Happy Birthweek To Me or “Film Festival Marathon”

This week Abu Dhabi celebrated its 6th International Film Festival. I see this annual event as a personal challenge: Some people run marathons. Some people Bungee Jump. Some people inexplicably tie the knot in mass weddings. But for me, my irrational compulsion is back to back to back Arthouse movies.

Fortunately, my birthday happens to fall smack bang in the middle of this fantastic event. This means that I can attend 3 movies a day if I like and no-one is allowed to raise an eyebrow. Meals are optional during this week. Matinee sessions followed by early evening screenings followed by meet the director question/answer sessions take priority over menial things such as buying the groceries.

“Where’s Mum?” says one child to another.
“At the movies” replies the other.
“Again?” chimes in a third.
“Don’t you mean Still!” says the eldest, with the sarcasm and authority that comes with being 2 inches taller than the rest

Protesting husbands can be silenced with a look that says

“It’s my Birthweek man, suck it up.”

And let me tell you just how worth it the journey has been. I’ve seen what a Military Dictatorship looks like through the eyes of an adolescent boy. I’ve gripped my seat in fear as Somali pirates took the crew of a ship hostage off the coast of Africa. I’ve shared a mother’s anguish as her son sought to escape the misery of their refugee camp existence. I’ve witnessed Pakistani women receive life-changing face reconstructions after their husbands threw acid over them, and I’ve balled my eyes out when an old man was reunited with his lost grandson in a remote Australian village. I’ve been educated on issues as wide-ranging as the drug war in the U.S., the decline of Augustus Pinochet, how to live green in Riyardh (riding a tricycle?!!) and the plight of charity work in the UAE. And I’ve been lucky enough to meet the creators of these amazing films and to hear first hand what it was that inspired them.

But now, as my long, sometimes tearful yet mind-expanding week draws to an end, I look back on the marathon (and numbness-of-butt) that was 12 films in 5 days, and share my pick of them. Here’s 7 great films not to be missed, as well as one to be avoided at all costs.

Clandestine Childhood

This is a film about a young boy, Juan, whose parents are part of resistance forces fighting against Argentina’s military dictatorship in the late 70s/early 80s, a war that would become known as the “Dirty War”. You may have heard of the Mothers of Plaza del Mayo who have for three decades demanded justice for their lost sons and daughters, the “disappeared” as they are known. Clandestine Childhood is told from the perspective of a young boy of 11, raised with an alternate identity, complicit in his parents subversive activities with a stubborn pride and a deep affection for them both. All the same he is unable to resist the lure of a simple life, a “normal” life; a childhood with birthday parties and school camps, and first love. So it’s romantic. And with all its arguing and profanity it’s also so very Argentine. But the real beauty and originality is in the use of mixed media (graphic art) to convey scenes of violence in a manner that gives an authenticity to the Juan’s experience and really rattles your cage. [Worth noting that this film is an Oscar contender this year]

Favourite bit:
Impossible to choose… beautiful representation of the love between mother and son (especially when they were lying under a tree talking about “how you know when you know”); Uncle Beto and “why a woman is like a chocolate covered peanut and how to devour her”; the depiction of first love between Juan and María

Laughed when:
Horacio goes head to head with Uncle Beto on the “point of it all” culminating in a truly magnificent insult-slinging match of the kind that makes Argentines famous.

Cried During:
The scene in the kitchen between mother and daughter. One paralysed by fear, the other willing to risk her life and the lives of her children for her beliefs.

Impressed by:
The use of comic book graphics to display the violent scenes

To meet the director, to learn the story is largely autobiographical, and his mother remains one of the “disappeared”.

Made me think: About how lucky we are in New Zealand, the freedom we take for granted. Freedom that, just three decades ago, people were prepared to lose their lives fighting for.

Saving Face

A few years ago a British-Pakistani doctor became famous when he performed plastic surgery on a beautiful (seriously beautiful) young woman who had suffered a horrendous acid attack to her face. Doctor Mohammad Jawad was hailed as a miracle worker in a documentary the girl made about her journey“>[My Beautiful Face]. Through this work, he learned of the women in his homeland suffering every day from similar atttacks at the hands of their husbands. One thing led to another. Then, a few months later a film director approached him after hearing a BBC interview about the free surgeries he was performing in Pakistan. The two linked up and over the following 8 months produced this incredible documentary which last year won the 2012 Academy Award for Best Documentary.

Favourite bit:
When Zakia’s husband was convicted.

Cried when:
Rukshana said “My daughter is through there [points to the door, blocked by bricks] but they won’t let me see her”

Laughed uncomfortably when:
In the middle of the surgery he said to the medical staff assisting him “I don’t understand it, you guys can build a nuclear weapon but you can’t pass me a bloody scalpel”. And also “let’s give you some big bazookers man” (talking on phone to client about her forthcoming boob job).

To learn that there are on average 100 acid attacks reported per year [that’s only the reported cases], and up until last year (possibly thanks to this film) men who committed these offences were usually not charged.

Satellite Boy

Pete lives with his Grandfather in a remote region of Western Australia. It’s a going-nowhere sort of place but it’s home and Pete loves it. His Grandfather tries to teach him the ‘old ways’ but Pete knows better. He’s going to open a restaurant with his Mum, just as soon as she comes back from the city. But his dreams are threatened when a mining company moves in and serves an eviction notice. Pete decides to plea his case to the developers in the city and takes up with his best mate to make the three day trek across the desert to mining headquarters. Without sufficient food or water, the journey quickly becomes life-threatening and Pete needs to draw on all the lessons of survival his Grandfather ever taught him.

Best bit/cried when:
Jagamarra says: “You came back to me. You’re mine”

In fact, for me this was the most poignant moment of the entire film festival. I cried all my tears for all my movies in this single scene.

Haven’t got time to review the following films but check out the trailers and be sure to catch them if you can!!

When I Saw You

This film was incredible, but the real highlight was listening to the director’s talk afterwards. Oh, and here’s me with the star of the film!

A Hijacking

The House I Live In

But whatever you do… don’t see

Ruby Sparks

(From the producers of Juno) Seriously America, is this the best you’ve got?


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