Iraq War & Censorship for the Oscars? + Politics & Romance at Sundance

by Alt Film Guide
Iraq War censorship at Oscars: Iraq in Fragments James Longley
Iraq War & censorship among topics of documentaries still in the running for the Academy Awards. Image: Iraq in Fragments.

Blind mountain climbers, female African judges, Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, social injustice and racism, freedom of speech (or lack thereof), the destruction of the environment, the dysfunctional U.S. electoral process, a pedophile priest, assorted religious freaks, and – inevitably – the appalling political, military, moral, human, and downright bloody disaster known as Iraq are to be found among the 15 documentaries shortlisted for a future even shorter list (five nominees) for the 2006 Academy Awards.

Lucy Walker's Blindsight, which recently tied for the Audience Award for Best Documentary at this year's AFI FEST in Los Angeles, follows the first blind man to climb Mt. Everest as he leads six blind Tibetan teenagers up the tallest mountain on the planet. The other “inspirational” documentary in the running is Florence Ayisi and Kim Longinotto's Sisters in Law, about two female judges at a courtroom in the West African nation of Cameroon.

In Storms of Emotions, Yael Klopmann asks several Israeli Army officers and members of the police border unit about their opinions regarding Israel's disengagement from the Gaza Strip.

Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg's The Trials of Darryl Hunt shows how an innocent man was convicted of rape not because he was guilty, but because he was black.

In Shut Up & Sing, Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck analyze the negative repercussions that followed the Dixie Chicks' Natalie Maines' anti-George W. Bush statement at a 2003 London concert. At the time, dissent was perceived as an act of treason by millions of Americans who ardently approved of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. As a producer, Kopple has already won two Best Feature Documentary Oscars, for Harlan County, U.S.A. (1975) and for American Dream (1990, shared with Arthur Cohn).

In Davis Guggenheim's An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore shows that he may have lost the White House but he definitely gained something much bigger and more important: an understanding that Mother Earth will soon become Mother Dust if human beings continue acting like deadly two-legged bacteria.

Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore? is Frank Popper's look at a Democratic primary election in Missouri, while Henriette Mantel and Steve Skrovan's An Unreasonable Man paints a portrait of Ralph Nader, whose candidacy in the 2000 U.S. presidential election changed the course of the country (for the much, much worse).

Deliver Us from Evil is Amy Berg's glimpse into the mind of Father Oliver O'Grady, a pedophilic priest who abused both the bodies and the minds of little children, and the trust of their clueless parents, while the Catholic Church's hierarchy looked the other way. (Kirby Dick's 2005 Best Documentary nominee Twist of Faith tackled a similar story.)

Sticking to the religion theme, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady's Jesus Camp deals with another form of child abuse (one that is perfectly legal) by showing how small American children are being indoctrinated in a radical brand of the Christian faith so that when they grow up they'll help to transform the United States (and tomorrow the world?) into Christland.

And finally, Stanley Nelson's Jonestown: The Life and Death of People's Temple shows the results of deranged religiosity by depicting Jim Jones and his hundreds of followers, most of whom took part in a mass suicide ceremony in Guyana in 1978.

As for Iraq…

Laura Poitras' My Country My Country follows a Baghdad doctor running for a seat in the City Council of a city in ruins; Deborah Scranton's Tribeca winner The War Tapes consists of digital video images shot by several members of the U.S. National Guard unit serving in Iraq; Patricia Foulkrod's The Ground Truth shows the after-effects of the war on returning American service personnel; and James Longley's Sundance winner Iraq in Fragments is one of the rare documentaries made by American filmmakers that actually depict war-ravaged Iraq as seen through the eyes of the Iraqis themselves.

Press Release:

Beverly Hills, CA — The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences today announced that 15 films in the Documentary Feature category will advance in the voting process for the 79th Academy Awards®. Eighty-one pictures had originally qualified in the category.

The 15 films are listed below in alphabetical order:

Blindsight
Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore?
Deliver Us from Evil
The Ground Truth
An Inconvenient Truth
Iraq in Fragments
Jesus Camp
Jonestown: The Life and Death of People's Temple
My Country, My Country
Shut Up & Sing
Sisters in Law
Storm of Emotions
The Trials of Darryl Hunt
An Unreasonable Man
The War Tapes

The Documentary Branch screening committee viewed the eligible documentaries in a preliminary round of screenings. Documentary Branch members will now select the five 2006 nominees from among the 15 titles on the shortlist.

Nominations for the 79th Academy Awards will be announced on Tuesday, January 23, 2007, at 5:30 a.m. PST in the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements of 2006 will be presented on Sunday, Feb. 25, 2007, at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center®, and televised live by the ABC Television Network at 5 p.m. PST, beginning with a half-hour arrival segment.

