ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

Women take the Lead in Havana’s 39th Festival of New Latin American Cinema, December 8-17, 2017

 

Nastasha Jaramillo and Giovany Rodriguez in a scene from Colombian director Laura Mora’s drama Matar A Jesús (2017) which won two of the 39th Havana Film Festival’s most important prizes, awarded by the Glauber Rocha Foundation and Casa de las Américas.  Image: HabanaFilmFestival

In Colombian director Laura Mora’s second feature film, Matar A Jesús (Killing Jesus, 2017) there is an intensely moving scene where university student Paula is in a car driving home with father, a political science professor, and he is shot dead by a young assassin on a motorcycle.  A few weeks later, when she spots the young hit-man drunk at a dance club, she purposely meets him and begins methodically to enact a plan that involves buying a gun and getting revenge.  Her plan gets infinitely more complicated as she gets to know Jesús.  He even instructs her on how to shoot a gun—“Just aim with hate in your heart.”  The story was personal for Laura Mora whose own father was murdered before her eyes and who, like her heroine, later met his killer.  Instead of a straightforward tit-for-tat revenge story, Mora uses the plot to explore how Colombian society has failed its underclass.

This drama was one of dozens of powerful films directed by women at the 39th Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano or Havana Film Festival (December 8-17, 2017), where 34 percent or 38 of the 114 films that were officially competing this year were directed by females.  This festival’s top prize, the Coral for Best Feature Fiction, went to a woman as well—Argentinian director Anahí Berneri for her film Alanís, making this the third time in 39 years that a female director has won the top honor.  Twenty-five of the festival’s 34 awards went to women—directors, editors, scriptwriters, actors and artists.

The huge and diverse 10-day festival is one of Latin America’s most anticipated annual events, offering the best and latest in Cuban, Latin American and world film—roughly 404 features, documentaries, fiction, animation, and archival gems from 41 countries.  The bulk of these films, 308, were from Latin America with the largest participants as follows: Argentina had 65 films, Mexico (50), Cuba (43), Brazil (41), Chile (32), Colombia (21)… all the way down to Bolivia, Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama with one film each.  The remaining films came from other parts of the world, mainly the US, Spain, France, Germany and the UK.

The breadth of programming is astounding, a challenge that long-term Programming Director, Zita Morriña and her small staff revel in.  (Read my 2015 interview with her here.)  Figures on female directors were published only for competing films, not across the entire festival, where there were dozens of additional female-directed films, female-centered stories from both female and male filmmakers and important panels which brought together female directors and actors to discuss storytelling and challenges they face in their respective countries.  It would be wonderful to have full statistics, for all to see.  As film festivals all over the world scramble to adjust their programming to include more women directors, Havana seems very inclusive.  Festival director Iván Giroud pointed out at the awards ceremony, that the female directors in competition were chosen on their own strength not due to set quotas.

In terms of competing films, only 114 of the 404 films screening were in the official competition for the festival’s Coral Awards.  These are given in seven categories—fiction, opera primas (first films) (18 competing films), documentaries (23), short films (18), animated films (16), unpublished scripts (20) and artistic film posters (24).

The festival publishes a 200+ page catalog every year but “Diario del Festival, its daily 8-page newspaper, is indispensable for festival news and scheduling.  It arrives hot off the press and is distributed each morning at 9 a.m. at the Hotel Nacional.  While all program information in Havana is in Spanish, about one third of the films are subtitled, mainly in English, but also in German or French.  On many occasions, promised subtitles were not available. Photo: Geneva Anderson

 

Cine Riviera in Havana’s Vedado district is immediately recognizable by its blue and white motif. Built in the early ’50s on the site of the previous 1927 Rivieria Theatre, it became the first “atmospheric” cinema in Cuba—its walls were once painted with imitation Spanish facades creating the illusion of being outdoors. Currently, it seats 1,200 and also functions as venue for contemporary music. Photo: Geneva Anderson

My goal for my eight days at the festival was to see as many films as I could and to hit Havana’s rustic streets running.  Using the festival’s headquarters, the Hotel Nacional, in Vedado, as a base, I walked to most of the 15 screening venues, which are glorious retro-classics of Cuban architecture.  In all, I saw 42 films, usually five to six films daily, from 10 a.m. to midnight, and I attended press conferences and special programs.  There’s something magical about immersing oneself in powerful Latin American dramas, unfolding in Spanish, on native soil.  One can’t help but be swept up in the moment—the excitement of the Cuban crowd, the lines, the impassioned conversations, the thrill of stepping into these historic cinema houses— Acapulco, America, Charles Chaplin, Infanta, Karl Marx, La Rampa, Riviera, Yara, and 23Y12.

Below are a sampling of some of the films I saw that made a strong impression.

