Saturday, March 08, 2008

A Sufi At The Singapore Film Festival

The 21st Singapore International Film Festival is coming up in April.
This year, we are blessed to have wonderful films which I think would be of interest to me, and hence, those of you who are reading this blog. I believe that film is a powerful multidimensional medium of communication, and it is a pity that too much of it is looked at for entertainment value only, missing out the messaging effect that each film has. Some of these films are not to everyone's taste, some include presentations of sexuality and prostitution, but in my view, they depict either moral corruption or spiritual darkness, or desparation that deserves our attention, and hopefully, rescue.
It is all too easy and human to hate the sinner and not the sin.

Some of these movies I selected based on their subjectmatter instead of theme, such as those that depict Muslims in places remote from ours, to let us have a flavour of their lives. All Muslims are brethren, right? So we should get to know the deprivations that some of our siblings live in while we complain in our redolent and indolent splendour.

Here are the ones I think should be watched based on the synopses given -


My Home, My Heaven

Muhammad EySham Ali | Singapore | 2006 | 14 mins | TBA

Ahmad, a juvenile delinquent, is released from his time in a Boy’s Home. After his return home, Ahmad finds himself at crossroads again despite his efforts to redeem himself from the past. Ahmad is still trying to find his way home.


Road to Mecca
Harman Hussin | Singapore | 2007 | 60 mins | PG
Inspired by the travelogue The Difficult Journey by Ahmad Thomson, Harman Hussin embarks on an overland pilgrimage from Singapore to Mecca. This documentary is about this journey, which was made with little support, but with immense conviction. Witness an unforgettable journey into the heart of the human spirit, through the myriad beauty of countries and cultures along the way.


To Speak

Craig Ower | Cambodia / Australia / Singapore | 2007 | 104 mins | PG

Based on a true story, To Speak takes us on a journey into a land haunted by a horrific past, a place where millions struggle daily against desperate poverty. Yet in the midst of this pessimism, lies a voice that will speak hope to its people.
Twelve-year-old Ratana lives in an impoverished rural village but refuses to accept that her fate is pre-determined by her circumstances. She dreams of a better life, and of building a new house for her fractured family. But a better future seems impossible until a local development agency suggests a radical plan for achieving her dream. She seizes the opportunity but finds herself on a collision course with her family, the village and even Mother Nature herself. To succeed, Ratana will need to rise above the daily grind of survival and also grapple with the terrible legacy of the Khmer Rouge and the Killing Fields.
Shot with a small independent team and budget, the film was initiated by director Craig Ower who conceived the story after repeated visits to the country. Featuring stunning images and heartfelt performances, To Speak is a film that speaks with much heart.


Veil of Dreams
Zaihirat Banu Codelli | Singapore | 2007 | 64 mins | TBA

WORLD PREMIERE

Enter a world where deep-rooted sacred customs meet contemporary athletic aspirations. Football in Iran has gained much popularity among women out of their passion towards the game. Wearing the traditional Islamic veils, they would play it with an atmosphere of unbridled joy and limitless energy.
Veil of Dreams documents Iran’s women soccer team as they compete against other international footballers. Meet the women, who dare to push customary limits in pursuit of a simple ambition to take part in a sport where there are no restrictions, but only freedom to express themselves in a game that used to be for men only. Find out how this journey will affect their lives and provide unforgettable memories for these young women.
From the rigorous preparations for an overseas trip, from their place of safety out into the open world, these women will go wherever the game takes them.


Along the Way
Haobam Paban Kumar | India | 2006 | 19 mins | PG

Manileima is an independent 35-year old woman, the second wife of a contractor, who lives separately from her alcoholic husband with her mother and son. One day, her son, Bungo, has an accident and is hospitalized. While many people offer her their assistance in the hospital, an unnamed stranger offers the most help. At the same time, this stranger develops a close relationship with her nephew, Geet. While Manileima never meets this stranger while her son is in hospital, she develops an attraction for him through Geet’s stories about his care and affection for Bungo.
Finally, Bungo recovers sufficiently to be discharged – and at this point Manileima has to decide what to do about the kind-hearted stranger. Set in Manipur, a North Eastern state of India where decades of insurgency have thrown the society into disarray, this film depicts how unrest has caused many people to cloister off their self-expression and how Manileima, a simple woman, finds a new meaning in her life.


Angels Die In the Soil
Babak Amini | Kurdistan | 2007 | 30 mins | TBA

A young Iraqi Kurdish girl struggles to survive by pillaging remains from the Iran-Iraq war. She meets an American Soldier who is trapped in a terrorist attack and is entrusted with the choice of whether to help him or leave him to die.




Breathing in Mud
James Lee | Malaysia | 2007 | 78 mins | PG

INTERNATIONAL PREMIERE

Azman, a photographer, marries the strong and quiet Lina, but their lives change when Lina’s first husband, Meor, returns from Thailand, where he has been taking refuge these past years. The three of them find out that their lives overlap with love and past friendships, bonds that they fear to break and ones that cannot break.


