Showing posts with label Independent Film. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Independent Film. Show all posts

07 March 2013

RAG RADIO / Thorne Dreyer : A Conversation With Austin Chronicle Editor and SXSW Co-Founder Louis Black

Austin Chronicle editor and South by Southwest co-founder Louis Black in the studios of KOOP-FM in Austin, Texas, Friday, March 1, 2013. Photo by Thorne Dreyer / The Rag Blog.
Rag Radio Podcast:
Austin Chronicle editor Louis Black,
co-founder of South by Southwest
"It used to be that you had to leave Austin to establish yourself politically, as a writer, as a filmmaker, as a musician. And now the world comes to Austin." -- Louis Black
By Rag Radio / The Rag Blog / March 7, 2013

Austin Chronicle editor Louis Black -- co-founder of the massive South by Southwest Music, Interactive and Film Festivals and Conferences -- was Thorne Dreyer's guest on Rag Radio, Friday, March 1, 2013.

Rag Radio is a syndicated radio program produced at the studios of KOOP 91.7-FM in Austin, Texas.

Listen to or download our interview with Louis Black here:

Louis Black is the editor of The Austin Chronicle, Austin’s major weekly newspaper, which he co-founded with Nick Barbaro in 1981. In 1987 Black co-founded South by Southwest Music, Interactive and Film Festivals and Conferences, along with Barbaro and Roland Swenson.

SXSW Music is the largest music festival and music industry event in the world; SXSW Interactive is arguably the largest event of its kind in the world; and SXSW Film has become one of the preeminent film festivals in the country. And there's a new educational component (SXSWedu) that "supports innovations in learning for education practitioners, industry leaders and policy maker."

(This year's SXSW takes place between March 8 and March 17, 2013, at the Austin Convention Center and all over Austin, Texas.)

On Rag Radio, Louis Black talked about his personal history growing up in Teaneck, New Jersey. ("I had dyslexia, I had attention issues, all kinds of authority issues. I was a disaster as a student.") So he became a film geek. At about 12 he became best friends with Leonard Maltin -- who would grow up to be one of the nation's most honored film critics -- “and we began to go into New York City after school and all-day Saturdays to watch films -- to museum screenings, we’d go to the film societies... We saw tons of movies."

"We weren’t really auteur freaks or international film fans," he said. "We would see lots of B movies, lots of cartoons... When we were 15, Len and I met Buster Keaton under the Brooklyn Bridge where he was filming the film, Film." Film was written by the legendary Irish playwright and novelist Samuel Beckett, who was standing nearby at the time. Black and Maltin were thrilled to meet Keaton but had no idea who Beckett was.

Thanks to Maltin's connections, Black ended up studying film in graduate school at the University of Texas. "I had been watching movies all my live, I had an enormous amount of knowledge," and suddenly he was not only a star student, but he had found his calling. Black received an MFA from UT-Austin, with a concentration in film studies, in 1980. And he would soon find himself at the epicenter of Austin's big-time cultural explosion.

Louis Black was a founding board member of the Austin Film Society, and the board's first president, and, along with then Texas Monthly Editor Evan Smith, co-founded the Texas Film Hall of Fame in 2001. He executive produced the documentary Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt, by Margaret Brown, and was an associate producer on Brown’s documentary, The Order of Myths, which won a Peabody Award in 2009.

Black executive produced the DVD release of the late Eagle Pennell's The Whole Shootin' Match, a 1968 film which had long been thought lost and that Robert Redford cites as inspiration for starting the Sundance Institute.

Louis Black and Thorne Dreyer.
Photo by Tracey Schulz.
Black says that the Austin Chronicle, with a circulation close to 450,000, can no longer legitimately be called an "alternative" publication ("KOOP radio is 'alternative,'" he said), but is a weekly newspaper featuring local news reporting and extensive cultural coverage -- and with a "definite point of view." The Chronicle has played a big role in Austin's evolution as a cultural hub. "Austin’s a unique place and a very special place," Black told the Rag Radio audience, "and certainly we’ve contributed to that, and we’ve benefited enormously from that."

When they started South by Southwest, Black said, they thought they'd have a "nice regional event, a little gathering in Austin for a couple of days, with workshops and panels and hearing some music… and we’d end it with a softball game and a barbeque." Well, "it was regional for the first year or two," he added, "but then it became national and then international. And then, under Roland Swenson's leadership, we added film, we added interactive, and now we’ve added an education component. And it mirrors Austin. The event is just a multiplier for what goes on in Austin all year round. It’s really succeeded."

And has it succeeded! As the UT alumni mag Alcalde put it in its March/April 2011 issue:
From its modest beginnings as a regional music conference in 1987, South by Southwest has ballooned into a multimedia powerhouse. Its music, film, and interactive-media conferences attract tens of thousands, turning Austin into the center of the cultural universe for one week every March.

Whatever you’re doing, South by Southwest is the place to show it off. Johnny Cash launched his big comeback at South by Southwest in 1994. More recently, Norah Jones started building buzz there before she won all her Grammy Awards. Newly launched Twitter saw tweets per day more than triple at the 2007 interactive conference. And Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, which won [the 2010] best-picture Oscar, was the talk of the 2009 film festival.
At last year's music festival, Bruce Springsteen provided a memorable keynote address and electrifying showcase performances, heading a stellar cast of artists, from world-renowned to (as yet) little-known, and this year's bill includes Dave Grohl, Stevie Nicks, and Green Day. There will be more than 20,000 registered participants and many thousands more will come into Austin for the related musical events involving more than 2,000 bands performing at easily a hundred venues. The film festival will offer screenings of more than 150 films.

SXSW Interactive is "probably the biggest event of its kind in the world, and now has hundreds of speakers," Black says. More than 25,000 attended last year's Interactive gathering and a substantial increase is expected this year. "With Interactive you can just feel the energy sizzling," Black says. As The Wall Street Journal wrote, "The brainpower that assembles in Austin is overwhelming. Everywhere you look there are smart people discussing smart ideas."

And the film festival is now "one of the most highly-regarded film festivals in the world." Austin is widely-known as the "live music capital of the world," with thousands of active musicians. But it has also become a major independent film center, home to filmmakers like Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez, and Mike Judge.

According to Black, "There’s more creative people in Austin now. More artists and musicians and filmmakers making a living in Austin or living in Austin and having their work seen around the world. It used to be that you had to leave Austin to establish yourself politically, as a writer, as a filmmaker, as a musician. And now the world comes to Austin."

"And the special thing about the creative scene in Austin," he said, is that it's "a completely culturally-integrated community. When you go to New York, the documentary filmmakers don’t hang out with the theatrical filmmakers who don’t hang out with the animators. In Austin all those filmmakers do, and people with a lot of different political stripes do: poets hang out with filmmakers who hang out with novelists who hang out with artists."

And, host Dreyer added, "everybody hangs out with the musicians."

Rag Radio has aired since September 2009 on KOOP 91.7-FM, an all-volunteer cooperatively-run community radio station in Austin, Texas. Hosted and produced by Rag Blog editor and long-time alternative journalist Thorne Dreyer, a pioneer of the Sixties underground press movement, Rag Radio is broadcast every Friday from 2-3 p.m. (CST) on KOOP, and is rebroadcast on Sundays at 10 a.m. (EST) on WFTE, 90.3-FM in Mt. Cobb, PA, and 105.7-FM in Scranton, PA.

The show is streamed live on the web by both stations and, after broadcast, all Rag Radio shows are posted as podcasts at the Internet Archive.

Rag Radio is produced in association with The Rag Blog, a progressive internet newsmagazine, and the New Journalism Project, a Texas 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. Tracey Schulz is the show's engineer and co-producer.

Rag Radio can be contacted at

Coming up on Rag Radio:
Friday, March 8: Novelist David McCabe, author of Without Sin, based on a true story of a sex trafficking ring exploiting young, undocumented women.
Friday, March 15: Legendary producer Chris Strachwitz of Arhoolie Records, and filmmakers Maureen Gosling and Chris Simon, This Ain't No Mouse Music!
Friday, March 22: Progressive sportswriter Dave Zirin, Sports Editor at The Nation.

