) screens at Castro on Sunday, March 15th and represents the powerful storytelling and moments of palpable intimacy that CAAMFest is famous for. Kalki Koechlin plays Laila, a young woman from Delhi who is determined not to let her cerebral palsy interfere with her life —she writes lyrics for a rock band, flirts wildly with her classmates and dreams of going to New York to participate in NYU’s prestigious creative writing program to which she’s been admitted. Set in Delhi and New York, the film is a brave and glorious homage to that old adage—“follow your heart.”
Closing Night: The festival’s closes with Bruce Seidel’s Lucky Chow, a six-part PBS series which will be showcased over the course of two days—Saturday and Sunday, March 21 and 22—at Oakland’s New Parkway Theater. The series features Danielle Chang (LUCKYRICE culinary festival founder) as she travel across America, taking in the Asian food landscape. Accompanying the film will be an Asian-inspired curated menu from the New Parkway kitchen. Other food-related films are Grace Lee’s Off the Menu: Asian America and Edmond Wong’s Supper Club exploring Bay Area restaurants.
Honoring the 40th anniversary of Cambodia’s fall to the Khmer Rouge: Lest we not forget the tragic moments that also define cultures, CAAMfest is presenting a collection of powerful stories of survival and resiliency from Cambodia’s tragic Khmer Rouge period. As part of the Spotlight feature on acclaimed filmmaker Arthur Dong, his new documentary, The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor, chronicles the years encapsulating the Khmer Rouge’s tyranny through the eyes of Dr. Haing S. Ngor, who escaped to America and recreated his experience in the film The Killing Fields, for which he won an Academy Award in 1984. Dong will be in conversation with film critic and author B. Ruby Rich on Friday, March 20 at New People Cinema.
Perfectly Peachy: The festival is also honoring the Masumoto Family, fourth generation peach California peach farmers, with a CAAMFeast Award and a special evening of storytelling at the OMCA (Oakland Museum of California) on Friday, March 20, where the CAAM-produced documentary, Changing Season: On the Masumoto Family Farm, will have its world premiere. The entire family— Mas, Marcy, Nikiko and Korio Masumoto—will be in attendance. The Masumotos, who have an 80 acre farm south of Fresno, are famous for their highly-prized heirloom Sun Crest peaches and tenacious adherence to sustainable practices as well as their lyrical writing on farming and food. When was the last time you visited the Oakland Museum? CAAMFest provides a perfect opportunity to combine film with art. Fertile Ground: Art and Community in California (ends April 12) is an exciting collaboration between SFMOMA and OMCA that explores California artists, many of them Bay Area artists. Marion Gray: Within the Light (ends June 21) is a riveting exploration of San Francisco-based photographer Marion Gray’s work over the past 40 years documenting Bay Area artists and art happenings. Bees: Tiny Insects, Big Impact (ends September 20) will educate and entertain the entire family.
Music: In addition to the movies, Korean musicians have a strong presence at CAAMFest with performances from Awkwafina (Chinese Korean American rapper Nora Lum from Queens) and Suboi, the Vietnamese “Queen of Hip Hop” and a host of other party rockers who will keep things lively before and after the movies.
Stay tuned to ARThound for an interview with the Masumotos about all things peachy.
When/Where: CAAMfest 2015 runs March 12-22, 2014 at 8 screening venues in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland and as well as select museums, bars and music halls.
Tickets: This popular festival sells outs, so advance ticket purchase is highly recommended for most films and events. Regular screenings are $14 with $1 to $2 discounts for students, seniors, disabled and current CAAM members. Special screenings, programs and social events are more. Festival 6-pack passes are also available for $75 (6 screenings for price of 5). All access passes are $450 for CAAM members and $500 for general. Click here for ticket purchases online. Tickets may also be purchased in person and various venue box offices open one hour before the first festival screening of the day. Rush Tickets: If a screening or event has sold all of its available tickets, there is still a chance to get in by waiting in the Rush line. The Rush line will form outside of the venue around 45 minutes before the screening is set to begin. Cash only and one rush ticket per person and there are no guarantees.
