FATAL ASSISTANCE (ASSISTANCE MORTELLE) (Raoul Peck, 2012)
Wednesday, June 19, 6:30, Film Society of Lincoln Center, Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, Francesca Beale Theater, 144 West 65th St. at Amsterdam Ave.
Thursday, June 20, 7:00, IFC Center, 323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
Festival runs June 13-23
Award-winning Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck’s Fatal Assistance begins by posting remarkable numbers onscreen: In the wake of the devastating earthquake that hit his native country on January 12, 2010, there were 230,000 deaths, 300,000 wounded, and 1.5 million people homeless, with some 4,000 NGOs coming to Haiti to make use of a promised $11 billion in relief over a five-year period. But as Peck reveals, there is significant controversy over where the money is and how it’s being spent as the troubled Haitian people are still seeking proper health care and a place to live. “The line between intrusion, support, and aid is very fine,” says Jean-Max Bellerive, the Haitian prime minister at the time of the disaster, explaining that too many of the donors want to cherry-pick how their money is used. Bill Vastine, senior “debris” adviser for the Interim Commission for the Reconstruction of Haiti (CIRH), which was co-chaired by Bellerive and President Bill Clinton, responds, “The international community said they were gonna grant so many billions of dollars to Haiti. That didn’t mean we were gonna send so many billions of dollars to a bank account and let the Haitian government do with it as they will.” Somewhere in the middle is CIRH senior housing adviser Priscilla Phelps, who seems to be the only person who recognizes why the relief effort has turned into a disaster all its own; by the end of the film, she is struggling to hold back tears. A self-described “political radical,” Peck doesn’t play it neutral in Fatal Assistance, instead adding mournful music by Alexei Aigui, somber English narration by a male voice (Peck narrates the French-language version), and a female voice-over reading melodramatic “Dear friend” letters that poetically trash what is happening in Haiti. “Every few decades, the rich promise everything to the poor,” the male voice-over says. “The dream of eradication of poverty, disease, death remains a perpetual fantasy.” Even though Peck (Lumumba, 2010 Human Rights Watch Film Festival centerpiece Moloch Tropical) attacks the agendas of the donors and NGOs while pushing an agenda of his own, Fatal Assistance is an important document that shows that just because money pours in to help in a crisis situation doesn’t mean that the things that need to be done are being taken care of properly. Fatal Assistance is the centerpiece selection of the 2013 Human Rights Watch Film Festival, where it will be screening June 19 at Lincoln Center and June 20 at the IFC Center with Peck, the former Haitian minister of culture, the 1994 winner of the festival’s Nestor Almendros Award for courage in filmmaking, and the 2001 festival Lifetime Achievement Award winner, on hand for Q&As after both presentations.
THE ACT OF KILLING (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2012)
323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
Tuesday, June 18, 9:30, and Wednesday, June 19, 9:00
Festival runs June 13-23
Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing is one of the most disturbing, and unusual, films ever made about genocide. In 1965-66, as many as a million supposed communists and enemies of the state were killed in the aftermath of a military coup in Indonesia. Nearly fifty years later, many of the murderers are still living in the very neighborhoods where they committed the atrocities, openly boasting about what they did, being celebrated on television talk shows, and even being asked to run for public office. While making The Globalization Tapes in Indonesia in 2004, the Texas-born Oppenheimer met some of these self-described gangsters and, struck by their brash, bold attitudes, decided to create a different kind of documentary. In addition to following them around as they go bowling, play golf, sing, and dance, proudly