Sunday, April 5, 2009


Two of the films I wrote about earlier have won awards this year. "Burma VJ: Reporting From A Closed Country," won festival's Grand Jury Award, along with its Center For Documentary Studies Award, which goes to a documentary artist whose work is a potential catalyst for education and change. and the Full Frame/Working Films Award, given to the film that has the greatest potential for supporting serious grass roots organizing and social change. "The Way We Get By" won the festival's audience award, which surprised me a little, since the audience response (and my own response) to the Wavy Gravy movie seemed a lot more enthusiastic. Nevertheless, this is a lovely film and I'm glad to see it earn some recognition.

I've got time for one review tonight and will post the others tomorrow.

In "Carmen Meets Borat," a Dutch filmmaker, Mercedes Stalenhoef, visits the town of Glod, Romania, apparently not long after Sasha Baron Cohen cast Glod as Borat's home town in Kazakhstan in the eponymous mockumentary and portrayed its denizens as a bunch of backwards abortionists and thieves. Stalenhoef casts the town in her (?) documentary as well, focusing especially on 17-year-old Ionela (who prefers her Spanish-sounding middle-name of Carmen since, apparently, every other woman in Romania is named Ionela). The charming teenager feels that Glod is too small to fit her hopes for her life, and dreams of moving to the Spain of her soap-opera fantasies. Her industrious family is rich by the town's standards (they own a store and a bar in town) but she finds life there stifling, not least because she is already considered an old maid and is under pressure to marry a cute local boy. From this vantage point, we observe the town and Carmen's place in it. We learn that Cohen's crew told the town they were filming a documentary and paid the townspeople a small sum to participate. Now, having seen the film, they feel aggrieved--but the way they express that is part of the curiosity of the film. What exactly is their grievance? Does this filmmaker present them in a better or at least more fair light than Cohen did, while refusing the occasional demand for payment for filming them? What about the slick American lawyer who promises the townspeople a huge payoff from the lawsuit he will file against Cohen and 20th Century Fox on their behalf? What emerges is a thoughtful experiment in the distance between fimmaker and subject, the thin lines that separate advocacy and help from benign story-telling from exploitation, and the shape dreams take among those who are practically locked out of much that the rest of the world has decided is worth having. (6.5)

More tomorrow!

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