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

28 June 2011

FILM / Gregg Barrios : 'Incendies' is Scorching Odyssey of Death, Rebirth

Lubna Azabal in Incendies. Courtesy of eOne Films.

Denis Villeneuve's Incendies:
A scorching odyssey of death and rebirth

By Gregg Barrios / The Rag Blog / June 28, 2011

[Incendies. Written and directed by Denis Villeneuve; Featuring Lubna Azabal, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudette, and Rémy Girard.]

The opening sequence in Incendies is a stunning piece of poetic filmmaking: A desert in the Middle East framed in the window of a barracks where a dozen young Muslim conscripts readied for combat are having their heads shaved. Radiohead’s haunting “You and Whose Army?” quietly plays as the camera zooms in on a child soldier who refuses to blink.

Quick cut to modern day Montreal. A lawyer is reading the last will and testament of Nawal Marwan (Azabal) to her adult children twins Jeanne and Simon. They learn that their late mother wants them to deliver a letter to their father and their brother. This surprises both since their father has been long dead and they never knew they had another sibling.

Nawal also states that she wants to be buried “naked, face down, away from the world.” No name or epitaph on a gravestone because she did not keep her promises in life. However, once the letters are delivered, she can rest in peace in the knowledge of what she was never able to tell her children alive.

While this set-up might strike some viewers as shop-worn, it is the stuff that makes Shakespearean drama, grand opera and Greek tragedy lasting forms of storytelling.

Incendies (nominated for a best foreign film Oscar last year) tells a tale of lost children, fathers and sons, and mothers who hold those secrets at a great cost. Director Villeneuve renders his film in an almost epic scale. Its mash-up (section titles, pop anthems, and non-chronological structure) echo Olivier Assayas’ Carlos or Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy. Still Villeneuve weaves his riveting tale alternating past with present to a fever pitch.

Their quest leads them -- Jeanne willingly, Simon reluctantly -- to a fictional Middle East country (modeled after Lebanon and their long civil war between Muslims and Christians).

The film parallels their search with the mother’s life: as a teen, the Christian-born Nawal has a romance with a young Muslim. Pregnant, she is forced to give up her child as a foundling but not before a midwife tattoos the child’s heel. The child’s mother vows to find him at whatever cost.

Nawal (Azabal’s dramatic portrayal is pitch perfect) is a raging life force whose devastating ordeals and star-crossed fate are constantly shifting as she too learns more about herself. As her story unfolds, I dare you to watch without blinking.

It is said that the cry of the mythical phoenix after having its nest reduced to ashes is that of a beautiful song. Ditto Nawal. When she is incarcerated, the inmates and guards call her “The Woman Who Sings.”

Incendies retells that age-old song of songs with beauty and grace.

[Gregg Barrios is a journalist, playwright, and poet living in San Antonio. Gregg, who wrote for The Rag in Sixties Austin, is on the board of directors of the National Book Critics Circle. This article was also published in the San Antonio Current. Read more articles by Gregg Barrios on The Rag Blog

The Rag Blog

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26 September 2009

Naomi Klein : Michael Moore, America's Teacher

Filmmaker Michael Moore. Art by Ward Sutton / The Nation.

Capitalism: A Love Story
Naomi Klein interviews Michael Moore
Well, people want to believe that it's not the economic system that's at the core of all this. You know, it's just a few bad eggs. But the fact of the matter is that... capitalism is the legalization of this greed.
By Naomi Klein / September 25, 2009

[On September 17, in the midst of the publicity blitz for his cinematic takedown of the capitalist order, Moore talked with Nation columnist Naomi Klein by phone about the film, the roots of our economic crisis and the promise and peril of the present political moment. To listen to a podcast of the full conversation, click here. Following is an edited transcript of their conversation.]

Naomi Klein: So, the film is wonderful. Congratulations. It is, as many people have already heard, an unapologetic call for a revolt against capitalist madness. But the week it premiered, a very different kind of revolt was in the news: the so-called tea parties, seemingly a passionate defense of capitalism and against social programs.

Meanwhile, we are not seeing too many signs of the hordes storming Wall Street. Personally, I'm hoping that your film is going to be the wake-up call and the catalyst for all of that changing. But I'm just wondering how you're coping with this odd turn of events, these revolts for capitalism led by Glenn Beck.

Michael Moore: I don't know if they're so much revolts in favor of capitalism as they are being fueled by a couple of different agendas, one being the fact that a number of Americans still haven't come to grips with the fact that there's an African-American who is their leader. And I don't think they like that.

NK: Do you see that as the main driving force for the tea parties?

I think it's one of the forces -- but I think there's a number of agendas at work here. The other agenda is the corporate agenda. The healthcare companies and other corporate concerns are helping to pull together what seems like a spontaneous outpouring of citizen anger.

But the third part of this is -- and this is what I really have always admired about the right wing: they are organized, they are dedicated, they are up at the crack of dawn fighting their fight. And on our side, I don't really see that kind of commitment.

When they were showing up at the town-hall meetings in August -- those meetings are open to everyone. So where are the people from our side? And then I thought, Wow, it's August. You ever try to organize anything on the left in August?

NK: Wasn't part of it also, though, that the left, or progressives, or whatever you want to call them, have been in something of a state of disarray with regard to the Obama administration -- that most people favor universal healthcare, but they couldn't rally behind it because it wasn't on the table?

MM: Yes. And that's why Obama keeps turning around and looking for the millions behind him, supporting him, and there's nobody even standing there, because he chose to take a half measure instead of the full measure that needed to happen. Had he taken the full measure -- true single-payer, universal healthcare -- I think he'd have millions out there backing him up.

NK: Now that the Baucus plan is going down in flames, do you think there's another window to put universal healthcare on the table?

MM: Yes. And we need people to articulate the message and get out in front of this and lead it. You know, there's close to a hundred Democrats in Congress who had already signed on as co-signers to John Conyers's bill.

Obama, I think, realizes now that whatever he thought he was trying to do with bipartisanship or holding up the olive branch, that the other side has no interest in anything other than the total destruction of anything he has stood for or was going to try and do. So if [New York Congressman Anthony] Weiner or any of the other members of Congress want to step forward, now would be the time. And I certainly would be out there. I am out there. I mean, I would use this time right now to really rally people, because I think the majority of the country wants this.

NK: Coming back to Wall Street, I want to talk a little bit more about this strange moment that we're in, where the rage that was directed at Wall Street, what was being directed at AIG executives when people were showing up in their driveways -- I don't know what happened to that.

My fear was always that this huge anger that you show in the film, the kind of uprising in the face of the bailout, which forced Congress to vote against it that first time, that if that anger wasn't continuously directed at the most powerful people in society, at the elites, at the people who had created the disaster, and channeled into a real project for changing the system, then it could easily be redirected at the most vulnerable people in society; I mean immigrants, or channeled into racist rage.

And what I'm trying to sort out now is, Is it the same rage or do you think these are totally different streams of American culture -- have the people who were angry at AIG turned their rage on Obama and on the idea of health reform?

MM: I don't think that is what has happened. I'm not so sure they're the same people.

In fact, I can tell you from my travels across the country while making the film and even in the last few weeks, there is something else that's simmering beneath the surface. You can't avoid the anger boiling over at some point when you have one in eight mortgages in delinquency or foreclosure, where there's a foreclosure filing once every 7.5 seconds and the unemployment rate keeps growing. That will have its own tipping point.

And the scary thing about that is that historically, at times when that has happened, the right has been able to successfully manipulate those who have been beaten down and use their rage to support what they used to call fascism.

Where has it gone since the crash? It's a year later. I think that people felt like they got it out of their system when they voted for Obama six weeks later and that he was going to ride into town and do the right thing. And he's kind of sauntered into town promising to do the right thing but not accomplishing a whole heck of a lot.

Now, that's not to say that I'm not really happy with a number of things I've seen him do.

To hear a president of the United States admit that we overthrew a democratically elected government in Iran, that's one of the things on my list I thought I'd never hear in my lifetime. So there have been those moments.