Children of the Prophet
Sudabeh Mortezai | Iran | 2007 | 90 mins | PG

Children of the Prophet offers an intimate insight into the everyday life and the expression of religious practice in contemporary Iran, where the archaic and the post-modern co-exist surprisingly. The film follows four groups of people in Tehran during the Shiite mourning rituals of Moharram, commemorating the death of Imam Hossein, the grandson of Prophet Mohammad. It explores the role of religion in different people’s lives and how traditions are codified, kept alive and transformed to accommodate the needs of modern times.
We follow the protagonists closely with unbiased curiosity. It is their perspective, motivation, expression of faith or doubt, sense of humor and voices that make an otherwise enigmatic, and dramatic mass event palpable and familiar. This utterly personal approach offers a rare and often surprising insight into what is usually obscured by politicized Islam hyped by Islamists and Western media alike.


Death in the Land of Encantos
Lav Diaz | The Philippines | 2007 | 540 mins | R21

“Beauty is the beginning of terror.” This epigraph by Rainer Maria Rilke forms the premise for this nine-hour opus by Filipino director Lav Diaz. Shot in response to the devastation of the eastern Bicol region of the Philippines by Super Typhoon Durian, Death In The Land of Encantos meditates on the fragility of life and the regenerative power of both nature and art.
An acclaimed Filipino poet named Benjamin Agusan (Roeder Camanag) returns from Russia to his hometown of Padang, to find it buried under landslides of mud and a nascent river. Shocked, he wanders through the ravaged land, reconnecting with distraught friends, lovers and family members.
The stark black and white images of barren trees and rocks paint a bleak and disturbing landscape of loss. Yet Diaz surprises the audience by strategically cutting from these harsh images to quiet scenes of physical and emotional intimacy between characters, expressing a belief in the natural rhythms of life.
Death In The Land of Encantos was awarded a Special Mention in the Orizzonti (Horizons) Documentary Section of the Venice Film Festival in 2007.


Denias, Singing on the Cloud
John De Rantau | Indonesia | 2007 | 110 mins | NC16

A boy’s deep desire to get an education leads him to traverse fields, mountains and rivers for days to reach a school in the nearest city. Based on a true story, this film tells the tale of Denias (Albert Fakdawer), who is from a small village in Jayawijaya Mountain in Western Papua Island and his determination to leave ignorance behind and fulfill his dream. But the physical challenges of his journey pale in comparison to the discrimination he faces at school for being a lowly peasant. With the help of his two friends, he finds the strength to press on and surmount these obstacles. The real Denias eventually won a scholarship and now attends senior high school in Darwin, Australia.
Denias was awarded Best Indonesian Feature at the Jakarta International Film Festival in 2007 as well as Best Children’s Feature Film at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards in the same year. It also won Most Favorite Film at the Indonesian Movie Awards. It has been selected as the official Indonesian entry to the 2008 80th Academy Awards, in the Best Foreign Language Film category.
Shot against the rugged beauty of Papua Island, Denias sings of a vision and resolve that rises above ignorance, fear and adversity.


Dol - The Valley of Tambourines
Hiner Saleem | Kurdistan / France / Germany | 2006 | 90 mins | TBA

It is the year of 2005 in the small Turkish-Kurdish village Balliova at the border of Iran and Iraq. The area, shattered by boundary disputes, is controlled by the Turkish military. After frequent armed hostilities with Kurdish guerrilla fighters, the Turkish military is now repressing the villagers.
Despite the difficult circumstances in the village, Azad, and his fiancée Nazenin, want to marry. During the wedding ceremony, a fight with the Turkish military takes place. Azad shoots at the Turkish commandant and escapes from the village Balliova, leaving his fiancée behind.
Azad reaches the Autonomous Region of Iraqi-Kurdistan by hiding in the back of a truck. Here his path crosses other destinies from the different regions of the divided Kurdistan. He meets Cheto, who is coming back to his homeland from Paris because the corpse of his sister were found in an Iraqi common grave, and he meets Jekaf, who as a little girl, was kidnapped by Iraqi solders. Azad also comes to know Taman who brings him along to a guerrilla camp in the Kurdish mountains. There, Kurds are fighting the Iranians.
Azad decides to bring Nazenin from their home village to the mountains, but he is ambushed by the Turkish army...


If You Were Me: Anima Vision 2
Ann Dong-hee et al. | Korea | 2007 | 93 mins | R21

In 2003, the Human Rights Commission of Korea funded six promising directors to make short films about issues of discrimination. The result was If You Were Me, an insightful collection of works which received critical acclaim. Despite a noticeable lack of commercial success, the commission decided to fund two sequels to the project: If You Were Me 2 and If You Were Me: Anima Vision 2.
Comprising of six short films, If You Were Me: Anima Vision 2 is an innovative and heartfelt feature-length animation film. Diverse issues relating to discrimination in all its forms are featured, such as the plight of the disabled wishing to have children (The Third Wish ,dir. ANN Dong-hee, RYU Jung-oo); a working mother’s difficulties in bringing up her child (Baby, dir. LEE Hong-soo, LEE Hong-min), the fate of a homosexual forced to marry a woman by his overbearing parents (Lies, dir. PARK Yong-jae), the challenges today faced by men with aspirations of greatness (Peeling, dir Hong Deok-pyo), the widespread discrimination prevalent in today’s societies (Merry Golasmas, dir Jung Min-Young) ; and the troubles of international marriage faced by migrant women (Shine Shine Shining ,dir. GWON Mi-jeong)


