Sunday, 11 May 2008

Donna's Hot Docs

Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai

Letter to Anna-The Story of Journalist Politkovskaya's Death

In one night I saw two documentaries about two very courageous women, Kenya's Wangari Maathai, Founder of the Green Belt Movement and 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Winner, and Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, winner of the 2004 Olof Palme Prize for human rights work. Wangari went from being under the government radar, helping women plant trees so that they could feed their children, to being beaten into a coma for speaking publicly about the insidious link between political oppression and environmental issues.

Anna's work as a war correspondent took her into dangerous territories. Her hard-hitting articles criticizing the Kremlin and chronicling human rights abuses by Russian troops in Chechnya lead to her being poisoned by a mysterious substance in 2004, and being gunned down in her apartment building in 2006.

Both films succeed in bringing us into the lives and work of two strong women, but from a cinematic stand point, Taking Root is the stronger of the two documentaries. The universal themes, personal stories of Kenyan women, as well as the tight editing make Taking Root a captivating film to watch. Letter to Anna, engages with it's revelation of corruption stemming from the top, and the personality of Anna herself, but to viewers who are familiar with Anna this bio-doc plays like an addendum to the documentary In memoriam: Aleksander Litvinenko.

An Island Calling is an interesting and personal glimpse into Fiji's past and present as seen through the eyes of Owen Scott, a fourth generation white Fijian. In 2001 Owen's brother, John and his lover Greg Scrivener were brutally murdered. As a descendant of one of the most powerful families in Suva, Fiji's European enclave, and the Director-General of the Fiji Red Cross, John was well-known on the island. Interviews with John's family and friends, gay rights activists, and the killer's Fijian family, present a far different picture of Fiji than the usual sandy beaches and tourist huts. Director, Anne Goldson's images of the island's interior becomes a metaphor for the island's internal conflicts. The struggle between East Indians, Fijians and Europeans, the residue of colonialism, the rise of homophobia, and the move towards religious conservatism are all intermingled with the murder of John Scott.

Killer Poet

The film is like a James Elroy novel. Convicted double-murderer walks away from prison and spends the next 20 years as a model citizen. Norman Porter was one of the most wanted men in the United States. He became a legend. The one most lawmakers wanted to capture. He was also the type of prisoner wardens loved, keeping the peace during riots and acting as a prison rights advocate. When Porter became JJ Jameson he started a day care for children at his church, helped politicians get elected, and gained a name for himself as a poet. Circumstances and Dukakis' political career prevented Porter from being paroled. JJ Jameson has contributed to the lives of numerous people since his escape. Is rehabilitation a suitable punishment for crime? Is retribution by the victims' families more important than justice? Is Norman Porter a con artist or is he genuine?

Suddenly, Last Winter

Question: Why isn't Italy as forward-thinking as Spain when it comes to gay-rights? Answer: the Pope. Gustav Hofer and Luca Ragazzi, a couple for eight years, know the answer to be true from personal experience. When a draft law giving legal rights to unmarried and gay couples released a wave of homophobia in Italy, Gustav and Luca stepped out of the loving circle of their friends and family, took camera in hand, and interviewed politicians, people in the street and gay rights activists to ask them their views on the proposed law. Imagine finding out that the country you love isn't as democratic as you thought it was. It is a painful discovery for Gustav and Luca, but they handle it with ironic humour, self-deprecating domestic scenarios, and a look at Italy that begs to be contrasted with other countries in the European Union.

S&M: Short and Male--Is being short and male a human rights issue? Men around the world are making less than their taller counterpart by a thousand dollars an inch, face job postings that list height requirements, think about painful leg lengthening surgery and taking growth hormones etc...Think about your own bias. Lots of men would date a short woman, but how many women do you know that date men who are under 5 feet? Ask around and see what answers you get.

Other Films of Note
The Apology Line-An actual line that you can call and apologize for anything, from an affair with your wife's mother to spewing hateful anti-European thoughts followed by a polite "thank you" and hang up.

The Pull--about setting a date to end a relationship. Very interesting split screen visuals.

General Idea:Art, Aids and the Fin de Siecle-about a trio of Canadian artists well beyond their time, two of whom, had their lives end too soon from AIDS.

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