And maybe I'm just a bit too optimistic here, but he was raised by a single mother and grandparents and he did not grow up with money. And when he was fortunate enough to be able to go to Harvard and graduate from there, he didn't then go and do something where he could become rich; he decides to go work in the inner city of Chicago.

Oh, and he decides to change his name back to what it was on the birth certificate -- Barack. Not exactly the move of somebody who's trying to become a politician. So he's shown us, I think, in his lifetime many things about where his heart is, and he slipped up during the campaign and told Joe the Plumber that he believed in spreading the wealth.

And I think that those things that he believes in are still there. Now, it's kind of up to him. If he's going to listen to the Rubins and the Geithners and the Summerses, you and I lose. And a lot of people who have gotten involved, many of them for the first time, won't get involved again. He will have done more to destroy what needs to happen in this country in terms of people participating in their democracy. So I hope he understands the burden that he's carrying and does the right thing.

NK: Well, I want to push you a little bit on this, because I understand what you're saying about the way he's lived his life and certainly the character he appears to have. But he is the person who appointed Summers and Geithner, who you're very appropriately hard on in the film.

And one year later, he hasn't reined in Wall Street. He reappointed Bernanke. He's not just appointed Summers but has given him an unprecedented degree of power for a mere economic adviser.

MM: And meets with him every morning.

NK: Exactly. So what I worry about is this idea that we're always psychoanalyzing Obama, and the feeling I often hear from people is that he's being duped by these guys. But these are his choices, and so why not judge him on his actions and really say, "This is on him, not on them"?

MM: I agree. I don't think he is being duped by them; I think he's smarter than all of them.

When he first appointed them I had just finished interviewing a bank robber who didn't make it into the film, but he is a bank robber who is hired by the big banks to advise them on how to avoid bank robberies.

So in order to not sink into a deep, dark pit of despair, I said to myself that night, That's what Obama's doing. Who better to fix the mess than the people who created it? He's bringing them in to clean up their own mess. Yeah, yeah. That's it. That's it. Just keep repeating it: "There's no place like home, there's no place like home..."

NK: And now it turns out they were just being brought in to keep stealing.

MM: Right. So now it's on him.

NK: All right. Let's talk about the film some more. I saw you on Leno, and I was struck that one of his first questions to you was this objection -- that it's greed that's evil, not capitalism. And this is something that I hear a lot -- this idea that greed or corruption is somehow an aberration from the logic of capitalism rather than the engine and the centerpiece of capitalism. And I think that that's probably something you're already hearing about the terrific sequence in the film about those corrupt Pennsylvania judges who were sending kids to private prison and getting kickbacks. I think people would say, That's not capitalism, that's corruption.

Why is it so hard to see the connection, and how are you responding to this?

MM: Well, people want to believe that it's not the economic system that's at the core of all this. You know, it's just a few bad eggs. But the fact of the matter is that, as I said to Jay [Leno], capitalism is the legalization of this greed.

Greed has been with human beings forever. We have a number of things in our species that you would call the dark side, and greed is one of them. If you don't put certain structures in place or restrictions on those parts of our being that come from that dark place, then it gets out of control. Capitalism does the opposite of that. It not only doesn't really put any structure or restriction on it. It encourages it, it rewards it.

I'm asked this question every day, because people are pretty stunned at the end of the movie to hear me say that it should just be eliminated altogether. And they're like, "Well, what's wrong with making money? Why can't I open a shoe store?"

And I realized that [because] we no longer teach economics in high school, they don't really understand what any of it means.

The point is that when you have capitalism, capitalism encourages you to think of ways to make money or to make more money. And the judges never could have gotten the kickbacks had the county not privatized the juvenile hall. But because there's been this big push in the past twenty or thirty years to privatize government services, take it out of our hands, put it in the hands of people whose only concern is their fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders or to their own pockets, it has messed everything up.

NK: The thing that I found most exciting in the film is that you make a very convincing pitch for democratically run workplaces as the alternative to this kind of loot-and-leave capitalism.

So I'm just wondering, as you're traveling around, are you seeing any momentum out there for this idea?

MM: People love this part of the film. I've been kind of surprised because I thought people aren't maybe going to understand this or it seems too hippie-dippy -- but it really has resonated in the audiences that I've seen it with.

But, of course, I've pitched it as a patriotic thing to do. So if you believe in democracy, democracy can't be being able to vote every two or four years. It has to be every part of every day of your life.

We've changed relationships and institutions around quite considerably because we've decided democracy is a better way to do it. Two hundred years ago you had to ask a woman's father for permission to marry her, and then once the marriage happened, the man was calling all the shots. And legally, women couldn't own property and things like that.

Thanks to the women's movement of the '60s and '70s, this idea was introduced to that relationship--that both people are equal and both people should have a say. And I think we're better off as a result of introducing democracy into an institution like marriage.

But we spend eight to ten to twelve hours of our daily lives at work, where we have no say. I think when anthropologists dig us up 400 years from now -- if we make it that far -- they're going to say, "Look at these people back then. They thought they were free. They called themselves a democracy, but they spent ten hours of every day in a totalitarian situation and they allowed the richest 1 percent to have more financial wealth than the bottom 95 percent combined."

Truly they're going to laugh at us the way we laugh at people 150 years ago who put leeches on people's bodies to cure them.

NK: It is one of those ideas that keeps coming up. At various points in history it's been an enormously popular idea. It is actually what people wanted in the former Soviet Union instead of the Wild West sort of mafia capitalism that they ended up with. And what people wanted in Poland in 1989 when they voted for Solidarity was for their state-owned companies to be turned into democratically run workplaces, not to be privatized and looted.

But one of the biggest barriers I've found in my research around worker cooperatives is not just government and companies being resistant to it but actually unions as well. Obviously there are exceptions, like the union in your film, United Electrical Workers, which was really open to the idea of the Republic Windows & Doors factory being turned into a cooperative, if that's what the workers wanted. But in most cases, particularly with larger unions, they have their script, and when a factory is being closed down their job is to get a big payout--as big a payout as they can, as big a severance package as they can for the workers. And they have a dynamic that is in place, which is that the powerful ones, the decision-makers, are the owners.

You had your US premiere at the AFL-CIO convention. How are you finding labor leadership in relation to this idea? Are they open to it, or are you hearing, "Well, this isn't really workable"? Because I know you've also written about the idea that some of the auto plant factories or auto parts factories that are being closed down could be turned into factories producing subway cars, for instance. The unions would need to champion that idea for it to work.

MM: I sat there in the theater the other night with about 1,500 delegates of the AFL-CIO convention, and I was a little nervous as we got near that part of the film, and I was worried that it was going to get a little quiet in there.

Just the opposite. They cheered it. A couple people shouted out, "Right on!" "Absolutely!" I think that unions at this point have been so beaten down, they're open to some new thinking and some new ideas. And I was very encouraged to see that.

The next day at the convention the AFL-CIO passed a resolution supporting single-payer healthcare. I thought, Wow, you know? Things are changing.

NK: Coming back to what we were talking about a little earlier, about people's inability to understand basic economic theory: in your film you have this great scene where you can't get anybody, no matter how educated they are, to explain what a derivative is.

So it isn't just about basic education. It's that complexity is being used as a weapon against democratic control over the economy. This was Greenspan's argument--that derivatives were so complicated that lawmakers couldn't regulate them.

It's almost as if there needs to be a movement toward simplicity in economics or in financial affairs, which is something that Elizabeth Warren, the chief bailout watchdog for Congress, has been talking about in terms of the need to simplify people's relationships with lenders.

So I'm wondering what you think about that. Also, this isn't really much of a question, but isn't Elizabeth Warren sort of incredible? She's kind of like the anti-Summers. It's enough to give you hope, that she exists.

MM: Absolutely. And can I suggest a presidential ticket for 2016 or 2012 if Obama fails us? [Ohio Congresswoman] Marcy Kaptur and Elizabeth Warren.

NK: I love it. They really are the heroes of your film. I would vote for that.

