My Annual Indulgence

The New Zealand International Film Festival started on 9 July. It is my biggest annual indulgence. I spend time and money watching what I love. Movies. All kinds of movies, from all parts of the world and across genres.  One year I watched thirty-eight films. This year I am being a very good girl and watching only twenty-one.  I have a well-set process by which I go about organising myself around the festival.

1- I get the programme and go through all the films. Mark the ones I want to see. The first wish list usually has fifty to sixty films on it. That is impossible to do-even if I camp out on Queen Street.

2- So I cull the list keeping films that might not come back through theatrical release, are interesting documentaries, big name works that I have to see, the HOMEGROWN section of short films and Asian films. (I love Korean cinema and Japanese animation.)

3- I co-ordinate screening sessions with my ‘free’ time which means I might have to drop a film or two.

4- I buy tickets.

Industry guild members get discounts hence so do I, being a member of the NZ Writers Guild (and Women In Film And Television, NZ).

Have just come back from the HOMEGROWN WORKS ON FILM session. Tonight I will watch TEZA.

Last night I saw John Woo’s RED CLIFF, the international version. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Apart from the blockbusting spectacle (and some corny moments in the script), it was the male star cast that drew me to it. I am a huge fan of Tony Leung. He is always such a pleasure to watch on screen.  A fine actor and a good looking man. Then of course there are the gorgeous Takeshi Kaneshiro and Chang Chen.

So ithas been a good start. Reiterating the magic of movies; why I do what I do; the art and craft of storytelling. Sitting in the dark theatre as the titles come on and reels unroll. The start of my annual indulgence until 25 July 2009. That night I’ll close it THE GOLD RUSH on live music.

Taxiing through…

The 40th Auckland International Film Festival concluded on Sunday 27 July. It was my best festival so far. Yes I did fall sick in the last week-I expected to because I was overwhelmed with work and ‘studying films’ 🙂 Every single film I saw had something to offer me. Most were exceptional. If I name one then it is doing injustice to another. A highlight was meeting Yung Chang, the super-intelligent and articulate director of UP THE YANGTZE. A well-made documentary about the human cost of the Three Gorges Dam.

For me, all films (actually everything) is political but apart from Yung’s film, there were three others I saw that stood out with their clear political content. Hana Makhmalbaf’s feature THE BUDDHA COLLAPSED OUT OF SHAME, Ari Folman’s WALTZ WITH BASHIR and Alex Gibney’s TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE. Each film was intense and made me uncomfortable and sad. But with TAXI… I was getting angrier and angrier.

Guantanamo Bay, an entire generation of mentally disturbed Americans who served in the military, more chaos in the Middle East and more ‘terrorists’ (sorry, enemy combatants ya?) are the legacy of white men who think they are superior to the rest of the world. These men are the real war criminals who carry out their actions with impunity and make a lot of money. All in the name of civilisation, democracy and religion.

Whose civilisation, democracy and religion? Maybe they forget that Jesus was an Arab, not an effeminate looking white male with blue eyes.

I find it interesting how in spite of these obvious issues governments around the world continue to pay obeisance to the Americans. Condoleezza Rice was in New Zealand over the weekend. She described New Zealand as an ally. So does that mean we are with them and not against them? That we do not and should not, in the larger scheme of things protest against the actions of war criminal George W Bush?

The same goes to the Indian government. What shenanigans to be subservient to the Americans! All for a nuclear deal that is supposed to give space to India in the elite nuclear club and allow for progress. How, when as a nation that has a trillion dollar plus GDP, India is not able to pull her people out of poverty, is this nuclear deal going to help? By lifting ‘sanctions’ that stop other nations from providing nuclear knowledge and material for civilian purposes? Or basically letting America dictate what we can and can’t do with our own nuclear expertise?

Last week a friend Skyped me to say how the political representatives were making a mockery of democracy in Parliament. I watched it live on the web. The world’s largest democracy in action. Impassioned speeches for and against the deal. Poetry, film songs, wads of cash and Hindutva ideology. (If only the great orator L.K. Advani had not built his career on the platform of hatred…how smartly he segued from talking of the Indian Constitution, Non-Aligned Movement etc to Amarnath pilgrims…) Now India is an American slave. Forget about traditional and historic ties with Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan…forget about resisting imperialism and finding her own unique path…

Now the equations in the subcontinent and the Middle East have changed forever. Maybe there is a potential Guantanamo Bay somewhere in the Andamans? Extraordinary rendition in the Rajasthan desert?

A posterchild for us ethnics once told me that my writing is too India-centric. ‘No one cares for that in New Zealand.’ What a pity. When Kevin Rudd is now planning to sell uranium to India after this deal there is not a single India expert in the current government or in the Opposition. (Unless you count doddering old community leaders and political ‘Indian’ appointees on various boards.) Even the NZ Herald has not bothered to analyse the deal or how it affects the ‘Allies’. Whether I agree with India’s subservience to America or not, it is still a deal with long term geo-political impact.

The three films I mentioned are all from or about the Middle East. WALTZ WITH BASHIR talks of a massacre from 1982, with blood on the hands of Ariel Sharon. BUDDHA…is more immediate, about a little Afghani girl who wants to go to school and TAXI…of course won the Academy Award for best documentary in 2008. Wonder what stories will come out from those affected by the nuclear deal or shall the Indian Muslim p-o-v ever be told? Of how Americans pushed for the nuclear deal and were wheeling and dealing with politicians of all hues; of criminal MPs being let out of jail just to vote; of the impact on the region; of whether the deal really alleviates poverty and brings electricity and power to poor Indians; of New Zealand floundering between not supporting the Iraq invasion to being an ally and turning into a Chinese outpost…maybe I should talk to a producer. There is a story here….of socialism, a nuclear free country that could not be bullied, of Non-Aligned Movements and subservience, of white men who are war criminals but will never be punished…..