Sunday, April 24, 2005

Gilaneh, "Bullets in the 'Hood," "the Life of Kevin Carter"

The films I liked best at the Tribeca Film Festival today were all about terrible, wrenching, pain.
Gilaneh, directed by Rashkan Bani-Etemad (whose name was spelled incorrectly by Variety, by the way) and starring Fatemeh Motamed Arya was brilliant and heart-breaking. I found an interesting article about the major Iranian film festival which places Gilaneh in context. The film centers on Gilaneh, her son and her daughter, and their efforts to survive the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. The first section shows the son leaving for the front as mother and pregnant daughter stay behind in the village. Eventually too panicked about the whereabouts of her husband, Gilaneh's daughter Mogyul demands a journey to Teheran, which takes the two women past groups of refugees fleeing Iraq's missile attacks. The second half of the film takes place back in the village, on the first day of the US bombing of Iraq and centers on the terrible condition of Gilaneh's son, who after the war was left paralyzed, with some kind of severely compromised lung capacity, and subject to fits. Increasingly labored herself, Gilaneh attempts to take care of her damaged son. Fatemeh Motamed Arya gave an incredible performance, that I would compare a little bit with that of Imelda Staunton as Vera Drake.The two characters are similar in their steadfastness and stoicism.
The other films I saw today were short ones. OF these, two were really special: "The Life of Kevin Carter," about the photographer who won the pulitzer prize for that truly disturbing photo taken of a child crawling to a UN food mission and being followed by a vulture. Seeing in the film that Carter watched the girl get up, fall and try to walk, only to fall again, and seeing other pictures on the contact sheets, it seems terrible to me that he did not help her. Some people, both in the film audience and in the film say that the photograph was so great, that it would have done more than simply lifting the child up and carrying her to the station by telling the world of the situation, the argument doesn't make sense to me. It's hard not to feel, when looking at the photo, that what you're seeing is not only a picture of starvation, but the moment when a photographer lost his humanity, as this person's suffering became only "the big photo" that would make his career. If you're interested in what other people had to say about this issue, go to the link above and read the list of comments on lavannya's blog, "secrets of my inner world."
The polar opposite of the Carter's detached approach to documentary was the remarkable Bullets in the Hood, a movie shot by Terrence Fisher, which began as an anti-gun documentary, in which he interviews various neighbors in the Bed-Stuy projects and gets them to show him their guns, but became an activist cry for justice when Fisher was present at the shooting and killing of Timothy Stansberry, by the NY housing police. Unlike Carter, who was not a part of the communities that he became famous for photographing, Terrence Fisher and his crew were documenting their own lives and surroundings and for this reason they could not be detached. As this film's maker responded to events by changing the nature of the project, and made the project specifically an activist one, it was a great example of how amateurs, untrained in the "professionalism" of the journalistic world, bring a different attitude to the process of documentation. The line between protesting the death of a friend and making a film about gun violence in the projects was competely gone by the time the directors, crew, and Stansberry's mother got on the stage to talk about the film/issues after the screening was over.

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