Thursday, April 3, 2008

Postcard #1 from Full Frame

Hello, friends - I just finished my opening day at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, North Carolina ( So far so good!

My first film was "Forbidden Lie$," the story of a woman, Norma Khouri, who wrote a bestselling nonfiction book about an honor killing in Jordan and then turned out to have made up all or most of the story. The film's director is very persistent at gently but firmly confronting Khouri with the criticism leveled at her and hanging in there for her ever-more-preposterous responses. I'm not sure I found the film to be wholly successful (in telling the story of a flim-flam artist, the director made use of some flim-flam of her own that I found a bit distracting and possibly detracting). Nevertheless, it's a fascinating and careful deconstruction of a troubled personality. It won awards at the Adelaide Film Festival in Australia and is fascinating enough that it may get a theatrical release; I'll keep my eyes peeled.

The relevation of the day, though, was "Up the Yangtze," the first feature-length documentary of a perceptive and visionary Canadian director, Yung Chang, who introduced the film and took questions afterwards. Inspired by a "farewell cruise" that Chang took with his family along the Yangtze River before it was flooded by the newly completed Three Gorges Dam, Chang spent years developing relationships with individuals affected by the project, which has displaced two million people and may displace two million more as a result of the environmental damage. His care with his subjects, particularly a poor family whose eldest daughter must forego her dreams of high school to take a job on a cruise ship to support the family, is evident in the intimacy of this depiction of people who have fallen through the cracks of a culture bent on "progress." The dam, the world's largest, is considered China's most significant engineering feat since the Great Wall. The film, composed of unforgettable images of the drastic environmental change, is most remarkably a closely observed vision of small moments in the lives of forgotten people. I can't remember when I've seen a film that so captured the sense of a type of suffering that is actually quite commonplace but is little understood and rarely depicted. I expect to be writing more on this one as it sinks in. For now, watch for it--I missed it at the Portland International Film Festival in February but it will be released in New York and other select cities at the end of April and hopefully will be coming to a theater near you.


Anonymous said...

While Norma's nonfiction book may, in fact, have been fiction, dishonor killings do happen in Jordan, and more-or-less as she described in her book.

One of the tragedies of this alleged literary hoax is that the core message seems to have been lost. Dishonor killings do happen in Jordan (and elsewhere), they are treated as misdemeanors in the eyes of the law, and the average sentence for these crimes is just six months.

Frankly, I am more outraged about that than I am about Norma. If she's broken laws, then let the legal authorities take care of her. Meantime, people are dying, and they could use some help from people of conscience.

Ellen R. Sheeley, Author
"Reclaiming Honor in Jordan"

Darleen Ortega said...

Quite true, and I think the movie makes this clear. Many of her harshest critics are people who have devoted their lives to the cause of ending honor killings. I take the movie to be more about Norma Khouri as a personality. Part of what makes her so disturbing is that she would so ruthlessly exploit the truth of the actual suffering of others.

Anonymous said...

Hi D.
Sounds like you're having a good time. Can't help but respond to the above comment because it's also important to recognize the role the rights of women play in a larger discourse of humanitarian intervention. This, I think, is one of the most unstable political dimensions of the present: the ways that human rights are deployed in the service of military aggression.

Honor killings are clearly repugnant and destructive, whether they occur in Texas or Tehran.