I was thinking about what to call this piece, and what I'm going to suggest to my editor is "America's Teacher," because the film is this incredible piece of old-style popular education. One of the things that my colleague at The Nation Bill Greider talks about is that we don't do this kind of popular education anymore, that unions used to have budgets to do this kind of thing for their members, to just unpack economic theory and what's going on in the world and make it accessible. I know you see yourself as an entertainer, but I'm wondering, do you also see yourself as a teacher?

MM: I'm honored that you would use such a term. I like teachers.

© 2009 The Nation

[Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist and syndicated columnist and the author of the international and New York Times bestseller
The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, now out in paperback. Her earlier books include the international best-seller, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies; and the collection Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate (2002). To read all her latest writing visit

Michael Moore is an activist, author, and filmmaker. See more of his work at his website]

Source / The Nation / CommonDreams

Trailer: Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story

The Rag Blog

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15 September 2009

Culture Wars and Witch Hunts : Anne Braden, Van Jones and Yosi Sargent

Rosa Parks Interviewed by Anne Braden. Photo from Wisconsin Historical Images.

The many fronts of the culture wars
The Van Jones resignation has particular meaning for people like me with life experience in the coalfields, where the exploitation of land and people by the coal industry is made even more brutal by the dichotomy between jobs and the environment.
By Anne Lewis / The Rag Blog / September 15, 2009
“Use every attack as a platform…” -- Anne Braden
Ask anyone involved in black liberation, peace, gay rights, environmental justice, welfare rights, anti-poverty, or the women’s movement. All of us heard others attacked, if not ourselves, as socialists or communists. Those words were used to distract us, to divide us, to marginalize us, and to destroy effective leadership.

I’m currently working on a film about Anne Braden. Anne Braden had a great deal to say about anti-communism. She put her body and her mind into the struggle for black liberation, beginning in 1951 when she led a delegation of white women to Mississippi to protest the legal lynching of Willie McGee. She said, “We are here because we are determined that no more innocent men shall die in the name of white southern womanhood.”

In 1954, Anne Braden and her husband Carl bought a house for a black couple in a white suburban Louisville neighborhood. The house was fire bombed. In the midst of white backlash against Brown v. Board of Education, the local prosecutor charged the Bradens and five other white progressives with “sedition” for fomenting strife between the races as part of a communist plot. Carl was convicted and sentenced to fifteen years in prison.

Anne Braden and the other defendants traveled across the country to tell the story. They succeeded in freeing Carl at least temporarily. They raised up the issues of open housing and integration. They found new allies and forged a greater unity. When Carl was once more sent to prison for his ideas, Dr. King headed a petition drive for clemency. Please go here for excerpts from the film in progress.

The Van Jones resignation has particular meaning for people like me with life experience in the coalfields, where the exploitation of land and people by the coal industry is made even more brutal by the dichotomy between jobs and the environment.

Last spring, Van Jones told the Ohio Valley Environmental Council, a grassroots environmental group, that Appalachia would be a focus for green jobs. In another statement, Van Jones said, "This movement also has to include the coal miners." He went on to compare “clean” coal to “unicorns pulling cars.” Jones united environmental and economic justice in terms that working people understand. This unity, reflected in coalitions like the Blue Green Alliance and the Apollo Project, is critical to our movement.

In 1984, I documented a coal strike against A.T. Massey Coal in the area around Matewan. Please go here for a stream of the documentary. I interviewed now CEO Don Blankenship, listed on AlterNet as one of "the 13 scariest Americans” for his destruction of the mountains, denial of global warming, and attempted corruption of the Supreme Court of West Virginia.

It’s ironic that Don Blankenship was conducting a gala Labor Day event at the same time that Van Jones resigned his position. In Holden, West Virginia, to an estimated 75,000 supporters of coal, Blankenship blasted any attempt to control climate change stating, “Only God can change the earth’s climate.”

“Mine War on Blackberry Creek” and the Anne Braden project are produced with Appalshop, an arts and education NGO supported throughout its forty year history by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Another Glenn Beck victim: Yosi Sargent. Photo from SF Gate.

On September 10, Yosi Sargent was removed from his office as Communications Director at the NEA. Glenn Beck attacked both Sargent and the NEA as “Nazi” propagandists, based on tapes of a conference call asking artists to participate in Michelle Obama’s “United We Serve.” (I wonder what Glenn Beck would say about art created in the WPA, which brought us Jackson Pollack as well as Ben Shahn and Russell Lee.)

Sargent brought hip-hop, street artists, and grassroots arts groups to the White House. The attack against him smacks of racism and homophobia and commercialism. And so the culture wars begin once more.

We’re used to fanatic attacks on the National Endowment for the Arts spearheaded by the American Family Association. The American Family Association not only inflict on us their views on “decency,” they lobby against regulation of the oil industry, against hate crime legislation, and against the Employee Free Choice Act. And so attacks against culture and economics combine in a dangerous mix with religion.

The next human targets in the witch hunt are Mark Lloyd, Chief Diversity Officer of the Federal Communications Commission; Cass Sunstein, Director of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs; and Carol Browner, Director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy. Any one of these would be a heart-felt loss.

McCarthyism was far from over when McCarthy was condemned by the U.S. Senate in 1954. It wasn’t over in 1975 with the disbanding of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Assaults on affirmative action, the rise of the Klan and other neo-fascist organizations, Reaganomics and its assault on the working class, welfare deform, the killing of doctors who perform abortions – we really haven’t had a break. These attacks are cultural and ideological as well as economic.

Universal health care is a human right. No human being is “illegal.” Separate but equal is never equal. Young people should be treated with gentleness. The sick elderly should be cared for with dignity. Everyone should have adequate food and housing. The earth must be treated with respect or we will have no clean air to breathe or water to drink. Women have the right to control their bodies. The right questions all of these and calls them “racist,” “socialist,” and “fascist.” We need to reclaim the ground of common sense.

Here are four ideas for action, largely based on Anne Braden’s approach.
  1. Defend the first victims without fear, equivocation, or apology. We lost an opportunity with the Reverend Wright.
  2. Protect the rights of free speech and association. Anne Braden said that the right of free speech combined with freedom of association constitutes the right to organize.
  3. Analyze the attacks and understand their sources. Don’t stop at Glen Beck. Follow the money.
  4. Turn every attack into an opportunity for green jobs, for cultural democracy, for social change.
[Anne Lewis is an independent filmmaker frequently associated with Appalshop and a Senior Lecturer at UT-Austin. Credits include: "Morristown: in the Air and Sun," a working class response to globalization; "Fast Food Women" (POV and London Film Festival Judges' Choice); "On Our Own Land" about a citizens' effort to stop strip mining (duPont Award); and Associate Director, "Harlan County, U.S.A." "Anne Braden: Southern Patriot" is co-directed with Mimi Pickering. Anne is a proud member of Local 6186 CWA-TSEU and CWA-NABET. Anne's website is]

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

25 August 2009

God Thinks You're a Loser


"God Thinks You're a Loser"

The Rag Blog and South Austin Pictures present a screening of
"God Thinks You're a Loser,"
a perverse comedy from Austin director Gary Chason
at The Independent at 501 Studios
in the 501 Studio Complex,
501 E. 5th at I-35 in Austin, Texas (entrance on Brushy Street, one block east of I-35).

8 p.m., Thursday, August 27, 2009

A donation of $10 is suggested, with proceeds benefiting The Rag Blog, a progressive internet news magazine based in Austin.
There will be a cash bar.

According to Chason, "God Thinks You're a Loser" is "a zany comedy about strippers and oil men" with "plenty of kinky sex, drugs, and the reckless pursuit of sensual pleasure." But in the end, those who hurt others must answer for their actions.

Much of the film takes place in Hell.

A live discussion with director Gary Chason and star Sue Rock
will follow the screening.

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

18 August 2009

God Thinks You're a Loser


"God Thinks You're a Loser"

The Rag Blog and South Austin Pictures present a screening of
"God Thinks You're a Loser,"
a perverse comedy from Austin director Gary Chason
at The Independent at 501 Studios
in the 501 Studio Complex,
501 E. 5th at I-35 in Austin, Texas (entrance on Brushy Street, one block east of I-35).