In The Name Of God
Shoaib Mansoor | Pakistan | 2007 | 170 mins | NC16

Winner of the Silver Pyramid Award at the 2007 Cairo International Film Festival, In the Name of God has been widely lauded as a revival of the Pakistani film industry. Spanning across three continents, it tells the moving story of one Pakistani family and how the events of 9/11 have changed what it means to be a Pakistani abroad.
Mansoor tells the story of two brothers, both accomplished musicians. One is convinced by an extremist imam that his career is immoral, and decides to fight for the mujahideen. Meanwhile, his brother enrolls in an American university to further his music studies, falling in love with an American girl, and ironically falling under suspicion for the sort of activities his brother is involved in, in the aftermath of 9/11. A third subplot, in which the brother's young niece, born and bred in England, is tricked by her father into marrying the extremist brother in an elaborate maneuver to frustrate her romance with her Christian boyfriend.
Ambitious both in scope and depth, Mansoor's film is a timely one which resonates with the dilemma Muslims face today, offering an intimate glimpse into the complexities of adaptation and assimilation in the post-9/11 world. It also offers a fascinating glimpse into Pakistan as a nation increasingly pressured to choose between religious anachronism and modernity.


Juan Baybayin
Roxlee | Philippines | 2007 | 60 mins | NC16

WORLD PREMIERE
The filmmaker's personal search for Baybayin or Alibata, the original Filipino language before the Spaniards came and colonized the Philippines in 1521. The search will determine if the ancient alphabet still exists and and whether it is still practiced in the country.


Kantata Takwa
Eros Djarot, Gotot Prakosa, Slamet Rahardjo Djarot | Indonesia | 2007 | 95 mins | TBA

Titled after the orchestra performing at a gala concert in Senayan, the film's main location, Kantata Takwa allows music to become the narrator of this film. Using animation and live action, the three directors turn music, theatre and film into a new unity.
Important roles in the film are played by well-known Indonesian figures, such as poet and playwright W.S. Rendra and pop singer Iwan Fals (Indonesia's answer to Bob Dylan).
The film's title Kantata Takwa, after the name of the orchestra, stands for the 'kantata' of love, comprising of patience, dedication and sincerity – a state of mind that strives for dignity and humanism. As co-director Eros Djarot says: 'The central question is: What for? What do we live for in this bloody world? If we can't answer this question, we're finished.'
Despite the independent status and the experimental nature of the film, it had a relatively large budget thanks to the support of the oil billionaire Djodi Setiewan, who also has a walk-on role in the film. The three directors come together from different backgrounds in their attempt to search for the roots of Indonesian culture.


Little Girl of Hanoi
Hai Ninh | Vietnam | 1974 | 77 mins | TBA

Set in Hanoi during and after the 1972 Christmas bombing of the city by American B-52 bombers, this film tells the story of Ngoc Ha, a 12-year-old music student, as she searches for her family through the ruins of the city. As she walks the once familiar streets, flashbacks of her family life are movingly revealed. This is a poignant tale of the devastation of war, seen through the eyes of a little girl in Hanoi.
This film was the winner of the Golden Lotus at the 3rd Vietnamese Film Festival and the Special Jury Prize at the Moscow International Film Festival in 1975.


Mrs. Nam
Lai Van Sinh | Vietnam | 2000 | 20 mins | TBA

Short film preceding Little Girl of Hanoi
Mrs. Do Kim Hong, a nurse by profession, survived the war as a wounded veteran. Despite her ailing health, she strains herself to fulfill what she considers her calling – to sort through the remains of soldiers who were slain on the battlefield and return their remains to their families. She insists on carrying out her duties despite chiding from the community; holding on to the belief that one’s soul would not rest in peace unless its remains are buried in the person’s place of origin.


Mrs. Tu Hau
Pham Ky Nam | Vietnam | 1963 | 90 mins | TBA

Considered one of the two masterpieces of early Vietnamese cinema, Mrs. Tu Hau's profound realism relates the tale of the tragic life of a southern woman who experiences non-stop suffering in the anti-French war.
Raped by French soldiers who raid her village, Mrs Tu Hau thinks of killing herself. But her infant child preserves her will to live. The death of her husband in the war again plunges her into despair. Her suffering worsens when she loses her child, her only source of hope left.
The first Vietnamese feature to win the Silver Medal at the Moscow International Film Festival in 1963, it was also awarded the Golden Lotus at the 2nd Vietnam Film Festival in 1973.


Out Of Coverage
Abdellatif Abdelhamid | Syria | 2007 | 100 mins | TBA

Out of Coverage is an audacious situational comedy about a Damascus man, Amer, who straddles between the two women in his life – his nagging wife, Salma, and the beautiful Nada, the wife of an imprisoned friend.
Amer’s struggle to mediate this situation is constantly interrupted by his handphone – his metaphoric leash to these two women. Daring and frank portrayals of sex punctuate the film as Amer negotiates his intentions, trapped between his desires and his morals.
The final straw is when Amer learns of his imprisoned friend’s approaching release date, as he faces his ultimate decision – to choose between the two women. Or can he?
A peppering of subplots involving everyday Syrians complete this spicy and fun film depicting everyday Syrian society, garnished with energetic performances from its main players.