Bring on the dramas, both soft and strong!

 

Sofía Gala in a scene from Argentinian director, writer and co-producer Anahí Berneri’s sixth film, Alanís.  Sofia Gala was awarded the Coral for Best Female Performance and the film was awarded the top Coral. Sofía Gala gave a feisty and naturalistic performance as an unapologetic self-determined young mother and prostitute struggling to feed herself and her child after she is thrown out of her apartment.  Set in the streets of Buenos Aires, the unsentimental story contained scenes with the artistry of Renaissance portraits.

 

In Sebastian Lelio’s Una Mujer Fantástica, transgender Daniela Vega gives a breathtaking performance as Marina, a transgender woman and aspiring singer who has just lost her partner and who just wants to grieve.  Vega was awarded a Coral for Best Female Performance.  This was Sebastian Lelio’s fifth time to present a film in Havana and Una Mujer Fantástica won a special jury award and the UN’s Únete Prize.  His 2013 drama Gloria, another remarkable portrait of a woman, opened the 35th festival.

Argentinian director Anahí Berneri’s Alanís (2017) which went on to win the top feature fiction prize, screened in a sweet spot, Saturday night, and1 a huge crowd turned out at Cine Yara to see it and the Chilean film that followed, Sebastian Lelio’s Una Mujer Fantástica (A Fantastic Woman, 2017).  Through stories of female outcasts, both films unpacked female stereotypes, identity and societal intolerance.  How wonderful to see the crowd reacting so enthusiastically to these to two Latina actors who imbued their characters with dignity and presence and enough mystery that we wished their stories would go on and on.

 

Chilean actress Paulina García in a scene from La Novia del Desierto (2017), a delicate drama of female self-empowerment, which made a huge splash in Havana when its first-time directors, Cecilia Atán and Valeria Pivato, picked up a Coral Award. 

In recent years, filmmakers from Chile, Argentina and Brazil have received international attention for dramas that inventively explore the outward and internal life journeys of female characters marginalized in society.  La Novia del Desierto (The Desert Bride, 2017) written and directed by Argentinians Cecilia Atán and Valeria Pivato, picked up the festival’s Coral for best debut film and the CiberVoto prize.  Chilean actress Paulina García (Gloria, 2013) gives a radiant and wonderfully-nuanced performance as Teresa, a quiet 54-year-old-woman who has worked for decades as a live-in maid in Buenos Aires, with no real life of her own.  When the family sells their home, she is shipped off to work for their relatives in the distant town of San Juan.  When an unplanned pit-stop in the desert strands her and she loses her small purse and crosses paths with a traveling salesman, her life changes suddenly at an age when taking ownership of her life no longer seemed possible.

In Liquid Truth, Brazilian actor, Daniel de Oliviera, plays a well-liked swimming teacher whose life is virtually ruined by viral internet rumors after he is accused of kissing one of his students, a seven-year-old boy, on the mouth. Brazilian director, Carolina Jabor, won a SIGNUS award for her second fiction feature film.

What if the only actual evidence of a crime is the testimony of an emotional parent translating the words of her child?  Brazilian producer-director, Carolina Jabor, deftly tackles a timely subject in her second feature film, Aos Teus Olhos (Liquid Truth, 2017), which focuses on a person who is all but convicted on the Internet before he is even tried or the facts are known.  Liquid Truth is one of a number of films coming out of Brazil’s thriving art-house cinema scene which has been fueled by strong government funding.

Daniel Giménez Cacho in a scene from Argentinian director Lucretia Martel’s period drama, Zama (2017), which won 3 Coral awards and the FIPRESCI Prize.

Long before Havana, Argentinian director Lucretia Martel (La ciénaga (The Swamp, 2004), La mujer sin cabeza (The Headless Woman, 2010) had charmed international audiences with her period drama, Zama, set in the late 18th century somewhere in the backwaters of South America. It was no surprise when the film picked up multiple Corals in Havana for Best Director, Artistic Director, and Sound, as well as the coveted film critics’ FIPRESCI Prize.  Zama is an epic examination of colonialism and prejudice told through the experiences of a Spanish functionary, Don Diego de Zama (Mexican actor Daniel Giménez Cacho), whose life revolves around his anticipation of a job transfer.  Martel once studied philosophy and she imbues her films with a critical examination of big potent issues, exploring cause, blame and ambition.

