New films to watch for, from around the world

circuskids2

The inspiring labor film depicting the 1968 women's strike for equal pay at the Ford plant in England, "Made In Dagenham," is making its rounds at film festivals before it hopefully gets picked up for commercial release. Appearing at both the Toronto and Chicago International Film Festivals, this movie is by far the most entertaining and progressive story about labor struggles to be shown on the big screen since the classic "Norma Rae."

There have been several films addressing the attempt to bring Jewish and Palestinian youth together to help heal the wounds in the Middle East. The Seeds of Peace project was the first to document this approach in the inspiring 2001 film "Promises," showing Middle East youth discovering their commonalities. The most recent project along these lines is "Circus Kids," a charming documentary and effective tale of young American circus performers who are invited to Israel to work with their Jewish and Palestinian counterparts. The diverse St. Louis troupe of young performers, some from extremely poor communities, travel to Tel Aviv to join a troupe of Arabs and Jews who are themselves learning about working with each other. Their objective is to learn each other's circus skills and create an entertaining show for local audiences composed of both Palestinians and Jews. Signs of hopeful collaboration and frustrating obstacles are documented in this humanistic attempt to bring understanding to the youth involved. In the process the viewer is treated to deeply emotional scenes and exhilarating heights of circus bravado performed by youth who are learning not only gymnastic skills but important lessons of life.

"I Miss You" is yet another heartbreaking story of the thousands who disappeared during the military coup in Argentina in the 1970s. A family is bereft when the oldest son fails to return home one day from school. His recent activities in resistance protests pegged him as a target of the military dictatorship. His younger brother is sent away to Mexico to live with family members to avoid also being drawn into the violence. The sensitive and subtle portrayal of the boy who gradually realizes his brother will probably never return makes the film a powerful statement about the personal losses brought on by a violent military dictatorship.

We've all heard of "French farce" but "Hitler in Hollywood" takes it one step further with this thriller "mockumentary" forged from the European concern about American dominance of their film industry. This playful but biting attack on American cultural hegemony creates a fantasy plot centered around the career of an aging French actress, played by the real Micheline Presle, who helps to solve the mystery of what happened to the director of a 1945 film about Hitler's unknown plan to create a Hollywood in Germany. In the process of uncovering the American plot to subvert the European film industry, discoveries are made of secret meetings with American politicians, one being a senator named "McCabe," a not-too-subtle reference to the rabid anti-communist Senator Joseph McCarthy. Famous directors and stars play cameo bits in this ingenious and clever political farce.

Several of the films premiering at the Chicago Film Festival last month address some of the urgent issues facing American society today. "The Minutemen" documents the self-appointed vigilantes guarding our border with Mexico. Their main occupation is to report to law officials any sightings of attempts to cross the border illegally. In the process, varying causes of this phenomenon are expressed in this compelling film that challenges immigration concerns head-on.

In "Mooz Lum" the issue of anti-Muslim fear is addressed in a story about a young American whose strict Muslim father sends him to a special school where he is unknowingly abused. When he enters college questioning his faith, the tragic incidents of 9/11 take place and his identity is challenged. Directed by a young Muslim, Qasim Basir, the well-acted and tightly scripted autobiographical film carries the viewer through the life of an American caught up in the injustice of religious intolerance.

The Chicago festival offered many films for progressive viewers, including "Fair Game," based on the real-life story of CIA operative Valerie Plame and her husband Joe Wilson. Several films dealt with the power of art in poor communities. "Louder Than a Bomb" praises the slam poetry community in a Chicago school district. "Wasteland," directed by Lucy Walker, examines the life and work of famed Brazilian activist-artist Vic Muniz as he creates beauty in the world's largest landfill just outside Rio, where the extremely poor inhabitants of Brazil live their desperate lives. His inspiring projects bring an income to the poor inhabitants who discover the overwhelming power of art to transform society. The film has won multiple awards around the world.

Websites:

www.chicagofilmfestival.com
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7lPK9LUdsi4 (Circus Kids)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xO0c7FWZ_Mc (I Miss You)
http://www.videosurf.com/hitler-in-hollywood-328131 (Hitler in Hollywood)
http://vimeo.com/6380439  (The Minutemen)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4axp5V_j6E (Mooz-Lum)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81hXGdFF6TQ (Louder Than a Bomb)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BWPU5WNgQ2w (Wasteland)

Photo: A scene from "Circus Kids." www.circuskids.tv

 

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