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Monday, Sep 12, 2011
This is one of those documentaries designed to make you march out of the theatre and do something to change the world.

THE ISLAND PRESIDENT
Director: Jon Shenk
Cast: President Mohamed Nasheed, Aminath Shauna, Mohamed Aslam, Mark Lynas, Ahmed Naseem, Paul Roberts, Ahmed Shaheed
Country: USA


One of those documentaries designed to make you march out of the theatre and do something to change the world, this inspirational film follows the remarkable story of Mohamed “Anni” Nasheed, longtime freedom fighter and now President of the Maldives, a small archipelago of islands southwest of India. After spending 20 years resisting the brutal regime of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, spending hellish months and years in solitary confinement in a 3x7 foot corrugated iron cell, Nasheed managed to play an instrumental role in overthrowing the shackles of this dictatorship, spreading democracy and hope to every corner of his benighted country. But, almost as soon as he achieved this goal he was faced with a new, infinitely more powerful adversary: the rising ocean.


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Monday, Sep 12, 2011
This is a perfectly devastating Australian film about the horror of loss and the futility of refusing to face up to grief.

BURNING MAN
Director: Jonathan Teplitzky
Cast: Matthew Goode, Bojana Novakovic, Essie Davis, Kerry Fox, Rachel Griffiths, Jack Heanly
Country: Australia.


This is a perfectly devastating Australian film about the horror of loss and the futility of refusing to face up to grief. Impressively channeling a cross between a charmingly winning Hugh Grant and a smirky Colin Ferrell on a bender, Matthew Goode plays a man on the edge, the burning man of the title, shattered by a recent, but unspoken tragedy. He curses relentlessly, drinks excessively, womanizes voraciously, and meanwhile he fails to care for his son, neglects his work, and winds up in an horrific traffic accident.


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Thursday, Sep 8, 2011
A mix of art house experiments, mainstream confections, grand costume dramas, sex-soaked character studies, apocalyptic horror, intimate human drama, political satires, rock 'n' roll documentaries, and a little Werner Herzog for good measure.

There are hundreds of movies and just not nearly enough time. At best, and this is in itself a butt-numbing goal to have set for myself, I will sit through 30 films over the next ten days. I have mapped it all out, and things are looking good. A mix of art house experiments, mainstream confections, grand costume dramas, sex-soaked character studies, apocalyptic horror, intimate human drama, political satires, rock ‘n’ roll documentaries, and a little Werner Herzog for good measure.


But, it isn’t just films, of course. Half of the people I know who look forward to this festival every year are getting geared up for a little Canadian stargazing (which means slightly less effective stalkery but with free health care). There are parties, there are industry events, there are press conferences, red carpets, “secret concerts”, and all sorts of stuff you can do that is TIFF minus the actual seeing of films. I, as a rule, try to avoid most of this stuff. I don’t get invited to much, anyway, but even some of the stuff I do get the call for I will skip. Frankly, I’m always too exhausted from watching eight hours of movies that day and trying to write up five reviews before bed that night to think about trying to look cool by myself at a party. Let’s face it: getting drunk and maybe brushing past Emily Blunt would be awesome, but not that awesome.


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Monday, Apr 25, 2011
The Miners' Hymns issues a silent yet evocative reminder about labor economy.

Just about thirteen months ago, the company Massey Energy made its name world famous when an unfortunate tragedy occurred at one of their coal mines in West Virginia. Twenty-nine people lost their lives in an explosion. Massey, with its repeat violations, and other companies, through the practice of mountaintop removal, have been problematic for the universal image of the laborious miner. Pollution of the water table in West Virginia has pitted families against members over one of the communities’ few viable occupations. But without our miners’ tireless and dangerous work, our country, as well as other ones, would never have achieved the modern industrial state, let alone reached the industrial revolution.


The Miners’ Hymns by Bill Morrison combines archival footage from various British sources to stir up some melancholy for the heyday of mining. This film takes primarily black and white footage placed (sensationally if not accurately) chronologically to show the routine of the miner by day and the overall trend of mechanization in mining itself. Even without having previous knowledge of the film, a viewer of Morrison’s careful selection will come away understanding the strong and cohesive narrative. Miners move from home to workplace with apparent uniformity to their actions. But there is a moment a worker is free from the Taylorism as he kisses a lantern for good luck. Scenes of undulating coal and giant cogs turning transform into trucks involved in large scale mining.


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Wednesday, Nov 3, 2010
Kelly Reichardt's Meek’s Cutoff is an outsider's Western. If we were looking for a female counterpart to Gus Van Sant, I think we may have found her.

The New York Film Festival recently concluded its 48th year of operation. It’s certainly one of the stuffier festivals I’ve attended, held in uptown Manhattan at the Lincoln Center and peopled largely by old-money, high-society patrons-of-the-arts types. Being a twentysomething living in Brooklyn and getting by on a Netflix subscription and something like $20,000 a year, I naturally felt a little out-of-place trying to slip past the old ladies with mink stoles and hide the holes in my jeans.


Luckily, though, despite the sometimes-stuffy atmosphere, the NYFF’s programmers had more than the upper crust in mind when laying down this year’s slate of films. Set up as a showcase rather than a competition, a wide range of nationalities, backgrounds, and levels of relative fame were represented in this year’s choices: although the fest’s opening film was The Social Network, its closer was Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter, and its centerpiece was the Helen Mirren-starring iteration of The Tempest, the real meat was to be found in the in-between zones.


One of the festival’s featured directors, for example, was Kelly Reichardt, whose Meek’s Cutoff was a decidedly un-mainstream and non-uptight affair. In addition to showing the film twice with a Q&A following each screening with Reichardt and actors Paul Dano, Neal Huff, and Tommy Nelson, the NYFF also included Reichardt in an installment of its series of “HBO Director’s Dialogues”, in which Reichardt sat down for an extended interview with the very knowledgeable critic Melissa Anderson, taking some further audience questions afterward.


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