St. Louis International Film Festival continues
Taxi to the Dark Side
By Bradford Yates
Steinberg Auditorium @ Wash. U.
Saturday, Nov. 17 @ 8:15 p.m.
Documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney (the man behind “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”) shifts his lens from the moral failure of corporate America to the moral failure of U.S. detainee policy since the events of 9/11. Progressives are likely to sympathize with his causes, agree with the majority of his arguments and feel the same sort of fear and resentment of the status quo that many of us are used to (and tired of) by now. And while the film is well made, weaving together archival footage, interviews with ex-soldiers and voice-over narration sprinkled in for purposes of explanation or provocation, Gibney cannot muster enough cinematic zeal to avoid the feeling that the film is essentially a very long, audio-visual Time magazine article. His attempt at a ‘murder mystery’ is an interesting thread that humanizes the film a bit, but all in all “Taxi to the Dark Side” seems to be light on new news and heavy on diatribe. For example, Gibney gives himself the liberty of invoking the Holocaust (via archival footage of dying and dead Jews) in a film that is otherwise about present-day issues. Even Michael Moore might have thought twice about that one. By the way, I am as progressive as they come and I deplore the inhumane tactics employed by our nation in its futile ‘War on Terror.’ However, I also deplore slight-of-hand editing in documentary film, as it can only misguide our attention and further polarize our politics.
Director Alex Gibney will attend the screening.
By Kaity Li
Thursday, Nov. 15 @ 5 p.m.
China’s “Dam Street” shows the grim effects of an unwanted pregnancy on a hapless young girl named Yun. At the beginning of the movie, Yun manages to keep her secret until nearly the end of her pregnancy, but then she is found out, expelled from her school and humiliated all over town.
Ten years later, Yun is still living at home with her mother and suffering the consequences of her past. To earn a living, she debases herself by performing pop songs for a rude and jeering crowd. To ease her loneliness, she has an affair with a married man and befriends one of her mother’s students, a young boy named Xiao Yong, but it’s the latter that actually provides her with fulfillment. Rare moments of emotional honesty in the dialogue reveal a painful truth about these characters: None of them have anybody to confide in.
The men in this movie mostly remain in the background, but once in a while, they take the spotlight by revealing that they are terrible human beings. The only decent male character is Xiao Yong, who is merely a boy, and therefore has yet to be corrupted like the grown men in the movie.
Though it isn’t a thoroughly depressing movie, “Dam Street” isn’t a happy one either. It shows us that life in Communist China can be terrible for reasons besides the obvious ones. Despite being grim a good majority of the time, it’s never melodramatic, and so it’s all painfully believable. At times, the movie drags and seems longer than 93 minutes, especially when certain plot points become predictable. For the most part, you care enough about the characters to want to see what will happen to them. “Dam Street” shows that China has more to offer than dynasty dramas with hour-long wire fighting sequences.
By Cecilia Razak
Friday, Nov. 16 @ 7 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 17 @ 9:30 p.m.
Woody Harrelson impeccably styled, coiffed and flamingly gay: What more could you ask for? If you raised an eyebrow and added “political intrigue,” then look no further, my friend. “The Walker,” a “what-the-rich-people-are-so-naughtily-up-to-in-Washington-today” film by Paul Schrader, is a pretty thing with tasteful accessories to match, much like its main character, Car Paige (Harrelson). He is a “walker,” specializing in walking rich and powerful men’s wives around their precarious social lives and providing snide commentary along the way. One of the ladies for whom he is arm-padding discovers that her partner in a sordid affair has been murdered in his apartment. Things begin to unravel, and suddenly it looks as if Car, struggling to remain loyal and silent, is implicated by the investigation, despite his innocence. The film is rife with intelligent cynicism, but it doesn’t quite manage to coat the whole picture, and the middle section lags as if Schrader is only laboriously hitting the numbers without much zeal. But otherwise this is a sharp political crime drama that, true to the current mood, is less about whodunit than who’s going to take the fall for it.
Twisted: A Balloonamentary
By Nadia Sobehart
St. Louis Art Museum
Saturday, Nov. 17 @ 7 p.m.
Enter the world of balloon twisting. Balloons-lots and lots of balloons. When we think of balloons, clowns, carnivals and birthday parties usually come to mind. This documentary, however, tells quite a different story-eight different stories actually-and brings them all together at the Twist and Shout Convention. For the participants of Twist and Shout, ballooning isn’t just a hobby, but a lifestyle, an occupation, a dream and an escape.