ARThound loves a great film, with a story that speaks right to my heart and if the setting is in some distant land, all the better. The 37th Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF 37) kicks-off this Thursday evening with two promising opening night films—Tommy Lee Jones’ The Homesman and Jason Reitman’s Men, Women & Children— and a splendid opening night party and then gets down to serious full-day programming from Friday onward. This festival, continually rated among the top ten in the world, offers 11 days of the best new films from around the world. In addition, there are intimate on stage conversations with directors and stars. This year, over 150 guests and film luminaries will attend and a select few will be honored in spotlights, tributes, centerpieces, and special screenings and many will be participating in post-film Q&A’s. There are also numerous musical performances and parties. And for those who fear all that sitting will take a toll on their derrieres, there’s even an Active Cinema hike this Saturday hike from Tennessee Valley to the ocean where guests can get some light, take in fresh air and share their impressions with cinephiles and festival guests. Having poured over the program, watched numerous screeners, and gotten the scoop directly from festival programmers, ARThound is really excited to cover the festival.
If you’ve missed my previous coverage, here is the link explaining the ins and outs of this festival and the advantages of CFI (California Film Institute) membership for early access to tickets:
ARThound’s top picks in the World Cinema category:
316 —Iran | 2014 | 72 min |World Premiere | Executive Producer Behrang Saar Klein in attendance—It’s a no-brainer almost anywhere you go in the world, shoes express personality like nothing else. From Iranian producer Payman Haghani in Rasht, Iran, (Mardi Ke Gilass Hayash Ra Khord (A Man Who Ate His Cherries), 2009) comes his endearing second feature, 316 (2104), which tells an elderly Persian woman’s life story through the shoes of people she remembers and events unfolding in Iran. Sadly, we’ve come to accept that it’s rare for Iranian filmmakers who are based in Iran to make personal appearances at film festivals but we revel in their creativity and courage and unparalleled storytelling. Aptly put in a recent New Yorker article (6/10/2014), Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, the editor of Jam’eh, said “We have freedom of expression in Iran…We just don’t have freedom after expression.” And yet Iran’s next generation have managed to become central in Iran’s complex social and political discourse. Working under the constant threat of censorship and imprisonment has forced Iranian filmmakers to express themselves indirectly through metaphor and allegory and they have astounded us with rich stories that are about politics yet transcend politics to reveal what is intimate and poignantly familiar in our human condition. 316 artfully melds archival “footage” with animation and dramatic sequences to create a life story that tells a larger truth. (Screens: Saturday, Oct 4, 1:30 PM, 142 Throckmorton, Tuesday, Oct 5, 5 PM, Sequoia 1)
The Little House (Chiisai Ouchi) —Japan | 2014, 136 min—This elegant period romance set in 1920’ Tokyo is the first romance film directed by Yoji Yamada in his 50 year career. The filmmaker is famous in Japan for his immensely popular Otoko wa Tsurai yo series (48 films made over 25 years) and Samurai Trilogy (The Twilight Samurai, The Hidden Blade and Love and Honor). The Little House is based on Kyoko Nakajima’s novel “Chiisai ouchi,” 2010 winner of the Naoki Prize, one of Japan’s most prestigious literary awards. The story revolves around Takeshi, a young Japanese man and his posthumous encounter with his late aunt, Taki Nunomiya (Haru Kuroki), who left several journals behind. Through the notebooks, he learns of her life and the film proceeds, in flashbacks, to tell her story.
Prior to World War II, in a little house with a red triangular roof in Tokyo, young Taki works as a housemaid for a Masaki, a Toy company executive who lives with his wife Tokiko (Takako Matsu) and their 5 year-old son. When Tokiko’s husband hires a young art school graduate, Shoji Itakura; a love affair blossoms between Tokiko and Shoji, whom Taki also has feelings for. Meanwhile, as the war situation heats up, so too do the relationships in the little house. This isn’t a conventional love triangle but an exploration of how this budding relationship impacts Taki’s relationship with Tokiko and her later life. Taki transitions from an unsophisticated young maiden, who initially stands in fear and awe of her beautiful employer, to a trusted confidante who speaks the truth when called upon to do so. Haru Kuroki won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 64th Berlinale (Berlin International Berlin Film Festival). The remarkable political discussions that occur in passing are just one of the film’s many delights. (Screens: Friday, Oct 3, 6 PM, Rafael 3 and Saturday, Oct 4, 11AM, Lark Theatre)