Foreign Language Film Submissions for the 79th Academy Awards

Sundance World Cinema Competition Includes Costa-Gravas' Daughter

Of note among the 2007 Sundance Film Festival's World Cinema Competition - Dramatic:

Julie Gavras, the director of La Faute à Fidel / Blate It on Fidel, is the daughter of director Costa-Gavras;

Heitor Dhalia's O Cheiro do Ralo / Drained won the Special Jury Prize and its star, Selton Mello, tied for the Best Actor award at this year's Rio de Janeiro Film Festival;

Nick Broomfield's Ghosts won the Solidarity Award at this year's San Sebastian International Film Festival;

Guillermo Arriaga, the co-screenwriter of El Bufalo de la noche / The Night Buffalo, wrote the Babel screenplay; and the novel upon which the film is based;

and Dror Shaul's Adama Meshugaat / Sweet Mud tied for the Israeli Academy's Ophir Award for Best Film, and is that country's submission for the 2006 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

The 2007 Sundance Film Festival runs Jan. 18-28, 2007, in Park City, Sundance, Salt Lake City, and Ogden, Utah.

WORLD CINEMA COMPETITION: DRAMATIC

BLAME IT ON FIDEL (LA FAUTE A FIDEL) / France (Director and Screenwriter: Julie Gavras)—A 9- year-old girl weathers big changes in her household as her parents become radical political activists in 1970-71 Paris. North American Premiere.

DRAINED (O CHEIRO DO RALO) / Brazil (Dir.: Heitor Dhalia; Screenwriters: Marçal Aquino, Heitor Dhalia)—A pawn shop proprietor buys used goods from desperate locals—as much to play perverse power games as for his own livelihood, but when the perfect rump and a backed-up toilet enter his life, he loses all control. North American Premiere.

DRIVING WITH MY WIFE'S LOVER (ANE-EUI AEIN-EUL MANNADA) / South Korea (Dir.: Kim Tai-sik; Screenwriters: Kim Jeon-han, Kim Tai-sik)—When a mild-mannered South Korean man decides to track down the cab driver having an affair with his wife, a strange bond develops between the pair during a long-distance drive. North American Premiere.

EAGLE VS. SHARK / New Zealand (Director and Screenwriter: Taika Waititi)—The tale of two socially awkward misfits and the strange ways they try to find love. World Premiere.

EZRA / France (Dir.: Newton I. Aduaka; Screenwriters: Newton I. Aduaka, Alain-Michel Blanc)—A young ex-child soldier in Sierra Leone attempts to return to a normal life after the civil war which devastated his country. World Premiere.

GHOSTS / UK (Dir.: Nick Broomfield; Screenwriters: Nick Broomfield, Jez Lewis)—Based on a true story, GHOSTS is the tragic account of an illegal Chinese immigrant woman as she struggles relentlessly for a better life in the U.K. North American Premiere.

HOW IS YOUR FISH TODAY? (JIN TIAN DE YU ZEN ME YANG?) / UK (Dir.: Xiaolu Guo; Screenwriter: Rao Hui, Xiaolu Guo)—Blurring boundaries between reality and fiction, HOW IS YOUR FISH TODAY? traces a Chinese writer's inner journey through his fictional characters. North American Premiere.

HOW SHE MOVE / Canada (Dir.: Ian Iqbal Rashid; Screenwriter: Annmarie Morais)—Following her sister's death from drug addiction, a high school student is forced to leave her private school to return to her old, crime-filled neighborhood where she re-kindles an unlikely passion for the competitive world of “Step” dancing. World Premiere.

THE ISLAND (OSTROV) / Russia (Dir.: Pavel Lounguine; Screenwriter: Dmitri Sobolev)— Somewhere in Northern Russia in a small Russian Orthodox monastery lives an unusual man whose bizarre conduct confuses his fellow monks, while others who visit the island believe that the man has the power to heal, exorcise demons and foretell the future. U.S. Premiere.

KHADAK / Belgium/Germany (Directors and Screenwriters: Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth)—Set in the frozen steppes of Mongolia, KHADAK tells the epic story of Bagi, a young nomad confronted with his destiny after animals fall victim to a plague which threatens to eradicate nomadism. U.S. Premiere.

THE LEGACY (L' HERITAGE) / Georgia/France (Directors and Screenwriters: Géla Babluani, Temur Babluani)—Three French hipsters and their translator travel through rural Georgia to claim a remote, ruined castle that one of them has inherited. En route, they encounter an old man and his grandchild who are on a journey to carry out a mysterious, morbid ritual designed to end a conflict between warring clans. North American Premiere.

