The Rocket (Australia) (site)
Somewhere deep in the wooded plains of Laos, Ahlo, a cursed boy whose twin died at birth is about to bring more trouble on his family. His village forceably evacuated thanks to the building of a new dam, his loving mother is tragically killed in an accident on the way, leaving Ahlo only with his supersititous gran, convinced of his curse, and his unconfrontational father who just gets on with the job at hand.
When their fancy-sounding 'relocation village' turns out to be a load of tents around a building site, Ahlo's inquisitive nature ends up getting the whole family under threat from angry torch-wielding villagers, alongside 'Uncle Purple', a drunk and dropout James Brown wannabe and his young niece Kia.
Seemingly doomed to failure wherever they go, Ahlo latches onto a local rocket festival, whose generous prize money gives him a chance to provide for his family and get them out of the mess. Problem is, he has no rocket, and the only source of explosive charge are the numerous unexploded bombs half-buried all over the landscape. Not such a good idea to tamper with when cursed.
Whether this is a childrens film or not is up to the parent; numerous kids were present with their parents, who may have got a shock with the subtitling, occasional nakedness, dismembered cattle heads and a peppering of swearies in the dialogue. But aside from that it was fine, and would probably count as one of those films you see as a kid that stays with you til adulthood even though your dad frowns on you watching it. So depending on your own personal standards of parenthood both adults and kids will find a funny, interesting and enjoyable film that will stick in the mind. 8/10
Samurai Rebellion (Jpn) (wiki)
A classic of Japanese Samurai cinema, this is unfortunately the only retrospective film I'll be catching this year. SAmurai Rebellion is considered the best film by Masaki Kobayashi who is the subject of a retrospective at this year's LIFF. Isaburo is a middle aged samurai living a peaceful existence in quiet times, preferring to toe the line to his henpecking wife of twenty years rather than make waves. So when his son Yogoro is selected against the family's will to marry Ichi, a young woman with a child of the shogunate Lord who has made trouble and needs to be moved on, he reluctantly accepts when his son steps in and honorably agrees.
Incredibly, the pair fall in love and have a child of their own, so when the Lord gets itchy feet and realises that his illigitamate son can't be installed as a Lord whilst also having a wife promised to another, the orders come in for her to return. Sick of the injustice and gutlessness of his peers, Isaburo defends the love of his son and refuses to budge this time. As the undeclinable requests filter down the hierarchy from the upper levels, and their inevitable declines are returned, diplomacy and respect begin to break down and a confrontation brews.
Even though the print was new, it was showing the battlescars of a thousand projections or perhaps samurai cuts throughout. Though the swordfight scenes looked far less polished by todays standards (read: more realistically conveying what happens when a load of people come at each other with swords) the film slowly increased the heat on the bubbling tensions to a final, honourable conclusion. 7.5/10
The Strange Little Cat (Ger) (imdb)
The billing makes clear before you go in - this film isn't for the action nuts. A perhaps typical German family living in an apartment somewhere goes about their daily business. Dad goes off shopping with young daughter, mother and older daughter attempt to keep order. An ex and his son come in and fix the washer, Gran and brother spend a lot of time sleep, and they all get together with friends for evening dinner. The dog and cat interact with them all. Little things happen. Some gently amusing, some inconsequential, none of them result in tragedies to overcome or enemies to vanquish. Occasionally one character will tell a short tale about something that happened to them earlier, providing the only view of the world outside the apartment.
I had to leave about 10 minutes before the end to catch the bus as - again - the HPPH was tardy with it's start time, but I would summise that the conclusion of the film was much like the rest of it. (Gran might have died, she was looking a bit peaky when I left.)
It was pleasant enough, a gentle observance of a (crowded) family life and a meditation on the small things within normal life. The only thing that grated was the dialogue which sounded utterly detached from anything a family might say to each other - cold and scripted rather than natural and loose. 7/10
How We Live (UK) - A short film about how the decisions made about our energy policies in the European Union have consequences in the regions they affect and the opposition they face. Residents in Wales are objecting to wind farm plans; the government of Georgia is being sued for misrepresenting the environmental impact of their hydro plant, and in Serbia, the Kolubara mine is wiping out the landscape and the communities along with it. Though the film doesn't attempt to pick sides, it does give an appreciation of just what a task those in power have to make as few people unhappy as possible and keep the lights on. 7/10
The Tax Free Tour (Ned/UK) (watch the film)
In the style of one of those video tourism guides you might watch on your way to another country, the Tax Free Tour takes us on a virtual trip across the most popular tax havens used by the big companies these days. The basic knack to getting away without paying much (or any) tax? Plow your capital into tax free havens and declare your profits there. If you have intellectual property, hold them in low corporation tax countries such as the Netherlands, and then arrange to have your actual companies pay them patent royalties - that then no longer count as profits and are taxed at a very low rate.
This is what Starbucks does (as just one example). It holds patents for all it's coffee types. When you buy a Frappuchino, part of your cash is paid to their Netherlands subsiduary as a patent tax. The UK doesn't see the money because it's an outgoing not a profit any more. It's above board, lawful, and therefore COMPLETELY FAIR.
Missed corporation tax has until recently not been calculated, mainly due to it's controversial nature that keeps giving the IMF cold feet. Private individuals interviewed in this film have had a go, and the amount runs into the trillions. Though the viewer gets a small degree of satisfaction from seeing representatives of Google, Amazon and Starbucks squirming at last Novembers' public hearing on the subject, most of what this film describes will likely get your back up, and that's a good thing I guess. The more you know and all that. The only thing wrong with the film is that it gives little of the last minute optimistic side that most of these films give where they say 'hey, it sounds pretty bleak, but heres what you can do to help stop it..'. There is little of that; instead you just have to suck up the situation and hope the governments remain powerful enough to do something about it. 7.5/10
Miniyamba (Den/Fra) - A beautiful animated film using chalk drawings, repeatedly smudged and redrawn to give a sense of movement. A musician quits the heated plains of Mali in search of a better life in distant Spain. With a last minute addition of Bakan, a young man with similar dreams. The path through Morocco is harsh with border guards and freezing night deserts and will take prisoners along the way. Falling in with a crowd of like-minded travelers to a better place, they take their chances. 8/10
Music is the Weapon (Fra) (fela site)
Feature documentaries prior to the late nineties were pretty scarce; now they are all over the shop (the documentaries section in LIFF 13 is at least as big as the other strands). But trying to find them from the early eighties and you will have far fewer hits. This 1983 biopic of African beats artist turned political activist and revolutionary Fela Kalakuta (nee Fela Kuti) gets a rare screening.
Fela and his 'Queens' - a band of 27 female backing singers that he also married in one act - played the boards in Lagos - then the most dangerous part of Africa in relative safety, because everybody loved them. Thieves and murderers sat down with shopkeepers to take in his smooth grooves and his occasional political speeches. He was liked by all, and the lawlessness of the area effectively turned the suburb of Kalakuta into his own republic - which the people in power did not enjoy.
Watching footage from the age in a documentary from the age is confusing at first, as you half expect the film to bring you up to date with his aspirations of a return to Africans observing traditional religions (eschewing 'artificial' western ones) and a unified Africa under his presidency. Though it's pretty obvious that hasn't happened we still have to wiki him to find out the rest of the story - unusually for a biopic this just stops as Fela rails against yet another police raid and trumped up assault charges, rather than celebrating the life of a victim of an assassination. Still, it was interesting to see the Africa of 30 years previous and gain a little of the state of the nation then, versus how they are now. Maybe the upcoming films will fill in the blanks. 7/10