Ice Poison (Bing Du)—Myanmar/Taiwan R.O.C. | 2014 | 95min—Myanmar-born, Taiwan-based director Midi Z (Return to Burma (2011), Poor Folk (2012)), continues his shrewd examination of social and economic disparities in Myanmar with Ice Poison. Shot on location in Myanmar by a seven-member crew in an impoverished ethnically Chinese community on the outskirts of Lashio, near the Chinese border, this is the story of two young Burmese who get caught up in the drug trade in order to escape their bleak circumstances. The feature opens with an old Chinese farmer and his nameless son (Wang Shin-hong) toiling on their parched field in Lashio. The desperate farmer sells his beloved cow to buy a dilapidated scooter so his son can drive a motorcycle taxi. He asks just one thing in return: his son mustn’t get involved in drugs. Among the son’s first fares is a Burmese-born Chinese woman named Sanmei (Wu Ke-xi), who has come home from China for a funeral and is making a new start. She desperately needs money to bring her son to Lashio. Her scheme involves helping her drug-dealing cousin deliver crystal meth, known as “ice poison,” to local addicts. She convinces the son to go into business with her as a driver. Midi Z draws us into the hard and fractured lives of these two young adults, both unfulfilled and both with reasonable expectations, for which there seems to be no easy answer. Through its intimate portrayal of their circumstances, aspirations, anguish and choices, the film asks us to consider what really matters most in this life and what it means when achieving that is just not possible. Ice Poison won Best Film in Int’l Competition, 68th Edinburgh Film Festival and Best Director, Peace and Love Film Festival, Dalarna, Sweden (Screens: Sunday, Oct 5, 6 PM Rafael 3 and Saturday, Oct 11, 11:45 AM, Sequoia 1)
The Patent Wars—Germany | 2014 | 88 min | North American Premiere | Director Hannah Prinzler in attendance—In all but the most capable hands, a documentary about trends in patent litigation could be very dry. German filmmakers Hannah Leonie Prinzler and Volker Ullrich succeed in making the complex topic fascinating by showing us how, in the U.S. in particular, the patent holder has evolved from the classical innovator like Thomas Edison into yet another tool of corporate greed that puts profit above human life. The savvy doc takes us on a trip around the world to visit at least a dozen well-known figures who explain how the landscape has changed—how patents have proliferated and become global strategic weapons, how profits are made from the mere threat of patent infringement, and who bears the economic and social consequences. The film was in the works while the Myriad Genetics lawsuit over the patenting of human genes was still in litigation in the U.S. Supreme Court but a visit with breast cancer patient Lisbeth Ceriani wonderfully summarizes the case’s impact on breast cancer victims and on the patenting human genes. It really does seem that almost everything can be patented in the US, sometimes with just a description (not an actual realization) by the patent holders. Once a patent is in hand, the holder can decide later how much to charge to test for a medication or to plant a seed, thereby controlling access only to the privileged.
Yoga guru Bikram Choudhury inflamed many when he patented sequences of yoga poses. A visit to Delhi to Vinod Kumar Gupta’s Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL), a unique database developed to prevent foreign companies from patenting products based on ancient sub-continental know-how, shows how Indian is struggling to get savvy on the IP front. Unfortunately, for India and much of the developing world, patents are currently being used to deny the development of crucial generic medications and lives are being lost. A visit with Anil Gupta, India’s “Ghandi of Innovation” unveils what India, the world’s largest manufacturer of generic (patent-free) medicines, is doing to proactively protect its genetic resources as well. The film concludes with a visit to car enthusiasts in Arizona who are collaborating to build the first open-source cars, showing us that patents are not the only way to inspire innovations. (Screens: Sat, Oct 4, 5:15 PM, Rafael 3 and Monday, Oct 6, 6:30 PM, Rafael 3)
Timbuktu— France/Mauritania | 2014 | 97 min | West Coast Premiere | Actor Ibrahim Ahmed in attendance—Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako (Waiting for Happiness (Heremakono) (2002), Bamako (2007)) is one of a handful of filmmakers from Sub-Saharan Africa who has the rapt attention of the film world. His latest feature, Timbuktu, is the world’s first look at the jihadist takeover of Northern Mali in 2012 by fundamentalists whose brutal Islamist law shattered the lives of innumerable families. As always, his understated style combines graceful storytelling with a remarkably rigorous exploration of exile and displacement. Sissako focuses on the break-up of a close-knit Tuareg cattle-herding family who live peacefully in the dunes with their beloved cow “GPS.” When the cow goes missing, the father, Kidane (first-time actor Ibrahim Ahmed in a mesmerizing performance) accidentally shoots a fisherman dead in a lake and becomes victim to the horrors of Timbuktu’s improvised court system. The peripheral story lines are every bit as riveting. The hardliners punish Timbuktu residents for playing music or even soccer with stonings, executions and lashings. Sissako’s handling of atrocities in an almost matter-of-fact way punctuates their shock value. (Screens: Sunday, Oct 5, 1:45 PM, Rafael 1 and Monday, Oct 6, 3 PM, Sequoia 1)