showing off how happy their lives are, Oppenheimer offered them the opportunity to tell their story as if it were a Hollywood movie. The men, whose love of American noir and Westerns heavily influenced the stylized killings they perpetrated, loved the idea and began to restage torture and murder scenes in great detail for the camera, getting in period costumes, putting on makeup, going over script details, reviewing the dailies, and playing both the violent criminals and their victims. The leader is master executioner Anwar Congo, who is perhaps the only one haunted by his deeds; although on the surface he is proud of what he did, he is tormented by constant nightmares. Such is not the case for the others, who laugh as they go over the gory details, especially paramilitary leader Herman Koto, Congo’s protégé and a man seemingly without a conscience. Meanwhile, fellow executioner Adi Zulkadry wonders whether telling the truth will actually negatively impact their legendary status. “Human rights! All this talk about ‘human rights’ pisses me off,” Congo says in one scene. “Back then there was no human rights.” Oppenheimer also depicts how frighteningly powerful the three-million-strong, government-connected Pancasila Youth is, ready to fight for the very same things that led to the genocide in the first place. It’s hard to comprehend how these men continue to walk free, and one can argue whether Oppenheimer should indeed be giving them the platform that he does. Watching these gangsters — or “free men,” as they like to call themselves, since the Indonesian word for gangster is “preman,” derived from the Dutch “vrijman” — artistically re-create scenes of horrific violence is both illuminating and infuriating on multiple levels that will leave viewers angry and incredulous. The Act of Killing is screening June 18 & 19 at the IFC Center as part of the “Focus on Asia” section of the the 2013 Human Rights Watch Film Festival before opening July 19 at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema.
PUSSY RIOT — A PUNK PRAYER (Mike Lerner & Maxim Pozdorovkin, 2012)
Monday, June 17, 9:00, Film Society of Lincoln Center, Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, Francesca Beale Theater, 144 West 65th St. at Amsterdam Ave.
Tuesday, June 18, 7:00, IFC Center, 323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
Festival runs June 13-23
The slogan “Free Pussy Riot!” is being shouted around the world — and was even seen on Madonna’s back — ever since the Russian government arrested three members of punk collective Pussy Riot after they staged an anarchic performance of less than one minute of “Mother Mary, Banish Putin!” at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow on February 21, 2012. British documentary producer Mike Lerner and Russian filmmaker Maxim Pozdorovkin follow the sensationalistic trial of Pussy Riot leaders Maria “Masha” Alyokhina, Nadezhda “Nadia” Tolokonnikova, and Yekaterina “Katia” Samutsevich as they each face years in prison for social misconduct and antireligious behavior for what some consider a sacriligious crime and others view as freedom of speech. The three women do a lot of eye rolling and smiling in court as they are enclosed in a glass booth, proud and unashamed of what they did, continuing to make their points about the separation between church and state, feminism, freedom, and the seemingly unlimited power of Vladimir Putin. Lerner and Pozdorovkin speak with Masha’s mother and Nadia’s and Katia’s fathers, all of whom fully support their daughters’ beliefs and discuss what their children were like growing up. Meanwhile, other members of Pussy Riot and men and women across the globe take to the streets and airwaves to try to help free the incarcerated trio, who are responsible for such songs as “Kill the Sexist,” “Death to Prison, Freedom to Protests,” and “Putin Lights Up the Fires.” Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, which can currently be seen on HBO, is screening June 17 at Lincoln Center and June 18 at the IFC Center as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival and will be followed by Q&As with the directors.
