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Monday, Jun 28, 2010
"I wanted to reclaim myself and become a man again."

“I regretted it immediately” says one of the two Swedish men facing each other in a dark studio and talking about their respective sex change operations. Mikael, the one speaking, is built heavy and low to the ground, with dark glasses and a certain Roy Orbison cast. Never comfortable in his own skin, he had the operation in the early 1990s and knew immediately that it was a mistake. Now, he looks eagerly to getting the surgery reversed, imagining that that is going to handle his insecurities and identity problems.


Tsking and tut-tutting from the facing chair is the substantially older Orlando—a physically delicate (but mentally tough) peacock with a blinding white hairdo and a glittering red suit that speaks of certain Las Vegas lounges circa 1974—who had one of the first such operations in the 1960s. Orlando also had his operation reversed (an eleven-year marriage went sour once his husband started demanding children) but seems to know that no matter what the surgeons add or cut away, you’re still left with yourself in the end.


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Thursday, Jun 10, 2010
This sharp-eyed new documentary from the directors of Jesus Camp tells the story of an abortion clinic and pro-life center locked in combat in a Florida town.

The Human Rights Watch Film Festival’s opening night film came from HBO Documentary Films, showing again why they’re possibly the best producers of nonfiction film currently in the business. This powerful piece of work is by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, whose 2006 film Jesus Camp still stands as one of the great documents of the modern evangelical movement. Taking place entirely on one street in the town of Fort Pierce, Florida, 12th and Delaware tracks two utterly opposed viewpoints and the people who inhabit them: an abortion clinic and a pro-life center, located just across the street from each other.


Divided almost equally in half between the battling camps, Ewing and Grady’s film opens on the pro-life protestors, who pace in front of the clinic all day every day. They wave provocative signs (many covered with gruesome photos), pray the rosary, and try to talk the young women entering the clinic into changing their minds. The protesters are mostly older women, with one frightening exception: a bullet-headed biker type barely able to control his rage who seems on the verge of showing up on the evening news.


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Thursday, Jun 10, 2010
Behind the mullahs' pontifications and saber-rattling, an expressive triptych of Iranians aching with dissatisfaction at what their nation has become.

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.


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Thursday, Jun 10, 2010
"Is it a sin to be born a farmer? No one cares about us. No one notices" So says one old Indian man, unsure why the forces of modernity are arrayed so imposingly against him.

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.


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Friday, Apr 30, 2010
Best of the fest! Back to back screenings late into Saturday night restores this reviewer's faith in American indies and reaffirms the brilliance of Turkish-German director Fatih Akin at the Eighth Annual Independent Film Festival of Boston.

Tiny Furniture
Screened Saturday 24 April


Lena Dunham’s hyphenate debut Tiny Furniture is somewhat of a tiny miracle, a film that should in no way succeed at all, but does so, with so much intelligence, humor and charm, that it made me wonder if Dunham had somehow tricked us into thinking this was her first full feature, and that we were watching the work of a seasoned pro. It’s the raw diamond in the rough that comes along every so often and rekindles my hope for the future of young independent film in America. 


Dunham directs herself from a mostly autobiographical script about a young college grad, Aura, who moves back home with her artist mother and precocious younger sister after being dumped by her boyfriend. Envisioning grand plans of getting her own apartment with a friend and making it big in New York City, she quickly regresses and retreats to a lazy life of dead-end restaurant work and poor choice in men. She lolls about in a ratty t-shirt and her underwear most of the day, oversleeping and whining relentlessly about her horrible lot in life. She is going nowhere fast and shows no real sign of caring.


If this sounds insufferable, like the template of so many navel gazing indies made by the same cohort of overeducated 20-something, well… yes and no. Superficially, Tiny Furniture plays out like a distaff version of the loosely grouped “mumblecore” (sorry, I hate it too, but no other term work) spearhead by Andrew Bujalski and mostly made up of male directors and male protagonists. But the gender switch isn’t what (or just) sets Dunham’s film apart.


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