8 p.m., Thursday, August 27, 2009

A donation of $10 is suggested, with proceeds benefiting The Rag Blog, a progressive internet news magazine based in Austin.
There will be a cash bar.

According to Chason, "God Thinks You're a Loser" is "a zany comedy about strippers and oil men" with "plenty of kinky sex, drugs, and the reckless pursuit of sensual pleasure." But in the end, those who hurt others must answer for their actions.

Much of the film takes place in Hell.

A live discussion with director Gary Chason and star Sue Rock
will follow the screening.

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

20 July 2009

'For All Mankind' : Remembering the Apollo Astronauts' Epic Derring-Do

Al Reinert's stunning 'For All Mankind' screens tonight as we observe the 40th Anniversary of man's greatest adventure
By Thorne Dreyer / The Rag Blog / July 20, 2009
See 'Tumbling Models: Some of "The Right Stuff,"' by Thomas Cleaver, and more about 'For All Mankind,' Below.
On July 20, 1969, exactly forty years ago today, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin bounded from Apollo 11's lunar module onto the face of the moon, capturing the imagination of the world.

On May 25, 1961, JFK had proclaimed to a joint session of Congress that "this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth," startling those who would be expected to make this, the stuff of sci fi novels, actually happen.

But they came through in, shall we say, flying colors. Twenty four men in spacesuits would circle the moon and twelve would actually walk on its surface in an unprecedented act of cosmic derring-do -- while consumating with a weightless flourish what many consider to be man's greatest technological triumph.

Al Reinert's 1989 classic film For All Mankind, a splendid documentary about the Apollo flights to the moon in the 60's and 70's, is showing tonight (Monday, July 20, 2009) on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) at 7:00 p.m. central time (check your local listings) -- as we all observe the 40th anniversary of a singular event in our history: mankind's first steps on the surface of the moon.

For All Mankind will be followed tonight on TCM by Philip Kauffman's The Right Stuff, the theatrical movie about the Mercury 7 astronauts based on the Tom Wolfe novel. (See Thomas Cleaver's remarks below.)

Reinert was (is!) my friend and colleague and I was involved peripherally (and at times not so peripherally) with the years-long development and production of For All Mankind. And the process was as impressive as the final product.

A screenwriter now living in southern California, Reinert is a Texas native who formerly worked as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle and a senior editor at Texas Monthly and as a widely-published freelance magazine writer.

For All Mankind was constructed from actual NASA footage -- some of the most amazing documentary photography ever taken -- combined with Reinert's interviews with the Apollo astronauts. The photography, culled from a massive inventory of raw 8mm and 16mm footage -- was chronologically reorganized to better tell this epic story.

The sum total was far greater than the parts, transformed by Al Reinert's artistic vision (and ungodly perseverance and attention to detail), with a great assist from Brian Eno's unearthly musical score.

Some of this utilization of NASA photography was pioneered by filmmaker William Michael Hanks in his documentary, The Apollo File, with which Reinert was originally involved.

For All Mankind was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1990, losing out to Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt, a film produced during the height of the AIDS epidemic which became a sentimental favorite among Hollywood insiders.

Reinert's film was recently re-released in hi-def Blu-Ray and premiered before a packed and enthusiastic crowd at the Paramount in Austin during the recent South by Southwest (SXSW) music and film festival. A new Special Edition DVD has been released by Criterion and is available from

Image from Philip Kaufman's 'The Right Stuff.'
Tumbling Models:
Some of 'The Right Stuff'

By Thomas Cleaver / The Rag Blog / July 20, 2009

TCM's showing of For All Mankind tonight, Monday, July 20, in widescreen letterbox, is being followed by a presentation of The Right Stuff. Check your local schedule for times.

The Right Stuff is not as good as it could have been (due to the fact that Phil Kaufman -- the director -- didn't think the Mercury astronauts had "the right stuff"), but it still has its moments, and I always like that the X-1 and X-1A sequences were done the old-fashioned way, with models hanging on wires in a park in San Francisco, shot against the real sky, with CO2 being sprayed by a production assistant to create the "clouds."

Also, the "hypersonic tumble" came when the FX supervisor was so frustrated that they couldn't get it done with motion-capture that he threw the model out the fourth story window of the warehouse where the production offices were. Someone else saw that and said "Brian! It tumbled!" after which they spent three days throwing X-1As off the roof and filming them as they fell. The tumbling F-104 sequence is a series of old Hawk/Testors F104s hanging from balloons, with the film then run in reverse after they were shot rising.

The famous shot of the astronauts walking toward the camera in their space suits came when Phil Kaufman saw all the illegal immigrants who worked in the sweat shop down the hall coming out at the end of shift -- so the astronauts are really walking out of a sweatshop in a warehouse in San Francisco.

(Memories from my first experience of working on a "big movie," where my job was driving Chuck Yeager around and writing press releases for the Unit Publicist).
For All Mankind : 'Visually Stunning'
There is no narrator spouting scientific facts or high tech jargon. Instead, Reinert blends together comments by thirteen of the original astronauts (others are glimpsed and heard in archival footage but no one is identified), sound effects and an appropriately eerie music score by Brian Eno.
There have been numerous books, films and documentaries on NASA's Apollo space program from the bestseller Apollo: The Epic Journey to the Moon by David Reynolds, Wally Schirra & Von Hardesty to Ron Howard's 1995 recreation of the Apollo 13 mission to HBO's documentary mini-series From the Earth to the Moon (1998), but For All Mankind (1989) is easily the most visually stunning and unconventional approach to documenting the nine Apollo missions that occurred between 1968 and 1972.

Instead of taking a chronological approach, complete with talking head interviews in the style of most documentaries, filmmaker Al Reinert painstakingly reviewed six million feet of archival footage from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's holdings along with 80 hours of original interviews he had conducted and fashioned a hypnotic visual and aural experience as seen through the eyes of the astronauts.

There is no narrator spouting scientific facts or high tech jargon. Instead, Reinert blends together comments by thirteen of the original astronauts (others are glimpsed and heard in archival footage but no one is identified), sound effects and an appropriately eerie music score by Brian Eno.

The result is closer to an experimental film but one that is unmistakably a tribute to America's foray into the international space race to the moon that was first set in motion by President John F. Kennedy's September 12th speech in 1962; he vowed that the U.S. would land a spacecraft on the moon and that "it will be done before the end of this decade." NASA accepted the challenge and it became a reality.

The Apollo space program was enormously costly -- an estimation of several billion dollars would not be unlikely -- and extensively documented in terms of the cameras that each mission was equipped with for photographing every aspect of the journey. As a result, For All Mankind could be considered the most expensive movie ever made when you consider what it cost to produce all the footage that NASA ultimately acquired.

Reinert recalled, "I began interviewing the Apollo astronauts in 1976. They were mostly retired astronauts by then, changed men, excerpts from the tapes constitute the major part of the soundtrack of For All Mankind. The movie thus speaks with the intimate voice of personal experience."

He added that "The astronauts went into space carrying movie cameras '16mm data-acquisition cameras' \which they reached for reflexively, like tourists, whenever they saw something surprising or spectacular or merely important. They saw such things almost continually. As a result, they brought back thousands of feet of amazing film, perhaps the most extraordinary footage ever shot by human beings."

-- from the Criterion Collection DVD liner notes for For All Mankind.

For All Mankind:

Oscar-nominated documentary is a bold meditation on discovery, courage and perseverance

By Randy Miller III / July 14, 2009

As a bold meditation on discovery, courage and perseverance, Al Reinert's For All Mankind (1989) truly stands in a class by itself.

This Oscar-nominated documentary chronicles the Apollo space missions of the 1960s and 1970s from a decidedly different perspective: the human one. Replayed reels of grainy stock footage have trained us to assume that the historic 1969 moon landing was distant, desolate and almost difficult to believe -- but within this warm atmosphere, it feels as perfectly natural as a home movie.

Though relatively short at only 80 minutes, For All Mankind was assembled from an enormous surplus of 8mm and 16mm footage held in NASA's archives for nearly two decades. This footage was routinely recorded for posterity, yet the majority of it had yet to be seen by the general public.

