Marx and Che: films to look forward to

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2371.jpgTORONTO — Film festivals are fast becoming one of the few places to see world cinema, including documentaries and progressive movies, as giant theater complexes rapidly sell out to Hollywood-escapist blockbusters. And the Toronto International Film Festival has become home for the Western Hemisphere’s largest and most impressive display of great world feature films.

Before we comment on the many films of interest that were shown at this year’s festival, it’s exciting to note some significant works in progress.

After years of neglecting one of 19th century’s most important figures, the film world is finally bringing to the screen the story of Karl Marx. Raoul Peck, the socially committed director of “Lumumba,” is heading this daunting task.

Haitian-born Peck will be covering 18 years of the great philosopher’s life, from his youth up to the publication of the Communist Manifesto in 1848. The English-language “Karl Marx,” slated for production next year, will include the story of his lifelong love, Jenny von Westphalen, and his friendship with Manifesto co-writer Friedrich Engels. A draft of the film is due at next year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Another film in progress is of the charismatic and most notable revolutionary life of Ernesto Che Guevara, also scheduled for next year. Following on the heels of the highly successful “Motorcycle Diairies,” and considering the world’s interest in the 40th anniversary of Che’s death in Bolivia, American director Steven Soderbergh is on the case.

Known for his many skillful and creative independent productions, including “Sex Lies and Videotape,” “Erin Brockovich,” and “Traffic,” Soderbergh is on a roll as a producer of some recent political blockbusters, including “The Good German,” “Goodnight and Good Luck,” and “Syriana.”

The Che film, with the working title of “The Argentine,” is likely to provide a realistic historical perspective, given that part of the film is scheduled to be shot in Havana. The famous Puerto Rican actor Benicio Del Toro has been chosen to star as the world’s most beloved revolutionary.

Richard Kelly, director of the cult classic “Donnie Darko,” a philosophical musing on death and time, tested his new film, “Southland Tales,” at Cannes last year, where it met with severely critical reviews. The film has since undergone major revisions and has now been picked up by Sony Films.

Part of the reason for some of the unfavorable reviews was the daring futuristic theme of the project, addressing the end of civilization that is pictured as starting in South Los Angeles. With a direct attack on U.S. imperialism and its lethal actions around the world, the film is sure to attract controversy, but Kelly is up to the task.

Two-thirds of the devastating American trilogy from the Danish director, the enfant terrible Lars von Triers, has been released. “Dogville” tells the tale of murder and greed in a Western town. “Manderlay” tells the story of slavery in the South. And “Wasington” will complete the trilogy with a scathing indictment of Washington’s power and greed.

Von Trier’s films, including the award-winning “Dancer in the Dark,” offer a fresh outsider’s take on U.S. history and the American psyche.

Many exciting films for progressive viewers were premiered in Toronto. This year’s festival not only included a film about Jimmy Carter’s recent book tour that provoked debate about apartheid in Palestine, but also a dialogue with the former president and his wife Rosalind.

Michael Moore, on the tail of his recent super-hit documentary “Sicko,” presented his newest film “Captain Mike Across America,” formerly titled “The Great Slacker Uprising 2004.”

“Battle in Seattle” is one of the first dramatic re-enactments of the great anti-World-Trade-Organization protests.

Several films focusing on the war in Iraq and its effects in the world seemed to be a hot topic this year, including Phil Donahue’s “Body of War,” Nick Broomfield’s “Battle for Haditha” and Brian de Palma’s “Redacted.”

These are just a few of the films that we take a deeper look at in forthcoming articles.

Bill Meyer is a musician from Michigan and will be writing over the next several weeks reviews of feature films that premiered at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival.