Note: I set up these daily posts as placeholders until the festival was over and I could get back to writing. I'm getting caught up now, so if you don't see the review you're looking for here, check back later. Thanks for visiting!
Valley of Saints
This intimate, quiet, yet suspenseful film was filmed on Dal Lake and in the city of Srinigar in Kashmir. The director, Musa Sayeed (whose parents came from Kashmir) was inspired by the films of Satyajit Ray, as he reveals in this interview-- and it shows, in the best possible way. Like the master, he captures qualities that are so very real that they bring the viewer straight into his story of family, youth, coming of age, love, and connection with place.
It's sad to see Kashmir so damaged by war and its pristine environment so sullied--indeed, its very life threatened--yet somehow also calming in its acceptance of change. Though the lake is polluted, the film is still beautiful as are the people in it. We've seen Dal Lake in classic Bollywood films, or visited there as tourists, but here we see how people actually live on it. The lake is a character itself, and is the bond that holds the story and characters together.
In the Q&A that followed the screening, it was fascinating to learn details of casting (the lead character is actually a boatman, not a professional actor, something I suspected because of the way he moved yet found it hard to believe because he was such a natural actor--a credit both to him and to the director) and filming (some shots were done under dangerous circumstances, and all light was natural light). A really remarkable, beautiful film. Valley of Saints won the AIFF jury award, and I was glad that it did.
Valley of Saints was paired with a short documentary, Water, which is also a memorable piece of filmmaking. It simply follows a Tibetan woman on one of her daily treks to gather water. It is hypnotically beautiful and had a very warm reception from the audience. I hope to write a bit more about this when AIFF's film information is back up on their website (they must have taken it all down, before putting it into the Archives).
I'm not sure what makes these "school competition" movies so riveting -- the kids with their personal challenges, raw energy and fresh, untested talents; the class and social conflicts between schools; the competition itself; the performances; the film editing that makes a coherent narrative out of a lot of very disparate material -- but they almost always are very entertaining. At best, they're inspiring. This one is both.
It's about a long-running competition between Southern California schools, organized by drama teachers, in which the kids create their own very accessible versions of Shakespeare plays, performing what seem basically to be skits, without props. It's a creative free for all and some of the results are really quite remarkable.
I believe the director, Mel Stuart, also made The Hobart Shakespeareans, one of my all-time favorite documentaries (that one is about fifth graders).
|Director Rory Kennedy and her mom, Ethel Kennedy|
(from Sundance site)
This one was an out-and-out audience favorite (it won the Audience Favorite award in the Documentary category). It's a fantastic piece of filmmaking. Director Rory Kennedy is Ethel and Robert's eleventh child, born after he was assassinated in 1968, and an accomplished documentarian (Ghosts of Abu Ghraib and others) but while her other films have been straight journalism, this is a very personal film. It consists almost entirely of family materials and news footage (in her family, the two are one and the same, as she shows) and somehow achieves an unlikely balance between tragedy, humor, hopefulness and despair. The family story she tells also formed the backdrop of our own lives, at least those of us who are old enough to remember it all, and it touched a deeply personal level in many audience members. I won't reveal any spoilers here; it's quite a story, and a beautiful documentary about how people can live their lives, whatever their circumstances.
Filmmaker TALKback: BYOD - Bring Your Own Doc
One of my favorite things at AIFF is a good panel discussion featuring filmmakers; these "Talkbacks" happen on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday mornings in the Ashland Springs Hotel near the Varsity Theatre. They're free and very often, not sold out. I don't understand this because they're always interesting, and it's a great way to see something about films you weren't able to fit into your schedule, or learn more about the films you did see (or haven't seen yet). This one was filmed and will be presented as an episode of Timoner's BTYOD Web series, I guess. I might add some more comments on this later. It was fun.