Paper Cannot Wrap Up the Embers
Rithy Panh | Cambodia/France | 2007 | 90 mins | M18

This award-winning documentary trails the lives of young Cambodian women who are forced into prostitution and presents their painful tales against a backdrop of an already-scarred nation. Cambodia has become almost synonymous with genocide but what most people miss out are the intransigent social problems that have arisen in relatively modern times, albeit as a result of the national tragedy. Cambodian director Rithy Panh brings us off the sunny paths of Cambodia and into the darker alleys of the Khmer society, presenting a warm and heartfelt piece on the various women who turn to prostitution to survive. This documentary received the Prix Arte at the European Film Academy Documentary 2007 awards.


Photograph, The
Nan Triveni Achnas | Indonesia | 2007 | 94 mins | NC16

This fourth feature by Nan Achnas sees the unlikely pairing between two disparate characters – Sita (Shanty), a 20-something karaoke bar hostess and Johan (veteran Singapore actor, Lim Kay Tong), an aging Chinese-Indonesian photographer.
Johan operates his portrait business in an Indonesian town and lives alone in a small house after the tragic death of his wife and son many years ago. He reluctantly rents out his vacant attic room to Sita when her landlord evicts her from her room.
Moonlighting as a prostitute in a karaoke bar, Sita sends the money to support her five-year-old daughter in her hometown. After she is gang raped by a group of drunken customers, she decides to quit her job as a bar hostess and offers to be Johan's servant in exchange for lodging. When Johan discovers that he has a terminal illness, Sita tries to help him fulfill his last three wishes, which includes finding a successor for his job before time runs out.
The captivating visuals and strong, authentic performances, transforms this straightforward narrative to another level.


Raami
Babak Shirinsefat | Iran / Azerbaijan | 2007 | 76 mins | PG

After 10 years spent in a refugee camp, a middle-aged Azerbaijani folk composer’s search for his Armenian wife and their child, results in his hitchhiking to Iran to investigate a decade-old clue. This uncertain quest, based on an Azerbaijani tale of two lovers, is paired with a lyrical and detailed depiction of the musician’s memories and traditional music. In this debut feature, Shirinsefat explores the relationships between nature, war, music and folklore.


Rebel, The
Charlie Nguyen | Vietnam | 2007 | 103 mins | NC16

Set in Vietnam in 1922, when the country was under French colonial rule, The Rebel details the anti-French rebellion by peasants. To retaliate, the French sends Vietnamese secret agents to track and destroy the rebels. One agent is Le Van Cuong. Although marked with a perfect track record, Cuong's inner conscience is troubled by the sea of Vietnamese blood he has spilled. Following an assassination of a high ranking French official, Cuong is assigned to kill the leader of the resistance. Cuong meets Vo Thanh Thuy, a relentless revolutionary fighter and the daughter of the rebel leader. She is captured and imprisoned by Cuong's cruel superior, Sy. Cuong suspects that Sy knew about the attack on the French official before it happened, and could have prevented it. Suspicious, he warns Thuy that her organization has a mole, helps to break her out of prison and becomes a fugitive himself. Her fiery patriotism inspires Cuong, and he develops feelings for the young woman as well. Meanwhile, Sy is tracking Cuong and Thuy, knowing the pair will lead him to Thuy's father.
The Rebel was a big local hit in Vietnam and it also won the Best Audience Choice Award at the Vietnamese International Film Festival (ViFF), 2007. It is also the most expensive Vietnamese film to date. It also played at the 2007 Bangkok International Film Festival, the Austin Film Festival and the Hawaii International Film Festival.The Rebel received the Grand Jury Award at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, 2007.


Sharp Gravel
Sjuman Djaya | Indonesia | 1987 | 122 mins | TBA

Three teenagers from Cilacap, Central Java, are suffering from bad luck. Ganjar (Ray Sahetapy) and Retno (Christine Hakim) have to abandon their plans to get married. When Retno and Inten (Wenty Anggaini) decide to find work, they end up in Jakarta, but get arrested by the police and sent to a youth penitentiary. Subsequently both are hired by a wealthy household as servants, only to run away. Their next job is in a textile factory which has unfair labour issues, especially with its women workers. Retno gets involved in trying to improve conditions, and is made to realise her helplessness when faced with money and power. Meanwhile, Ganjar begins working as driver to sympathetic and wealthy Waty’s (Meriam Bellina) family. His path eventually crosses that of Retno and Inten in unexpected ways.
This film depicts the disintegration of morality due to urbanisation, and the spread of electricity and mass media, the effects of which are felt not only in the city, but in the rural areas as well. Using archetypes, Sharp Gravel explores the plight of the common people in Indonesia.


