Saturday, May 05, 2007

Tribeca Reviews: the sixth batch


a documentary directed by
Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman

World War II began well before Hitler invaded Poland in 1939. In fact, it began in 1931, when the Japanese invaded Manchuria. Between then and the bombing of Nagasaki 14 years later, the “War in the Pacific” would contract and expand in ferocity and scope wildly, causing not a few historians to question whether or not Japan even was part of the great conflaguration prior to December 7th, 1941.

Make no mistake, it most certainly was.

In 1937, Japan decided to take over the rest of China, and in November and December of that year, perpetrated what was forever called “The Rape of Nanking.” The reason it was called that was because that's what the Japanese troops did to most of the women who hadn't fled beforehand. The Japanese have always said that it wasn't nearly as bad as everyone says, and every now and again, it's good to remind the World as to what really happens.

There are no reconstructions here with the exceptions of actors(J├╝rgen Prochnow, Woody Harrelson, Mariel Hemmingway, Michelle Krusiec, Hugo Armstrong and some others) dressed up in period costumes and reading the diaries of the westerners who heroically protected tens of thousands in what was officially called “Safety Zone for the Chinese refugees”. What was amazing was that they got the the Japanese soldiers to respect them and it. Also, that the Nazi diplomats living there did so much to help the victims of this atrocity. That was a revelation.

The dramatic readings seamlessly blend with interviews with aged survivors and the newsreel footage to create an exiting and heartbreaking picture of one of the greatest horrors of the entire Second World War. There are no holds barred, and nor should there be. This is well worth paying full price for.

Scott Walker - 30th Century Man (U.S.A./U.K.) - New York Premiere.

A Documentary Directed
by Stephen Kijak

What makes a legend? Mystery. Once upon a time there was a rock trio called the Walker Brothers, [nobody in the band was named Walker, by the way] and they had a number of hits during the mid to late 1960s. Then they broke up, and the band's star, Scott Walker, originally named Scott Engle, went solo. At first he did the usual bubblegum stuff, and then, as was the fashion back then, he added some more experimental works, plus covering more esoteric writers like Jaques Brell.

He went so far that he fell off the edge, lost whatever popularity he had and became a recluse, producing three albums in twenty years. Weird stuff that is almost unlistenable. But still, he was extremely influential, as the likes of David Bowie, Brian Eno and Jarvis Cocker eloquently attest.

The fact that Walker was the Justin Timberlake of his time means that there's a lot of archival footage of him to fill out the early part of his career and the Howard Hughes-like transformation from pretty boy to insane genius. It's sort of like the Brian Wilson story except that Wilson never actually left the pop music's collective consciousness, Walker seems to have been wiped out of rock's narrative except for maybe “The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore” and a few other hits.

However, he had a tiny fanbase, and Stephen Kijak was able to mine it to the max. Also, Walker came out of hiding to do his first album in ages and let Kajak to film the entire process.

The whole thing is a fascinating look at the phenomenon of the tortured genius, and what happens when an artist gets too far ahead of his/her audience. This is much better than the album.

The Workshop (U.K.) - World Premiere.

Written and Directed
by Jamie Morgan

Somewhere in Northern California, self-help guru Paul Lowe is laughing his way to the bank. This dirty old man has been promoting his New Age philosophy in expensive workshops he holds in his estate for years. For anywhere from a week (1200 bucks) to eight days (add an extra 150) one can go there and get one's mojo fixed.

Jamie Morgan is photographer and music video director who heard about the program and decided to fly half way around the World for what would be a weeks' worth of nudist psychoanalysis and personal growth through adultery. No wonder it's for mature audiences only!

We don't actually see all that much of Lowe. Yeah, he talks a bit about his philosophy and the like, but the focus is on Morgan and his fellow “campers” and how they react to what is going on. What's interesting is that pretty much everyone who gets any face time is NOT American.

This follows a select few Brits and a German who are encouraged to explore their sexuality, because, as Lowe clearly states, monogamy is an artificial construct, which stultifies consciousness. This, of course leads to lots of nudity, some stalking, and a broken marriage or two.

The campers are portrayed as rather nice people. One would expect that, after all, there are lawsuits to consider, but no one is perfect and it seems that there has been some psychic progress on the way to the orgies, the first of which isn't shown.

Morgan has actually made a nice promotional piece for Lowe's program, it's not great, it's not for everybody, but it gives a fair look at what it's all about.

SHAME, (Pakistan, USA) .- New York Premiere.

A documentary directed
by Mohammed Naqviln

In a really perverse way, getting raped was the best thing that ever happened to Mukhtaran Mai. Now bear with me. What happened to her was quite horrible, and it shouldn't happen to anyone, but had it not been for that, a vast amount of good wouldn't have been done. Allah does indeed work in mysterious ways.

In 2002, Mukhtaran was living in a remote Pakistani village. She was unmarried and her family was poor. Then her brother allegedly did something to a neighbor's daughter that wasn't very nice. The other girl's family was enraged, and the local religious authority ordered that both he and Mukhtaran be publicly gang raped to atone for it. Instead of killing herself, as she was expected to do, she complained to a local mullah, who took her to the cops many miles away. The local media heard about this, and then the national and international media got their hands on it and it became an international cause. Islam worldwide was heartily embarrassed as was the Pakistani government. Her rapists were arrested and Mukhtaran Mai was given a chance to improve her lot and that of the entire district.

Mohammed NaqviIn, being Pakistani, has been able to follow the case more closely than most foreign documentarians could and has put together a detailed and stirring tale of female empowerment where that sort of thing is supposed to be illegal. She's an international role model and has done nothing to make anyone regret it.

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