CIFF 2012 Day 3

Flying Blind (UK) (site/interview)

The ordered and largely complete life of middle-aged aerospace engineer Frankie just needs a man to fill the man-shaped hole left by her ex.  So when an exotic and eye-catching student half her age at the university where she lectures takes an interest, her heart (and hormones) start making the decisions for her.  Khalil's mysterious air moves from romantic to suspicious, and the more Frankie presses him for details on his life the cagier he becomes, until the lies start coming out.  

Flying Blind is a tribute to the power of the heart over the mind, encouraging the suspicions of the viewer to surface about the motives of the mysterious Khalil, who remains an unknown entity throughout.  Frankie's numerous discoveries and mistakes about when to step back and leave her brain to decide what to do instead of her long dormant and naive heart deliberately frustrate, but any gesturing to the screen will have no effect.  Nevertheless its a compelling romantic drama dealing with a contemporary dilemma. 7.5/10

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (Jpn) (site)

Sushi is probably the most labored over of foods, with the explosion of popularity in the west during the 80's turning it from an expensive national delicacy to a literal conveyor belt industry available to the masses.  Still, in Japan sushi restaurants worth their salt do things the old fashioned way, and the modest little restaurant in Ginza train station owned by elderly Jiro Ono may be at the very top of the list.

Claims about Jiro's restaurant come with rare Michelin 3-star accreditation, unique in his profession.  Now 85, the still very active Jiro, his eldest son and their apprentices work from dawn til dusk repeating, improving and serving food to their lucky customers, who pay 30,000 yen or more to sit at one of the ten seats.

The effort and level of detail put into the preparation is unlike anything you have seen; the sourcing of the food to the right temperature of the handtowels are meticulous, and Jiro's apprentices have many years ahead of them before they are even allowed to touch the food.  It may sound pretentious to labour so hard on food that is gone in a mouthful, but Jiro's energy and philosophy are infectious ingredients to the film, which moves beyond the food, to concentrate on the family; most notably Jiro's legacy (if he ever retires!) and the fate of the restaurant in the future.

Beautifully accompanied with succulent shots of fresh made sushi for the eyes and some equally palatable music, the humanity behind the food however, is surely it's strength. 8/10

Khaana (UK) - a short film about what it is to live as a Muslim in the UK today.  A mother to be walks through town in a burqa with her husband by her side, showing how life is pretty much as it is for others in society, except for the staring and casual racism.  7.5/10

Tales of the Waria (US/Ind) (site)

In Indonesia, 'Waria' is a term that refers to transgender men, that is, those who are biologically male but identify as women.  As the country with the largest Muslim population, a religion not well known for its progressive treatment of non-straight people, you might think this condemns them to a life of self-denial and clositedness, or being chased through the streets.

However, in Makassar, Indonesia they are tolerated as historical throwbacks to the royal protectors who were tasked with taking care of the king.  Though this means they have a more tolerably pleasant life than the average gay Ugandan (see below) their existence is typically peppered with suspicion and complication.

The film focuses on a handful of Waria - men who live openly as women, many looking to achieve the same status and acceptance as an Indonesian woman, which often means finding themselves a husband.  Some are still looking, while others have been lucky enough to find men who are willing to love them even through the withering stare of a disapproving society.   Sometimes this means compromises.  Mama Ria, a middle-aged Waria has to share his partner with his wife, although she seems more than happy to have him out of the house for a bit.  Akmal on the other hand is in denial, choosing to leave the Waria lifestyle to have a wife and kids, though its pretty obvious to his family and everyone else he misses it terribly.

Similar to 2006's Paper Dolls, this film exemplifies how a group of people, typically oppressed by society can be accepted in the most unlikely of places, albeit with some complications along the way. After we have finished visiting their lives what we are left with at the end is not a nicely wrapped up set of issues with everyone living a happy life of acceptance, but instead a mishmash of fulfilled and failed dreams, but forever hope for the future.  8/10

Call Me Kuchu (Ug) (site)

Of all the places to not be in now, Uganda must be up there in the top three.  A massive AIDS epidemic, women and girls being raped, and the ever growing presence of fundamental religion, especially Christianity brought over from America by people such as the despicable Scott Lively, fueling fear, suspicion and hate.  Girls are tried, convicted and killed for witchcraft, and often have to live in excruciating pain due to FGM, passed on from mother to daughter for nothing other than tradition.

That's all before we even hit the subject of this film, but it serves as a dreadful backdrop to the other Ugandan atrocity: the atrocities committed against gay men and women across the country.  They are called Kuchu - a derogatory term for homosexuality. 

From all angles they are attacked; the government declares homosexuality evil and against the will of god.  The evangelicals preach with rabid vigor the need to purge the kuchu from the lands before god will allow any milk and honey to flow.  The corrupt police do nothing to protect and actively encourage violence; the newspapers have no truck sending out print with inflammatory headlines blaming gays for terrorism and rape, and calling for them to be hanged.  Finally, the public are stirred into action by these elements to do away with these people wherever they hide, as part of their civic duty.  And all of that is before the new anti-homosexuality bill is considered, making it punishable by death and carrying jail terms even for neglecting to tell the authorities of someone you suspect.

Given this awful situation, it is a testament to the bravery of those that do speak out, who challenge the laws and choose to stand up and protect them.  This is a massively important film shedding light on the day to day struggles of several individuals brave enough to be filmed, but in particular following the last months of the prominent activist David Kato, who was brutally murdered in 2011.  Powerful, direct footage on the front line will leave you angered and aghast, but this film needs to be seen by as many people as possible. 

A luta continua. 8.5/10

Comic-Con Episode 4: A Fans Hope (US) (site)

What with all the depression wreaked by Call Me Kuchu, we needed something to put smiles back on our faces, and the latest film by increasingly prominent director Morgan  was just the thing.  Anyone wondering if the Comic Con in Paul was a real thing should see this celebration of the event, which in the last 30 years or so has gone from a small niche gathering, sneered at or ignored by the news suits, to the largest event in the US.  The fans make the show, and they come in their thousands.  Cosplaying, collecting and above all, buying.  And the pop culture manufacturers have caught on.

To call it exclusively a celebration of a phenomenon is inaccurate, as it also laments the passing of the 'proper' con - the comic part is now largely sidelined in favour of movie tie-ins and big celebrity Q and As - but the film never gets in the doldrums about it, preferring to concentrate firmly on the exuberant geekiness of the whole thing, and show the fans in a (mostly) positive light, alongside several celebrities of the culture such as Kevin Smith, Grant Morrison, Matt Groening and a whole load more.

Spurlock wisely decides to keep to the other side of the camera this time, which works well as he is not really part of the phenomenon he is presenting to the viewer.  Instead, he just lets it happen without even a word of narration.  The result is a film that everyone can enjoy.  The 'geeks' (of which I count myself one) can indulge their passion while comfortable in the realisation that thousands of others do the same, while 'jocks' (for want of an equivalent english term) will laugh and feel a sense of superiority over their more computer literate enemy, at least until they see a boarding for one of their favourite TV shows and realise they are 'one of them'.

No matter though.  This is a fantastic, funny, warm and thoroughly indulgent film which will hopefully get a full release, allowing everyone to see what happens when you release these people en masse into their natural habitat.  I loved it.  8.5/10

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