Documentaries at the 42nd San Francisco International Film Festival (2023)

Documentaries at the 42nd San Francisco International Film Festival (1)

Sometimes watching movies is like going somewhere you've never been and realizing it feels like home.

That's what happened to Paul Pena, star of Adrian and Roko BelicGenghis Blues. This popular documentary — previously credited in these pages for its Sundance premiere — won the Bay Area Best Documentary Grand Prize and Audience Award at the recent San Francisco International Film Festival (April 22-May 6). At graduation ceremonies, whenGenghis Blueswas announced as the winner, Roko brought Belic Pena to the stage. The blind musician, whose journey to a throat singing competition is featured in the film, sang a few guttural notes for the encounter. The audience – of course – went wild.

Indeed, hearing Pena in person - even if only for a moment - is necessary to fully understand the art of throat singing and its popularity in the former Soviet republic of Tuva. Pena taught himself the unique skill of singing two overtones at the same time while listening to Radio Moscow broadcast on his shortwave radio. When he learned that famous Tuvan throat singers would be performing in a concert at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, he fought the crowd just to hear the Tuvans in the museum's lobby. Kongar-Ol Ondar, a famous Tuvan throat singer, surprised everyone by appearing in the lobby for an impromptu performance. After Pena found the courage to demonstrate his own throat by singing in front of the master, a friendship - and a film - was born.

In search of a film, the Belic brothers urged Pena to accept Ondar's invitation to participate in the Tuva Throat International Singing Symposium, held every three years. "Up until the moment we left, we didn't know what equipment we were going to use," says Adrian, who shares production, writing and photography credits with Roko. "I guess you could say we weren't qualified to do this," he continued as we met the rest of the ragtag crew: sound engineer Lemon DeGeorge, musicians who called themselves the Friends of Tuva Society, and Bay Area radio DJ Mario . cassette.

As in most trips, the search for one thing turns into the discovery of another. The visit to Tuva offers Paul Pena a refuge from the weight of loneliness that his blindness imposed on him. He basks in the warmth of his fellow travelers and his new friends. When events indicate that his visit may be cut short, Paul laments his return home and even composes a song that goes, "There never should have been anyone happier than him / And my friends are here with me!" overcome by his awe and admiration for this new experience, and we are confident that his new friends' love can overcome any obstacles he may encounter at home.

Althoughweekly entertainmentLisa Schwarzbaum noticed thatGenghis Blues“makes up in the soul what it lacks in production values” (it was shot on video and transferred to film), the footage is intimate and patient, allowing the characters to reveal themselves at their own pace. The Belics' decision to travel light also helped them film quickly and with little prep time. Roko's montage brings spontaneity to the interviews by allowing one character to finish the other's sentence, thus changing the course of the original thought. This creates animated sequences of Talkinghead while showing the different natures of each character: Paul's joy as well as his despair; Mario's irrepressible charm; and Lemon's jarring realism.

There's also that sense of home for the characters inon the ropes, winner of a Silver Spire in the Golden Gate Awards competition. New York filmmakers Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen follow three boxers at the Bed[ford]-Stuy[vesant] Boxing Center who consider the gym their home away from home, a safe haven from the seedy neighborhoods outside. There's Tyrene, a feisty young woman on her way to the 1997 Golden Gloves. And Noel, a school-age boxer whose mother is a former crack addict, leaves Noel to fend for himself and his younger brother. Finally George, who has a better chance of becoming a professional having already won a Golden Gloves championship. Putting these three together, Harry is the trainer. A rising star in the ring in the 1980's until a drug fight landed him Sing Sing for attempted murder. Harry served a four-year sentence and lived on the streets for another four years before joining the community in Bed-Stuy.

It was this sense of community within the academy that first attracted filmmaker/editor Burstein, who boxed at Bed-Stuy and knew Harry and the others. From the first frame of the film, there is tremendous heat in this place - the smell of chalk and dust almost invades your nostrils. Of the three boxers, we know Tyrene the best. At 28, she is the legal guardian of her aunt's two daughters, Ebony and Equana, while looking after her uncle, a crack addict who suffers from AIDS. Her world begins to crumble when she is falsely accused of possessing drugs with intent to sell. In a cruel twist of fate, both his court nomination and the first round of the Golden Gloves competition fall on the same date. Although the evidence - or the luck of it - seems to confirm Tyrene's innocence, the jury returns a guilty verdict.

I asked Burstein and Morgen if they could have helped Tyrene. Burstein responded that they initially helped Tyrene with her case, but getting her an expensive lawyer would have been a violation, contrary to what Tyrene could actually afford. "We also wanted to show the injustice of the justice system," added Burstein. Tyrene's five-year sentence seemed like a high price to pay to prove such a point.

The problem here – perhaps with documentaries in general – is that no matter how socially responsible the subjects' point of view is, the filmmaker always benefits more from making the film than the subjects do from being in it. I myself have to accept this criticism: those who appeared in my domestic violence video did not benefit as directly from the project as I did as a filmmaker. As I listened to Burstein and Morgen talk about their film values, I thought they were preaching to the choir; and now, with yet another example of a flawed justice system, the chorus just needs to get louder. How many Tyrenes still need to be shot before the situation improves? Finally. Harry and Noel and George and Tyrene prove their worth not only in the ring, but also in their lives as fighters.