THE NIGHT BUFFALO (EL BUFALO DE LA NOCHE) / Mexico (Dir.: Jorge Hernandez Aldana; Screenwriters: Jorge Hernandez Aldana, Guillermo Arriaga)—A 22-year-old schizophrenic commits suicide after his girlfriend cheats on him with his best friend. Before killing himself, he lays out a plan that will drive the lovers into an abyss of madness. World Premiere.

NOISE / Australia (Director and Screenwriter: Matthew Saville)—A young cop, beset with doubt and afflicted with tinnitus (ear-ringing), is pitched into the chaos that follows a mass murder on a suburban train. He struggles to clear the screaming in his head while the surrounding community deals with the after effects of the terrible crime. World Premiere.

ONCE / Ireland (Director and Screenwriter: John Carney)—ONCE is a modern-day musical set on the streets of Dublin. Featuring Glen Hansard and his Irish band “The Frames”, ONCE tells the story of a busker and an immigrant during an eventful week as they write, rehearse and record songs that reveal their unique love story. North American Premiere.

RÊVES DE POUSSIÈRE (DREAMS OF DUST) / Burkina Faso/Canada/France (Director and Screenwriter: Laurent Salgues)—A Nigerian peasant comes looking for work in Essakane, a dusty gold mine in Northeast Burkina Faso, where he hopes to forget the past that haunts him. U.S. Premiere.

SWEET MUD (ADAMA MESHUGAAT) / Israel (Director and Screenwriter: Dror Shaul)—On a kibbutz in southern Israel in the 1970's, Dvir Avni realizes that his mother is mentally ill. In this closed community, bound by rigid rules, Dvir must navigate between the kibbutz motto of equality and the stinging reality that his mother has, in effect, been abandoned by the community. U.S. Premiere.

Documentaries

The Sundance Institute has announced the line-up of 64 films selected for the Independent Film and World Cinema Competitions for the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.

Among the 122 feature films selected are 82 world premieres, 23 North American premieres, and 11 U.S. premieres representing 25 countries, with nearly 60 first- or second-time feature filmmakers.

Of note Uli Gaulkes Comrades in Dreams, which follows different film-loving individuals trying to spread the cinematic gospel in different parts of the world; Shimon Dotans Hot House, about how brutality and repression in this case inside Israels prison walls breeds the sort of mindset that leads to terrorism; and Bruno Ulmers Welcome Europa, which depicts the uneasy lives of immigrants in the European Union.

The 2007 Sundance Film Festival runs January 18-28, 2007, in Park City, Sundance, Salt Lake City, and Ogden, Utah.

WORLD CINEMA COMPETITION: DOCUMENTARY

ACIDENTE / Brazil (Director: Cao Guimarães and Pablo Lobato)Experimental in form, this lush cinematic poem weaves together stories and images from twenty different cities in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil, to reveal the fundamental role the accidental and the unpredictable play in everyday human life. North American Premiere.

BAJO JUAREZ, THE CITY DEVOURING ITS DAUGHTERS / Mexico (Director: Alejandra Sánchez, José Antonio Cordero)In an industrial town in Mexico near the US border, hundreds of women have been sexually abused and murdered. As the body count continues to rise, a web of corruption unfolds that reaches the highest levels of Mexican society. U.S. Premiere.

COCALERO / Bolivia (Director: Alejandro Landes)Set against the backdrop of the Bolivian governments attempted eradication of the coca crop and oppression of the indigenous groups that cultivate it and the American war on drugs, an Aymara Indian named Evo Morales travels through the Andes and the Amazon in jeans and sneakers, leading a historic campaign to become the first indigenous president of Bolivia. World Premiere.

COMRADES IN DREAMS / Germany (Director: Uli Gaulke)From the far ends of the globe, four lives that could not be more different are united by a single passiontheir unconditional love of cinema and their quest to bring the magic of the silver screen to everyday lives to those who need it most. North American Premiere.

CROSSING THE LINE / UK (Director: Daniel Gordon)CROSSING THE LINE reveals the clandestine life of Joseph Dresnok who, at the height of the Cold War was one of the few Americans who defected to North Korea, one of the least understood countries in the world. North American Premiere.

ENEMIES OF HAPPINESS (VORES LYKKES FJENDER) / Denmark (Director: Eva Mulvad and Anja Al Erhayem )Malalai Joya, a 28-year-old Afghani woman, redefines the role of women and elected officials in her county with her historic 2005 victory in Afghanistans first democratic parliamentary election in over 30 years. North American Premiere.

THE FUTURE IS UNWRITTEN / Ireland/UK ( Director: Julien Temple)An invitation from Joe Strummer, the Punk Rock Warlord himself, to journey beyond the myth to the heart and voice of a generation. His life, our times, his music. World Premiere.