 

Docs: informing and entertaining

 

Chilean director Lisette Orozco investigates her own aunt’s complicity in torture and the disappearance of dissidents as one of the female police agents Pinochet-era Chile (1973-90) in “El Pacto de Adriana” (2017). Photo: Geneva Anderson

Chilean director Lisette Orozco’s El Pacto de Adirana (2017) follows her frustrating investigation of her mercurial aunt, Channy—Adriana Elcira Rivas González—a female police agent in Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship.  Adriana was arrested in 2007 in Santiago under charges of torture and involvement in an event that took place in 1976 when Pinochet’s secret political police’s (DINA) extermination unit raided Chile’s Communist Party safe house in Santiago, located at 1587 Conferencia Street.  During this raid, secret police officers, allegedly including Adriana, tortured, killed and did away with the bodies of one of the party’s chiefs, Víctor Díaz, and several other members.  Orozco’s dogged investigation into DINA and her aunt’s involvement literally divided her family, most of whom sided with Adriana.  Fascinating multiple conversations with the aunt reveal her to be highly suspect and unstable.  The remarkable film reveals deeply buried secrets festering in Chilean society to this day.  Orozco was awarded a special jury prize for Feature Length Documentary as well as the FEISAL Prize (Federation of Latin America Image and Sound Schools) and the Memory Award of the Pablo de la Torriente Brau Cultural Center.

A scene from Pamela Yates’ 500 Years.  Mayan survivors of the Guatemalan genocide cheer the guilty verdict against dictator Ríos Montt.  Convicted and sentenced to genocide and crimes against humanity on May 10, 2013, Montt was given an 80-year sentence and sent directly to prison.  It was the first time the perpetrator of genocide against indigenous people had been tried in a court of law. Photo credit: Daniel Hernández-Salazar

Intrepid American director Pamela Yates’ new film 500 Years (2017) continues her important saga of Guatemala’s indigenous resistance that began with When the Mountains Tremble (1983), followed by Granito: How to Nail a Dictator (2011).  In this doc, Yates introduces journalist Dr. Irma Alicia Velásquez Nimatuj, who covered the 2013 genocide trial of former dictator General Rios Montt and the citizen’s uprising which felled President Otto Pérez Molina in 2015.  Finally, it seems Guatemalan society’s plea to end corruption has been heard.  Simply put, Pamela Yates is the gold standard.  Her work ethic, dedication to truth telling and decades of reporting in the troubled region are unparalleled.

 

Mexican ranchera singer and rebel Chavela Vargas, the subject of Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi’s Chavela (2017).  Chevala was a LGBT icon in Mexico long before she officially came out at age 81.

Every year the festival showcases talented Latin American celebrities.  Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi’s captivating music-filled documentary, Chavela (2017), was a huge hit in Havana and introduced Mexican ranchera singer Chavela Vargas who burst onto the Mexican music scene in the 1950’s.  She was known for her passionate, rebellious performances, and for often wearing men’s clothing.  She burned-out due to alcoholism and then rebounded late in life, coming out as lesbian at age 81, and establishing herself as musical and lesbian icon for a new generation of fans.  Gund and Kyi masterfully explore the singer’s legacy and her elusive and contradictory nature relying on filmed interviews with the late singer done in the 1990’s, more recent interviews with those who knew her, and a montage of archival footage from 70 years of performances.

Cuban Film:

Whether the focus is a period film looking back at Cuban history, a documentary or an entertaining drama or comedy, Cuban film inherently addresses life in Cuba and, for an outsider, there’s no better window on the island.  Before each screening of the two Cuban films in official competition for the fiction prize —Gerardo Chijona’s Los Buenos Demonios (2017) and Ernesto Daranas’ Sergio & Serguéi (2017) (winner of the Audience Award for Best Film), there were long lines of people eager to see how Cuba would be reflected on the big screen.

A scene from Cuban director Magda González Grau’s ¿Por qué lloran mis amigas? (2017). Photo: habanafilmfestival.com

Cuban director Magda González Grauda’s elegant drama, ¿Por qué lloran mis amigas? (Why My Friends Cry, 2017), was enlivened greatly by superb acting on the part of its four costars, all prominent film and television actresses—Luisa María Jiménez, Jasmín Gómez, Edith Massola and Amarilys Núñez.  The film, not included in official competition, screened as part of the enormous Latin America in Perspective portion of the festival which offers some 17 categories of films. The story revolves around four female friends who were very close growing up and who reunite after 20 years have passed.  Their discussion grows more candid the more time they spend together and shines a light on Cuban society, unleashing pent up emotions, frustrations and insecurities about the courses their lives have taken, the secrets they are keeping and how far they are willing to go to help each other out.  With a production team of mainly women, it was a joy to see them all take the stage in Havana.

Cuban actress and director, Isabel Santos.

