Friday night I saw a great Finnish movie called "Paha Maa" - "Frozen Land" in English. It starts and ends with one of the characters' funeral, but you don't know whose funeral it is until the end. Then you meet an English teacher who is let go because of funding cuts after a math teacher is hired. This sets off a series of events that are mostly quite tragic. Later in the movie the math teacher is lecturing on "Chaos Theory" and I think that's what this film is about - how one thing leads to another, which leads to another. You know, the butterfly effect. It's pretty depressing and there's some sex and violence, so it's not for everyone. Apparently in Finland people either love it or hate it. Put me in the love camp.
Saturday I saw a couple of documentaries.
First was a documentary that was nominated for the Academy Award last year. It's about the mayoral race in Newark, NJ in 2002. It was so dirty and contentious that it garnered national attention. The incumbent mayor had been on the city council or mayor for about 30 years. The challenger is a 32-year-old city councilman. Both men are African-American Democrats, but that's about all they share. Remember the name of the challenger, because you'll hear it again - Cory Booker. He's amazing. He went to Stanford University where he was an All-American football player and earned an undergraduate degree and a Master's, he's a Rhodes Scholar and he graduated from Yale Law School. Obviously, he's brilliant. He's also very good looking and charismatic. He settled in Newark after graduating from Yale and won a seat on the city council. He lived in (and still does live in) the most notorious housing project in Newark, "Brick Tower" so that he could live with his constituents and stay grounded. I think we'll be hearing his name on a national level before long.
The film is about his run against the incumbent mayor, Sharpe James, who had been survived a number of scandals among his staff. Mayor James was known for revitalizing a lot of the business climate in Newark, but Booker felt like it was at the expense of the poor - a lot of affordable housing had been lost in favor of business development. James had been re-elected many times and had a lot of support - someone in the film compares him to Marion Barry in Washington, DC - people feel like he's "their guy", so they'll overlook a few moral lapses. James has tight control of the city and uses that against Booker - threatening Booker's supporters with the city inspectors, the police, the fire department, etc. He appears completely paranoid - several times having the documentarian escourted out of his speeches and manhandled. He also makes wild accusations against Booker - accusing him of being a Republican, of being a puppet of the far right, of being gay, of being white (Booker is light skinned, though both his mother and father are African-American). Time after time he distorts things and outright lies, but never really seems to pay any consequence. The thing that was really shocking to me was that in New Jersey, buying gifts for the electorate is allowed, and thus is expected - you have to put on big meals, send greeting cards for every occasion and flat out give out gifts to curry favor with the voters. Amazing.
The last film I saw was "Sir! No Sir!", a documentary about the "GI Movement" - the anti-war movement within the military during the Vietnam War. This film is really interesting for someone like me, who is too young to really remember Vietnam. The filmmakers point out that during the war, there was very poor morale and a lot of opposition to the war among all branches of the military. But in the 80s, history was re-written in films like "Hamburger Hill" and "Rambo" so that now you think of Vietnam as a bunch of hippies protesting and spitting on soldiers who were just serving their country. The film sort of debunks the myth of the woman spitting on a soldier in the San Francisco airport as he returns from Vietnam. It also shows that Jane Fonda was not the hated figure that she's portrayed as now - she is shown performing for large crowds of military members, with them cheering her on and getting on stage with her. There are a lot of interviews with former military members who were part of the GI Movement, including showing them so young and fresh in their uniforms.
Of course, the whole thing rings very true and familiar to today's situation. Today you don't have the draft, but you do have a lot of young kids who joined the reserves or guards to pay for college, who had never seen a real war in their lifetimes and had no concept that they'd actually be called up for active duty. I wonder how strong the anti-war movement is among the troops and how long we have to be in Iraq before we start seeing officers killed by their men like we did in Vietnam.
M-SPIFF is over now, but the Best of the Fest is going on all week. I plan to see a few more of these films this week, which I missed out on before.