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Wednesday, Nov 16, 2011

Pray The Devil Back to Hell  traces the Women’s Peace Initiative’s evolution, recounted by founders and active members. These include Leymah Gbowee, who helps to bring together women of diverse backgrounds and faiths, whose stories are conveyed here in thoughtful interviews and sometimes harrowing footage drawn from the many years of Liberia’s civil war. In 1989, Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) assassinated Liberian dictator Samuel Doe and took over the government; warring factions varied in name and number. By 2002, the sides were using similar tactics—a group of warlords who called themselves LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy) and Taylor’s private army (ironically titled “The Anti-Terrorist Unit”) were using similar tactics to compel citizens into compliance: kidnapping children to drug and deploy as soldiers, looting villages, raping women, and marauding over the countryside, as lawless and brutal as their victims were quietly resilient. Gbowee says her inspiration came in a dream: “Someone was actually telling me to get the women of the church together,” she remembers, “to pray for peace.” When she did, more and more women began coming to meetings, including Asatu Bah Kenneth, Assistant Director of the Liberian National Police. Thrilled by the women’s energy and dedication, she spoke passionately, and identified herself upfront as “the only Muslim in the church,” and was immediately accepted (“They said ‘Oh hallelujah,’ they were so happy that I was there”). This would be a coalition of women, all with one goal, peace.


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Tuesday, Nov 15, 2011

“I’m not scared to face my creator,” says Paco Larrañaga. “I have a big space there, I’m sure.” Here on earth, though, he’s less certain. Interviewed in the New Bilibid Prison in the Philippines, Larrañaga wears an orange jumpsuit and peers awkwardly into the video camera’s wide lens. “It’s just so unfair, getting that lethal injection without me giving a fight,” he says. “I was not given a fair fight. I was not given a chance to defend myself.” Give Up Tomorrow—which screens 15 November at Stranger Than Fiction, followed by a Q&A with director Michael Collins and producer Marty Syjuco—begins partway through Larrañaga’s ordeal, then cuts back in time, as the filmmakers interview not only him and his family members, but also police officers and other officials who brought the case. When plainclothes policemen came to his door at school, he was afraid they were criminals come to kidnap him, his sister Mimi remembers: the scene is illustrated by a set of ominous animated silhouettes, setting up the surreal events to follow.


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Monday, Nov 14, 2011

“At the heart of apartheid is the division of the land.” This opening title card for Promised Land introduces its focus. In 1994, South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC) initiated a process of reconciliation. The government promised to reallocate ownership of a third of the nation’s land within 10 years. As Yoruba Richen’s Promised Land reveals, this plan was in trouble from its inception. By looking at two particular land disputes—claims made by the 9,000-member Mekgareng community and 1,000 descendants of Abram Molamu—this smart, subtly complex documentary shows essential complications in the process. These include the government’s assumption (or best hope) that changes might be wrought based on a “willing seller, willing buyer” model. In fact, most white owners are unwilling and many black buyers have been ill-prepared, their legal claims unrecorded (owing to decades of oppression, abuse, and exploitation) and their claims still stuck in a kind of first gear, grinding. The trouble is, land is never just land: it is a measure of citizenship, a means to civil rights and self-identity; it is multiply meaningful, across generations and immediately, an emblem of economic and mythic status, political and emotional well-being.


Promised Land screens at Maysles Cinema at 7pm on 14 November, part of “Doc Watchers Presents,” curated by Hellura Lyle. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with director Yoruba Richen.


See PopMattersreview.



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Monday, Nov 7, 2011

“You still have to be able to talk to people, and me and Adam, we work well together. We kind of go with the flow and make things up as we go along.” Detective Ronald Fountain, of the Troy. NY PD, describes interrogations as a process, means to ends. As he and his partner Adam Mason went through this process in the case of Adrian Thomas in 2008, they wanted to know if he killed his four-month-old son Matthew. As the documentary Scenes of a Crime shows, the “flow” in the Thomas interview is increasingly disquieting. From the first moments, the detectives see him as a likely suspect—even before they know a crime has been committed. The defense will end up arguing that Matthew died of an infection, that this was the reason he had trouble breathing. But while his baby is at the hospital, police bring Thomas in, noting that he’s unemployed and must be depressed, that he takes care of seven kids, that he’s “very cold when he talked about his children.” Screening at DOC NYC on 7 November, Grover Babcock and Blue Hadaegh’s remarkable film shows the many places where crimes can occur in this process. 


See PopMattersreview.


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Friday, Nov 4, 2011

With a new tour about to begin David Bazan fans can get a little taste of the man in action with bassist Andy Fitts and drummer Alex Westcoat via a new Daytrotter session (Bazan’s third) and an appearance on the venerable Austin City Limits. The Daytrotter session finds the band running through three tracks—“Eating Paper”, “Level With Yourself” and “Virginia” with an intensity that bodes well for the group’s upcoming performances.


With this year’s Strange Negotiations continuing to garner the onetime Pedro The Lion man critical acclaim, the road seems the perfect place for Bazan to connect with fans, which he will be doing straight through the middle of December, starting in Spokane, Washington and ending in Eugene, Oregon. Although those bookends might make it seem as though Bazan isn’t really traveling all that far, the tour winds through the middle of the country, to the south and southwest before he brings it all back home.


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