12. Rouge Parole

I think I'm the last person standing on this challenge, and having finished for the second time I think I'm done. I've really enjoyed watching all these films but it just feels weird blogging about it as a thing these days without their being other people doing the challenge.

Given that it was the films that I saw when the Africa in Motion festival tour reached my local art-house cinema four years ago that spurred me to sign up for this project the first time round, it seems fitting that the final film of this round should be a film that arrived at my local cinema courtesy of the Africa in Motion festival once again. Like most of the films on offer that first time, this one was a documentary too. Rouge Parole tells the story of the revolution that rocked Tunisia and kick started the 'Arab Spring'. Or rather it tells stories of the revolution. There is no central over-arching narrative or voice-over to guide us. Instead the film-makers present their audience with different people's, often contradictory, accounts of flash-points and significant moments of the revolution. The differing accounts are often laid next to each other in the film, interspersed with television news footage, shaky camera phone footage and surreptitiously filmed contemporary recordings by local guerilla film-makers. There doesn't seem to be any judgement in the inclusion of contradictory accounts, or differing opinions on what action sparked what event, or where the birth place of the revolution truly was. Instead it feels like a statement on the subjectivity of truth, the unreliability of memory and the way in which different things may be true for different people, especially within an oppressive state.

The impact and importance of social media on the fledgling revolution, is an important part of the official narrative we hear of the Arab Spring. The film gives social media credit for empowering ordinary people to act, but also gives it a place within many other important factors. Perhaps the moment when the film first opens up away from the story we expect to see, is when the film visits the office of some local film-makers, they talk about who they are and their experiences of filming the progressing revolution, the tiny space packed with equipment and the wall behind them lined with tapes.Suggesting months, if not years, of careful, circumspect work, recording and logging the brutalities of the regime and countless acts of protest. That one of the film-makers appears to be the cousin of Mohamed Bouazizi, the young man who infamously immolated himself into the history books tells its own story. Implies a refusal to let the act go unnoticed, forgotten or its meaning defamed by the authorities the way others had. It leads us on to other young men who had killed themselves in public acts of protest at the system that had crushed them. Which in turn leads to other 'martyrs' in other cities, of a fuse running further back than the official narrative acknowledges.

Having spent so much time over the last few years seeing the revolutions in Egypt and Libya through mostly European perspectives – and even the reports from the locals or ex-pats were largely mediated through Western media – it was a welcome change to hear viewpoints on those revolutions from a neighbouring country. To see the joy on a bookshop owners face as she proudly sells previously banned books, the consternation and struggles to adapt of local journalists, faced with an end to the censorship they've worked under for so long. In particular when we hear so much about Western aid it was nice to see the practicalities of even small parts of the relief effort for refugees arriving in Tunisia from Libya.

At the heart of this film for me, was a questioning of the idea of the single narrative, of the fallacy of trying to apply the same model to all the countries impacted by the Arab Spring. It begs the question: if this many stories can be told from Tunisia, how many more are waiting to be told and heard from across the region? How many will we be allowed to hear, and how many have already been silenced?

A Chadian Double Bill

Watching African cinema is always a bit of a haphazard experience for me as its shaped by the vagaries of, on the one hand what films have been released on Region 2 DVD and on the other that have come to the attention of the jury of a big film festival. The annual Africa in Motion film festival in Edinburgh (this year running from 25th October to 2nd November) is pretty much the only opportunity to see anything approaching a representative selection of any particular country’s filmic output or of any particular director’s oeuvre. So imagine my excitement when I was browsing the library shelves and discovered not only a copy of Cannes winner from two years ago A Screaming Man but also two of Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s previous films, Abouna (Our Father) and Daratt (Dry Season) which I pounced upon while I could.

Chad itself is a somewhat geographically diverse place and between Abouna (2002) and Daratt (2006) Haroun uses quite a variety of both urban and rural locations. The films were made either side of the most recent civil war to rock the country and in some ways the different preoccupations of the films show it. Yet in others, the latter film is more hopeful than the former – in the first, two boys going looking for their father and end up loosing much more, in the second a young man goes in search of vengeance for his father and finds things worth far more. Neither of the films is burdened with excess dialogue, nor do they shy away from the spaces and silences between people and conversations. Whether you choose to see that as demonstrative of the failures in communication between generations or communities is up to the viewer and their opinion may fluctuate from film to film. Perhaps it is telling that the deaf mute girl, Khalil, seems to have the least trouble making herself and her feelings understood of all the characters in the films.

