A Good Yarn

Monday, May 12, 2008

Wrapping Up M-SPIFF

I ended the film festival like I began it - watching a documentary by one of the masters of the form. This time it was Werner Herzog:

I couldn't find a poster for the film, but as you may be able to suss out from the photograph, this was a film about a very cold place. It's called "Encounters at the End of the World" and it's a sort of travel journal/nature documentary about Herzog's trip to Antarctica. There are a few penguins in the film, but it's not your typical nature doc. Herzog definitely shows some gorgeous sites - this really is meant to be seen on the big screen, especially if you like snow and ice. But he also concentrates on the people living in Antarctica. As you can imagine, it takes a certain type of person to choose to live "at the end of the world", and the people we meet in the film are quirky. Herzog narrates and he's got a very dry sense of humor.

I only watched one film in the Best of the Fest:

This was another film I couldn't find a poster for. It's called "Witnesses to a Secret War." It's about the U.S.' clandestine war in Laos during the Vietnam War. The U.S. recruited the Hmong people in Laos to fight against the Communist troops in North Vietnam. When North Vietnam and Laos fell to the Communists, the U.S. abandoned almost all of the Hmong who were no longer safe in Laos. Most of the Hmong went to refugee camps in Thailand and many have settled here in the U.S. We have a huge population of Hmong in St. Paul and the film also profiles Hmong refugees - both those who came to St. Paul in the 70s and those who were still in Thailand when the film began. It's a really interesting look at the immigrant experience and a good lesson about how we treat the "freedom fighters" we recruit abroad. The film will be returning to Oak Street next month and will also be shown on PBS some time next year.

I also had a chance to see a sneak preview of an upcoming film:

This is a Merchant-Ivory film and whatever thoughts spring to your mind when you hear that label, probably apply to this film. It's a big, lush, beautiful period drama. It's the story of a young man, T.K., in India in the 1930s who is working for a wealthy English businessman. T.K. comes from a very traditional Indian family, but was educated in English schools, so he's sort of a part of both worlds. His boss is having an affair with his Indian housekeeper, even though both are already married. I probably don't have to tell you that kind of thing didn't go over very well in India in the 1930s and T.K. has to figure out where his loyalties lie and what he's willing to do when the relationship is exposed. The film is really well made and quite lovely, but it left me a little cold. I just didn't feel any emotional connection to the characters or the type of urgency that I think I should have.