For All Mankind's subtle flow tricks us into thinking we're only watching one mission, but its deception shows us the big picture instead: this odyssey was about more than one moment, one journey or one crew; it was about the dedication of all involved, not to mention the overwhelming scope of the space program in general. Such a "discovery," for lack of a better term, helped to define an entire generation -- and like it or not, the accomplishment has yet to be equaled, let alone bettered.

In more ways than one, this broad assortment of material (carefully pieced together by Reinert, with the help of NASA film editors Don Pickard and Chuck Welch) is presented in its most affecting and appropriate form: as a loose but focused narrative, with an abstract beginning and end. Many smaller beginnings and endings were undoubtedly left on the cutting room floor, but it's all for the best; For All Mankind wouldn't be half as effective if it were approached in a less artistic manner.

Told in the words of several Apollo astronauts (including James Lovell, Jack Swigert, Ken Mattingly, Michael Collins and others), For All Mankind relies on monologue almost as much as visuals. Much of the audio we hear was recorded right on location -- and while it's potent enough in its own right, the retrospective comments are even more effective.

These astronauts' enthusiasm is only matched by their humility: they were certainly excited to be part of history, but their respect for the danger involved helped to keep them in check. We can't blame them, however, for skipping happily across the lunar surface or goofing off in zero gravity; after all, it's not like we wouldn't do the same thing. For All Mankind is a sincere and reverent experience, to be sure, but the film's infectious joy is one of its greatest strengths.

Brian Eno's score remains another highlight, whether it blends into the background or boldly steps forward. It's paired perfectly with the film's abstract flow and editing style, creating a natural but dreamlike atmosphere that works wonderfully. Still, the footage itself is the most effective element: the humbling nature of these visuals, especially with the realization that they're 100% genuine, really puts things in perspective. Modern documentaries like Planet Earth have given us a greater understanding of the world around us, but the striking simplicity of a desolate lunar landscape is something else entirely.

For All Mankind may be light from a technical perspective, but that's not the film's intent: this is more of a spiritual experience than a science lesson. Those looking for a more detailed, analytical rundown of the Apollo missions have plenty of other options to choose from -- but for everyone else, For All Mankind remains a definitive document of our first trip to the moon and back.

Originally presented on DVD by Criterion in 2000, For All Mankind wasn't the company's most practical release, especially taking its $40 price tag into account: not only were the film's grainy visuals a tough sell for videophiles, but the short running time and light amount of extras didn't help matters either. Nine years later, they've attempted to create a more attractive package. Boasting a newly-minted transfer, a pair of new featurettes and a lower price tag, this new reissue of For All Mankind is the clear winner from a new buyer's perspective...

[Read the rest of this review, including technical details and info about features on the new DVD release at
The Rag Blog

[+/-]

08 January 2009

FILM / Indie Beat: Hot Amnesia Babe Meets Mexican Mennonites

Charlotte Fich and Anders W. Bertelsen in "Just Another Love Story," left, and Maria Pankratz in "Silent Light." Photo courtesy of

'The movies that are most daring and strange -- and often the most extraordinary -- don't get much of a shot.'
By Andrew O'Hehir / January 8, 2008

After years of covering the indie-film beat, I'm pretty well convinced of the dogma that drives the business: The audience for art-house films is still out there, no smaller or larger than it ever was. But it's carved up differently, and the demands on its attention are far more various than they were in the days when reverent big-city throngs lined up for the latest Bergman or Fellini flick.

Basically, the movies that are most daring and strange -- and often the most extraordinary -- don't get much of a shot. They have to stop off in a few theaters on the way to video-on-demand or DVD, because otherwise people like me don't pay attention and the public never hears about them at all. But outside the world of movie bloggers and their readership (hi, guys!), even films that might have provoked furious debate 20 or 30 years ago will just come and go, momentary blips on a bewildering radar screen.

Consider the cases of two movies about adultery, the Danish thriller "Just Another Love Story" and the Mexican rural drama "Silent Light," pictures that were rapturously received on the 2008 festival circuit. Whatever their virtues and flaws, they're both arresting and accomplished films that evince a visionary sensibility, reject ordinary storytelling forms and seek to take the viewer on an unpredictable journey. I'd recommend both to any serious film buff. Both are getting quickie releases in Manhattan theaters this week, with some wider release (but not much) to follow. If you don't live in New York or L.A., very likely your next chance to see them will be in your living room. So it goes these days.

As you may have surmised, the title of writer-director Ole Bornedal's "Just Another Love Story" is meant to be ironic. Bornedal has made a bloody, showoffy, self-mocking noir, the kind of movie that presumes nothing good ever comes of two people falling in love. It's narrated by Jonas (Anders W. Bertelsen), whom we see in the opening shot lying prostrate in the rain on a Copenhagen street, evidently bleeding to death. A blond woman arrives to moan and shriek over him, but he isn't impressed. "The woman," he tells us in tones of resignation. "There's always a woman."

Actually, the blond shrieking woman isn't the woman. Instead she's his long-suffering wife, Mette (Charlotte Fich), whom he abandoned some months earlier to go live with the sultry and mysterious Julia (Rebecka Hemse), renegade heiress to a publishing fortune. You see, it's no wonder Jonas finds himself dying in the street, since he's violated at least three of the cardinal rules of the film-noir universe: Never leave your wife for the Other Woman; never take the suitcase that doesn't belong to you; and never pretend to be someone you're not.

Punishment awaits those who break those rules, of course, and Bornedal's task is to make all those forbidden fruits completely irresistible to Jonas and bring him full circle, from dying in the street to upstanding family man and back to, well, dying in the street. "Just Another Love Story" is a monumentally implausible tale told with a bravura array of flashbacks, flash-forwards, dream sequences and slo-mo incidents, and involving a beautiful woman suffering from both amnesia and blindness, an undead boyfriend, a mysterious fellow wrapped in mummy-style bandages, and a suicide pact in a Hanoi junkie hotel.

When Jonas' piece-of-crap car stalls out on the highway, with wife and kids aboard, Julia swerves to avoid it and nearly dies in a head-on collision. She's just arriving from Frankfurt, where she got off a plane from Vietnam, where she was fleeing a poisonous relationship with a boyfriend named Sebastian (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), whom she met in Asia. But her super-rich family have never met this mysterious paramour, and when Jonas shows up at the hospital to check on the comatose Julia, they all assume that he's Sebastian. Within minutes he's been assigned to kiss her and murmur in her ear, bathe her naked body with a loofah glove, and accept a blank check tucked into his pocket by Julia's publishing-magnate papa.

Look, I said it was ridiculous. Of course when Julia wakes up she can't see anything and doesn't remember the real Sebastian anyway (who has reportedly been murdered in Hanoi) and, hey, Jonas has gotten kind of bored with life with Mette and the kids anyway. Work all week, shop on Saturday, have some friends over to dinner -- why not chuck all that away and shack up with blind, ultra-rich amnesia-babe, anyway? As you have figured out by now, there are many reasons why not, and those all come together in a crashing finale.

You could call "Just Another Love Story" nothing more than an exercise in style, but A) Bornedal's got style to burn and B) that's not quite fair. Beneath all the dazzling cinematography, propulsive score and overcommitted acting, I found this movie an affecting, mordant comedy about male midlife crisis in its most extreme form. As Jonas observes to his best friend -- who's eager to get his paws on Mette, if Jonas doesn't want her -- his own behavior makes him sick. Which doesn't mean he can stop.

Mexican director Carlos Reygadas -- a one-time attorney who reinvented himself as an art-cinema auteur -- also has a flair for opening shots. His last film, "Battle in Heaven," began by bringing us up close and personal with a punk-hippie chick administering an enthusiastic blow job to a remarkably ugly man. In "Silent Light" he goes in a somewhat different direction; the film opens with a six-minute shot of the night sky gradually giving way to dawn, accompanied by a chorus of birds and insects (and ends with a similar shot in reverse, as evening moves into night). It's amazingly beautiful and it tests your patience; both things are par for the course with Reygadas, After that, you've either surrendered to his idiosyncratic sense of rhythm, or you're out of there.