Isabel Santos is one of Cuba’s most revered and beloved actresses and she made multiple appearances at the festival.  She starred in Carlos Barba’s 25 horas (2017), in the short fiction competition.  She co-starred in Gerardo Chijona’s Los Buenos Demonos (The Good Devils, 2017), in the feature-length fiction competition.  She was also one of 10 female directors included in the festival’s official documentary competition with her own 40 min doc, Gloria City (2017).  The film deftly explores the intertwining of fact and myth associated with the first Americans to settle in Cuba, at the beginning of the 20th century, in the village Gloria City, presently in the municipality of Sierra de Cubitas, on Camagüey Province’s northern coast, about 500 kilometers east of Havana.  Santos, who is from Camagüey, interviewed Cuban essayist and author Enrique Cirules (1938-2016), also from Camagüey, who wrote two books on the subject of Gloria City.  We can only imagine what this powerhouse would turn out if she were to direct a feature-length film.

Details: The 40th Festival of New Latin American Cinema is December 6-16, 2018 in Havana.  Click here for information.  Plan on making plane and hotel reservations well in advance of the festival.  Once in Havana, festival passes can be purchased at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, where the festival is headquartered, or, individual tickets can be purchased at various screening venues.  Due to the immense popularity of the festival, and to avoid long lines, purchasing a festival pass is advised.

 

 

 

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March 3, 2018 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Film Does Make a Difference: Guatemalan Dictator is Nailed After 30 Years and Pamela Yates’ “Granito” was a decisive factor

Exactly one year after the release of Pamela Yates and Paco de Onis’ film Granito: How To Nail A Dictator at the Sundance Film Festival, General Efraín Ríos Montt, the de facto President and ex-dictator of Guatemala, was brought up on charges of genocide in a Guatemalan court and placed under house arrest last Thursday.  Granito was one of the important documentaries screened at October’s 34th Mill Valley Film Festival.  In the past year, Granito was honored in several ways.  It was the Opening Night Film at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival in New York and it went on to screen at over 50 film festivals around the globe─from Amman to Auckland, Paris to Havana, São Paulo to Vancouver, New York to Moscow, and Geneva to Lima.  In screening after screening, audiences connected to the theme of the power of collective change espoused in Granito, resonating with the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements. 

I met and interviewed Yates in 2009 when her documentary The Reckoning, which addressed the future of the ICC (International Criminal Court) and its war crimes prosecution efforts, screened at the 52nd San Francisco International Film Festival.   Yates, now in her fifties, found her passion for intrepid reporting right after she graduated from college.  She has produced several important films on human rights issues and the quest for justice including When the Mountains Tremble (1984).  Shot thirty years ago, at the peak of Ríos Montt’s despotism, the film is one of the only documentary records of Guatemala’s brutal civil war and captures the chaos from the vantage point of both the U.S.-backed military leaders and the indigenous peasant revolutionaries trying to unseat them who were systematically killed in a scorched earth campaign.  Yates observed first hand that a few top generals, notably Efraín Ríos Montt and Kjell Eugenio Laugerud García, were behind that slaughter of an estimated 200,000 Mayan and the disappearance of another 40,000 indigenous persons and Ms. Yates interviewed these leaders in 1982.  

Filmmaker Pamela Yates whose documentary “Granito” helped bring the Guatemalan dictator General Efraín Ríos Montt to court and ensure that he will be held accountable for his crimes against the Guatemalan people some 30 years ago. Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images North America

Granito tells the story of how some 25 years later, Yates was asked to join a team of forensic experts and lawyers and Mayan survivors in a human rights case against Guatemala’s former juntas and how her first film footage became the evidence that led to the indictment of Montt in Spain’s national courts for his attacks on Maya. (This is the same Spanish court that indicted Chile’s General Augusto Pinochet for human rights violations war in October 1998.)  The powerful film uses the connected stories of eight people─they are the “granito,” or tiny pieces of sand─whose destinies all collide around that distant Guatemalan war, to weave an epic tale of justice.   The film also chronicles Yates herself, who has had a remarkable impact as a filmmaker, and looks back on one of her earliest reporting experiences.  It shows her in remote mountain areas of Guatemala in 1982 attending meetings with the guerilla revolutionaries and recording stories of mass murder and forging connections with survivors who later became activists.  She takes a big risk and boards a plane with high-ranking Guatemalan military officers and shoots a fly-over at a remote village they had decimated just days earlier….vital footage which became integral years later in the making of Granito.   

Emerging out of the historical footage are the remarkable stories of the granitos.  One of these is Fredy Pecerelli, Director of the Guatemalan Forensic Anthro­pology Foundation, which since the mid-1990s has led efforts to exhume the mass graves of victims of Guatemala’s civ­il war.   Pecerelli’s father was a law student in the early 1980’s and packed up his family and left for New York after receiving death threats from the Guatemalan death squads in the capital, Guatemala City.  Pecerelli now devotes his full time to exhuming corpses and corroborating the brutal massacres that occurred.  