The struggle for peace that is found at home is always presentIranian style divorce, a video collaboration between filmmaker Kim Longinotto and anthropologist Ziba MirHosseini. With a single camera at approximately the same angle for each scene, the video chronicles the court proceedings of six women who filed for divorce from their husbands. Since the court system favors the husband in divorce proceedings (for example, custody of the children usually rests with the father in case of separation), the film also points to the different legal equality of the sexes.

Iran's court system, while allowing divorce, encourages couples to stay married and look for ways to make their marriage work. Judge Deldar says to a woman, "Treat your husband well when he comes home." The duty to maintain the marriage is the woman's, even if she initiates the divorce.

This is the case for Mariam, who remarried after the divorce. After losing custody of her eldest daughter to her ex-husband, she now struggles to keep her youngest daughter. "Let me have at least one," accused the judge and her ex-husband. The clerk, a 27-year veteran of the hearing, suggests to Miriam that her new marriage will prevent her from keeping her child: "You are losing your child in lust." The judge orders Miriam to return another day, the only decision is made. .

Masi wants to divorce her husband because she claims he cannot have children, a legal basis for divorce in Iran. After stating her case, she is instructed to find her record among the court records. The filing system administrator, unable to locate her file, sends her away, saying it will take at least 10 days to obtain the missing documents.

Despite the Kafkaesque bureaucracy, women keep coming back, filing new petitions, asking, manipulating to get the results they want. "Women no longer want to accept the status quo," says Ziba Mir-Hosseini. These women, mostly in their 20s, represent the current generation that wants to expose their feelings to the public, speak openly about problems and seek their own solutions. "Men don't like the movie, but they don't say so directly," continues Mir-Hosseini. "This is not attacking Islam; divorce is painful, but it is about denying choice." Asked about the film's reaction elsewhere, she said. “Iranians abroad don't like the film. They think we portray Iran as a backward culture: Iranians in the Netherlands asked me, “Why are you showing Iranians sitting on the floor?” They have to deal with their own orientalism after living in the West. I think,manyCrops stay on the ground - especially with these beautiful rugs! ... Non-Iranians watch the film and can identify with the women. The film was shown for two weeks at the New York Film Forum! We cannot be afraid to challenge stereotypes and look critically at our own culture.”

Filmmakers Mir-Hosseini and Longinotto negotiated with Iranian authorities for over a year and a half to have the video filmed and produced.Iranian style divorcereceived this year's top award for best documentary at SFIFF.

The 1999 San Francisco International Film Festival screened 18 documentaries and several documentaries. The following are other notable sights:

A girl against the mafia(1998, 56 minutes)Marco Amenta's documentary, a mix of Super 8, diary entries, news footage and video, makes the dangers of manipulating the "family business" very real. Seventeen-year-old Rita Atria, along with her sister-in-law Piera Aiello, decide to cooperate with the authorities after her father and brother are brutally murdered. While it may seem like the stuff of movie history, the mafia is alive and well and residing in Sicily.

Cinema Beaten(1998, 58 minutes)Polish director Andrzej Fidyk follows Mr. Battu, his cheerful colleague Mama and his assistant Amit as they bring the best of Hollywood to villages that have never seen a movie. True film lovers, the Battu team becomes a star, while Fidyk focuses his lens on this delicate triangular family.

catholic school(1998, 13 minutes)Gewinner des Best Bay Area Documentary Short,catholic schoolChronicle of a day in the life of a fourth grade class. Reminds me of the first part of Michael Apted7 bisseries, the kids share their thoughts on everything from heaven to marriage. Director Jona Frank's black-and-white photos create a moving finale.

megacity(1998. 90 minutes)Michael Glawogger explores the mazes beneath the cities of New York, Moscow, Mexico City and Mumbai. It is there that the working poor live and do any work that brings income. From sifting through discarded cans in Mumbai's filthy bed to selling chicken feet broth from a cart in Mexico City, these city dwellers make a living behind corrugated iron walls, dingy hotel rooms and sweaty factories.

Gilas Grant: The Story of Rebecca(1998. 20 min.)Pepe Urquijo's video follows Rebeca Armendariz, a young activist seeking change by trying to disenfranchise her community. "I don't have time for college. I have to get better and go back and better my community," says the 21-year-old. Filmed on video and simply rendered. Rebeca's story portrays one person's reaction to the Prop outbreak. 209 from California.

Buena Vista Social Club (1999. 101 Min.)Wim Wenders paints Cuba in glorious pastels as he narrates the Buena Vista Social Club reunion. the legendary ensemble that includes Ibrahim Ferrer, Ruben Gonzalez, Manuel Licea, Ornara Portuondo, Compay Segundo, Orlando Lopez and others. Add guitarist Ry Cooder and his son, percussionist Joaquim Cooder, and you have a modern take on music that has both Latin roots and West African origins.

Amidst SFIFF's rich documentary offerings, there was this constant spirit of seeking peace through identity. True, "house" does not necessarily mean a single concrete structure or the inner sanctity of "as safe as a house." Feeling at home means being able to speak in your own voice and living comfortably in your own skin. When we see characters in documentaries struggling with the difficulties of physical disabilities, economic problems or mysterious bureaucracies to achieve something better, we can only hope that they will fulfill their dreams and their quest, to find a home.

Lily NG is a filmmaker based in San Francisco.

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