"My history has disappeared, so at this point, all I can do is enjoy my life," says one woman as she points out where her house used to stand. Though not everyone reacted with such calmness — a chef who volunteered at a relief center recalls becoming resentful amid increasing demand for his services — there's an overall sense that the culture's embrace of what Zen Buddhism terms "Gaman," or "enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity," helps Japanese recoup from tragedy, be it war, internment camps (in the case of Japanese Americans), or natural disaster.
Less elegantly crafted but no less searing is Duc Nguyen's Stateless, about the handful of Vietnamese people still holding out hope for resettlement after years or even decades of living as illegal aliens in the Philippines. Aided by a determined lawyer whose practice seems to be their only source of advice and hope, the refugees — unable to return home and live under a post-war regime that's marked them as troublemakers — struggle to get by, with the golden promise of asylum in the US shimmering just out of reach. It's a moving tale, but it's compressed into a 55-minute film that sometimes comes up short on context.
The sole film with experimental leanings in the documentary competition is Lordville, a quiet exploration of the nearly abandoned town of Lordville, NY. Though a few determined eccentrics have kept the population of the oft-flooded burg from dipping to zero, it's the past that filmmaker Rea Tajiri, a Lordville resident, is most interested in, thanks to her ownership of a home owned by one of the town's founders. Native American history, misty roads, broken-down houses, ever-present flowing water, and the musings of neighbors, a genealogist, and an environmental scientist fill in this portrait of a place where natural and human history are often at odds, and yet are inextricably bound.
The remaining films in the doc competition: Tenzin Tsetan Choklay's Bringing Tibet Home, about a Tibetan artist who smuggles soil out of his embattled homeland for an installation in India; Masahiro Sugano's Cambodian Son, about Cambodian American poet and activist Kosal Khiev; and Esy Casey's Jeepney, about the Philippines' iconic public-transport buses. *
March 13-23, most shows $12
Various SF and East Bay venues