Granito’s release added its ‘grain of sand’ to the tipping point for justice reached in Guatemala this year,” said Yates, “where more perpetrators of the genocide against the Maya people have been arrested, tried and convicted  than in the previous 30 years since we released When the Mountains Tremble.”

 Many of us were hopeful that Granito would be shortlisted for the Oscar documentary nomination and that, in front of a captive audience of some 40 million viewers, the message of collective change that Granito embodies could be conveyed─but it was not selected.   How gratifying it is to see that, in the real world, this film has served its purpose─nailing a dictator─and will live on to educate about the abuses of power.

Ríos Montt’s Trial in Guatemala utilizes Granito:  The culmination of three decades of work by human rights advocates, forensic scientists and survivors of the Guatemalan genocide forced former dictator General Efraín Ríos Montt to appear in court last Thursday after 30 years of impunity, for a hearing (that ran 11 hours) to decide whether there was enough evidence to take him to trial on charges of genocide.  This was a major event in Guatemala with hundreds of Maya people coming down from the highlands to gather in front of the courthouse, holding a candle vigil for the their murdered family members. Ríos Montt is the first high-ranking Guatemalan official to be brought to trial.   (Read The Guatemala Times coverage here.) (Read the New York Times coverage here.)

The prosecution spent hours presenting overwhelming evidence in the form of military documents, exhumation reports, photos and footage from Yates’ film Granito: How To Nail A Dictator, which links Ríos Montt directly to hundreds of deaths and disappearances. Surviving family members, Ixil Maya in traditional dress, crowded the standing room only courtroom in stunned silence. Some wept. Outside the courthouse, in an open area now named Human Rights Plaza, hundreds more watched the proceedings on a huge screen.
The defense argued that Ríos Montt did not have command responsibility over his Army officers in the highlands, and that he was not responsible for the massacres.  This is negated by a clip from Granito that the prosecution and the Guatemalan media used to show the general taking command responsibility, saying that “If I don’t control the army, then who does?”

Judge Carol Patricia Flores deliberated for hours and returned her decision to prosecute Ríos Montt on charges of genocide, place him under house arrest, and set bail for USD $65,000. People hugged, cheered and set off firecrackers outside when the Judge read her decision stating that “the extermination of the civilian population was the result of military plans, and that these plans were executed under the command of Ríos Montt.”

More on Ríos Montt:  During the 17 months of Mr. Ríos Montt’s rule in 1982 and 1983, the military carried out a scorched-earth campaign in the Mayan highlands as soldiers hunted down bands of leftist guerrillas.  Survivors have described how military units wiped out Indian villages with extraordinary brutality, killing all the women and children along with the men. Military documents of the time described the Indians as rebel collaborators.

A truth commission backed by the United Nations, set up after a peace accord in 1996, found that 200,000 people were killed or disappeared during the civil war, mostly by state security forces. The violence against Mayan-Ixil villages amounted to genocide because the entire population was targeted, the commission concluded.

The military’s actions against those communities were at the forefront of the allegations at Thursday’s hearing, as the prosecution outlined 72 separate episodes that resulted in the deaths of at least 1,771 people.

Get Involved with GranitoTo reinforce and educate about the power of the collective to make a difference, Yates and de Onis have launched a companion digital project designed to restore the collective memory of the genocide in a public online archive, described here – Granito: Every Memory Matters.  The film’s journey is reflected in the Granito Facebook page, where nearly 4,000 followers have rallied, sharing stories, news, and demanding justice.  And to get a sense of the people behind all of this, check out this slide show of photos of ‘granitos’ by renowned portraitist Dana Lixenberg.

January 30, 2012 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The 34th Mill Valley Film Festival starts Thursday, October, 6, 2011—ARThound looks at the lineup

Glenn Close opens the acclaimed Mill Valley Film Festival this Thursday in “Albert Nobbs,” where she tackles the role of a woman who has skirted poverty in mid-19th Century Dublin by dressing and working as a man. Close is also the subject of a festival Tribute event on Saturday night. Photo: Patrick Redmond

In the world of film and film festivals, each season has its delights.  While there may be as many as a dozen mini-fests set to launch in the Bay Area, October always belongs to the Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF).  Now 34 and considered in the top lists of festivals worldwide, its organizers and programmers —Mark Fishkin, Zoë Elton, Janis Plotkin (to name a few)—have hit on a winning formula.   The 11 day festival will  present some 120 films that include Academy Award hopefuls, tributes, emerging talents, documentaries, children’s programming, and world cinema.  MVFF34 all takes place north of the Golden Gate at CinéArts@Sequoia, Mill Valley, and Christopher B, Smith Rafael Film Center, San Rafael, and other convenient Marin locales.

