Wednesday, 16 November 2011

A Bit of BIFF: Week 2

Through sheer coincidence, the four films that TCF and I chose to see during the second week of BIFF were all thematically connected to some form of oppression. Thus it really gave us a nice through line to compare and contrast all of the films as well to assess how important objectivity is within storytelling. Some were far more successful than others.

Dancing With Dictators
Unlike all the films we saw this week, Dancing With Dictators had no problem portraying its protagonist as a complete and utter twat. Ross Dunkley is an unlikeable man, a selfish person with a messiah complex. But he is also the only foreigner to be part owner of a newspaper in Burma: 
When Ross Dunkley, the Australian editor and co-owner of Burma's leading newspaper, the Myanmar Times, agreed to let a film crew into his offices, he couldn't have imagined the headlines that would follow. His intention was to offer a vehicle to see inside this notoriously repressive country; however, following Burma's first elections in 20 years, Dunkley's disaffection with his government-backed partner comes to a head and the story's focus switches dramatically to his arrest and imprisonment.
The problems with the film are based on texture. Although the viewer is very much aware of the political situation, we are unaware of Dunkley’s motivations for seemingly compromising his journalistic integrity on a regular basis. As the Burmese government contradict the intentions of original headlines and delete entire articles through the spectre of ‘censorship’ we are told that this is merely the cost of ‘doing business’. Even more frustratingly the film’s most interesting potential subplot, the complicated relationship between Dunkley and his deputy Bill Clough is left largely unexplored. B

Sons of Perdition
As an insight into the more extreme elements of Mormonism this documentary is intensely fascinating, as an insight into human behaviour the film is troubling, and as a family drama this film is harrowing.
The film tracks with three young men, who have broken with a sect/cult and, as a result, are cast out of "the Crick," their hometown of Colorado City, Arizona; they are allowed no access to their families and no support of any kind. Joe is 17 years old, as is Sam; Sam's cousin Bruce is 15. We first meet them when they're two months removed from "the Crick," living 30 miles away in St. George, Utah, and while they all miss their families, they're excited to be really living their lives for the first time. In FLDS, they have no contact with the outside world and no recreation--no books, no television, no radio, no public schools, no sports, no nothing. They are allowed to work (starting at about age 14), to study scripture, and to listen to devotional messages from "the prophet." Those creepy recordings of Jeffs pontificating show up in the film, full of splendid advice to his followers (to the wives: "obey and do what Father wants").
The film explores the devastating effect that a religious upbringing can have those who are indoctrinated from birth. By breaking away from the cult they are not only leaving their religion behind, but also their famiiles and entire social structure. The film makes clear that such choices are not easy as other family members try to flee the cult only to be forced back soon after. Brilliantly directed, this is a simultaneously eye opening and enthralling text. B+

Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene 
Following on the same path, the only non documentary we saw this week was perhaps a contender for the best film that we saw. It was superbly written, acted and very much worthy of the praise it received at Sundance earlier this year.
Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) has had things go wrong earlier in her life. Their nature is left murky in this persuasive film. When she escapes the cult and picks up a phone to call Lucy, her older married sister (Sarah Paulson), we sense no joy when she hears Lucy's voice. Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. Lucy lives with her husband, Ted (Hugh Dancy), in a lakeside "cottage" large enough to be a bed and breakfast. Ted is a British architect, stuffed with pretension. Lucy is sensible and cares for Martha but doesn't seem to pick up on how damaged the younger girl really is.
While the film’s subject is very intense, there’s an inherent vulnerability to Martha that is compulsively watchable, as this traumatised young girl is trapped in her own mind and surrounded by dark experiences. Her natural mannerisms developed from socially aberrant behaviour further bring out this tension. The viewer is left to wonder what the cause of this behaviour truly is. Highly recommended A-

The Trouble With Mary’s
This quintessentially Brisbane film was hampered rather than enhanced by its locality. The film had so much potential, but ultimately fell flat due to poor filmmaking and disastrous choices.
When seventy two year old Father Peter Kennedy is sacked by the Catholic Church for unorthodox practices, a fight ensues that will result in one of the biggest rifts in the history of the Australian Catholic Church. The sacking not only removes Peter Kennedy from the Church, but also effectively exiles over 1,000 members of his community who have followed him for almost thirty years. The Trouble with St Mary's follows the journey of a rebel priest and his community and their attempt to find a new way forward outside of the Catholic Church. Will they survive their struggle with the authority of a powerful establishment, and can they remain a united community under a common spirituality?
The filmmakers proved to have absolutely no objectivity and were far too close to Father Kennedy and the Church. No real reason was given to the audience as to why Kennedy made the life changing decision to leave the Catholic faith. Nor were there any outside influences to comment on the events objectively. Perhaps most importantly the apparent charisma that Kennedy must have had on his followers in order for them to leave the Church is not evident. It didn’t help that we sat directly in front of Kennedy, and in amongst many of his followers during the screening. They all seemed to laugh at inside jokes and at the end of the screening they embarked upon congratulatory applause like they had just seen an Oscar Winner. They are easily fooled it seems. They do believe in Christ after all. D

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