Unlike Bornedal, Reygadas has no interest in mimicking or tweaking conventional film genres. Despite the in-your-face sexuality of his earlier films, they're ambiguous and nearly plotless dramas featuring nonprofessional actors and long, contemplative takes, whose roots lie in the cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky or Abbas Kiarostami. "Silent Light" both departs and does not depart from Reygadas' pattern. There's no explicit sex at all, but the setting and subject are certainly peculiar. This is presumably the first Mexican film ever made that isn't in Spanish, as well as the first film from any nation made in Plautdietsch, a Germanic language or dialect spoken (at least in recent centuries) only by isolated communities of Mennonites.

I don't know how in the world Reygadas recruited Mennonites from the Mexican state of Chihuahua -- where about 50,000 Plautdietsch-speakers still hang on -- to act in his film. I don't even know how many of them have ever seen a film. (Unlike their Amish brethren in the United States, the Mexican Mennonites do not universally reject modern technology, but I doubt that movies play a large role in their lives.) Regardless, the results are astonishing. "Silent Light" brings us intimately into the private world of this esoteric society without ever feeling like ethnography or gawkery; at the risk of cliché, this prodigiously atmospheric fable of love and faith feels both timeless and modern. Reygadas deliberately evokes biblical parable and Bergman's "The Virgin Spring," but also features a wonderful scene where two men work on an old Chevy pickup and sing along to a norteno hit on the radio.

Like "Battle in Heaven," "Silent Light" is at least nominally about an individual's internal moral struggle. Johan (Cornelio Wall), the taciturn father and husband in a Mennonite farm family, has conceived a powerful romantic passion for Marianne (Maria Pankratz), who runs a coffee shop in the nearest town. Johan is too upstanding not to tell his wife, Esther (Miriam Toews), everything, including the fact that he has physically transgressed their marriage vows. For her part, Esther seems determined to bear it all in silence. Advised by a friend that his love for Marianne may be sacred in nature, and by his father (played by Wall's actual father) that it's "the work of the Enemy," Johan is trapped by indecision, which leads first to tragedy and then to miraculous sacrifice and transfiguration.

But as usual with Reygadas, the story accounts for maybe one-quarter of the film's impact and meaning. His spectacular, ultra-long takes focused on the rituals and details of rural life each become their own little movie, animated by the interaction between the dramatic Chihuahua landscape and the faces and figures of these handsome, stoical people. Are Wall and Pankratz and Toews "acting," in the normal sense? It's tough to say. There's a scene when Johan and his children go for a swim, clad in Mennonite long underwear, in their homemade outdoor pool that's among the most gorgeous things I've ever seen in a motion picture. It isn't fiction but also isn't exactly documentary, and it has a passion and mystery and immanent vitality that, for my money, outstrips the film's somewhat forced conclusion.

"Just Another Love Story" opens Jan. 9 at Cinema Village in New York, with other cities and DVD release to follow. "Silent Light" is now playing at Film Forum in New York, with other cities to follow.

Source /

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

05 September 2008

FILM : 'WHY WE FIGHT' -- The Dominant Role of the Military in American Life

WHY WE FIGHT: 'We must understand the underlying disease itself'
By William Michael Hanks
/ The Rag Blog / September 5, 2008

One may scarcely witness the cascading events of the last decade without feeling a sense that something is going terribly wrong with America. Our government tells us that we stand for democracy. Yet, for over half a century we have overthrown democratically elected regimes and installed repressive dictators friendly to U.S interests.

We are told that we stand for human rights, yet we ignore genocide in Africa and train Central and South American terrorists in the School of the Americas. Government leaders decry the deceitful regimes of our enemies while perpetrating one of the grandest deceptions in American history upon our own people - a deception that has wasted our economy and cost the lives of thousands of young American men and women and hundreds of thousands of lives in other countries.

This would all read like George Orwell or Phillip K. Dick fictions of the future except for two things - it's not fiction and it's not the future, it's now. One's first instinct is to react to the visible symptoms of this malignancy: protest the war; expose individual hypocrisies; espouse human rights and social justice. But we can do all these things, and even be successful, without curing the disease. We stopped the Vietnam War only to see a sequence of others made in the same mold - each one more egregious than the last.

Certainly we must continue to oppose each unjust war, expose deceit, and act for social justice and human rights. But we must do much more if we are to bequeath a better world to future generations. We must understand the underlying disease itself - the DNA of forces and combinations that come together invisibly to create the visible symptoms of war, injustice, and oppression.

We need more informed thought and discourse about what has gone wrong in America. One good source is a documentary, WHY WE FIGHT, (Grand Prize, 2005, Sundance Film Festival) directed by Eugene Jarecki. The film follows the evolving thoughts of a Vietnam veteran, who lost a son when the World Trade Center towers fell, and the actions of a young man who is joining the military. It begins with the last address of President Eisenhower warning of the dangers of the Military-Industrial Complex. It is intercut with surprisingly candid interviews with military and intelligence officers who document the evolving deceptions of American citizens and the reasons for them.

WHY WE FIGHT addresses the underlying causes of war and injustice that we are supporting as taxpaying citizens. We, the American people, are making all this possible. Without the tax dollars and will of the people none of these things could be done. We are not only responsible we are accountable to future generations. It is our duty to understand the causes of war and injustice and, by confronting them at their source, reveal their true nature. If the majority of the people can understand the real enemy and act in solidarity we can leave the world a little better place.

WHY WE FIGHT shines new light on where the real fight is.

Go here for a clip.

And go here to see the film.

Also go to Until the Sun Stops.

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

22 August 2008

All These Methods Were First Tested in Laos

A view of Long Chen. The most secret location in 'the secret war' against Laos was the former CIA air base of Long Chen, a place that remains off limits even today.

LAOS: Film Reveals CIA's 'Most Secret Place on Earth'
By Andrew Nette / August 22, 2008

PHNOM PENH - - It was known as the ‘secret war’, a covert operation waged by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) throughout the sixties and early seventies against communist guerrillas in Laos.

And the most secret location in this clandestine war was the former CIA air base of Long Chen, in central Laos, a place that remains off limits even today.

A new film, ‘The Most Secret Place on Earth’, to be released in cinemas across Europe later this year, explores this little known conflict.

The film, which previewed for the first time in Phnom Penh in mid-August, includes images of Long Chen shot by the first Western camera crew to enter the base since the communists took control of the country in 1975.

"I first got the idea to do the film when I visited the Plain of Jars in Laos in 2002," recalled Marc Eberle,36, the German director in an interview with IPS.

"You could still see the craters from the air bombing and unexploded ordnance was everywhere."

"Then I heard about Long Chen and the fact that no one had got there since the war and I thought, how do I visit and how do I make a film about it?"

Little is known about the Lao conflict despite the fact that it remains the largest and most expensive paramilitary operation ever run by the U.S.

It was completely run by the CIA using largely civilian pilots from the agency’s own airline, Air America, and mercenaries recruited from the Hmong, an ethnic tribe living in mountainous areas in central and northern Laos.

Despite being the centre of the covert operation and, at its peak, one of the world’s busiest airports with a population of 50,000 people, Long Chen’s location was never marked on any map.

"I found it bizarre that at one time this was the second biggest city in Laos and it was completely secret," Eberle says.

Long Chen remains off limits to foreigners and most Lao due to clashes with remnants of the CIA’s Hmong army. Until recently it formed part of a special administrative zone under the direct control of the Lao army.

Renewed interest in the Laos’ secret war was briefly rekindled in 2003 when two Western journalists made contact with members of the Hmong resistance, the first white people they had seen since the CIA abandoned them 27 years ago.

Although pictures from the encounter were printed in Time Asia and won a world press award, U.S. media failed to pick up the story and it died.

The decades-old conflict again made headlines last year when U.S. authorities arrested 78 year-old Vang Pao, the head of the CIA’s Hmong forces in the sixties, and indicted him on terrorism charges relating to his alleged involvement in a plot to over throw the Lao government.

Eberle also believes what happened in Laos in the sixties is relevant in that it shares strong parallels with the conflict in Iraq.

