VTIFF: 33 Films in Four Days


From the 104th Floor

This was a short animated piece that I was dreading seeing because I thought it might be overly painful to watch or too oddly creepy. Instead it was a very thoughtful poignant piece about the tough choices that people with no choices got presented to them. The 15 year old girl who wrote it was in the audience when it played. [vtiff blurb]

Afghanistan: Ground Zero to Ground Zero

A NYC woman whose family is from Afghanistan goes back to try to find her family and her former neighbors. This was a very straightforward documentary, a lot of footage with narriation basically saying "this is the village that was bombed by the US" "here we are paying for guards to follow us around." Most gut-wrenching was listening to Afghani families telling stories of US helicopters not only bombing their isolated farms, but shooting the people [men, women, children] that ran from the burning buildings. The narrator goes to the Army base nearby and asks questions and gets few satisfying responses. [filmmaker interview]

Ground Zero: Critical Perspectives from Vermont

This movie had been getting a lot of press in and around Vermont by the time I saw it. It was a series of conversations mainly with peace activists but also with some person-in-the-street types about the events of 9/11 and people's perspectives about why it happened and what we should be doing now. Some good words from the American Friends Service Committee and some central Vermont activists. [interview]

Voices for Peace: Grassroots Activists Speak Out After the September 11th Attacks

There were many protests against the pending war in Afghanistan following 9/11, many of which were not reported or underreported for whatever reason, likely the press trying not to seem unpatriotic. This documentary outlines some of the protests in DC and New York in the months immediately after 9/11. It's a good movie outlining the feelings of the times among activists, but there are some really long shots of talking heads at protests saying all the stuff you would expect them to say. This movie's heart is in the right place, but it seemed a little long. [website]


The bombing campaign against Laos continued after the end of the Vietnam War. Many unexploded bombs -- estimates range from 100,000 to 3,000,000 unexploded pieces of ordnance -- still exist in the soil of Laos making farming and simply walking incredibly hazardous. This movie outlined the problem and discussed what relief organizations from other countries [not America] have been doing to teach the locals how to detect and remove unexploded ordnance in their fields and lands. Many many shots of people with hands and legs blown off. [website]

Into the Fire: American Women in the Spanish Civil War

This movie played in the Seattle Film Festival and I missed it there. It is a great, really catchy documentary about the women who went to Spain to fight against fascism in the Spanish Civil War. Many of them worked in hospitals at or near the front lines and are still around to be interviewed. The film is a classic documentary with a lot of old footage and good still photos of some of the women from nearly sixty years ago. [blurb]

Deadlock: Russia's Forgotten War

Sort of a newsy documentary explaining to people what the heck is going on between Russia and Checnya. Very typical in that it tries to give a human face to the war, showing young Tim going off to join the Army etc. The Russians look like the bad guys, the Chechens look like dirty fighters and the narrator goes on and on while you are looking at wartorn Chechnya lamenting about how horrible everyone is treating each other, as if there were a really a way to civilly have a war. [website]


Short emotion piece about a homeless man in the aftermath of 9/11. He says the world is a bit better now because if you are a homeless guy, folks don't bother you as much, they're all worried about terrorism. Lovely to look at, about five minutes long. [vtiff blurb]

The Good War and Those Who Refused To Fight

The narrators spoke to a group of men who were conscientious objectors -- either for religious or political reasons -- during WWII. Many of them were popular [or unpopular] at the time and so there is a lot of footage from the forties as these men were sent to work camps, sent to jail, or sent into the actual war as non-combatants. A lot of current-day interviews with these men, many of whom are still activists, make this movie very interesting to watch. Many people don't know that there were COs who died during WWII as a result of medical experiments that they volunteered for [starvation experiments, hepatitis injections] in an effort to prove that they were as patriotic as the other people who were out fighting. [website]


The Internationale

A fun documentary looking at the history of the worker's song The Internationale as it passed from being a worker's song, to being a Communist/Russian pride song to being sung at Tianamen Square in China during the protests. Good interviews with Pete Seeger and Billy Bragg [who has written some new lyrics that are a bit more up to date] and a lot of good singing in the soundtrack in many different languages. [website]

In the Light of Reverence

This movie was narrated by my uncle! It tells the tale of Native Americans' quests to have their sacred places kept free from destruction and other interference by outsiders. This is a sticky problem because unlike much of current American worship, these places are not in buildings, or churches or even completely delineable areas. One major area of conflict is Devil's Tower in Wyoming that people use for climbing year round and the Native Americans would like to be free of climbing during the month of June so they can worship. This movie does a good job of trying to explain a completely different kind of spirituality, one that is based on Nature as a supreme being as opposed to one particular god. The movie does have a tendency to make all the locals seem like rednecks and halfwits, but it is lovely to look at and tries to explain this problematic situation as not having any true clear cut answers. [website]