Later this month, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and other cities will celebrate gay pride as millions of marchers and spectators come together in parades, marches, and other events in which no one has to hide their sexuality. Such is not the case in Uganda, where many believe that being gay should lead to being executed — and that not turning in a gay friend or relative should result in life in prison. In the heartbreaking yet stirring Call Me Kuchu, codirectors Katherine Fairfax Wright, who also served as editor and photographer, and Malike Zouhali-Worrall, who also produced the award-winning documentary, go deep inside the LGBT community in Kampala, meeting with such gay and lesbian LGBT activists as Naome Ruzindana, Stosh Mugisha, John “Longjones” Abdallah Wambere, and movement leader David Kato, the first openly gay man in Uganda, who risk their lives on a daily basis as they fight for freedom and battle against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, a draconian measure being strongly pushed by Member of Parliament David Bahati that threatens the lives of anyone and everyone involved in homosexual acts. As white American evangelicals come to Uganda to support the so-called Kill the Gays legislation, expelled Anglican Church bishop Senyonjo becomes a staunch defender of the LGBT community, the only religious leader to do so. Meanwhile, Giles Muhame, managing editor of Uganda’s popular Rolling Stone newspaper, proudly explains his mission of outing gays on the front cover of his publication, hoping that they get arrested, tried, convicted, and hanged by the government. But the activists won’t let that stop them. “If we keep on hiding,” Kato says, “they will say we are not here.” When tragedy strikes, everything is put into frightening perspective. Call Me Kuchu is a powerful examination of personal freedom and individual sexuality, a film that delves into the scary nature of repression, homophobia, and mob violence in an unforgiving, bigoted society. Call Me Kuchu, which was the closing-night selection of last year’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival, opens June 14 at the Quad, with many of the screenings followed by Q&As with Fairfax Wright and Zouhali-Worrall along with such special guests as Sanctuary NYC reverend Karen Osit, activist Frank Mugisha, Judson Memorial Church’s Micah Bucey, Believe Out Loud’s Joseph Ward, and others.
RAN (Akira Kurosawa, 1985)
Museum of the Moving Image
35th Ave. at 36th St., Astoria
Saturday, June 15, free with museum admission, 2:00
Inspired by the story of feudal lord Mori Motonari and Shakespeare’s King Lear, Akira Kurosawa’s Ran is an epic masterpiece about the decline and fall of the Ichimonji clan. Aging Lord Hidetora (Tatsuya Nakadai) is ready to hand over his land and leadership to his three sons, Taro (Akira Terao), Jiro (Jinpachi Nezu), and Saburo (Daisuke Ryû). But jealousy, misunderstandings, and outright deceit and treachery result in Saburo’s banishment and a violent power struggle between the weak eldest, Taro, and the warrior Jiro. Hidetaro soon finds himself rejected by his children and wandering the vast, empty landscape with his wise, sarcastic fool, Kyoami (Peter), as the once-proud king descends into madness. Dressed in white robes and with wild white hair, Nakadai (The Human Condition), in his early fifties at the time, portrays Hidetaro, one of the great characters of cinema history, with an unforgettable, Noh-like precision. Kurosawa, cinematographers Asakazu Nakai, Takao Saitô, and Masaharu Ueda, and Oscar-winning costume designer Emi Wada bathe the film in lush greens, brash blues, and bold reds and yellows that marvelously offset the white Hidetaro. Kurosawa shoots the first dazzling battle scene in an elongated period of near silence, with only Tôru Takemitsu’s classically based score playing on the soundtrack, turning the film into a thrilling, blood-drenched opera. Ran is a spectacular achievement, the last great major work by one of the twentieth century’s most important and influential filmmakers. A restored 35mm print of Ran will be screening at 2:00 on June 15 at the Museum of the Moving Image as part of the continuing “See It Big!” series and will be introduced by former Orion Classics president Michael Barker, with the great Nakadai present as well.
IN THE SHADOW OF THE SUN (Harry Freeland, 2012)
Saturday, June 15, 9:15, IFC Center, 323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
Sunday, June 16, 6:00, Film Society of Lincoln Center, Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, Francesca Beale Theater, 144 West 65th St. at Amsterdam Ave.