But perhaps it is the similarities between the two films that is the most significant. The protagonists of both films are trying and failing to make a peace, however temporary or transient, with their unwilling circumstances. They are both films about coming of age, of facing responsibilities and failing in them, their young protagonists torn between their own desires and the needs of their families. The latter more than the former, suggesting that there might be a third way, a way to balance following one’s heart, with fulfilling one’s responsibility to family. Whether that can be mapped out onto the hearts of an entire nation, to draw a path like Atim’s between brutal revenge and complete amnesty, to make a true peace with the opposition even if forgiveness is beyond reach, is another question. But it’s nonetheless a hopeful question. One that puts the power back in the hands of those who have been buffeted and damaged by the violence and destruction of forces more powerful than they. It suggests that lasting peace will not come through grand gestures of governments and tribunals but through small individual actions and gestures over a long time.

Perhaps making bread is a more effective metaphor for making peace than it seems initially, requiring as it does a firm hand but a light touch, a lot of patience and being a rubbish way to exorcise your hate. (Bread will apparently taste bad if made with hate in your heart.)

9. Mesnak

There was a strand at this year's Glasgow Film Festival called The Edge of the World, which consisted of highlights from the ImagineNATIVE Festival in Canada with a sprinkling of Gaelic short films thrown in. This particular film was accompanied by a short called Glen Tolsta (about an isolated and now abandoned community on Lewis). It was particularly nice because both the directors were in the audience so they spoke a bit about their respective films at the start. As is the way of these things Ishbel Murray spoke in Gaelic first before continuing in English, so when it came to Yves Sioui Desard's turn he spoke, briefly in Innu before continuing in English, which is the first time I've heard that in real life.

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8. Red Cliff/Chi Bi

The latest film for this challenge is somewhat familiar terrain for me. However, it was purchased on recommendation from several people I know (who rightly said 'oh you'll love this') and its a film I own (whole other challenge I've been working on) that qualifies for this challenge. Also while I am normally a big fan of cinema that challenges me and makes me think, sometimes I just want action/adventure and explosions. It's a big Chinese historical epic, which has long been a favoured genre of mine. Though most of the other films of this type that I've seen have been more centred on martial arts and the exploits of a couple of particular characters and their skills against a historical backdrop. Red Cliff however, is more about big sweeping battles, with a bit of intrigue, alliances and political manoeuvring on the side.

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7. Happy Together

I was trying to get away from using Asian cinema as a safety net but I couldn’t resist a little more Wong Kar Wai. Happy Together (1997) is at least set and filmed in Argentina so it does have a different flavour.

Happy Together is a beautiful and dreamlike piece of filmmaking; coloured with the mixture of darkness and grace that I’ve come to associate with this director’s films. Much like Kowloon in Chungking Express (1994) the city of Buenos Aires is as much a character in the film as the humans. Although if the earlier film is a loving portrayal of home with all its flaws and comforts, then Happy Together is a more raw experience. A remembrance of somewhere that you were both very happy and utterly heartbroken – a city you fell in love with and stayed in, long after the romance has faded away. This is a portrayal neither of the city the tourists see nor the one the natives know. Both the beauty and the grubby ugly side are portrayed as transient. Nothing can be truly transcendental or truly sordid, because this reality is ultimately temporary, both viewers and characters will eventually go home sooner or later. Fitting given that at its heart it’s a film about starting over and the different things that can mean.

There are continued references to the waterfall depicted on the lamp the couple own, a place they visit only to kick start the end of their relationship. Yet, despite the beautiful romanticised shots of both the falls and the lamp that the film portrays, it doesn’t make me want to visit. Instead it is the Lighthouse ‘at the end of the world’ that Chang is so determined to visit before he goes home to Taiwan that calls out to me, with it’s threat of suicide and present of peace.

According to the back of the box of the copy I watched, it was quite controversial when it was released because the director had convinced two of Hong Kong cinema’s biggest male stars to play a gay couple. And we’re not talking a few chaste kisses, but a passionate, messy love affair with an utterly unashamed (though admittedly tastefully shot) sex scene. Yet ultimately this isn’t a ‘gay’ film, it’s a film about two lovers and their messy broken love affair as it falls apart. The rawness and heartbreak are familiar and the fact that both lovers are male is largely of secondary importance. As Yiu-fai says, turns out that lonely people are all the same.

This is a film for anyone who’s ever fallen in love with someone they shouldn’t have or wished they could throw a friend’s sadness off the end of the world.

6. Bamako

Film number six is Bamako (2006) by respected Malian/Mauritanian film-maker Abderrahmane Sissako. I bought this film during my first go round at this ‘challenge’. After I saw and enjoyed Finye at the Africa in Motion film festival a couple of years ago I was pleased to discover that there were a fair number of Malian films easily commercially available in the UK and also a decent amount of academic literature in English which is always a good combination when it comes to my own obsessions with particular national cinemas.

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5. No One Knows About Persian Cats/Kasi az gorbehaye irani khabar nadareh

No One Knows About Persian Cats (2009) is an unexpected mix of fiction, documentary and music video.

It constantly blurs the lines of fiction and reality from the self-referential asides to the use of character names that are the same as those who portray them.

