February 12, 2003
It's funny in Kansas
Arts and Entertainment
Human rights, wrongs
THERE WAS SOMETHING like a sigh of relief last weekend in the gusto with which the corporate news embraced the Columbia shuttle disaster, completely pushing the touchy subject of preemptive war off the country's radar screen, at least temporarily. But frustration with the fickle media's selective coverage of the world goes well beyond President Bush's catastrophic bid for Iraq, as any film in this year's Human Rights Watch International Film Festival implicitly demonstrates. These critical and gripping stories unravel on the screen with a directness, depth, and coherence simply unattainable by even the most careful peruser of the mainstream press.
The opening-night film, Steven Silver's straightforward and moving The Last Just Man, covers the Rwandan genocide through the story of Canadian lieutenant general Romeo Dallaire, head of the 1994 United Nations peacekeeping mission. Many have a vague notion that the rampage that took 800,000 lives in a mere 100 days might have been prevented somehow, but Dallaire's story implicates the U.N. (under direct pressure from the United States) in a deliberate decision to wash its hands of the unfolding holocaust, which, Silver shows, was bred from the racist politics of European colonialism. Only by Dallaire's decision to disobey his superiors and remain in Rwanda with a few hundred poorly supplied troops were some lives saved and the U.N. eventually shamed into returning to Rwanda, but not before Belgium, which had withdrawn its troops at the outset of the disaster, sought to use Dallaire as a fall guy.
Afghanistan Year 1380, sequel to last year's powerful and much talked about Jung (War): In the Land of the Mujaheddin, has a particularly ominous relevance during the current drive toward a ghastly war on Iraq. Italian filmmakers Alberto Vendemmiati, Fabrizio Lazzaretti, and Giuseppe Petitto catch up with the volunteers from the nongovernmental organization Emergency, working to repair the mangled bodies of men, women, and children in a Kabul hospital as U.S. bombs swell the ranks of the emergency wards in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001.
American director James Longley's crucial Gaza Strip is another must-see. Ariel Sharon's election in January 2001 led to an eruption of violence that persuaded Longley, who originally intended to stay in the area for two weeks, to film for the next three months. The film's focus is children, especially a group of newspaper boys whose numbers dwindle and whose profound sense of despair (so jarringly out of place in 10- and 12-years-olds) leads some to wish out loud for death and a chance at paradise instead of a world of grief and increasing degradation. For more information on Human Rights Watch International Film Festival screenings, see Rep Clock, in Film listings. (Robert Avila)
It is me, babe
Ever since the Twin Towers went down, plunging New York City comic Reno's Tribeca neighborhood into a meltdown and the United States into spasms of "patriotic" war fever, the performer has been on a mission touring coast to coast with a sardonic, soul-nourishing, Bush-rattling diatribe, Reno: Rebel Without a Pause. Filmmaker Nancy Savoca recorded the original 75-minute act and captured Reno's incendiary wit with an elegance and rigor that ensure its continuing relevance. The post-Sept. 11 follies have merely sharpened our need for Reno's brilliant political barbs and spit-in-your-eye humor. This is a movie with no expiration date, proved by its upcoming end-of-the-month one-week run at the Roxie Cinema. This week Reno and newbie Reno fan Joan Baez present a sneak preview of the film and a live performance dubbed "together at last." With über-impresario Marc Huestis pulling the strings, the divine diva duo should deliver some serious fabulousness at this benefit for the American Civil Liberties Union. Life in the protest lane just doesn't get any better than this. The show goes down Fri/7, Castro Theatre (see Rep clock, in Film listings, for more details); gala $27.50, gala and reception $50. (415) 863-0611. (B. Ruby Rich)
Calling all perverts
'I guess I'm looking for a more red-blooded American sexual scene, where the eroticism isn't covered in French philosophy," John Cameron Mitchell tells me over the phone. "Ennui, anomie, all those things that end in 'e' they're too French." Hedwig spent his formative years in Germany, so maybe it's no surprise he's not so sweet on the French, but his creator has not called to discuss the finer points of Catherine Breillat's oeuvre. He's trying to do some recruiting. He wants you, if you're over 18 and willing to get down with other people on camera, to try out for his new film, The Sex Film Project. He recognizes a gap between the love and lust currently seen in the movies and the sex only seen in porn. How do you get from one to the other? He's over Queer as Folk and wishing for something besides Viagra-made love scenes, so he's planned a film that will take shape based on the people who create it John Cassavetes/Mike Leigh style. If you have something to contribute, send it on, in the form of a 10-minute VHS tape, by Feb. 15 (the where can be found at www.thesexfilmproject.com). He's looking for all genders, all sexualities, and many kinds of bodies, of the type he calls "non-conventional sexy." "Like obscenity," he says, "sexy is undefinable, but you know it when you see it." (Susan Gerhard)