Singing the Praises of WOMEN—actresses, directors, thematically

“When we looked at what seemed strong, it became quite apparent at Cannes that there was an incredible wealth of excellent performances by women,” said Zoë Elton at the festival’s September press conference.  “We have a lot of these Oscar worthy women in the festival.”   The lineup includes films featuring Glenn Close, Michelle Yeoh, Tilda Swinton, Susan Sarandon, Ellen Barkin, Michelle Williams and emerging actresses like Elizabeth Olsen and Antonia Campbell-Hughes.  Ironically, one of the two opening night films, Albert Nobbs, is a gender-bender drama starring Glenn Close as a woman who has skirted poverty in mid-19th Century Dublin by dressing and working as a man—a shy butler.  Close, well-known for her performances in films such as Fatal Attractions (1987) and Dangerous Liaisons (1988) is attending the festival and is the subject of a special Tribute event on festival’s second night.

The programming also reflects a strong interest in the portrayal of women in various cultures.  A number of films weave mythology and ritual with the complex contemporary reality of women’s lives. Moroccan director Mohamed Mouftakir won the Golden Stallion (top prize) at this year’s FESPACO (2011) for Pegasus, the story of a young Moroccan woman (Sadia Ladib) who is found on the streets, wounded and with no memories of her past–but with visions, flashbacks, evidence of trauma, and the belief that she has been impregnated by “The Lord of the Horse.”  The fragmented plotline which echoes David Lynch and Iranian director Mohammad Rasolof  (The White Meadows, 2009), weaves her journey to self with the experiences of her therapist, Dr. Zineb, who is treating her and on her own psychic quest. (Screens Friday and Sunday)

SEPCIAL DAYS:  OPENING NIGHT

The festival opens Thursday evening with two films that are sure bets to be included among the top independent releases of 2011.  Albert Nobbs, starring Glenn Close, who will attend, will be screened at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center at 7 p.m.  Jeff  Who Lives at Home will have its U.S. premiere at CinéArts@Sequoia in Mill Valley at 7 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.  This film, which won’t hit the theatres until March 2012, stars Jason Segal and Ed Helms with Susan Sarandon and Judy Greer.  It is the story of Jeff, a sympathetic 30-year old unemployed pot head who lives in his mother’s (Susan Sarandon) basement and rewatches Signs while nurturing anxiety about clues the universe is dropping about his destiny.  The story all transpires over an afternoon of misadventures culminating in a fate-directed universe rattling ah-hah moment.  Directors Jay and Mark Duplass will also be in attendance.  After the screenings, the Opening Night Gala kicks off at the Mill Valley Community Center at 9 p.m. and goes until midnight.

CLOSING NIGHT

Closing Night will feature a special screening of The Artist starring Jean Dujardin (Cannes Best Actor),  Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller and Missi Pyle. Directed by Michael Hazanavicius, who is expected to be in attendance, The Artist is an endearing black and white homage to the world of silent film that tells the story of a silent-film star resisting the transition to sound set in 1927 Hollywood.  Just as his star wanes, another’s starlet’s rises who represents Hollywood’s new direction.  After the film, the Closing Night Party will take place at Albert Park/San Rafael Community Center from 7-10 p.m. 

Michelle Yeoh and David Thewlis in “The Lady,” which screens this Saturday at the 34th Mill Valley Film Festival. Yeoh plays Myanmar prodemocracy activist and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and will be the focus of a special Spotlight program. Photo: Magali Bragard © 2011 EuropaCorp – Left Bank Pictures – France 2 Cinéma

TRIBUTE AND SPOTLIGHT EVENTS

In addition to honoring Glenn Close’s career, MVFF34 is celebrating actress Michelle Yeoh and West African director Gaston Kaboré.  On Saturday, October 8 at 7:30 p.m. a Spotlight honoring Michelle Yeoh, one of Asia’s best known actresses, will take place at the Smith Rafael Film Center with a Q&A and screening of her new film, The Lady, already generating quite an Oscar buzz.   The Lady is an intimate chronicle of the life of Myanmar prodemocracy activist and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi who spent 15 years under house arrest before her release last year.  The Lady follows Suu Kyi starting in 1988 when she returned to Myanmar, formerly Burma, to care for her ailing mother and soon became iconic in the battle against the military dictatorship.  The story focuses on her family life–her marriage to British academic Michael Aris and their two sons.  Aris, an Oxford professor, strongly supported Suu Kyi’s decision to stay in Myanmar, raising their children and playing a pivotal role behind the scenes in campaigning for her Nobel Peace Prize.  This decision, for the greater good, entailed years of separation and was a tremendous burden yet it was  mutually agreed upon and seemed to cement their courageous love.  Yeoh attends MVFF with Luc Besson, the film’s internationally acclaimed director and producer.  (click here to watch trailer)  After the program, the evening will continue with dinner at Frantoio Ristorante & Olive Oil Company in Mill Valley.