The New Rulers of the World

This was another TV-news style documentary about the evils of corporate globalization. It tries to explain how the movement of capital away from small and/or local businesses and towards larger multinational corporations has a result of concentrating power in an elite class of people who have no mandate, either ethical or otherwise, to truly make the world a better place. There are some really good interviews with a sweatshop boss in Indonesia as well as with head guys at the World Bank and the IMF. If you're an activist in this area, you may already know a lot of the basic facts of this film, but the presentation is fresh and it seems to take the whole idea of corporate globalization from a point of contention among activists to an actual reality that needs to be dealth with like the institutional menace it really is. [website]

Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election

The second film in this festival narrated by my uncle, this one discusses the debacle that was the presidential election of 2000. It's a fun and decidedly left-leaning look at all the dirty tricks the Republicans went through to secure the election for George Bush. It also looks into tactics that the Gore capaign could have used to help ensure either a victory or a fair count. The whole thing was a complete boondoggle and embarassment and this movie provides ample facts and illustration of what went wrong and how. [website]

An Unlikely Friendship

I had heard about this movie and though it would be schmaltzy or annoying and it was neither. The central characters are an outspoken black activist and a former KKK leader both of whom got involved in the civil rights movement in a poor town in North Carolina and wound up getting to know one another and actually realizing that despite their differences, they really did have a lot in common. The movie is primarily talking head style interviews and the two people involved are so interesting and personable, it makes a simple premise into a captivating movie answering the question "how do people learn to stop hating?" or something similar. [article]


West 47th Street

This film was a combination of a semi-promotional piece on Fountain House, a residential program for the mentally ill in downtown NYC and investigations into the lives of four of the people who live there and what their lives are like. The program that they are all involved in tries very hard to treat all the people in the residential program -- workers and residents alike -- with the same sort of humanity, which can often be tested by difficult interactions and what amounts to a different sense of reality understood by some of the people involved. The movie is interesting and hopeful even when the people who are being showcased run into large personal and social hurdles. [website]



A very short piece involving a young boy who has a "coming out" event in which he announces to friends and family that he is gay, and the reaction that they have. The Q&A with the director actually went on for longer than the film. Short and sweet. [article]

Daddy and Papa

Possibly my favorite film of the festival, this is a first person account of a gay man who is watching his gay male friends adopt or otherwise have children in their lives as he and his partner discuss and eventually plan out having a family of their own. Very sweet movie detailing the ups and downs of fatherhood in a daddy/daddy family. [website]

The Bradfords Tour America

More of a concept art piece than a dicumentary film, this movie follows two gay artists who go "undercover" as straight white fundamentalists on an RV trip into the South and interview people about their feelings on homosexuality. It's amusing, sometimes spotty content- and structure-wise and there is a bit of a sneering tone toward the entire Southern population which I found to be a bit off-putting. The movie is strongest when they are interviewing Fred Phelps [notorious homophobe and owner of the godhatesfags.com website] and Jerry Falwell [the doomsaying ultra right wing Limbaugh style nut] and least interesting when they are just "getting into character" as The Bradfords who are just plain old Southern folks who are not that interesting to watch. [blurb]


Global Banquet: Politics of Food

This is a very good Food101 documentary in a post-globalized world. Topics convered include GMO foods and the politics of Monsanto and the death of small family farms in the US and mainly abroad -- focusing on how indigenous people are encouraged to plant crops for export instead of growing food for themselves and their vilalges and families. The film makes a compelling argument about food being just another consumable that large corporations are using to make themselves rich and spends a lot of time juxtaposing images of factory farming against imagery of family farming and interviews with family farmers. [website]


A strange animated film about a surrogate mom and a natural father and a weird past-future in which people no longer have sex, but have babies through surrogates. Lots of church and state imagery. This film seemed to have a message, but I couldn't decipher it. It's an animated version of a story that was written in the 70s and it shows.The drawings were really interesting, but it used that sort of block cut-out After Effects-y computer animation that always leaves me cold. [website]

Cultural Adventure: A Journey to the Himalaya with Jan Reynolds

This was more of a PBS style documentary for children than a real documentary for adults. Jan Reynolds is a former high-peaks climber who is now doing more travelling to make films and raise awareness to the problems of indigenous cultures. The movie has lovely footage, the narriation is a bit simplistic and the computer graphics detailing how high she has climbed day by day grow very tiresome. She makes many good points about how increasing tourism is both sustaining and ruining Tibet and Nepal. If you can't stand American tourists saying things like "they don't allow outsiders to go to this place, but I went there!" don't see this movie. [misc article]

Antigone's Children

A weird short film made by someone whose first love is clearly theater about a theater Mom and the lousy way she treats her only kid. Self-indulgent dramatic people are no more interesting on screen than they are off. [vtiff blurb]

The Abenaki of Vermont: A Living Culture

This movie raised more questions than it answered but did lead me to go to the library for more information. It was a TV-style documentary introducing the Abenaki -- a non-recognized Native American tribal poulation residing in Vermont. Due to an aggressive Eugenics movement in the 30's where people with defective or otherwise less desired genes were systematically jailed and/or sterilized, many of the Abenaki went underground or denied their roots. As a result, current Abenaki culture has in some ways lost touch with its original roots and is trying to reclaim them. Moderately interesting but more about Native pride than a real historical documentary. [website]

