Call for Feature Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

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Tuesday, Feb 28, 2012

Late last year, Nuon Chea, better known as Brother Number 2, was charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, in a UN-based court in Phnom Penh. On the second day, the prosecution played a clip from a documentary, Thet Sambath and Rob Lemkin’s Enemies of the People.


The film uses multiple interviews with Nuon Chea, conducted over years, to tell the story of the Khmer Rouge from a distinctly, agonizingly personal perspective. Sambath begins by remembering his father’s murder. “They arrested him and took him to the rice field. They killed him by thrashing by knives,” Sambath says. “He did not die immediate. He very, very suffer. My brother, he watch.” Now a senior reporter with the Phnom Penh Post, Sambath has spent years seeking answers to the question that has shaped his life: “Why the killing happened.” His film includes interviews with several killers, now living un-special lives in villages, as well as Nuon Chea. As these interview subjects sift through memories, they sound variously true and delusional, fragmented and self-serving, working their way to confessions in roundabout ways. You can’t know whether this is a function of fading memories, confusion or deliberate obfuscation. “Frankly,” one says, laughing weakly, “Without the wine, we wouldn’t dare kill people.” At the same time, the film’s compositions insist on the layers of storytelling, showing multiple frames within frames, arranged in camera lenses and mirrors, doorways and monitors. The effect is complex, brilliant, and devastating.


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Tuesday, Feb 28, 2012

“Mr. President, Mr. Future President,” says Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh, a researcher and women’s rights activist, “For crying out loud, we have minds, we have powers of discernment, we know how to live, how to spend, how to behave with our husbands, how to dress.” Her assertion is one of many made in We Are Half of Iran’s Population, the documentary that Rakhshan Bani-Etemad put together in the months just before the 2009 elections in Iran. The hope was that women’s voices might be heard by presidential candidates, that their concerns would be addressed. The filmmaker explains that she had been asked many times before why she made films, and who saw her work. And so she made a film with a specific audience in mind.


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Thursday, Feb 23, 2012
Astute and engaging, Racing Dreams shapes the families' experiences into an increasingly complicated story, about how kids grow up and how adults affect them.

“If I’m not racing, I’m not happy,” says Brandon Warren, “That’s all I really care about.” Currently a world-class kart driver, Brandon hopes to break into NASCAR when he’s old enough. His grandparents, Katy and Phil, share his enthusiasm, and as they travel to races during the World Karting Season, they spend their time with other, equally dedicated families. Brandon is one of three kids profiled in Racing Dreams, directed by Marshall Curry (whose If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front is a 2012 Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary). Astute and engaging, Racing Dreams shapes the families’ experiences into an increasingly complicated story, about how kids grow up and how adults affect them.


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Tuesday, Feb 21, 2012
When she first meets Queen Farah, filmmaker Nahid Persson Sarvestani remembers her own past.

When she first meets Queen Farah, filmmaker Nahid Persson Sarvestani remembers her own past. One of the revolutionaries who took to the streets to cheer the banishment of Farah Pahlavi and her husband Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, in 1979, Sarvestani was then targeted by the Ayatollah’s regime. She escaped to Sweden, where she pursued a career as a documentary maker, and now, in an effort to understand her own journey—from a child who admired the queen on television to revolutionary to an exile—Sarvestani asks Farah if she might film her. “Something about her still intrigues me,” she says. Their evolving relationship is revealed in their film, The Queen and I, available on Link TV and online beginning 21 February. As they become what she calls “friends,” Sarvestani comes to appreciate Farah’s complicated life and admire her persistence under duress, even to like her. She finds that they “share a profound longing for the Iran we both love and dream the same dream, to touch its soil again.” The trick here is parsing the “Iran we both love.” While both women deplore the ongoing rigid religious rule and efforts to keep citizens—especially women—ignorant, they remain split on the efficacy and benefits of a monarchy.


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Monday, Feb 20, 2012
Iran: A Cinematographic Revolution shows how closely the film industry in Iran has mapped, anticipated, and helped to shape the nation’s political movements and fractures.

“Nobody knew how the revolution would end, but the event itself was extraordinary,” says Masud Kimiai, “And full of idealism and beauty.” As the director of Snake Fang (Dandan-e-mar) and The Journey of the Stone (Safar Sang) remembers the Iranian Revolution in 1979, you see a mix of footage, crowds waving flags in the street and women dropping flowers from balconies, and a few shots later, police chasing after citizens, helmets white and guns raised. Most viewers of Iran: A Cinematographic Revolution, will know that this shift from exhilaration to fear and aggression had its seeds in decades of corruption and resentment, in weak internal infrastructures and not-so-secret interventions by the West. What may be less well known is how closely the film industry in Iran has mapped, anticipated, and helped to shape the nation’s political movements and fractures.


This story is unveiled in Nader Takmil Homayoun’s 2006 documentary, available now on Link TV‘s excellent broadcast and online series, A Bridge to Iran. In tracing how movies in Iran have been put to use by both Reza Shah Pahlevi and his son, and the fundamentalist religious regime under Khomeini, the film makes the broader point, that media shape, support, and can challenge other regimes, even when those regimes don’t think of themselves as such.


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