Following a brief but comical history of balloons, the journey into modern ballooning begins. We are introduced to eight very different people, each with his or her own hopes, dreams and roadblocks. “Twisted” isn’t just an introduction to the bizarre world of balloon twisting; it is a source of inspiration. One person uses twisting to teach others religion, another to pay her way out of the trailer park and through college, another to bring opportunity to a torn community and keep children off the streets, and yet another has transformed her love of balloon twisting into a very lucrative business in Las Vegas (you should check out her house).
Apart from the wonderful and touching stories presented in the film, the scenes depicting the balloon creations are simply remarkable. There are pirates. Trojan horses. Racecars. Full body-armor. Geishas. Forty-foot soccer players. It makes you wish you knew how to make something as simple as a balloon dog.
“Twisted: A Balloonamentary” is simply a necessary film to watch. It will touch your heart and tickle your creative bone. You’ll simply be amazed at the notion of so many different people-from all over the world, of different occupations, young and old-getting together in pursuit of one goal, seemingly pointless but endlessly inspiring: to twist balloons the best they can. Whether you’re searching for a back-up career or simply craving a new hobby, you should seriously watch this film.
Co-directors Greenfield and Taksler, both former Washington University students will attend the screening.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
By Brian Stitt
St. Louis Art Museum
Sunday, Nov. 18 @ 6 p.m.
A massive stroke left the editor in chief of French Elle, Jean-Dominique Bauby, completely paralyzed save his left eye. Suffering from what doctors call “locked-in syndrome,” Bauby was completely awake and aware, retained all of his treasured memories and his vivid imagination but could only communicate by blinking his left eye. Bauby graduated from a simple one-for-yes two-for-no system, to a tedious letter association process and managed to detail his thoughts and emotions through a translator into a memoir, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” It is estimated that the book took 200,000 blinks to complete.
American director, Julian Schnabel, turns this true story into a French language feature film that captures the pitiful reality of Bauby’s condition but emphasizes the hopefulness of his spirit. The first 20 minutes of the movie are spent behind Bauby’s eyes as he first wakes up in a hospital bed after his stroke. We share in the trauma of his paralysis and listen his echoing thoughts and unheard questions. We watch, from the inside, as his right eye is sewn shut and as doctors and nurses struggle to relate to him, and us, the severity of his condition while trying to look on the bright side. But it is Bauby’s job to find a bright side to his world and Schnabel does a wonderful job of bringing the audience along on his internal journey. The camera eventually travels out from behind Bauby’s head, but it remains always in his mind. A remarkable film, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” evokes brilliantly both the captivity of a heavy, immobile diving suit and the slowly fluttering freedom of the mind’s eye.
By Brian Stitt
Thursday, Nov. 15 @ 5 p.m.
While its lacking budget certainly shows, the poor production value does not at all lessen the strength of the punch this film pounds into your midsection. Locally shot and produced, “Ruzzian Roulette” tells the story of the modern AIDS epidemic in the black community. By showing and telling so many different stories with gritty realism and some surprisingly powerful acting, this movie comes at the same point from many different angles, highlighting the scope of the problem while not making a ridiculously overblown story. The style is extremely experimental and not always effective, but the purpose of the movie comes roaring through. “Ruzzian Roulette” is a fascinating piece of low-budget filmmaking in the vein of “Clerks,” “Primer” and “El Mariachi.” The directors, Falaq and Rukahs, will attend along with members of the cast. The soundtrack features music by local hip-hop group the Apostlez, whose music highlights the themes of the movie and lends it street cred that no Hollywood production could have attained.
Call of the Wild
By Brian Stitt
Saturday, Nov. 17 @ 7:30 p.m.
Apparently this year, the favorite metaphor for man’s eternal battle with nature and his desire to be part of it is the story of Chris McCandlis, the young man who died of starvation while trying to live off the land in Alaska during the summer of 1992. Sean Penn’s “Into the Wild” did a good job of opening up this enigmatic young man’s head to the world (as much as one can delve into the mind of a real person through narrative film) but it left some space for a definitive documentary about Chris. Unfortunately “Call of the Wild” is not that movie. Director Ron Lamothe makes a film that says a lot more about Ron Lamothe than it does about Chris McCandlis. While he does run into some major roadblocks (enter the evil Sean Penn and his team of gag-ordering Hollywood lawyers), that does not leave much excuse for the long minutes spent showing Ron hitchhiking. While it does emulate Mr. McCandlis it does not evoke him. The later third of this documentary actually does start centering around a unified theme and he runs into some evidence that redefines Chris’s death and his intentions in the wild. Unfortunately this is all too late for the movie. But for fans of the McCandlis story, this doc does hold some good journalism on the story that everyone else seems to have missed.
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