“He was doing his job and she was the loyal wife,” says Carl Colby. “My mother believed in what he was doing, but it had to be moral, it had to be right.” Best remembered as the director of the CIA from 1973 to ‘76, William Colby emerges in his son’s carefully researched film, The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father CIA Spymaster William Colby, as a puzzle. “He was tougher, smarter, smoother, and could be crueler than anybody I ever knew,” narrates Carl over family photos, his dad looking awkward in camping gear. The film—screening at Stranger Than Fiction on 13 March, followed by a Q&A with Carl Colby—sets the son’s contemplations alongside interviews with his father’s colleagues and footage of the events Colby tried to control: the coup that killed Nhu and Diệm Ngô, the Phoenix Program in Vietnam (an aborted experiment that spawned subsequent counterinsurgency strategies), the CIA’s assassinations. The film presents Colby as a product of his time, a soldier who parachuted from planes, who followed orders, who believed America’s interventions and his own “confessional” testimony before the Church Committee might “do good.”
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Shukree Hassan Tilghman wants to end Black History Month. He’s got his reasons, and most of them are familiar: for one thing, by “relegating” black history to one short month each year, it keeps American histories separate and unequal. For another, it generates a Black History commercial products industry that demeans the very history it means to celebrate. To track his quest, he’s made a film, More Than a Month. And now that film is screening on the last leap-yeared day of 2012’s Black History Month as part of
Maysles Cinema’s Doc Watchers series, followed by a Q&A with Tilghman and Anthony Riddle, Managing Director of the Maysles Institute and descendant of Dr. Carter Woodson, creator of Negro History Week. The film raises serious questions while offering a bit of antic framing, interviewing people with investments in history, then pondering how those investments have come to be. As the film seeks value in Black History Month, to understand the purposes it serves, it also finds value in ongoing debates over it.
See PopMatters’ review.
“The original title was ‘The Nigger Who Sat by the Door,’” remembers Sam Greenlee. “But when Dick Gregory brought out this book called Nigger, I figured he had taken the sting out of it.” And so the writer of The Spook Who Sat by the Door decided on a “much more subtle” title, as “spooks” refer to blacks, CIA agents, and “the armed revolution by black people [that] haunts white America, and has for centuries.” Greenlee’s memories are among the most vivid in Christine Acham and Clifford Ward’s documentary, Infiltrating Hollywood: The Rise and Fall of the Spook Who Sat by the Door, which premieres on the Documentary Channel on 28 February. As he and other participants—including actors J.A. Preston and David Lemieux, as well as editor Michael Kahn and Berlie Dixon, widow of director Ivan Dixon—it becomes clear not only how difficult it was to make the movie, but also how clever and committed they were to getting it made.
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.
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.
See PopMatters’ review.