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Films Stuck in My Head
by Becky Tan

My colleague Karen Pecota in Seattle recently quoted Catherine Lyn Scott, the moderator of a panel discussion “How Does a Short Film Win an Oscar?” One characteristic according to Scott is “if after watching the film, I can't stop thinking about it, it has a chance to win an Oscar.” The two films from Filmfest Hamburg that are still “stuck” in my head are GOODBYE JULIA and RADICAL. Perhaps I remember GOODBYE JULIA because I cannot imagine myself interacting with another person I have reason to dislike. RADICAL reminds me of my own experiences as a classroom substitute teacher, much like those of Sergio Juarez.

Mohamed Kordofani, Sudan, Sweden, Germany, South Arabia, France, Egypt 2023

Mona, driving home after a longer visit with her sister, hits a small child but keeps driving. Santino observes the event and follows her on his motorcycle to her own house. Here, Mona’s husband appears at the front door with a rifle, sees what he considers to be a dangerous situation and shoots Santino. They remove the corpse; Mona bribes the police and life goes on. Naturally, Santino’s wife Julia is on the search for him, mainly because a woman with a child—in this case their son Daniel—cannot live alone in this Arab environment, where “If your husband dies, you go live with your stepson.” Mona feels that the least she can do is offer Julia and Daniel residence; Julia is now her household help. They become friends. Mona loves Daniel because she cannot have her own child. She rediscovers her singing talent. This occurs in December 2010 in Khartum, a location of political unrest. Sudan is voting to become two separate countries, i.e., North and South Sudan. There are demonstrations, cars burned, and soldiers in action. Although this is a Moslem country, and women are covered from head to toe, there is Christian influence. Julia wears a cross on her necklace. Mona sings in a church. As time goes on, we experience Daniel now age 11. Mona’s former band leader Tariq wants to reunite the band. This is Mohamed Kordofani’s first long film and premiered at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival.

Christopher Zalla, USA 2023

Sergio Juarez steps in as a substitute teacher for the sixth grade at Jose Urbina Lopez Grade School in Matamoras, Mexico. He has no plan, except to do whatever the kids suggest. They are thrilled with this idea, especially Donovan, the class clown. Juarez’s school colleagues consider him to be a terrible teacher with this idea and attempt to give advice. After all, the school is well-known for its strict discipline where students wear uniforms. But it’s not all perfect, e.g., there have been no computers available in the last four years. At the Filmfest Hamburg’s Q&A, director Zalla said that the film is based on a true story from an article he had read in a magazine. Here we have real people, and he used their real names. Casting kids out of 1000 possibilities was difficult and it was a joy to find the right ones. Director Christopher Zalla was born in Kenia, but lives in Guatemala, i.e., he is the only person connected to the film who does not originate from Mexico. RADICAL is Zalla’s second feature film and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2023.