The Lamb (Kuzu)—Turkey | 2014 | 85 min | US Premiere—London-based Turkish filmmaker and artist Kutluğ Ataman made such a splash in the contemporary art world (Documenta, Venice Biennale, Carnegie Prize, Cream Art) with his videos that he was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 2004 and has since racked up an impressive list of exhibitions and commissions. Ataman brings his artistic flair to The Lamb, his fifth feature film, a family drama set in rural Anatolia which inhabits the delicate world of children. The story revolves around five-year-old Mert (Mert Tastan), his wily older sister, Vicdan (Sila Lara Canturk), and their financially-strapped family’s struggle to throw Mert a proper circumcision feast. They cannot afford the traditional lamb which is central to the celebration. When Vicdan (affectionately called mommy’s “Little Lamb”) taunts Mert by telling him that they’ll roast him in the tandoor if they don’t come up with the money for the lamb, he freaks and sets out to find a solution on his own. The highlight of the film is the wonderful interaction of the children, who can be so sweet and so cruel. Vicdan’s descriptions of the pending procedure border on tortuous, while bumbling Mert grabs your heart. Subplots involve the father and his womanizing and the mother and her plot to take revenge on villagers who have been unsympathetic to her plight. In all, Ataman weaves a rich and humorous story highlighting the inequality and lack of options for women, particularly in rural areas, and the liberties accorded men. Feza Caldiran’s breathtaking cinematography of a wintery remote Anatolia makes elevates the film to art. The Lamb won the CICAE Art Cinema Award for best film in the Panorama Special section of the 2014 Berlinale. (Screens: Wednesday, Oct 8, 3 PM, Sequoia 1 and Sunday, Oct 12, 11:30 AM, Rafael 2)
Details: The 37th Mill Valley Film Festival is October 2 -12, 2014. The festival’s homepage is here. Advance ticket purchase is essential as this festival sells out. Click here to be directed to film descriptions, each with a “Buy Ticket” option. Most tickets are $14 and special events and tributes are more.
Rush tickets: If seats become available, even after tickets have sold out, rush tickets will be sold. The rush line forms outside each venue beginning one hour before show-time. Approximately 15 minutes prior to the screening, available rush tickets are sold on a first-come, first serve basis for Cash Only.)
There are also several box offices for in person purchases, offering the advantage of being able to get your tickets on the spot and picking up a hard copy of the catalogue—
Smith Rafael Film Center 1112 Fourth Street Sept. 14–29, 5:00–9:00 pm (General Public) 1020 B Street September 30–October 12, 10:00 am to 15 minutes after last show starts
ROOM Art Gallery 86 Throckmorton Ave September 14–30, 11:00 am–3:00 pm
Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center 85 Throckmorton Ave October 1, 11:00 am–3:00 pm October 2–12, 10:00 am to 15 minutes after last show starts
Microsoft at the Village at Corte Madera 1640 Redwood Hwy September 15–30, 3:00–7:00 pm September 14, 21, and 28, 2:00–6:00 pm
SFIFF 53 review: In Iranian Mohammad Rasoulof’s disturbing new film “The White Meadows,” allegory abounds as villagers cry their tears into bottles…what exactly are we watching?
The White Meadows (Keshtzar haye sepid)(Iran, 2009, 93 min)
Mohammad Rasoulof’s “The White Meadows,” set in the Iran’s remote Lake Urmia region near Azerbaijan, is a surreal poetic fable that addresses the messy topics of sin, guilt, judgment and confession. In fact, the story has such a strong Biblical feel to it that it’s difficult to discern the Muslim factor but there are several veiled references to contemporary Iran. The story concerns an old boatman Rahmat (Hasan Pourshirazi) who travels among the desolate salt islands and waterways of Iran’s Lake Urmia (the third–largest saltwater lake in the world) and ceremoniously collects people’s tears in a glass vial and mysteriously takes them away, only to later pour them into the sea. What the precise role of this man is, we never know, but he is entrusted to hear secrets. As people unburden their sorrows to him, somehow, they are cleansed. It all sounds simple and beautiful but in Rasoulof’s world, this shaman is powerless to intervene or give advice against the vast injustices he encounters.