Si Mamad
Sjuman Djaya | Indonesia | 1973 | 110 mins | TBA

Sliding between comedy and tragedy, this was one of Sjuman Djaya’s commercially and artistically successful films. Mamad (Mang Udel) finds himself violating his principles, engaging in petty crime such as stealing office stationery, in order to pay for the birth of his seventh child. He is disturbed by these events, but never finds the courage to explain his situation to his pragmatic subordinate (Aedy Moward) nor his boss.


Slingshot
Brillante Mendoza | Philippines | 2007 | 86 mins | R21

Opening with a police raid, Slingshot explores the intertwined lives of residents of a Manila squatter slum, including a petty thief (Nathan Lopez), an advertising sidecar driver (Coco Martin), not to mention prostitutes, school kids and others.
A restless hand-held digital camera, and many non-professional actors among the large cast, give an intimate look at a day in the life of the crammed warren of streets inhabited by the urban poor of this neighbourhood.
The film depicts these people in a variety of situations, including fights, religious parades, and election campaigns. Shot in an unvarnished style similar to that of Dogme 95, with the social conscience of Lino Brocka, Slingshot is an unapologetic look at what people will do in order to survive, be it accepting the bait of local politicians gathering votes for an imminent election, and generally begging, borrowing and stealing whatever they can.


Swift
Abai Kulbai | Kazakhstan | 2007 | 80 mins | NC16

Abai Kulbai’s Strizh (Swift) is a coming-of-age film that draws an intimate portrait of a young girl, Ainur, who struggles with forces beyond her control – a drunken stepfather, a pregnant mother, drugs and violence at school – to find her place in an ice-cold, impersonal, and uncaring Almaty. She wrestles with a myriad of obstacles - schoolmates who tease her at school, an unaffectionate mother who pays more attention to her alcoholic lover, and her best friend who falsely accuses her of something she did not do. Life has tougher lessons in store for Ainur, and the world seems lonelier than ever before.
Kublai's debut feature film is shot in the tradition of modern Kazakh cinema, and offers a rare insight into the youngest generation in Almaty- one that is unaware of the Soviet past and in search of its own identity.
The film won two awards – the NETPAC Award and the Grand Prize in the Central Asian and Turkic Competition at the Eurasia Int'l Film Festival 2007.


They Say, I'm a Monkey!
Djenar Maesa Ayu | Indonesia | 2007 | 90 mins | M18

INTERNATIONAL PREMIERE
Adjeng is a young writer haunted by the shadows of her past. She lives two separate lives: an aggressive party-girl to her lovers and friends, and a passive daughter to her mother. She rids herself of her aggression through her writing, yet her mother's objections create a dilemma for Adjeng. Can Adjeng break free from the repression by her mother and make her peace with the past?


Those Three
Naghi Nemati | Iran | 2007 | 80 mins | PG

Naghi Nemati's first feature is an austere portrait of three soldiers lost in a snowy wasteland. In the tradition of an Iranian cinematic minimalist parable, Those Three nonetheless refrains from the social critique implied by other films in this genre, such as Taste of Cherry by withholding much information about the characters. The reason why nervous Essi (Esmail Movahedian), stern Yousef (Yousef Yazdani) and bespectacled joker Dariush (Dariush Ghazbani) walk into the frozen wilderness is never explicitly explained.
It is subsequently revealed that Essi has children, but the recruits’ phone conversations (they find an old phone and hotwire it to a passing line) and occasional first-person voiceovers do not become sources of information. This refusal to provide a back story heightens the sense of disorientation experienced by the three recruits, who encounter people ranging from an Azeri smuggler to a pregnant woman.
Hooman Behmanesh's stark photography (which won an Asia Pacific Screen Award in Queensland last November) and Ebrahim Irajzad’s soundtrack of the driving, bitter wind enhance the isolation of the humans against the snowscapes, as well as the rare moments of calm. This is a remarkable debut which bodes well for the new generation of Iranian cinema.


Tuya’s Marriage
Wang Quan An | China | 2006 | 96 mins | PG

Life is harsh for those who live in rural north-western Mongolia. Tuya’s Marriage tells the story of a simple Mongolian woman who tries to broker a new marriage in order to survive.
As with most people of nomadic ancestry (Manchuria, Mongolia), the beautiful Tuya refuses to leave her pastureland. She is married to a disabled man, has two children and flocks of sheep, and continues to pursue a harsh life of privation in the vast steppe. Nevertheless, the daily grind of an increasingly harsh life takes its toll on her, something that does not escape her loving husband Bater’s observations. He tries to convince her to divorce him yet Tuya would hear none of it— until the day she falls ill. Then, she has an epiphany which causes her to realise that their family cannot function without her, and that if she were to marry again her new husband must be willing to take care of Bater and her family.
This is when Tuya's old classmate Baolier arrives on the scene with an interest in marriage. Baolier finds a respectable nursing home for Bater, and persuades Tuya and the children to move to town. Unfortunately, the yen for pastures and open fields runs too deep in the blood and both Bater and Tuya find it hard to adapt to the city. When news of Bater’s attempted suicide – prompted by homesickness— reaches Tuya, she finds herself faced with a choice to return or to adapt in this global matrix of a heartless Darwinian capitalism. This film won the Golden Berlin Bear Award 2007.

