DALLAS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Day 9 – Saturday April 18
FRAME BY FRAME (documentary)
DIFF 2015 Silver Heart Award Winner
Greetings again from the darkness. Sitting comfortably in our recliners or desk chairs, we have come to take for granted the exceptional work of photojournalists from inside locations we ourselves would never risk going. These folks risk their lives to capture otherwise unimaginable conditions and injustice from around the world. Co-directors Alexandria Bombach and Mo Scarpelli profile four courageous photographers from Afghanistan.
Documenting the truth with a camera seems so simple; however, as one of the photographers explains, he often finds himself running towards the spot from which everyone else is running away. Put yourself in this situation … you are taking photos of a solemn religious ceremony when suddenly a bomb explodes and bodies, limbs, blood and destruction are everywhere. Do you stay to record the fallout and help the injured, or do you run away from the scene in case another bomb is set to detonate? This film doesn’t judge, but instead it matter-of-factly points out that these photographers understand the role they play in exposing such evil and cruelty. In other words, they stay.
One of the photographers profiled is Massoud, a Pulitzer Prize winner for his stunning photo of “The Girl in Green”. Massoud is now head photographer of AP – Kabul, and he remains in touch with the girl and her family, while maintaining his mission of documenting history in his country.
The most heart-breaking and anger-inducing segment involves Massoud’s wife Farzana, who is also a photojournalist. Yes, a female photojournalist in Afghanistan. Her personal story is so touching as she was a mere 13 year old girl when she had her first run-in with The Taliban, which had seized control in 1996 – making photography, education, history and any semblance of women’s rights a thing of the past. She shares her story which serves as her inspiration to record the injustices toward women that remain in the country, despite the social improvements since The Taliban was ousted from Kabul in 2001.
This review is no place for all the details covered in this emotional and powerful and informative documentary, but to paraphrase one of the photographers … “my heart was crying but my eyes had no tears left”. Please don’t mistake what these brave people do with the personal infringements of the celebrity paparazzi. The only similarities are the cameras they carry. These photojournalists and the others like them around the globe understand that their “empathy brings meaning to their photographs”, and that photographs are the only assurance that a segment of the population will never again be “voiceless”.
DIFF 2015 Award Winning Short Films
The last few days of a film festival allow the opportunity to catch up with the award-winning films that we may have missed. Below is a recap of the six award winning short films from this year’s Dallas International Film Festival:
WORLD OF TOMORROW (USA)
Directed by Don Hertzfeldt. The animated winner jumps ahead 227 years to show us a world where cloning provides everlasting life and perseverance of history and memories. It also depicts a world where financial status remains important, and leaves us with the philosophical thought … “Now is the envy of all dead”.
CAST IN INDIA (India/USA)
Directed by Natasha Reheja. Have you ever noticed that the manhole covers in NYC are stamped “Made in India”? Ms. Reheja noticed and thus began her journey to foundry where the bronze plates are crafted. It turns out these are highly skilled workers who take great pride in their work, face labor union issues, and sacrifice their hands, feet and backs for the manually intensive manufacturing process.
THE FACE OF UKRAINE (Australia)
Directed by Kitty Green. We see a stream of auditions from girls of various ages wanting the highly coveted role of the Ukrainian legendary figure skater Oksana Baiul – former World Champion and Olympic Gold Medalist.
ONE HITTA QUITTA (USA)
Directed by Ya Ke Smith. This provides a look at the despicable fascination of some high school kids regarding videos of violence … especially a “one hitta”, which is blindsiding some innocent with a punch to the face. It also takes us inside a classroom where a teacher pays the price for being in a no-win situation with a punk kid named Jason, whose clueless mother only contributes to his sickening actions.
THE CHICKEN (Germany/Croatia)
Directed by Una Gumjak. It is a pristine example of how a short film can so quickly capture our attention and shift tone from comedy to danger to heartfelt. During war-torn 1993 Sarajevo, a girl receives the gift of a live chicken from her soldier father, and what follows is worthy of the film’s award.
Directed by James M. Johnston. The combination of a bleak diagnosis and pregnant wife lead to open mic night at a local hangout, and the unforgettable lyrics of “F Cancer”.
DIFF 2015 – Grand Jury Winner
Greetings again from the darkness. The feature film debut of writer/director Tom Browne might be best suited to live theatre, though it works just fine on the silver screen. So fine in fact, that is was named the Grand Jury winner at the Dallas International Film Festival. On the surface it looks like yet another glimpse at the miseries of aging; however, it doesn’t take long before we viewers are entangled in this three-headed web of marriage, family, dominance and the struggles of growing old and losing control.
Fortunately the bleak subject matter is juiced with enough dark comedy that we actually laugh out loud periodically, while other times we manage at a smile for the smattering of sweet moments. Daniel (played by co-writer Daniel Cerqueira) is beckoned to the rural family home by his mother Maria (Gemma Jones) as she finds herself at a loss on how best to deal with Leonard (Richard Johnson), her husband and his dad.
This is a towering performance from Mr. Johnson, and he plays it full hilt as some odd type of tyrannical tragedy. See, Leonard’s reign as a force in family and life is now relegated to wallowing in his own sorrow, pain and feces while committed only to lying prone on the sofa and bossing his wife about the house with menial tasks for which he demands perfection. When Daniel arrives, he is taken aback by the squalor and demeanor of his once powerful father. He does what any of us would do … he takes control by ordering a hospital bed, getting dad cleaned up, etc.
As viewers we initially see things through the eyes of Daniel and Maria – on the wrong end of Leonard’s demeaning abuse. Somewhere along the way, there is a subtle shift in viewpoint and tone. The roots of love and marriage are revealed to run inordinately deep after so many years. An act of cruelty can somehow be forgotten and life can move on … even after situations that might never survive a shorter-term relationship. This shift is brilliant writing, and at a level we don’t typically see in movies.
In fact, the film seems to disprove one of its more poignant lines: “The black moments smother any flicker of light”, and instead builds on another: “Just because someone changes, doesn’t mean you stop loving them”. You will likely recognize all three lead actors, and each of them deliver excellent performances. Despite the subject matter, my takeaway is actually summed up in yet another line from the film … “I remember so much pleasure”.