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The World at the Movies - SF Film Festival


By Maya, Return to SalsaCrazy.Com Features

French policy makers consider cinematography part of their nation's cultural identity; they exclude it from the list of commodities subject to trade agreements.  Hollywood, of course, disagrees.  For the mighty and powerful of the Dream Factory it's a business like everything else.  That difference was underlined by the words of the renowned French filmmaker Michel Ciment.  In his first ever State of Cinema address at the SF International Film Festival the guest festival programmer praised American directors who must deal with "illiterate" producers with "no moral conscience" shooting for "moronic and mindless".  Too harsh, you say?  But don't we need that token Foreigner we can hate for telling it like it is? Be it Michel Ciment, Simon Cowell from the American Idol or foreign news agencies. Too bad, mass media largely ignores the world unless it's interfering with US interests, but that's where cinema comes in, believe it or not. 

A well made documentary can tell you more, and certainly convince you more, than a brief news announcement.  And this year at the festival there was no shortage of those. 

Here comes another "British invasion" that will rock your world.  This time it's a 4-hour BBC documentary "THE CENTURY OF THE SELF" that was screened at the SF Film Festival. (415-931-FILM or

This film is a must-see for every American, especially now when our collective psyche is being exploited and manipulated like never before.  It explores the world of Public Relations (formerly known as propaganda) and its influence on the hearts and minds of ordinary people by tracing the history of psychoanalysis and its "creative" use in business and politics.

It is not enough for businessmen and politicians to rely on your reasonable choices when they can use your subconscious to cajole you into buying or thinking what THEY want you to buy and think.  They can mold you into a perfect consumer and a pliable controllable citizen.  And the best thing of all - you're not even aware of it. You still think there is no puppet master in this puppet theater. 

This personality makeover is also changing the political climate.  Look behind Bill Clinton's reelection campaign and Tony Blair's surge to power.  Mourn their respective parties' ideals sacrificed on the altar of popularity.

The top PR achievement?  Weasel its commercial messages into the mainstream informational media thus removing the visible hand of the puppet-master.

What is the media's role in all of this?  When your very existence depends on business' ads and commercials, would you rock the boat?  Would you side with business in trying to create a perfect consumer or attempt to educate the public raising its awareness and stimulating minds by bringing more conscience-raising and thought-provoking programming and contents? 

BBC tried and was criticized as elitist and condescending.  But look at the American alternative.  Local media moguls give the public what they think it wants feeding the population mostly hollow entertaining fluff.  Even news programs reflect "my back yard first" approach. This media diet of thought and fact starvation only perpetuates ignorance, narrow-minded attitudes and lack of respect for other cultures.  And then we wonder why the world hates Americans?

So how do we change all that?  The film does not give any answers.  It only raises our awareness by exposing the outrageous PR stunts in business and politics. Most importantly, it eliminates any doubts in authors' objectivity by presenting interviews with "puppet-masters" themselves or their immediate helpers.

Quite a few films, documentaries and features, dealt with problems in the Middle East.  Dehumanizing and vilification of the enemy are some of the tactics used by armies and governments in soldiers' training and propaganda.  These films are trying to dissipate that smoke by presenting the "enemy" as people with similar worries, aspirations and desires.  What do we really know about Iran, for example? 

Iran, Veiled Appearances, made by a Belgian documentary filmmaker Thierry Michel, presents two opposing sides on the Iranian political spectrum: completely brainwashed religious zealots who worship their "guide"- an ayatollah with real political power, and a growing number of progressive thinkers who are supporting reforms pushed by the democratically elected president Mohammed Khatami. 

Another documentary, Our Times, made in Iran, shows determination and relentless pursuit of reforms by a group of teenagers working on Khatami's election campaign.  Seeing these passionate young men and women, students, political prisoners, ordinary people who might be afraid to express their true feelings, but who support the reforms, one can't help but question the "axis of evil" theory.

Women's Prison. winner of the Amnesty International prize in Rotterdam, is a testimony of Iranian regime's brutal treatment of women.

Speaking of prisons, an unusual film from Japan Doing Time offers a glimpse inside a Japanese detention center for men.  Sparkling clean and bright but austere interiors and complete lack of emotion emphasize unique way of punishment in this establishment: complete control of prisoners' needs and movements, (bent fingers while marching are not allowed) reducing them to child-like state.  Even the guard is addressed as Teacher. Melancholy music and a stubborn weed flower in the prison's dirt yard shown in the last frame of the movie only underline the sad reality.