1000 Years of Good Prayers
Wayne Wang | USA | 2007 | 83 mins | PG

Mr. Shi (Henry O) plays a dignified and quiet widower living in Beijing. Upon learning that his daughter, Yilan (Faye Yu), is going through a divorce, Mr. Shi decides to travel to Spokane, Washington to visit her with the intention of staying with her and helping her to get over the ‘trauma of divorce’. However, it has been 12 years since they have last met, and Yilan feels his visit is most unwelcome – both in his attempts to rescue her marriage and to reconstruct her life. Feeling resentful of his presence, Yilan finds excuses to leave her father alone in her apartment, only seeing him for dinner when he cooks for her. Thrust out of his daughter’s life, Mr. Shi struggles to take in the strange culture of small-town Spokane. To calm himself, he begins to visit a local park, where he meets Madam (Vida Ghahremani), an older Iranian woman living with her son. Despite their language barrier, both lonely souls communicate with each other and a friendship is forged. Eventually, Mr. Shi’s attempts to communicate with Yilan come to fruition, and both are forced to confront and communicate the deep-buried issues between them.
Through this film, Wang paints a vivid picture of the inability to communicate with one’s family members, and the feeling that the closest things can sometimes be the farthest away.


33 Days
Mai Masri | Lebanon | 2007 | 70 mins | PG

In this gripping documentary, award-winning Palestinian filmmaker Mai Masri takes us beyond the cold statistics and muted news stories and right into the gritty reality and the incredible courage demonstrated by the victims of war.
Filmed during the Israeli war on Lebanon in the summer of 2006, 33 Days features the real-life stories of four people: a theatre director working with children who took shelter in a theatre after their homes were destroyed, a frontline journalist for an underground television station, an aid worker who coordinated emergency relief efforts for thousands of displaced people, and a newsdesk director trying to cope with her new-born baby amid the destruction and chaos around her.
Through their creativity and courage, the film tells some of the untold stories of the survivors in Beirut. 33 Days was awarded the Special Tribute Prize in the Al-Kassaba International film Festival in Palestine in 2007.


A Jihad for Love
Parvez Sharma | USA / UK / Germany / France / Australia | 2007 | 81 mins | TBA

Jihad – ‘an inner struggle’ or “to strive in the path of God”
A brave and daring documentary filmed over five-and-a-half years, in 12 countries and nine languages. A Jihad for Love by gay Muslim filmmaker Parvez Sharma chronicles his journey as he travels the world to various Muslim communities to interview subjects who identify themselves as gay and lesbian.
The first documentary to provide a comprehensive world view of homosexual people living within Muslim communities, A Jihad for Love explores the tricky intersection of Islam with Homosexuality. Rather than renouncing their faith or sexuality, the subjects in this film struggle to reconcile the faith in their belief with the reality of their being.


Amina
Khadija Al-Salami | Yemen | 2007 | 75 mins | PG

Amina is a chilling documentary portraying the legal and societal injustices faced by Yemeni women. The film tells the story of Yemenite Amina al-Tuhaif, who at 11 years old was married off to a man many years her senior, and at 14, sentenced to death for the murder of her husband after being tried without legal representation. Scheduled for execution in 2002, when she would be of legal age to hang under Yemen laws, Amina was found to be pregnant after being raped by a prison guard and her execution was pushed to 2005.
Khadija Al-Salami, an award-winning filmmaker from Yemen, became aware of Amina's tragic story through newspaper reports and began conducting interviews with the young woman while visiting her in prison. Using first-hand accounts and dramatic reconstruction, the film chronicles Amina's daily prison life, her last-minute reprieves and her persistent appeals to clear her name for a crime she says she did not commit.


Arabs and Terrorism
Bassam Haddad | USA | 2007 | 135 mins | TBA

Researched in six different languages, 11 countries, 120 experts and politicians as well as hundreds of street interviews, this fast-paced documentary is determined to unearth what is said about Arabs and Terrorism. Tired of empty rhetoric about the fight against terrorism from Washington, D.C. neo-conservatives (and curious of many assertions made by the Bush administration), Arab-American filmmaker Bassam Haddad decided to seek the truth for himself, camera-in-hand, and thus sparks an impassioned dialogue between right-wing American policymakers and Middle Eastern political factions.
Haddad's method of documentary involves having interviews with political power-players on each side of the transcontinental (and trans-ideological) fence - American and Arab; recording each interview on his laptop; and having each interviewee view and respond to allegations made by the other side. The result is a documentary that dares to journey into waters seldom treaded by other filmmakers, by travelling right to the core of the ideological debate that lies behind the war on terror and investigating what the Arab people actually think, believe and desire -- independent of media bias.


