Monday, April 16, 2012

2012 Florida Film Festival - Highlights, Day 3

Sunday's Day 3 was a relatively protracted day of screenings, watching only two feature documentaries along with their accompanying documentary shorts. If part of the allure of film festivals is to experience a wide variety of movies, then a natural result of that is being able to experience vastly different cultures. And the two documentary features I screened Sunday--in widely disparate ways--were eye-opening looks at places and situations that exist on the other side of world.


It is a mark of my own ignorance, but my vision of Iraq are the drab, war-torn cities so often presented to us in the news. But the opening shots of David Fine's Salaam Dunk are full of color: buildings painted in green and pink pastels, bright yellow and red headdresses on women walking the streets. It announces that the movie will present a side of Iraq that we're not used to seeing. The doc covers the second season of the newly-formed girls basketball team at the American University of Iraq - Sulaimani. To say the film isn't political would be incorrect. Yet it doesn't have an agenda. The political viewpoint of the film is simply funneled through its characters, the college students who have all been affected by growing up during the Hussein years and the subsequent war of the last decade. But like these strong women, Salaam Dunk doesn't wallow in oppression and terror facing the Iraqi people on an everyday basis. Laylan, the team's captain, for example simply takes it as a sobering fact of living in Iraq. "People come and go," she says. "I no longer cry about it." Ultimately, the lessons these girls learn are about teamwork and perseverance--something both they and their country will find vital well after their sneakers are hung up for good. (Salaam Dunk will be screening again at Enzian on Thursday, April 19, at 4 pm and will also be preceded by maybe the best short I've seen so far, the doc The Joseph Szabo Project.)

A more harrowing vision of humanity is on display in Give Up Tomorrow, a Michael Collins film documenting the 1997 arrest of a then-teen Paco LarraƱaga and six other men (five of whom were also teens) in the rape and murder of two young Chiong sisters in the Philippines. The film is a meticulous reexamination of Paco's arrest, trial, convinction, and years of incarceration and presents a thorough indictment of a corrupt justice and political system in the country at the time. Through interviews and eyewitness reports, the film piles evidence of evidence that make a clear case for Paco's and the rest of the "Chiong" 7's innocence. (The film will be screened a second time on Friday, April 20, at 1:30 pm.)

After the first weekend, I have yet to see a feature where I didn't have a strong, positive response to it. Hopefully that will bode well for the rest of the week.

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