Thursday, March 01, 2007

Miami Film Festival: Day three

Bolivia/Argentina/USA, 92 min

A documentary by
Alejandro Landes

Evo Morales was the first indigenous Bolivian to become President of that country, and of course he was followed by a documentarian when he was conducting his successful 2005 campaign. Nowadays, it's de rigueur. His opponent probably had one too, but we'll most definitely never see it.

The title of the film is term for “coca farmer” and that's how Morales became famous in the first place. He was the founder of the coca growers union, and spent years fighting for the rights of coca farmers and the other side on the US's “war on drugs.” This is basically a propaganda exercise, and it's all very positive.

The focus is of course, on Morales, but there are also some “supporting characters” such as Leonilda Zurita, an indigenous woman who's a union organizer and a candidate for the senate, Morales' running mate Alvaro Garcia Linera, and a number of foreign luminaries, such as Hugo Chavez, the notorious president of Venezuela, who along with Fidel Castro and himself, Morales jokingly says makes up the “axis if evil.”

As this is a partisan and biased look at Evo-for-President campaign, there's really very little outside of the usual puff piece stuff. We see Evo taking a dip in a local river, we see him coming and going to rallies and joking around with his flunkies. As he travels the country, he has a wonderful time campaigning and extolling the wonders of the coca leaf, citing a nonexistent Harvard study saying that it's the perfect food. He seems like a nice guy, and most of what he says are socialist platitudes, but that was to be expected.

What's more interesting is when the film concentrates on Leonilda Zorita, who, running for a much lower office, is more into the muck of the grassroots campaign. We see her running a local union seminar on how to vote, and discussing how the union and it's political branch, the MAS (Movimiento Al Socialismo) party, maintains discipline [they tie miscreants to a fire-ant infested tree for a few minutes, or throw them in political prisons for a short time]-which is surprising, not because they do it, but because they show it at all. Also, there's a bit of talk from the Morales' opposition, but it generally is edited to look foolish.

This film is important because it's an excellent introduction to Morales as a person. Combined with Rachel Boynton's “Our Brand is Crisis,” one can get a pretty good idea of how Bolivian politics works in the 2000s.

Mississippi Chicken
USA, 82 min, Digibeta NTSC, 2007

A documentary
by John Fiege

The cost of filmmaking has gone down greatly over the last few years. Instead of expensive 16 millimeter or prohibitively dear 35, the creation of digital video has dropped the cost to almost nothing. However, filmmaker John Fiege has decided to go it the old fashioned way. Using an old Super-8 camera and film, he and collaborator Anita Grabowski, have created a serviceable documentary on a community of illegal aliens living in Mississippi trailer park.

The title isn't exactly accurate. While the people are there to work in a poultry plant, the plant itself is almost never shown and rarely mentioned.
The reason is probably that Fieg and Grabowski, who's a union organizer based in Texas, have found more important stuff to do. After all, people have lives outside of work, and work outside the plant. In fact the focus of the film, a woman who runs a restaurant of sorts in her trailer for the workers at the plant, hasn't actually worked there in years.

She and her daughter have other problems, as do a number of other illegal aliens working in other jobs, such as construction. Because of their status, most of the people there fall prey to the owner of the trailer park, the cops, and others, all of whom seem to be black or Hispanic themselves.

Other than what seems to be the standard issue problems for the situation, there doesn't seem to be much going on. The people from the union try to make people's life better, the local Catholic church holds a Sunday service in the park, a girl gets in trouble sexually, nothing earth-shattering or anything. While the peak into the lives of others may be interesting, there is nothing compelling here. Next time it might be better to do digital video. It looks better.

This film will probably never see the light of day again.

Straight to the Point
Brazil, 70 min, Digibeta , 2006)

A documentary by
Márcia Derraik and
Simplício Neto

When my mother was a kid the better part of a century ago, latin music was all the rage. The Rhumba and the Samba and Tango were all over the radio and dance halls. Here in the states, latin beats have faded from the pop charts, but back in their places of origin, the music has continued as strong as ever, but have evolved into something extremely different., as this documentary clearly shows.

Bezerra da Silva, a Brazilian music legend known as the father of “gangsta samba” has been recording the improvisations of his friends from the 'hood' in the slums just outside of Rio de Jenaro for quite a few decades, and it's these guys who filmmakers Márcia Derraik and Simplício Neto concentrate on. If they're lucky they have day jobs, if not, they are indigent, but all seem to be extremely opinionated and relatively content.
They also seem to be getting on in years.

What the filmmakers do is have the writer sing the song, then explain how it was written and then there's a discussion of what it all means. There are also short video type things using footage from old movies and newsreels. It works rather well as far as it goes.

What makes this a revelation is the lyrics. This is heavy stuff, mostly about guns and sex and going to jail. Quite a few of the interviewees have written angry tales of how they want to kill “snitches” in particularly nasty ways. They also don't like posers very much. This is just a bunch of old guys hanging out, and with the peppy samba beat, the time goes by really quickly. Someone said this was a Brazilian “Buena Vista Social Club” and it is. There's nothing like the standards, especially if you've never heard them before.

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