Art of Negative Thinking, The
Bård Breien | Norway | 2006 | 79 mins | R21

After Geirr (Fridtjov Saheim) becomes severely handicapped in a traffic accident, he develops a deep bitterness that makes him difficult to live with. He seems determined to stay at home and watch Vietnam movies and listen to Johnny Cash albums with a handgun close to him, wallowing in his pathetic state. His girlfriend Ingvild (Kirsti Eline Torhaug) can’t stand him any longer, and in desperation she invites a municipal positivity group to their home in order to help Geirr. Geirr agrees in order to save their sinking relationship.
Soon, the psychologist Tori (Kjersti Holmen) and her group, comprising of the blonde beauty Marta (Marian Saastad Ottesen), her guilt-obsessed boyfriend Gard (Henrik Mestad) and the angry paraplegic Asbjorn (Per Schaaning) are embroiled in a struggle as they try to get Geirr to see the world in a better light. However, Geirr forces everyone in the group through a series of desperate tasks in order to test them as they undergo 24 hours of pure hell in this off-beat black comedy.
This film won director Bard Breien a Best Director at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival.


Beyond the Call
Adrian Belic | USA | 2006 | 82 mins | PG

“We do what we can, when we can, because we can.”
In this Indiana-Jones-meets-Mother-Teresa adventure, it is with the above philosophy that three middle-aged men, former soldiers and modern-day knights travel the world delivering life-saving humanitarian aid directly into the hands of civilians and doctors. Ed Artis, James Laws and Walt Ratterman inspire through their deeds, not words, in some of the most dangerous yet beautiful places on Earth. Knightsbridge International is a unique humanitarian organization which they started, whose motto is "High Adventure and Service to Humanity." These unlikely heroes go to places where death from landmines, bullets, or bombs is as frequent as death from hunger, disease, or the elements. The camera follows these three men to where their personal convictions and courage drive them, on a journey into the heart of humanity.
This hilarious but heart-wrenching film by the directors of Academy-Award-nominated film Genghis Blues, has garnered the attention and touched the hearts of audiences and juries around the world, having picked up a number of awards from prestigious film festivals across the US.


Cargo 200
Alexey Balabanov | Russia | 2007 | 90 mins | TBA

“I was aware from the very beginning that “Cargo 200” would be a scandalous film. That people would talk about it, that many would not like it but that it would leave no one indifferent” – Alexey Balabanov
Experimental Russian filmmaker Alexey Balabanov returns to the independent cinema circuit with his 11th film - the controversial Cargo 200. With a title coming from a euphemism for the bodies of dead soldiers being shipped back from Afghanistan after the war; this film is touted by critics as one of the most significant Russian offerings in recent times.
Labelled the “Russian David Lynch” by the Independent, Balabanov provides us with a harsh, unflinching look at the violence pervading Russian society in 1984 - at the brink of the undeclared death of the Soviet Era.
Cargo 200 is an autopsy of the USSR - depicting the bleak state of several families and their intersecting fates. After a night out at the discotheque, the daughter of the secretary of the regional communist party goes missing. The same night, a brutal murder takes place in a house on the outskirts of the province. Chief militia captain Zhurov starts on his investigations on both crimes.

With an assortment of Russian pop songs in the 80s as its soundtrack, Cargo 200 is a persistently nostalgic criminal drama that will impose its inevitable weight on the viewer’s imagination.


David the Tolhildan
Mano Khalil | Kurdistan / Switzerland | 2007 | 54 mins | TBA

Five years ago, David Rouiller ran away from his life in Switzerland; giving up the amenities of his western lifestyle to commit his life to joining the Kurdish freedom movement PKK. If this is not cause for surprise in itself, we learn that this man is the son of a former President of the Swiss Federal Supreme Court.

Director Mano Khalil follows this man’s journey in his documentary as adjusts to his new surroundings and questions the motives for his actions. Is he escaping or confronting his fears and insecurities? Is he an adventurer, a dreamer, an idealist or a hero? Is his commitment visionary or illusory?

David the Tohildan provides an insightful and contemporary observation of the Kurdish freedom movement and the country’s political situation. Most importantly, the documentary also serves as a mirror for the audience to reflect our own outlook on oppression, respect, human dignity, freedom and violence.


Donkey in Lahore
Faramarz K-Rahberq | Australia | 2007 | 117 mins | TBA

This heartwarming documentary follows the extraordinary of an Australian puppeteer who, after travelling to a festival in Lahore, Pakistan, meets and falls in love with the then 17 year old Amber, a Muslim girl. When he travels back to Brisbane, the young puppeteer started studying Islam and eventually converted to the religion. Aamir, as he was called from then on, wanted to marry the girl he loved at all costs. Two years after their encounter, Aamir finally saved enough money to travel back to Lahore and ask for her hand in marriage.
Aamir's struggle to marry Amber is full of obstacles as he battles the Australian immigration system, countless trips between the two countries, his religious conversion, lifestyle changes and the stern disapproval of Amber's parents.
Director Faramarz K-Rahber followed Aamir's journey for several years as he negotiated cultural differences and tricky social situations; portraying the young man's unusual story and sensitive soul through observation and interviews.


