BIFF 2012 - Day 9

The Proposition (Australia/UK) (wiki)

Maybe intended as an accompaniment to the film to give us an appreciation of the cloying heat of the Australian Outback, the Cineworld theatre had the heating turned up high and was like a sauna for the first half of this film.  Thankfully one of the work experience kids re-read the instruction book and turned a dial for us so we survived.

But the actors must have had it much tougher as they were shooting this film, dusty sweat stinging their eyes; and the people of the colonies who lived through that time even worse.  Of course, the ones who had it worst, whose short lives were made truly wretched were the Aboriginal population of Australia - a branch of humanity slain by their thousands by the righteous British colonial settlers, spurred on by flag and faith in the 19th Century, 'civilising' every pocket of resistance in their path.

Capt. Morris Stanley (another part played well by Ray Winstone) is one such patriot doing his overseas duty, running sword and bullet through criminals on his patch.  His drunken squad care little for justice, replacing it with vengeance whenever the actual perp can't be easily found. But one band constantly eludes him; the Burns brothers.  When finally he captures two of them, young Mike and his protective brother Charles, only Arthur, the eldest and most dangerous remains.  Striking a deal with Charles to track him and bring him back before Christmas, or Mike is hanged, Morris foolishly reckons he's solved the problem and can concentrate on more civilising.

Yet another Ray Winstone entry, The Proposition takes a little time to warm up but gives a horribly authentic-looking portrayal of wretched lives scraping a living with few comforts to hand, and the Aboriginals who are treated as either pests to exterminate or a resource to herd and exploit in the harsh beauty of the hell they live in.  Both Stanley's gang and the Burns brothers are dark shades of grey rather than a defined good and bad side, and you will find yourself backing the fortunes of both at various times.  It's a grisly, hard film to watch, with an uncharacteristically but perfectly reserved performance by Winstone and a view of a world that should not have taken place. 7.5/10

Departure (UK) - Two astronauts on a long-distance mission through space learn that the valve leak they just had has drained 80% of their water supply.  Only enough left for one person to get home.  At this point, you're probably thinking.. water rationing, urine filtration systems, or a hibernation state.  But apparently the director didn't. 6/10

I am a Good Person/I am a Bad Person (Can) (wiki)

This is deeply strange.  I am sat in Cubby Broccoli cinema, looking at the screen as the film plays.  The scene shows a pan of the seating for the Cubby Broccoli cinema, and SOMEONE ELSE IS SITTING IN MY SEAT.  Consider my mind blown, man.

Director Ingrid Veninger (who was present at the screening for a Q and A, and also the star of the film just to increase my confusion) plays Ruby White, a wife with 2 kids and a film-making career of sorts.  She is about to tour some festivals to promote her latest film, 'Head Shots'.  It's a film about a woman taking pictures of penises.  Yes.

Along for the ride is her bookish daughter Sara and the two of them go to last years Bradford Film Festival, and after a terrible reception to the screening, Ruby drags her daughter along for some liquid soothing and the best music Bradford has on offer.  Not long afterwards they agreeably part ways.  The rest of the film follows their respective experiences; Sara meeting with her friends in Paris and enjoying herself, except for the whole boyfriend thing, and Ruby touring Berlin, suffering that thing many struggling filmmakers at a festival must do - going hoarse asking passers by to please see her film.

Unique for a Bradford audience perhaps, the first half of the film felt like a highlight, seeing places you'd just walked through and re-living last year's festival experience, only to flatline in the second half while both parties go off and do their own thing.  Both stumble upon some realisation about their life in the process but it comes as an inevitability rather than revelation to the viewer.  I suspect a non-Bradford festival goer may extract less enjoyment, rather than more.

It was quite enjoyable, but it just didn't wow me.  But it gets an extra half point for the use of Foux du fafa. 6/10

So Much For So Little (US) - Back in 1942, US Healthcare was a right rather than a privilege, and if you showed this Oscar-winning public information film to the current US movie-going public, chances are half of them would scream abuse at the screen and accuse Chuck Jones of being a Communist.  That says more about how the US has changed rather than the film, although purely as a warm-up act before a feature, it's not that entertaining. 7/10

Sing Your Song (Ger) (site)

Prior to this film my impression of Harry Belafonte was as a singer from the past who at the very mention of his name my mum would always go coy and say how much she loved him.  Day-O is a competent enough song but little more than novelty pop (with an even more obscure version on an old tape from the 80's I have somewhere).  I suspect that for those of my age and below who have even heard of the man, many will have a similar, indifferent opinion.

But this film opened my eyes to all that.  A perfect accompaniment to Mama Africa from last year (shared footage of Miriam Makeba and Belafonte connect the two films), Sing Your Song allows Belafonte, now over 80 to chronicle his considerable life in full.  Sometimes sounding a little proud of himself perhaps, but he has a right to be.  From his birth in Harlem and upbringing in Jamaica where he picked up the simple workmen songs that he would come to be known for, through  his early acting and singing career (which were both dogged by racial conflict, especially in the American south who issued a collective gasp at even a black man and white woman touching), past the civil rights movements and standing with Martin Luther King and John Kennedy, the 1963 March on Washington, Bloody Sunday in Alabama, Wounded Knee, USA for Africa and countless more.  Belafonte has played a significant part in all these major milestones in American, African and global civil rights history, and he is still going strong despite at several times in his career being stung with that oft-used label by threatened right-wingers, a communist.

His voice is now raspier than before but the spirit and determination to confront injustice is still as strong.  His current project concerns the youth of America, giving them a voice after being shocked at a report of a 5-year old girl trussed up with handcuffs for being 'rowdy'.  America, and the world in general has very far to go before we reach a state where we can all be happy, but it's people like Harry Belafonte who get us there, and this brilliant documentary opened my eyes to that. 8.5/10

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