Think you are not affected by a war in a far-away land?  Watch Eat, Sleep, No Women by Heiner Stadler from Germany.  In his vignettes shot in different countries around the globe he demonstrates how the US bombing of Afghanistan influenced the lives of ordinary people all over the world.

Palestinian-Israeli conflict is reflected in very personal accounts of two documentaries: My Terrorist and For My Children.  In the first film a stewardess who survived a hijacking attempt in 1978 is fighting for the release of her assailant from a British jail.  The other picture portrays every-day life and fears of a liberal Israeli family torn between their patriotism, their conscience and the desire to protect their children.

An artistically mediocre Palestinian/US co-production The Olive Harvest enjoyed additional screenings.  Yes, its message is valuable: Palestinians are people like you and me; most importantly, peace cannot be achieved through violence, as one of the protagonists, a reformed terrorist, noted after returning from an Israeli jail.  Still, Israelis are the aggressors here.  No solutions are offered, though.  Two brothers, like two nations, are still in conflict over the beautiful bride/land covered with tears.

Any thinking spectator with an objective mind would notice this festival's "affirmative action" with a twist.  There is a rainbow of colors in that conflict.  If the black and white view is propagated by both sides, no true and lasting peace can be achieved.

The only Russian film at the festival, The Cuckoo, reaches minds and warms hearts far better than any one-sided preaching ever could.  This delightful comedy shows how ordinary people can get along in most horrendous of circumstances even without speaking each other's language.  A must-see for all the warmongers of the world.

A Spanish-French co-production The Spanish Apartment is touching on the same idea showing students from different countries crammed into close quarters in Barcelona.  They manage to get along, cooperate, help each other and form friendships in spite of their differences.  Some governments should learn from them.

More often than not, in any society, progressive ideas and efforts to implement them come from university campuses, from bright and educated young minds stirring the complacent masses.  We often take for granted our many freedoms these "troublemakers" were fighting for.  Some of their tactics might be questionable, but their hearts are in the right places and they eventually find the appropriate means to wake up the masses.

One important testimony to that is a new documentary The Weather Underground about a militant group of young men and women, mostly white students from the middle-class background, who protested the government's violence by terrorist acts in the 70s.  Born from frustration over escalating war in Vietnam and lack of tangible results from peaceful protests the Weather Underground was successful in organizing bomb explosions with no human victims over a decade.

There were a lot of decent films at the festival.  Latin-American cinema almost always presents an array of quality movies.

Brazil's cinema is as strong as ever. The documentary Bus 174, features Madam Satan and The Man of the Year expose harsh lives of the country's forgotten citizens driven to desperate measures in order to survive on the streets and in slums.

Cuba's Nada screenings at home attracted crowds forming lines stretching for blocks. San Francisco will flock to see Comandante, an interview with Fidel Castro filmed by none other than Oliver Stone.  Once again, this film demonstrates American left's fascination with Cuba.  Comandante could have been directed by Castro himself.  Stone barely touches sensitive questions, and when Castro skillfully avoids direct answers the director changes the subject.  One wonders who was really in control. Castro appears witty, sympathetic, intelligent and down to earth.  So do many dictators.  Once again, viewers are not given other points of view from Castro's victims, political opponents of the regime or even footage depicting every-day life in Cuba with its misery and despair.  Nevertheless, it's a valuable document for mainstream Americans who rarely have access to all facts or have a chance to hear the opposite opinion.  And Castro's analysis of American mentality and American politics is right "on the money".

Argentina's Dark Side of the Heart 2, Historias Minimas and The Last Train, Norwegian Music for Weddings and Funerals, French features The Devils, Fear and Trembling are all worth seeing.  By the way, France also co-produced the above-mentioned  Extrano,  Madam Satan, Nada, My Voice and several other films.

To finish on a lighter note, if you ever wonder what might happen if you are stuck in a traffic jam and open your door to a stranger go see Friday Night.  And if you feel embarrassed to go watch porn at seedy joints, direct your feet to a respectable movie theatre screening Good Old Naughty Days - a collection of early 19th century porn from France. 

Happy viewing!


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