HOT HOUSE/ Israel (Director: Shimon Dotan)At once chilling and humanizing, HOT HOUSE provides an unprecedented look at how Israeli prisons have become the breeding ground for the next generation of Palestinian leaders as well as the birth place of future terrorist threats. North American Premiere.

IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON / UK (Director: David Sington)One of the defining passages of American history, the Apollo Space Program literally brought the aspirations of a nation to another world. Awe-inspiring footage and candid interviews with the astronauts who visited the moon provide an unparalleled perspective on the precious state of our planet. World Premiere.

MANUFACTURED LANDSCAPES / Canada (Director: Jennifer Baichwal)This stunningly visual work provides the unique perspective of photographer Edward Burtynsky, who chronicles the transforming landscape of the world due to industrial work and manufacturing. U.S. Premiere.

THE MONASTERY: MR. VIG AND THE NUN / Denmark ( Director: Pernille Rose Grønkjær) Worlds collide, tempers flare and dreams are realized when Mr. Vig, an 82-year-old virgin from Denmark and Sister Ambrosija, a headstrong Russian nun, join forces to transform Mr. Vigs run-down castle into an Orthodox Russian monastery. North American Premiere.

ON A TIGHTROPE / Norway, Canada (Director: Petr Lom)The daily lives of four children living in an orphanage who are learning the ancient art of tightrope walking becomes a metaphor for the struggle of the Uighurs, Chinas largest Muslim minority, who are torn between religion and the teachings of communism. North American Premiere.

THREE COMRADES (DRIE KAMERADEN) / Netherlands (Director: Masha Novikova)In this intimate film we witness the lives of three lifelong friends whose worlds are torn apart by war in Chechnyas bloody struggle for independence. North American Premiere.

A VERY BRITISH GANGSTER / UK (Director: Donal MacIntyre)Given his many contradictions, Dominic Noonan, head of one of Britains biggest crime families, is a man who defies stereotypes. This close up look at his life, from gun trials to the murder of his brother on the streets of Manchester, reveals a community struggling with poverty, violence and drugs. World Premiere.

VHSKAHLOUCHA/ Tunisia (Director: Nejib Belkadhi)In a poor district of Tunisia, self-made auteur, Moncef Kahloucha, a guerilla filmmaker in the purest sense, demonstrates that it takes a village to make fun movies as he brings the power of cinema to the people. North American Premiere.

WELCOME EUROPA / France (Director: Bruno Ulmer)Kurdish, Moroccan and Romanian young men migrate to Europe [it may come as a shock to some, but Romania is also located in Europe] for a better life only to face the harsh realities and the laws of survival on the streets of a foreign land. North American Premiere.

Thessaloniki International Film Festival Movies

The Thessaloniki International Film Festival kicked off on Friday with a screening of Stephen Frears' crowd pleaser The Queen.

Fourteen films have been included in the International Competition section, among them Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche's Bled Number One / Back Home, the story of an Algerian former convict who suffers a cultural shock after being deported from France back to Algeria; Julia Loktev's Day Night Day Night, about a suicide-bomber wannabe who gets ready to self-explode in Times Square; Markus Herling's Schöner leben / Riding Up Front, which revolves around assorted people crossing each other's paths on Christmas Eve; and Tariq Teguia's Roma wa la n'touma / Rome Rather Than You, the tale of a young Algerian couple trying to flee that country's bloody (even if unacknowledged) civil war.

Among the special screenings are Guillermo del Toro's mercilessly violent fable El laberinto del fauno / Pan's Labyrinth; Marwan Hamed's solid feature-film debut, Omaret yakobean / The Yacoubian Building, about an iconic Cairo building – a symbol of Egyptian society – now in disrepair; and Richard Linklater's diet-inducing Fast Food Nation.

Also, a tribute to Wim Wenders, with a screening of 27 of the director's films, including Lisbon Story, Hammett, and what many consider Wenders' best film, Der Himmel über Berlin / Wings of Desire; a glimpse at Brazilian filmmaking of the last 40 or so years, with 18 films ranging from Vidas Secas / Barren Lives, Nelson Pereira dos Santos' classic Cinema Novo drama about extreme poverty in the arid Brazilian Northeast, to Breno Silveira's recent feel-good box office hit 2 Filhos de Francisco / Two Sons of Francisco; and finally, a look at 22 recent Chinese films, among them Zhang Yuan's dysfunctional love story I Love You and Li Shaohong's Baober in Love.

The Thessaloniki festival runs until Nov. 26. Alain Resnais' beautiful, haunting Private Fears in Public Places will be the closing night gala screening.

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