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by Cynthia Fuchs

15 Nov 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.

by Cynthia Fuchs

15 Nov 2011


When Shell Oil decided to run a pipeline through Rossport, in northwest County Mayo, Ireland, the company did its best to convince residents the project would be in their interest. The company tried the usual sorts of tactics, cajoling, bribing, pitting neighbor against neighbor, but the community—even when they argued with one another—came to understand themselves as a force to be reckoned with, one the American corporation could not take for granted. The process of such self-understanding is at once gradual and vivid, tracked in Rísteard Ó Domhnaill’s remarkable documentary, The Pipe. Filmed over four years and available from FilmBuff beginning 15 November, the film follows the conflict and reveals the complex reactions of and interactions within the community. One longtime resident, Monica Müller, describes the encounter with Shell this way: “Rude people that don’t care tell you go away, go out… They want to build a pipeline to get from A to B.” As she sees it, “The landscape doesn’t mean anything to them. Otherwise, they would find a route that would make more sense.”

by Maria Schurr and Ian Mathers

14 Nov 2011


It’s November and the compiling of year-end lists is in full effect. Pity then that Friendly Fires waited until the month of eschewing the new and reflecting on the year’s bounty to put out what is easily one of the best music videos this year, in support of one of the finest tracks on their very fine 2011 sophomore release Pala. Directed by special effects whiz David Lewandowski, whose efforts were recently seen on the big screen in last year’s remake of Tron, the video has the feel of a higher-scale Daft Punk video. For the trivia hounds among us, it’s been alleged on Tumblr that lead singer Ed Macfarlane—dancing dynamo that he is—left the strutting and grinding to a(personal opinion: less sensuous)double for the video; Macfarlane was relegated to a green screen in order to have his head boxified.—Maria Schurr

One of the more stylishly heartbroken songs from Friendly Fires’ sophomore record Pala is given a goofy, kind of surreal treatment… which isn’t that surprising when you realize that it was put together by the guy who did “Going to the Store.” Like the band itself, the video is bright and happy-go-lucky enough on the surface, but there’s a little pathos poking through… and unlike the travelogue video for “Hawaiian Air”, there isn’t a happy ending. Street dancing and massive damage; not a bad representation of Friendly Fires’ music, really.—Ian Mathers

by Cynthia Fuchs

14 Nov 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.

by Cynthia Fuchs

10 Nov 2011


“I know that a documentary is never completely the truth,” says Heather Courtney. “It is always told through the filter of the director and the production/editing process. But what I strive for is to capture moments that are true, and to tell the story sincerely.” The story she tells in Where Soldiers Come From concerns three young men who go to war. As 20-year-old Dom Fredianelli explains, “I joined the National Guard just for the money,” a decision taken by his buddies Cole Smith and Bodi Meaudoin as well. At the start of the film—which premieres POV 10 November—they’re deep in snow, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It’s not long before they’re deployed to Afghanistan, part of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2008. The documentary follows the threesome as they make their way to war, a journey that, as the title has it, has as much to do with where they’re from as where they go.

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