Rasoulof, 37, from Shiraz, was recently among more than 100 prominent Iranian political figures and activists who were put on a mass trial in Tehran following the crackdown on opposition supporters claiming President Ahmadinejad fraudulently won the June 2009 election. Rasoulof was imprisoned in March of this year and released March 18, 2010, just before the New Year holiday on March 21, 2010. Despite his and other prominent Iranian filmmakers’ tricky relationship with the post-revolutionary powers that be, the Iranian film industry manages, under extreme repression, to produce over 60 films annually. A rigorous vetting process entails censorship that begins with the script and follows a film through distribution. The result is a rich set of low-budget films with an allegorical bend that offer some means of exploring social, political and religious codes within Muslim society. “The White Meadows” carries on this tradition by offering a fable that can have as many real world applications as a poem–or–it can be taken as just as a story about strange people living in a strange land with stange customs.
The old boatman arrives to gather tears when tensions are most high—first, at a funeral for a young woman who has died suddenly and was buried in a mountain of preservative salt until he can transport her body off the island. The male elders of the village mourn her but declare all is for the best because she was a temptress “to beautiful to live among us.” Even the presence of her corpse on the island would cause men to dig her body up. After collecting their tears, he takes her wrapped body off the island and then sneaks a forbidden peak. He discovers that a fraud has been played out and that he is transporting a young boy Nassim (Younes Ghazali “Among the Clouds”) who intends to escape this bleak island life to find his father who also left the island. An arrangement is made whereby the young man can accompany him by pretending to be his deaf and mute son.
Remembering that tears turn into pearls, the boys steals a jar full while the old man sleeps and it is just a matter of time until he is caught. They arrive next at an island where a young virgin is about to be cast out on a raft and offered as a bride to the sea, destiny unknown–the perfect metaphor for the unpredictable route that Iranian women travel. Despite her mother’s pleadings, the old man does nothing to stop this act and the more tears that flow, the faster his vial fills. Before the girl is carried off, the male elders certify publicly, one by one, that she is an undefiled virgin, worthy of sacrifice. It is soon discovered that the boy has set out to rescue her but has been intercepted. He is barbarically stoned to a bloody pulp by the village elders. He survives but the old man proves to be more interested in protecting his position as confidant than in protecting the boy. At this point, we glean another reference to contemporary Iran– a group of men in power are dictating the terms of societal behavior to their own advantage and ignoring universal moral rules.
The next village is even more bazaar…inhabitants whisper their secrets into glass jars and then tightly cap the lids. The crippled village dwarf (Omid Zare) is chosen to deliver these secrets to the fairies deep in a well before daylight. With dozens of jars tied to his body, and carrying the symbolic weight of an entire village’s woes, he moves slowly through the crowd and down into the dark well. When it is feared he will not make it in time, his rope is cut and he perishes. This sacrifice allows the secrets of others to be assuaged but he leaves behind a young bride who will surely face a horrible future alone and ostracized.
On the next island, a painter is buried up to his neck in sand and left to bake in the sun for the crime of painting the sea “red” instead of “blue.” He refuses to alter his reality to avoid punishment and the tear gatherer transports him and the boy to an island penitentiary. And on it goes…the tension builds into a set of heart-piercing scenes and bizarre circumstances where ritual and senseless judgment, have more importance than compassion or real justice. In the end, all is for not, as the tears collected so carefully are used to bath the feet of a dying man and then tossed into the sea. As an allegory for contemporary Iran, a society pressured to empty its very soul and aware of the sad farce imposed upon it, this film does its work.
Some viewers may be put off by the lack of clarity and slow meandering tempo of the film. Those who can pace themselves and handle high levels of ambiguity will be mesmerized by images that are both picturesque and eerily disturbing. Ebrahim Ghafouri’s camerawork makes the film—much is shot from a distance, capturing darkly clad and covered women moving across the barren salt flats with some close-ups that provide clues for elements that come full circle at the close of the film. The sound is handled simply but eloquently enhancing the sense of isolation in a remote setting. Extemporaneous guttural wailing has haunting power. On one level, this is an exceedingly simple film expressing a human dilemma that should be comprehensible to all but whose solution remains incomprehensible… this about sums up contemporary Iran.
Screens: Friday April 23, 6:30 PM, Kabuki Theatre, Saturday April 24, 9:30 PM, Kabuki Theatre, Sunday April 25, 8 PM, Pacific Film Archive