The first weekend of the Festival culminates on Sunday, October 9 at 4:30 p.m., with an MVFF Tribute to West African director Gaston Kaboré, honoring his remarkable career and contribution to African film including an onstage conversation and rare screening of his 1982 classic  Wend Kuuni (God’s Gift), the endearing story of a mute boy found in the bush and adopted by Mossi villagers whose love and tenderness help restore his voice.  Afterwards, the evening continues with dinner at Acqua Mill Valley, catered by Delicious! Catering. 

ARThound’s top five:

Coriolanus:  Actor Ralph Fiennes makes his directorial debut a modern adaptation of William Shakespeare’s war tragedy “Coriolanus” set in war-torn Bosnia with chilling urban battle scenes.  Fiennes also stars as Caius Martius, or Coriolanus, a powerful general at odds with the City of Rome, a role that Fiennes played on the London stage.  Coriolanus is a riveting drama about the relationship of authority, power, and the emotions that drive them and should play well reconfigured in the hotbed of the Balkans.  Martius meets his old enemy Tullus Aufidius (a very macho Gerard Butler) on the battlefield and returns to Rome as a hero.  Reveling in his triumph, he is elected to the governing consul but is soon opposed by the citizenry.  His anger at the public’s disfavor leads to his expulsion, and in desperation he turns to his sworn enemy Tullus, with whom he takes revenge on the city.  Vanessa Redgrave is Coriolanus’s iron-willed mother and Jessica Chastain is his trophy wife.  Directed by Ralph Fiennes (UK, 2011) (122 minutes).   Screens: Friday, October 7, 2011 at 9 p.m. at Sequoia Theatre, 25 Throckmorton Street, Mill Valley and Saturday, October 8 at 7:30 p.m. at the Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth Street, San Rafael, CA.  Tickets: $13.50.   www.mvff.org

Granito: How to Nail a Dictator:   Documentary filmmaker Pamela Yates has passionately been involved in investigating genocide and war crimes for over 25 years.  Her 1984 film, When the Mountains Tremble, made when she was just out of college, is one of the only documentary records of the brutal Guatemalan civil war between the U.S.-backed military junta and the indigenous peasant revolutionaries who were systematically killed in a scorched earth campaign.  A few top generals, notably Efraín Ríos Montt and Kjell Eugenio Laugerud García, were behind that slaughter of an estimated 200,000 Mayan and the disappearance of another 40,000 indigenous persons and Ms. Yates interviewed these leaders in 1982.  Granito tells the story of how some 25 years later, Yates was asked to join a team of forensic experts and lawyers and Mayan survivors in a human rights case against Guatemala’s former juntas and how her first film footage became the evidence that led to the indictment of Montt in Spain’s national courts for his attacks on Maya.  The powerful and idealistic film uses the connected stories of five people─they are the “granito,” or tiny pieces of sand─whose destinies all collide around that distant Guatemalan war, to weave an epic tale of justice.  Though somewhat narrowly focused, the film is monumental.   It is also an inspirational look at the career of a brave filmmaker who has dedicated every ounce of her being to seeing that justice is served.  (US, 2011, 104 min)  Screens: Friday, October 7, 2011 at 6:30 p.m. at the Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth Street, San Rafael, CA and Sunday, October 9, 2011 at 5:45 p.m. at the Sequoia Theatre, 25 Throckmorton Street, Mill Valley.  Directors Pamela Yates and Paco de Onis will be present at both screening and will conduct a post-film discussion and Q & A. Tickets: $13.50.   www.mvff.org

In Gao Xiongjie’s “The Butcher’s Wife,“ which has its North American premiere at the MVFF34, the struggle between a new-married Chinese couple about what they should expect from life is a tragic critique of China’s rapid modernization and the tremendous pressures it creates on those not living in urban areas. Image courtesy: MVFF

