It looks like I saw nine films yesterday. I know you must be impressed. I have to admit, most of these I saw in press screenings before the festival.
Xeroderma Pigmentosum is an extremely rare genetic disorder that makes exposure to sunlight fatal. Sun Kissed (world premiere) takes us to a Navajo reservation where this disorder is much more likely than in the general population. We meet a family that has had two children with the disease, as they struggle to find some understanding. Along the way we see bits of Navajo spirituality, which seeks a restoration of harmony, and also the ways Mormonism affects families with this disorder. I hope to meet with the directors today to discuss the film. Sun Kissed plays again Monday.
One of the free community screenings in the festival was The Invisible War, a doc by Kirby Dick about survivors of sexual assault in the army. The Defense Department estimates over 19,000 service members are sexually assaulted each year. A woman soldier in a combat zone is more likely to be sexually assaulted by another soldier than to be killed by the enemy. The core of the film is survivors of military rape (including one male) telling their stories—not just of the attacks, but of the lack of response by the military. The film shows this to be a systemic injustice that must be addressed. The film opens in theaters this Friday.
All Is Well is a touching story of sisters from Angola who struggle to survive alone in Lisbon. They have been waiting for their mother, but exit from Angola is very difficult. In time each of the sisters must determine which way in life they will take. All Is Well plays again Tuesday.
The Chilean film Thursday Till Sunday seems like a story of a family on a weekend trip. We see this through the eyes of tweenager Lucia. While much looks like a normal trip, we pick up tension between the parents. The family may be on the verge of unraveling. This is more about that dynamic than plot. Thursday Till Sunday will play again today.
A Band Called Death (world premiere) is a documentary about a 70s rock band out of Detroit. The band was made up of three brothers. They developed a punk sound two years earlier than the Ramones. They seemed to have great promise, but their insistence upon naming the band Death derailed their chances for stardom. That is until they were discovered thirty years later. This is a story of creativity and surprise. There is also a spiritual thread that weaves its way through the events of the film. A Band Called Death also plays again Tuesday.
Baja California has been plagued by corruption and drug wars for several years. Reportero documents the work of journalists for the weekly newspaper Zeta. Investigative reporters in Mexico lead a dangerous life. The government and gangs are closely tied. Many papers shy away from these stories, but it is the raison d’etre for Zeta. The film tells the paper’s thirty year history and focuses on some of its early ideals and the men and women who upheld them. We also spend time with photojournalist Sergio Haro, who continues to do his job, even after receiving death threats. The film provides a context for the drug wars that Americans rarely see. Reportero plays at the festival again on Monday. It will air on PBS in the fall.
You don’t often see westerns at film festivals, so the world premiere of Dead Man’s Burden is a bit of a surprise. A dark western set after the civil war when a man returns to his family, only to find them nearly all dead. This homecoming is not all that sweet, especially as truths come out. Does the past matter or can it be overcome? Does family trump right and wrong? Dead Man’s Burden will play again Friday.
In Uganda there are efforts (fueled by American fundamentalist Christians) to make homosexuality a crime punishable by death. In Call Me Kuchu we see those efforts, and the push back by people in Uganda and the work of David Kato, Uganda’s first openly gay activist. This is a powerfully told story of the struggle of LGBT people in Africa who are literally fighting for their lives. Call Me Kuchu will play again today.
Vampira and Me (world premiere) tells the story of local icon from the early years of TV. The more recent Elvira is pretty much a ripoff of the persona that hosted late night horror films in Los Angeles in the 1950s. Maila Nurmi was an actress who never quite made it in films, but when she developed this character she became quite a hit in L.A. After all these years, only a few minutes of her TV persona exist. (Those were the days of live broadcasts.) This film pieces together those clips with various guest appearances and extensive interviews that director R. H. Greene did with her when she was in her 70s. An interesting look at fame and finding the person behind the persona. Vampira and Me plays again next Saturday.