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And, always important in any film about music, the soundtrack is excellent.
Escher Snakes

NAPT: Native American Public Telecommunications

(Mods: not a review, but a resource link.)

NAPT: Native American Public Telecommunications looks to be a good resource for finding Native-produced (Native American or Alaskan Native) documentaries.

From their "About Us" page:
NAPT exists to serve Native producers and Indian country in partnership with public television and radio. NAPT works with Native producers to develop, produce and distribute educational telecommunications programs for all media including public television and public radio. NAPT supports training to increase the number of American Indians and Alaska Natives producing quality public broadcasting programs, which includes advocacy efforts promoting increased control and use of information technologies and the policies to support this control by American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Browsing around the website: upcoming productions, release/broadcast schedules, DVDs, podcasts, film festivals, sorting functions for subject and target age-group...

Escher Snakes

Princess Angeline

1. Princess Angeline, Upstream Productions, 2008. Producer: Sandra Osawa (Makah).

Kikisoblu, the eldest daughter of Si'ahl (aka Chief Seatle), was known to Seattlites as "Princess Angeline". She continued to live in Seattle after the Treaty of Point Elliott in 1855, selling dolls and baskets, and by the time of her death in 1896, had become something of a city mascot and tourist attraction. The way I usually hear it told (by non-Native people), because she loved the city so much, she "chose to stay" in Seattle instead of going to the reservation, and that made her different from other Duwamish, all of whom "left" the city.

...which explains a great deal about why this movie is not so much about Kikisoblu herself, but very much focused on the Duwamish, the Treaty of Point Elliott, and its aftermath. After all, "chose to stay" is what many of the Duwamish did -- which was something of a Hobson's Choice, because no Duwamish reservation was ever established -- and everyone but Kikisoblu "leaving" was less about individual choice, and more about the city focusing its effort on driving them out: starvation, arson, and sundown laws. Which, of course, means that quite a few Duwamish died, quite a few others went underground, and others took refuge among other tribes.

The documentary never stated why Kikisoblu received relatively little of the violence and harassment -- she lived openly in Seattle until her death -- but it's not terribly difficult to fill in the blanks: Seattlites did call her 'Princess', after all.

The documentary rattles through 200 years of history in under an hour, so there's a lot that is merely sketched, but Osawa makes good use of the time. Treatment of WWI or so through the 1990s is light [1], presumably in order to spend more time on the Duwamish fight for federal recognition, and the new longhouse.

In short: important, valuable history, and absolutely recommended to anyone with connections to Seattle or the greater Sound area. Contrary to the title, not so very much about Princess Angeline herself, but now that I've seen the documentary, I rather agree with that choice: you can't talk meaningfully about Princess Angeline without first being able to talk meaningfully about the Duwamish people as a whole, and their ongoing history with Seattle.

[1] I was surprised to see not even a passing mention of Seattle's Urban Indian movement. OTOH, the documentary makes occasional veiled references to tension between the Duwamish and tribes with federal recognition. That might make a discussion of Duwamish perspectives on that movement complicated enough that there's no way you could address it in an hour-long documentary that was already stuffed to the gills.

3. 7 Sins Forgiven/7 Khoon Maaf & 4. Halaw/Ways of the Sea

7 Sins Forgiven was one of those strange serendipitous film festival screenings where you head for a screening, realise you’re going to get there too late and that the film you wanted to see isn’t even on at the place you’re headed to, so you have to pick something else at random.

This film won out, as I flicked through the guide on the U-bahn (the guide to Berlinale is helpfully organised by section, cinema then time but is singularly unhelpful if you want to know all the films on around 1pm on Saturday across all cinemas – useful for the organised, less so for the last minute reschedule) by being on at a cinema I was already heading towards and having English subtitles. My main criteria when faced with a dilemma between screenings is ‘am I likely to see this anywhere else, any time soon?’ Films in Hindi don’t turn up at either my local art house cinema (never-mind the multiplex) so I went in completely blind and really close to the front of a promisingly packed screening.

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Halaw: Ways of the Sea, is a film I know qualifies for this challenge because the bloke behind me in the queue to get in made a sarcastic comment about queue jumpers to a another bloke who apologetically explained he was the director…

It’s hard to describe a film about human trafficking as ‘enjoyable’, but it was well made, intriguing and had compelling characters. The performance of Arnalyn Ismael as young Daying is particularly notable, balancing the useful skill being easily able to steal any scene she is in while being able to fade into the background when the scene requires it. The film is very stylistically shot without seeming to be. By that I mean that the film neither shies away from the harsh realities of the poverty its characters live in nor glamorises it. Rather it finds the beauty in mess, in a way that can arguably only be achieved by viewing somewhere through the eyes of someone who loves a place despite being painfully aware of its problems. This is a film that reminds us that one cannot live on the view, no matter how beautiful that view might be.

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