Color Run

Squishy mushy clay, mushed about onscreen for six minutes. One of the nice things about seeing a film festival in Vermont is that there is alway some film for the stoners in the audience. All I could say was "Woah!" [vtiff blurb]

Here Today

Vermont is such a small backwater state that we often miss out on larger city problems. Crime is low but not unheard of and when people think of drugs they generally think of too much marijuana and too much drinking. But Vermont has a heroin problem and, until just recently, no real treatment plan or facilities, in part because many people in Vermont believe "it can't happen here" This movie -- which has gotten lots of press in local showings all over the state -- provides a counterpoint with interviews with drug addicts, former drug addicts and counselors and enforcement agents. The movie is a bit on the annoying side, it focuses more on the problems of the parents of addicts almost as much as the addicts themselves, but its heart is in the right place and is a good wake up call to those who really didn't believe that there were heroin users or abusers in this state. [website]


Playing with Poison

A PBS style documentary mainly about one woman who is primarily an anthropologist who visits an area in rural Mexico. She notices that the children at lower elevations, whose families are modern farmers using lots of pesticides, seem to develop slower and more poorly than their mostly ranching couterparts in the town nextdoor and up the hill. She does a semi-scientific study that confirms her impressions -- the children in the pesticide-laden valley show severe deficits in learning, motor skills and general development. Her study sparked an interest in the effects of multiple pesticides on a population. Interviews with other scientists and a lot of poignant shots of the stunted valley children. [website]

One More Dead Fish

A sad sad movie mostly covering the protest and sit-in organized and executed by a group of disgruntled fishermen in Nova Scotia who are protesting the loss of their small linefishing licenses to larger fishing trawlers as a result of some license consolidation by the national fishing bureau. The fisherman, who barely eke out as living at what they do, take over one local federal building which leads to the sympathetic occupation of many many more. There are inetreviews both with the fishermen and their families as well as some of the larger fishing companies. This was one of the more interesting movies about the direct and personal results of the consolidation of corporate power into entities large enough to control the legal and governmental aspects to an entire industry. And, unlike many of the other documentaries, this one did not at all have a happy ending. [website]

Crown of the Continent

This film is made by a man who used to live in Alaska with his parents and now goes back there to shoot some really nice documentary footage. The narration in this -- other than outlining his purpose and goals -- is really just an afterthought, but there are a lot of really glorious shots of Alaskan wilderness. [blurb]

Photos to Send

Probably my favorite. This documentary traces the path that Dorthea Lange took through rural Ireland, shooting pictures for Life Magazine in 1954. The filmmaker goes back and finds many of her subjects still living in the same areas and still at the same levels of poverty and isolation from the rest of the world. She interviews many of them about their lives and their memories of Lange's visit. The soundtrack is lovely and the people are their own unique landscape. [website]

Not for Sale

To tell the truth, I have a difficult time remembering how this movie was different from the Global Banquet movie except that I remember it had many more shots of scientists and seemed to be trying to give the "good" scientists a fair shake. [website]

Fenceline: A Company Town Divided

This is a company town story. The company in question is Shell Oil who displaced a black community when they movied into the area a few decades back. Then a white population movied into the area, primarily as a result of the good jobs they got working for the company. The black community, who live just over the fence and generally do NOT work at Shell, think they are getting slowly poisoned by the emissions from the factory and have been lobbying to get Shell to pay for their relocation. The white community -- who work at the factory by and large -- do not see what all the fuss is about. The black community get a lot of national activists on their side and start monitoring their own air quality and making a case for their relocation. Interesting and not completely heavy-handed. [website]


First Kill

You know those kids who you went to college with who would make really disturbing art and then get in your face about it if you didn't like it saying "not all art is supposed to be easy to digest" and tell you that you were supposed to feel bad after seeing it? This movie is like that. It was a prize-winner at the Prague One World Film Festival. It was made by a Dutch film team who spent a lot of time both interviewing Michael Herr [who wrote Dispatches about the gritty reality of the Vietnam War] as well as going to Vietnam and exploring the tourism industry that surrounds Vietnam War atrocities. There is also an interview with a Vietnam War tunnel rat who describes all the "gooks" he killed and is clearly a shell of his former self as a result of the experience. Heller's main assertion is that war is simultaneously repellent and attracting in that "can't look away" way. This movie exploits that and has a lot of different footage of truly awful war-era debacles. Unlike Heller, I found that I could and did look away and the movie, while mostly interesting was too gory for me to truly enjoy. I did not trust the filmmakers to not go completely over the edge and show me something that haunted me for weeks. I think I could understand the horrors of war without being a passive viewing audience to them. [review]


One of the more unique documentaries, this one was a day-in-the-life visit to a home for runaway girls in Iran. It's run by well-meaning women who do their best to take care of the girls while at the same time schooling them in the realities of life in a Muslim society. Every woman in this movie has the traditional headwrap and we watch as girls go through the intake procedures, wrap themselves from head to foot for their daily worship and, in some cases, get reunited with their families in what seem to be both good and bad ways. This movie is shown with no narration and only little captions to tell you who is who. It provides a good look into what family life for women must be like in contemporary Iran. [website]