Festival runs June 13-23
One of the themes of the twenty-fourth edition of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival is Traditional Values and Human Rights, and it is exemplified by the frightening yet inspiring documentary In the Shadow of the Sun. In January 2007, Josephat Torner, one of an estimated 170,000 albinos living in Tanzania, told his wife and kids that he was setting off for two months to travel the country to educate local communities about albinism in the wake of a series of dismemberments and killings brought on by witch doctors claiming that the body parts of albinos will bring people wealth and success. “This is what our lives have become,” Torner tells director, producer, editor, and cameraman Harry Freeland at the beginning of the film. “One of the many things we have had to learn is to live in danger.” Two months turned into years as Torner battled Tanzanians’ fears that albinos were white ghosts or demons, forcing them to live in camps or hiding them from public view. Freeland also focuses on Vedastus Chinese Zangule, a teenager who wants to go to school to become an electrician, but his efforts to get an education are continually thwarted by red tape and discrimination. Torner becomes a mentor to the open and honest Vedastus, trying to help him achieve his goals against the odds. The documentary, which features beautiful vistas in Tanzania, particularly on Ukerewe Island, where a community of albinos live as if in exile from the mainland, is narrated by Torner and Vedastus, both of whom are determined not to give up. Torner continually risks his life, going into the neighborhoods where maimings and killings have taken place, trying to prove to the men, women, and children who live there that albinos are just people, not monsters to be exploited as good-luck charms. Meanwhile, more albinos are murdered as Torner continues his journey.
In the Shadow of the Sun is a powerful, shattering examination of discrimination and racism in the twenty-first century as well as a testament to the strength and determination of the individual spirit; Freeland (Waiting for Change) lets these two extraordinary figures, Torner and Vedastus, tell their intermingling stories with both grace and a kind of poetry while sharing the many faces of albinism, showing both the inherent cruelty and beauty of humanity as well as the importance of education. In the Shadow of the Sun is screening June 15 at the IFC Center and June 16 at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, followed by Q&As with Freeland. The Human Rights Watch Film Festival runs June 13-23, comprising nineteen narrative and nonfiction works that examine such themes as Women’s Rights, LGBT Rights, Journalism, Human Rights in the United States, and Crises and Migration, including the New York and/or U.S. premiere of such films as Raoul Peck’s Fatal Assistance, Shaun Kadlec and Deb Tullmann’s Born This Way, Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing, and Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin’s Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer.
After a tumultuous 2012 that included the birth of his fourth child, the loss of his grandmother and mother-in-law, the renovation of his house, an inspirational TEDx talk (titled “I Can’t Get No [Job] Satisfaction”), and the Hi-Ate-Us Tour, after which he and his longtime band, the Sixers, went on hiatus, self-effacing American singer-songwriter Stephen Kellogg has encapsulated his unique world view in his beautiful new solo album, Blunderstone Rookery (Elm City, June 18, 2013). Kellogg is bold and blunt throughout the record’s eleven tracks, evoking Lyle Lovett, Bruce Springsteen, Justin Townes Earle, and his personal favorite, Tom Petty, on guitar-driven songs that examine love, heartbreak, hopes, dreams, home, and family. “What can I possibly say? / I’m not even sure if I think you should stay / It’s like I don’t know where to start / Do I set it on fire just to protect my heart?” he asks on the opening number, “Lost and Found.” Kellogg gets swampy for the blues-infused “The Brain Is a Beautiful Thing,” channels Petty and the Boss on “Forgive You, Forgive Me,” goes country on “Crosses,” and adds a horn section on “Good Ol’ Days,” on which he declares, “Sometimes the best thing that can happen is / you take a punch in the face.” But at his heart, the thirty-six-year-old Kellogg is a positive, upbeat guy who loves and celebrates the gift of life and family, as evidenced by the ten-minute acoustic opus “Thanksgiving,” with Kellogg explaining, “In America, this is home / Stories, everybody’s got one / This is mine, you will have your own / Nothing like the real thing, nothing like it.” The Connecticut-based Kellogg has been telling the stories that populate Blunderstone Rookery on YouTube, sitting down by a fire and reading the lyrics to each song as if they were chapters in a book. Kellogg will be at Rockwood Music Hall on June 14 ($20, one-drink minimum, 7:00) for a special Countdown to Blunderstone show with special guest Seth Giler. In addition, earlier that day, at 3:00, he will take part in a Livestream Session, spinning the whole record, answering fan questions, and playing live.