The Butcher’s Wife:  North American Premiere (China, 2011, 119 min)(Mandarin with English subtitles)  Epic in scale, this new drama tells the intimate story of a newly-married young couple in rural China facing big life decisions against the gripping backdrop of modernization that threatens to leave all but urban dwellers behind.  Months have passed and Liang, a kind and simple butcher, and his wife Qiao have not consummated their marriage because she fears pregnancy will squash her dream of entering college and starting a new life in the city.  She’s already failed the exam three times and feels intense pressure to start the life she imagines she will have.  Lang can’t bear the situation and wants intimacy and, humiliated, sends his wife to stay with her mother.  Qiao leaves for the big city to get her dream underway and it quickly turns into a nightmare.  The fictional film, a parable for any rapidly modernizing society, draws us into the hard and fractured lives of a young couple, both unfulfilled and both with reasonable expectations, for which there seems to be no easy answer.  Through its intimate portrayal of the aspirations and anguish of two individuals, the film asks us to consider what really matters most in this life and what it means when achieving that is not possible.  (contains graphic images of pig slaughter)  Directed by Gao Xiongjie.  (China, 2011, 119 min)(Mandarin with English subtitles) Screens: Friday, October 7, 2011 at 8:30 p.m. at the Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth Street, San Rafael, CA and Sunday, October 9, 2011 at 3:45 p.m. at the Sequoia Theatre, 25 Throckmorton Street, Mill Valley.  Tickets: $13.50.   www.mvff.org  

Argentinean Director Paula Markovitch’s “The Prize” coaxes an emotionally rich performance from Paula Galinelli Hertzog, as Ceci, a 7 year-old girl on the run with her mother from Argentina’s repressive military regime. The film won the prestigious Silver Bear award for outstanding artistic achievement at the 61st Berlinale (Berlin International Film Festival). Image courtesy: MVFF

The Prize:  Argentinean Paula Markovitch’s impressive autobiographical feature debut is about vivacious 7 year-old Cecilia, (Paula Galinelli Hertzog) who is asked to keep a big secret about her family but can’t possibly understand the implications of that secret.  It’s the 1970’s and Ceci and her mom are living out of suitcases at a desolate and ramshackle abandoned beach town, hiding from Argentina’s repressive military and what will come to be called its “dirty war.”  If asked, Ceci is instructed to tell people only that her mom is a housekeeper and her dad sells curtains.  Ceci soons befriends her schoolmate, Lucia, but it becomes very difficult for her to particpate in activities like writing a school essay about her family and, when she does, she comes close to jeopardizing everything.  Paula Galinelli Hertzog delivers an astounding performance as a young girl trying to understand what she can believe in the adult world and struggling to feel secure in the certitude of her mother’s love when everything else seems to be shifting.  (Mexico/Germany/France/Poland, 2011) (103 minutes) In Spanish with English subtitles. Screens: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 8:30 p.m. at the Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth Street, San Rafael, CA and Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 5:45 p.m. at the Sequoia Theatre, 25 Throckmorton Street, Mill Valley.  Tickets: $13.50.   www.mvff.org

Old laws clash with the modern world in Joshua’s Marston’s “The Forgiveness of Blood” staring Albanian actor Tristan Halilaj as 17 year-old Nic who is trapped inside his home in rural Albanian because his family is embroiled in a blood feud. Beautifully photographed on location by cinematographer Rob Hardy. Image courtesy MVFF.

 The Forgiveness of Blood:  A mesmerizing drama from Justin Marston, the producer of Maria Full of Grace (2004) shot entirely on location in rural Albania that explores that small Balkan country’s insular clan culture through the story of a teenage boy and his sister.  When Mark (Refet Abazi) gets embroiled in a land rights squabble that escalates to his killing his neighbor, legal justice takes a backseat to Balkan oral code of the Kanun.  This traditional Albanian law, pre-dating the 15th century, states that when a murder is committed, the family of the deceased are warranted to get retribution by taking the life of a male in the offending clan’s family.  Mark goes into hiding but his 17 year-old son, Nik (Tristan Halilaj),  is essentially doomed to indefinite confinement at home, the only place considered safe ground.  Nic leaves his high school life of video games and flirting and becomes a volatile and stir-crazy prisoner at home while his resourceful 15-year-old sister, Rudina (Sindi Lacej), takes over her family’s bread delivery business but is soon knee deep in threats herself.   As Nic feels increasing pressure to find a solution to this blood feud, his actions escalate such that his entire family is jeopardized.  In Albanian with English subtitles, the film boldly contrasts the resurgence of antiquated traditions with the lives of young people in the country’s first post-totalitarian generation, whose bright future is put at risk by these practices.   Directed by Joshua Marston (2011) (109 minutes)  Screens: Thursday, October 13, 2011 at 4 p.m. and Saturday, October 15, 2011 at 12:15 p.m. at Sequoia Theatre, 25 Throckmorton Street, Mill Valley.   Tickets: $13.50.   www.mvff.org

Details:  Presented by the California Film Institute, the 34th Mill Valley Film Festival runs October 6-16, 2011 at the CinéArts@Sequoia (25 Throckmorton Avenue, Mill Valley), Chrisopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center (1118 Fourth Street, San Rafael) and other venues.  Tickets are $13.50 (CFI Members, $11), unless otherwise noted, and may be purchased online at mvff.com.  Additional information:  www.mvff.com  or call 877.874.6833

October 5, 2011 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment