VTIFF: 20 Films in Four Days

A few days at the Vermont International Film Festival, and an outline of every movie I saw that was either extraordinary or over 20 minutes long.

Abandoned: The Betrayal of American Immigrants [link] -- one of the lawyers interviewed in this film said it best: putting people seeking asylum in the US in INS detention centers, often in with general prison populations and denied basic civil rights, even thouse afforded to prisoners, is very un-American. This documentary looks at several cases of abuse and/or neglect that people have suffered while awaiting INS trials or INS judgements. Unlike prisoners in the general population, INS prisoners must pay for all their supplies, clothing and phone calls, and do not get a lawyer freely appointed if they cannot afford one. At the same time, housing an INS detaineee in your prison system pays you twice as much in revenue [$60/night instead of about $25] so these prisoners are in hot demand. This movie specifically looks at a law passed in 1996 which called for the rounding up and deportation of immigrants who have been convicted of a crime, even if it was 15 years ago. The movie makes a strong case that America treats its immigrants not only badly, but unjustly.

American Exile [link] -- a look at former Black Panther Party leader Pete O'Neal since his self-imposed exile to Tanzania 30 years ago. O'Neal was one of the members of the party who was arrested on charges entirely fabricated by the FBI and their COINTELPRO unit in order to take the wind out of the sails of the national Black Panther movement. O'Neal and his wife fled to Africa where they have been doing extensive work helping the local community and creating exchange programs.

Because Of Mama [link] -- Sergei loves cello and hockey but the two conflict. He has a former hockey star Dad and a socialite Mom and he wants to please both of them. This movie was filmed in Saint Petersburg and was the most professional of all of the Vermont Filmmaker's Showcase films.

Birds of Naukan -- Americans do not have a stranglehold on mistreatment of their indigenous peoples. This movie is a sad portrayal of Eskimos living in Siberia who were forced to move by their government and become people without a homeland, scattered all over the place.

Burgundy -- Man sized red cat who can't get a grip that he is not human. Seven minutes long. It sounds like a silly concept, but the filmmaker has an eye for lush settings and very meticulous set design. All seven minutes were beautiful to look at and there was some excellent animatronic work done on the cat character.

Children Underground [link] -- filmed in Bucharest, Sinaia and Constanta Romania -- all of which are places that I have been -- this movie documents the hard depressing life of some of the street children that live in the subways under Bucharest. The outlook is predictably bleak, though the film does try to present some social workers with hearts of gold as well as kids who seem like they may actually make it. Unlike many other street kid movies I've seen, these kids seem more like children -- ranging in age from 8-16 -- than gang members.

A Day In The Life In Sixty Seconds -- 60 seconds of film tracking one day in the life of a girl in a hat. Sort of a fun test of your cognitive capabilities -- can you remember what you saw? I was amazed at how many images I was able to retain, even now in the hustle-bustle pacing of this mini-film.

Greetings from Missile Street [link] -- Iraq was on the verge of becoming a bona fide industrialized nation until we bombed the crap out of them and imposed sanctions that keep them from importing medicine, parts for their vehicles and other equipment necessary to survice. Four people from Voices in the Wilderness risked American jail time to go to Iraq and live under the same conditions as those who are living under sanctions. Iraquis are now lacking basic medical care, sanitation facilities [ergo clean drinking water] and must eat the same food from their food rations day in and day out. Iraq has been like this for ten years, American should be completely ashamed.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch [link] -- likely the only film I saw that you may have heard of, this glam rocker story of a drag queen with an identity crisis was fun, but maybe didn't merit all the "hed Head" fans in the audience.

Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale [link] -- despite the title, this movie is mainly about an older gay man who went to Peru and New Guinea in the fifties and is now going back, half of his own volition and half because he is seemingly being browbeaten into it by his film crew. Cannibalism seems to be all anyone wants to talk about, despite the fact that the small amount of human flesh this man did eat seems to be no huge deal to him. He's a fascinating character and I think I would enjoy watching him eat breakfast, so this movie definitely held my attention.

Losing Sleep [link] -- when I told people I saw a movie about homeless girls in Montpelier Vermont, their first response was "really?" The fact that no one knows that there are many homeless girls on the streets indicates the need for documentaries such as this one. Mostly interviews, very little preaching, very interesting.

The Rabbi's Dilemma -- a rabbi and his wife get tired of preaching to the converted and decide to try to move to Vermont and get a minyan. There are the predictable visual jokes as the rabbi joins a chainsaw club just to get to know people, but the movie is funny and sweet and opens to a nostalgic shot of the World Trade Center.

Settlers [link] -- an odd documentary with two main subjects -- a former terrorist who is now a tour guide in Palestine and a resettled New Yorker who is by all appearances, a Hassidic Jew. Both of them are living somewhat uneasily in Jerusalem. The movie is on the long side, but was pretty good at showing a slice of life portrayal of these men without getting preachy.

Swimming On The Moon -- this was a somewhat longish feature film. It is the story of two older people in a nursing home that is on the verge of shutting down. He's a criminal, she's a somewhat uppity proper woman whose husband used to be a judge. They become friends. It was fun to watch but a bit too long. Very sympathetic and non-stereotyped older characters.

This is What Democracy Looks Like [link] -- an MTV version of the WTO events which manages to have interviews with the key players and edited versions of hundreds of hours of disparate footage without once using the word "anarchist" or even showing anarchist graffiti or street art. Simply amazing.

T-Shirt Travels [link] -- I caught the last part of this. A good movie that tries to point out how the repressive policies of the World Bank and the IMF are creating entire nations whose economy must revolve around paying back loans and instituing social changes based on the stipulations of those loans, often not for the better good of the countries. The title comes from the small work available in processing used clothing coming from more prosperous nations.

Unfinished Symphony [link] -- a just-released movie documenting the march made by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War -- including a young looking John Kerry -- from Concord MA to Bunker Hill. The march included a confrontational encounter in Lexington where the crew decided to spend the night on Lexington Commons and were arrested, along with many local townspeople for this act of civil disobendience. Very moving accounts of what these people went through in Vietnam along with some contemporary commentary on the Vietnam War as viewed from a historical perspective.

The Vagina Conspiracy -- this movie stuck with me the most of all the local films I saw. It is sort of a film about itself -- about a female filmmaker who wants to do a movie about women's sexuality with the word "vagina" in the title. Well-acted and amusing without being too heavy, this film made me laugh.

We Are Not Who You Think We Are -- a quick [13 minute] look into some of the group counseling sessions that female inmates go to where they talk about some of the negative formative experiences that they credit for some of their current situations.

900 Women [link] -- a documentary looking at women in prison in Louisiana, especially the lives of mothers behind bars. Chilling footage of a woman having a baby only just after being released from being handcuffed to her hospital bed. The baby is spirited away to live with her family, while she returns to the penitentiary.