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by Chris Barsanti

10 Jun 2010


The Teacher, The Dead Khan, and The Wandering Poet. Through these three distinct sections of film, director Davoud Geramifard presents a small but loud chorus of dissent against the oppressive dictates of Tehran. In the first, a scholar of an especially secular jollity harangues his students into questioning their surroundings and assumptions. Anywhere else, his actions would be simply the daily work of an effective teacher, but under the looming gloom of Iran’s theocracy, they carry an extra weight of life-risking rebellion.

Geramifard’s middle segment is its most beautiful and also its quietest. The oblique narration and long, wind-swept silences tell the story of the country’s Ghashghai tribe, an entire nomadic culture swept away by the ruling mullahs after the 1979 revolution against the Shah—their Khan executed and people scattered in a program of extirpation that the narrator (his family tending their small herds of sheep in the desert vastness) likens to the Native American genocide.

by Chris Barsanti

10 Jun 2010


All too often the type of activists who end up with documentary crews following them on their activist rounds are a telegenic bunch eager to sell their message by any means necessary, alternating stern lecturing with self-deprecating humor to remind the listener of their approachability and humanity. No such desire seems to animate Indian rural affairs journalist P. Sainath, who barrels through Deepa Bhatia’s brisk, chilling film with no time for niceties. Once he lays out his primary cause, it’s easy to see why.

Since 1997, some 200,000 Indian farmers (read that number again) have committed suicide, mostly because of their crushing debt loads. In recent years, some rural districts saw several suicides a day. The chilling Roman historical anecdote from Tacitus quoted by Sainath that gives the film its title almost pales in comparison to the woeful stories that he reports on day after day.

by Chris Barsanti

9 Jun 2010


Director Carol Dysinger’s story of one lonely Afghanistan fort emerges as one of the most poignant films to have come out of this seemingly endless conflict. Dysinger captured about 300 hours of footage in Camp Zafar / Victory, an Afghan National Army (ANA) base in the western province of Herat between 2005 and 2008. The film that she culled from that footage shows the tour of duty for one Oregon National Guard unit at Victory, as well as the end of the tour for the unit they replaced, and the start for the unit that came after them—through it all, the Afghans stayed.

The Americans work at the frustrating job of training the ANA recruits, a beaten-down lot who mostly grew up in Pakistani refugee camps and are looking for a paycheck (when not selling out their fellow soldiers to the Taliban). The recruits seem to barely even have the trust of their own government, and are sometimes forced to train without ammunition, shouting “Bang!” Officially, the Americans are there as “mentors,” and are not to engage in combat. This distinction is sometimes arbitrary (such as when one of their own is killed in an ambush) and sometimes preposterous (particularly when they’re expected to advise men like the weather-beaten old warrior Gen. Sayar, who’s been in uniform since he was thirteen, having fought the Soviets and the Taliban).

by Chris Barsanti

9 Jun 2010


The form of Roberto Hernandez and Geoffrey Smith’s documentary is a well-utilized one. In this instance, the subject is Tunio Zuniga, a young man arrested in Mexico City in 2005, charged with the murder of a man he claimed he never knew, much less shot to death. He is then sentenced to twenty years in jail on the most arbitrary of evidence. The work seems pretty cut out for Hernandez and Smith, as they follow Zuniga’s fight to get his case re-heard: show us that this unjustly accused man is innocent.

Now, it’s not that this would be an unwelcome subject for a film. A miscarriage of justice like this is a horrific mistake whether it happens once or a thousand times. But what elevates Hernandez and Smith’s film from its sometimes-sketchy beginnings (some chintzy animation and a wandering, gap-filled narrative) to a different realm is its wider take on the system itself. That, and the baffling manner in which Zuniga’s new trial is handled, a procedure seemingly de rigueur in Mexico.

The “courtroom” is a tiny little space, little more than a glorified office cubicle, into which the prosecutor, judge, witness, and Zuniga’s defense team are packed cheek-to-jowl while Zuniga himself (a mild-mannered sort who relaxes in prison by breakdancing) has to watch the proceeding from behind a barred window. It seems as though the fix is in, with the judge issuing frequent orders by fiat, seemingly for no other reason than to stymie the defense, and the prosecution simply reciting the baseless accusations from the original trial.

This whole circus would be shocking in most countries, but in a nation where over ninety percent of defendants never even see a judge, and only about five percent are found innocent, it’s par for the course. If there weren’t a man’s life at stake, the strange, ritualized proceedings would have avant-garde, Borgesian comedy stamped all over them.

by Chris Barsanti

8 Jun 2010


During the 1990s, a civil war of the kind that has been sadly common in modern Africa shredded the social fabric of the small coastal country of Sierra Leone. One of the more egregiously monstrous groups that fought was the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), whose list of crimes included but were not limited to shanghaiing of child soldiers, and mass rapes and mutilations on a scale that staggers the imagination. In Rebecca Richman Cohen’s film—whose title means “the war is over”—the RUF’s heart of darkness is put under a spotlight but reflects back only a void.

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Moving Pixels Podcast: Unearthing the 'Charnel House'

// Moving Pixels

"This week we discuss Owl Creek Games's follow up to Sepulchre, the triptych of tales called The Charnel House Trilogy.

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