Driving to Zigzigland
Nicole Ballivian | USA, Palestine | 2006 | 92 mins | TBA

Shot in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Los Angeles, Driving to Zigzigland is a chronicle of a day in the life of Bashar, a Palestinian cab driver in Los Angeles. Bashar holds tight onto the American Dream of becoming an actor in Hollywood but also longs to go back home to his legitimate theatre acting job in Palestine, despite the Israeli occupation.
In Los Angeles, a film audition typecasts Bashar to play an Al Qaeda terrorist role. When Bashar gets home, he realizes the utilities are due and he has 24 hours to find the money. For the remaining hours left, an unceasing flow of passengers ride in Bashar’s taxi and give the Arab cabbie the run-around on issues that deal with suicide bombers, George Bush, Cat Stevens, the war in Iraq, Rai music and world geography. In a post 9/11 American day, Bashar falls under the watchful eye of the F.B.I. and suffers a massive blow from the bureaucracy of the former INS, now Homeland Security.
All the while, Bashar’s nostalgia of the Al Kassaba Theater in Ramallah, poses the question of whether or not the American Dream is an idea really worth fighting for. Bashar’s quest to make the money is won until he realizes he must choose between the Department of Homeland Security and his own family.


Enemy Within, The
Sandra Rodriguez | Canada | 2006 | 48 mins | PG
The Enemy Within tells the story of a Nation’s ongoing fight against invisible enemies. In Cambodia today, 6 million landmines are still threatening to injure or kill anyone who comes across their way. Amputated, wounded, the survivors must face enemies buried deep within: the acceptance of an injured body, a mutilated future, social stigma and isolation.

As 2007 commemorated the 10th anniversary of the Ottawa Treaty - a convention signed by 154 countries demanding the banning and destruction of landmines- the film gives voice to thousands of individuals amputated each year by these objects of destruction. A decade later, what do we know about these survivors? After the war, after the genocide, after the amputation and the treaty, what do they dream of, what do they hope for?


Happy Desert
Paulo Caldas | Brazil / Germany | 2007 | 88 mins | TBA
Jéssica is 16 and lives with her mother Maria and her step-father Biu in a village on the São Francisco River in eastern Brazil. Bui works at one of the vineyards that have sprung up on the other side of the river. Thanks to the vineyard's irrigation system, the whole valley is booming. However, this prosperity has not had much of an effect on Jéssica's family. Biu earns a bit of extra cash with the illegal sale of rare wild animals. As for Jéssica, her life revolves around school and her afternoons are spent with her mother and her girlfriends. One day, Jéssica is raped by Biu. Maria urges her not to report the crime to the police.

All at once, Jéssica's world is in ruins. Like so many girls who suffer a similar fate, Jéssica starts working as a prostitute. At first she works the streetwalking district nearby, but then a lorry diver takes her with him to Recife, where Jéssica starts a new round of nightclubs and paid sex with tourists. After her night's work in the "Amazonas" bar, she goes back every morning to a shabby apartment run by an old prostitute named Dona de Vaga, who lives on the exorbitant rent she extorts from her young colleagues for their miserable rooms. Yet Jéssica still has a dream. Like many of her colleagues, she waits for the right man to come along and fall in love with her. Soon, she meets a German named Mark. She soon begins to fantasise about sharing a life of plenty with him in a cold, wintry country.


Make A Wish
Cherien Dabis | Palestine | 2006 | 12 mins | TBA
Make A Wish is an intimate personal journey that follows a young Palestinian girl, Mariam, on the day of her late father’s birthday. She begs her mother for extra money to buy a birthday cake for her late father. But when Mariam arrives at the bakery, she realizes that she still doesn't have enough. Determined to get the cake, she sets out to brave the obstacles and land some cash. What begins as a simple trip to the bakery turns into a journey that depicts not only the subtle tensions of a politically-charged environment, but also illustrates the grief that can result from growing up under occupation.

This film is illustrative of the many Palestinian men who are absent from their families due to imprisonment or death. This absence and grief is portrayed through the eyes of a child to capture the collision between child-like innocence and the reality of war. While the film does not shy away from the harshness of the Palestinian experience, this bittersweet film has many moments of candid humour which shine through Mariam’s journey

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Seventh Heaven
Saad Hendawy | Egypt | 2007 | 99 mins | NC16Set in Cairo, Seventh Heaven is a spiritual and visually-impressive experience about Hanan, a woman with a hidden past who gets into a relationship with Bakr, a Sufi dancer (one of the most famous Whirling Dervishes) with his own history. They discover new horizons and new meanings in their lives through this romantic relationship. And there is also Bakr's son Saad, a troubled boy trying to do what he always wanted in life. Both father and son are on the threshold of discovering what they have always denied.


Half Teaspoon
Ifa Isfansyah | Indonesia | 2007 | 18 mins | TBA
A beautifully shot, contemplative short film, Half Teaspoon is about a loving wife who prepares a cup of coffee meticulously every morning for her unappreciative husband. She follows the same formula everyday – three teaspoons of coffee powder and half a teaspoon of sugar. Despite being taken for granted, the love for her husband inspires her to repeat this task every morning without fail.



3 comments:

Lina said...

i used to buy season tickets to watch singapore film festival. this year's one looks awesome. i've miss two years of the festival already and this will be my third one. i'm not happy about it arrghhh :(

MudPie said...

Yes, I do think this year's is the best ever. Thanks for visiting.

Ummi's BLOG said...

The "Amina" story seems heart wrenching.. what happened to her baby when she is sentence to death ? sobz...