While a dark storm slowly moves across the globe in the political world, we look to the cinema to help us recognize the problems and finding possible solutions. Since we can see history repeating itself, why can’t we stop ourselves from making the same mistakes? This year’s Berlinale Film Festival was ready to serve. The chosen films contained current hot topics which we read about in the newspapers every day such as immigration, racism, socioeconomic problems, human rights, and animal rights and many more. The festival went to the root of the problems by choosing films from the Americas starting in the north and ending in the south.
Kimmirut (62.84Lat, -69.86Long)
Starting with the far north in the Arctic Circle was the film Angry Inuk from the director Alethea Arnaquq-Baril in the NATIVe Section of the Berlinale program; it explores the many probable causes of why the economy in the arctic has been destroyed. In the past the Inuit were self-sufficient by killing seals and selling or trading their fur for the supplies they needed to survive and yet today that industry is dead and they are starving. Why? Arnaquq-Baril finds many answers to that question but the main one points to Animal Rights protesters trying to save seals not on the endangered list and pushing for laws that make it difficult to sell their goods. This was a very powerful film that struck me hard with shock, then surprise, and at the end sadness, because the solution to this problem only reveals that there is a hidden agenda in the arctic which has to do with mining the resources that will destroy our environment and promote global warming. I also was taken aback by how out of touch the audience was by telling the director that she should go back and live like her ancestors did and why don’t they eat vegetables. She replied, “It is 2017 and I also want to have a mobile phone and a computer; is that so wrong? And one cabbage costs 18 dollars. How far will that go? It certainly won’t feed the village. One solution to this problem repeals the law stopping the sale of seal skins in the EU, since 90% of the seal skin sales are from the Intuit and not from other hunters.“
Nova Scotia (44.68Lat, -63.74Long)
The film Werewolf had its world premiere at Toronto and has already won several awards.
Blaise (Andrew Gillis) and Nessa (Bhreagh Macneil) are a couple living in a small dilapidated trailer on the outskirts of town. From the beginning we notice that their lives are anything but happy. We see in their pale faces, a bleak vision with a no future waiting for them. They move about this small town with a small rusty lawn mower, their only means of income. Other than that they visit the local pharmacy and wait in line for their dose of Methadone provided by the government. Both want to escape and plan to do it together but as director Ashley McKenzie said at the Q&A, the odds are against them, as a couple, to heal themselves. In this story Nessa has a plan and uses her resourcefulness to find a way out, while, at the same time, Blaise is trying to pull her down, and he becomes more instable to the point that he needs to return to the rehabilitation center. McKenzie is from a small island in Canada where the unemployment rate is high. If you are a drug user you don’t have many options, especially if you don’t have an address. McKenzie said this story touched her personally, since an artist friend who had no options committed suicide. A possible solution to this problem is to provide housing for them so that they can get the medication they need, and provide them with a counselor who could monitor their well-being. She said there is help, but very scattered and difficult to get.
Directors Jeremy Levine and Landon Van Soest both have a comforting way of making the audience aware of the socioeconomic issues and hardships out there in Middle America by focusing on a young charismatic seventeen-year-old Daje Shelton whose nickname is Boonie, in the documentary film For Akeem which was filmed over a three-year period. These award-winning directors have plenty of experience with these themes after making the documentary film Good Fortune:A movie that takes a good look at Kenya and follows two stories where international aid has good intentions but goes in the wrong direction.
This film couldn’t have happened at a more intense moment of racial unrest that sparked the nation into unrest and make people take a look at its law enforcement politics more closely. Behind the scenes we see the development of a story in this small town of Ferguson. Michael Brown made a fatal mistake by stealing cigarettes and threating a convenience store employee and, at the same time, police officer Darren Wilson happened to be in the vicinity and shot him to death multiple times. The officer walked away from this incident without a slap on the hand. The story turns to Daje Shelton, challenged every day, growing up inthe innercity. Graduation from high school seems like a distant pipe dream. Eventually thrown out of school once again, she meets St. Louis Family Court Judge Jimmie Edwards who gives her one last option. With a strong mother and a new school Shelton might have a chance to graduate despite her obvious obstacles such as being a teenage mother, having an unreliable boyfriend who is in and out of jail, as well as living in a bad neighborhood. What was amazing about this film was the brief portrait of Judge Edwards who still has a strong belief in these inner city kids. His solution to open theBlewett Middle School in 2009 and give them another chance at life seems to be an obvious solution, yet he is the only one in the US to have achieved that. Since graduating, Shelton is now attending a local community college.