"Laos was the progenitor of the way America fights wars in the 21st century," he says.

"Outsourcing the war to private companies, gathering public support by falsifying intelligence and documents, embedded journalism and automated warfare including the use of so-called ‘smart weapons’, all these methods were first tested in Laos."

The conflict began in the late fifties, as Washington sought to counter communist Pathet Lao forces and their North Vietnamese allies who had began building the Ho Chi Minh trail through the jungles running down the eastern border of Laos.

The operation was placed under CIA control to get around Laos’ supposed political neutrality and the conditions set by the Geneva Accords.

Vang Pao, then an officer in the Royal Lao Army, was recruited in 1960 to lead the Hmong troops drafted to fight the communists, which at the peak of the fighting numbered up to 30,000.

The largest of hundreds of airstrips built by the CIA throughout Laos, Long Chen was established soon after.

The Most Secret Place examines the conflict through the stories of players involved in the covert, diplomatic and military aspects of the conflict, including former diplomats, CIA officers and Air America pilots.

It also draws on critics such as Alfred McCoy, author of The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade and a reporter in Laos at the time, and Fred Branfman, an aid worker turned anti-war activist who worked to expose the conflict.

Ordinary Lao people at the receiving end of the world’s most technologically sophisticated military machine get a chance to tell their story.

Although there is a short interview with Vang Pao, the one aspect of the story not adequately dealt with is the plight of the Hmong, who bore the brunt of some of the most savage fighting. With the exception of senior officers like Vang Pao and their families, the Hmong fighters were abandoned when the U.S. pulled out.

One of the most interesting aspects of ‘The Most Secret Place’ is that it incorporates previously unused footage Eberle managed to collect, including film of actual combat missions and day-to-day life at Long Chen.

This was gathered from myriad sources, including the U.S. National Film Archive and footage held by television stations from across Europe.

"The CIA had just declassified a whole lot of material so that helped as well," he says. "The most important source was the guys who were over there filming with their little Super 8 cameras, often illegally."

This film’s analysis sets it apart from other books and documentaries on the subject, most of which justify the conflict, lauding the CIA operatives and their Air America pilots as heroes.

The reality, as Alfred McCoy says towards the end of the film, was very different. "We destroyed a whole civilisation, we wiped it off the map. We incinerated, atomised human remains in this air war and what happened in the end? We lost."

The covert nature of the conflict meant that U.S. forces were able to ignore virtually all the rules of engagement operating in Vietnam. Every building was a potential target and the civilian toll was huge.

The situation grew worse in 1970 when U.S. President Nixon authorised massive B-52 bombing strikes on Laos, which remained classified information until many years later.

American planes dropped an average of one planeload of bombs on targets in Laos every eight minutes, 24 hours a day for nine years, making it the most heavily bombed country on earth per capita in the history of warfare.

Eberle remains cagey about exactly how he managed to gain access to film at Long Chen. "It was a matter of having the right contacts," he says.

The last film crew to try and get there were caught and convicted to 15 years prison, although they were eventually freed after four weeks due to international pressure.

"After we went another UK crew tried to get there but they were caught and deported," he adds.

"There are some places in the world that have a different energy and Long Chen is one of these. You look down the runway and think this is the place were it all happened. The planes took off from here and bombed all those people."

The film, which contains aerial footage of the base as well as shots from the ground, shows Long Chen today as an overgrown airstrip surrounded by heavily forested mountains.

"It’s just an army outpost now. A small village, a couple of hundred people, soldiers and their families."

The buildings, including Californian bungalows and a number of other structures designed in sixties style, largely lie vacant and derelict.

"The golden age of Long Chen is over. It used to be the high-tech oasis for spooks in Laos. There were allegedly more antennas there than trees. Now they do not even have power."

The 2007 arrest of Vang Pao in California, along with eight other Hmong and a former U.S. army ranger who served in Vietnam, on charges of allegedly plotting to topple the Lao government, has highlighted the current state of Hmong resistance inside Laos.

Eberle believes, as do many other observers in Laos, that the resistance is on its last legs.

"There are still some groups but they are not organised. They are certainly not politically or militarily organised. They are remnants, the children and grandchildren of those involved in the war who are scared to come out of the jungle because they have never known anything else."

"Whether Vang Pao is guilty or not of the charges he is facing, one thing that is true is that he and other expatriate Hmong have used these people as pawns," maintains Eberle.

"Vang Pao has also got millions [of dollars] out of the Hmong community in the U.S. under the guise of liberating their homeland."

The decline in the resistance has been accompanied by talk of opening up Long Chen and the area around it to tourism.

"I do not see that happening in the next few years. It is still far too sensitive on the part of the Lao government," says Eberle. "They are also keen not to risk unsettling relations with the Americans by opening it up."

"It is the last chapter of the Vietnam War and both governments have an interest in making sure it is forgotten."

Source / IPS News

The Rag Blog

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19 August 2008

Texas Horror Movies : The Top Five

A Handful of Non-Chainsaw Horrors
By Hair Balls / August 18, 2008

We Texans live with our share of horrors: fire ants, Rick Perry, residents of Plano, but this entry was still something of a challenge. After all, coming up with Texas horror movies without invoking the one that actually has the name of our state in the title is harder than successfully suing local religious figures. Still, a few intrepid filmmakers have found some scares of the non-chainsaw variety in the Lone Star State.

5. Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966)

Torgo and company were rightly consigned to the chemical toilet of Hollywood history until MST3K resurrected them. Repeat viewings of Harold P. Warren's sole foray into cinema don't convey any greater insight (believe me, I've tried), just heightened annoyance. Set in Warren's hometown of El Paso, it's allegedly Quentin Tarantino's favorite comedy, which isn't exactly a ringing endorsement.

4. Future-Kill (1985)

This is a bit of a cheat, seeing as it stars Chain Saw Massacre alumni Edwin Neal and Marilyn Burns. Then again, my friends and I were among the few people who were actually suckered in by H.R. Giger artwork's (which director Ronald W. Moore tearfully begged the artist to supply for the poster) enough to see the movie in theatrical release. There's very little "future" in this Austin-filmed horror flick about frat boys tasked with abducting a "Mutant" (a nuclear protester with a penchant for lipstick and mascara) and running afoul of "Splatter" (Neal), an actual mutant with a mean streak.

I'm genuinely heartbroken I couldn't find the scene where a dude kills a stray cat with an Uzi. You'll have to make do with this dubbed clip:

3. Silent Rage (1982)

How do you stop a killer who can't die? Ordinarily I'd recommend you track down some member of the Van Helsing clan, but the only hope for the residents of this small Texas town is Sheriff Chuck Norris, who engages in an increasingly futile series of hand-to-hand battles with a resurrected maniac before doing the sensible thing and dropping the guy down a well.

Fine, I just wanted to talk about Chuck some more. But what about that ending? It leaves things open for a sequel!

2. Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)

Perhaps only the great Joe R. Lansdale could come up with a story in which a long-forgotten Elvis and a surgically altered JFK (darkened, Tropic Thunder style, to throw his enemies off track) do battle with an ancient mummy. Set in an East Texas rest home, the film was hampered from the start by Campbell's insistence on referring to the flick as a B-movie, to director Don Phantasm Coscarelli's chagrin.

My friend and I saw the River Oaks premiere of this, with Campbell and Coscarelli in attendance, sneaking into the theater while a German romantic comedy (they exist) was screening. We ended up sitting next to the entire Lansdale clan, who'd trekked down from Nacogdoches for the trip. Good people. And they didn't rat us out

1. Man of the House (2005)

Oh, boo yourself. Did any of you actually watch this? Academy Award winner Tommy Lee Jones and Academy Award watcher Cedric the Entertainer join forces to make the University of Texas a laughing stock to everyone in the country who didn't attend A&M. I understand it's not
technically horror, but you try sitting through it without getting the shakes. Fear or nausea...makes no difference.

To give you an idea how bowel-clenchingly awful it is, the Offspring song accompanying this clip is actually better than the actual dialogue.

Go here for more video clips: Source / Houston Press

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