Little Rock (34.74Lat, -92.28Long)
Director Amman Abbasi, a young filmmaker who grew up in Arkansas, takes a good look at the initiation and intimidation process into one of the more prominent gangs in America. In his film Dayveon, he uses a documentary style to dive into the life of 13-year-old Dayveon (Devin Blackmon) who has just heard that his brother was killed in some gang-related incident. Now the local Bloods want him and his best friend Brayden (Kordell “KD” Johnson) to replace his brother by joining. When Dayveon refuses, they put so much pressure on him that he can’t say no. It doesn’t take long to see the initiation into the gang and, though it is a small town, they are already heading towards serious trouble with stealing, drugs and prostitution. Luckily Dayveon has a ghost that haunts him. He also has a sister and her boyfriend who try to pull him away from the gangs and also deal with the death of his brother. In this film family and mentors play strong roles in possible solutions in breaking the chain.
Mexico City (19.43Lat. 99.13Long)
It’s rare to clean out your closet and find a hidden gem that puts you on track to make an award-winning documentary, but that is exactly what happened to director/producer Catherine Gund. It was some old footage from 1991 she was in the process of digitalizing which compelled her to get Daresha Kuyi involved as the second director/producer on this project and create the Mexican film Chavela, which was the basis for her journey into looking at the female lesbian musician from Costa Rica. Leaving an unhappy childhood behind, Isabel Vargas Lizano left for Mexico to follow her dreams of becoming a great musician and at the same time renamed herself Chavela Vargas. By the 1950s she had become a well-known figure among Mexica City’s nightclub scene, including breaking the boundaries of a very macho society where she dared to dress, speak, sing in the traditional Ranchero style that was developed for a man. She had an intimate relationship with Frieda Kahlo, sang at one of Elizabeth Taylor’s weddings and was known for stealing wives from prominent men. It was even said that she slept with Eva Gardner. She was a mystery in many ways. A great many tales were told about her, some even begin with her telling of the rumors. One thing for sure was: she loved her Tequila and dropped into obscurity for a while due to her alcoholism, but she made a remarkable comeback, which included coming out at age 81. It took a long time for her to find the courage to say that, where even we could feel the strong sense of resistance she must have faced, when (while reporting on this film) one of the conservative Mexican newspapers said that we should not discuss her sexuality. It was only important to remember her songs and presence on stage. This led to many other audience members arguing that this film was not just about her singing but about her life. That it was important to see her as a whole person. Even now one could say that she was a wild, sexy lesbian, who knew how to bewitch her audiences and lived to be 93 years of age. It is often tragic to see how long it takes someone to “come out” in society and be accepted as a whole person.
Diamantina Mountains (-12.57Lat.-41.39)
Female director Daniela Thomas takes us down a historical road of Brazil in her debut film Vazante. Shot in black and white immediately creates a strong contrast between the white and the black worlds. The year is 1821 right before Brazil claims its independence. It is a time period where slaves from all over Africa are brought in. As the film opens we see the mine owner, Antonio (Adriano Carvalho), bringing in a long string of slaves in chains. Since they are from different ethnic tribes, they themselves have difficulty understanding each other. It is clear that they want to make an escape attempt but that is not so easily done with slaves who already side with the white owner and others who don’t understand that they want to make a run for it. Thomas has done a brilliant job of shaking up the communication balance as we try ourselves to guess what the characters will do, and then are surprised when they behave differently. When Antonio returns, he finds his wife has died in childbirth. He then decides to take to take his 12-year-old niece Beatriz (Luana Nastas) as his wife. Using the widescreen we are intimately close to the story and forced to feel this absurdness of a forced marriage. We pay witness to the innocence of Beatriz running wild through the flowering meadows, leaving her no choice but to make friends among the slaves since her husband has abandoned her for long periods to do his work in the fields. The climax reveals the making of the country’s identity when showing the simultaneous birth of two babies- one from Beatriz who was involved with a teenaged slave boy as well as the slave mother of the boy who was used by the master until Beatriz was old enough to sleep with. Thomas’ work shows the transitional race and gender relations at the end of slavery, as well as the roots of racism and prejudices that we are still dealing with today.
These films attempt to open our eyes to the various problems that people face as we try to grasp solutions to help us with our own daily prejudices. We need to elevate our consciences and compassion to help others by making our world a better place to live.