Daniel Garber talks with director Jamie Kastner about A Skyjacker’s Tale

Posted in 1970s, 1980s, African-Americans, Crime, Cuba, documentary, FBI, Interview, Politics, Torture, Trial, US by CulturalMining.com on January 20, 2017

jamie-kastner-a-skyjackers-taleHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

It’s the 1980s. Ishmael Ali is on a commercial flight to the US. Virgin Islands. But not to lie on the beaches of St Croix. He’s being transferred to another maximum security prison. He’s serving time for the Fountain Valley Massacre – the infamous killing at a golf course owned by the theskyjackerstale_01Rockefellers… a crime, he says, he did not commit. And on this flight he manages to hijack the plane to Cuba. But there’s much, much more to this skyjacker’s tale.

A Skyjacker’s Tale is a new feature documentary that interviews the skyjacker himself in Cuba. It tells his story, and that of all the jamie-kastner-a-skyjackers-talepeople he affected: at the skyjacking, and at the trial. These interviews shed new light on a controversial case – with a dramatic finish — that left the public polarized. A Skyjackers Tale is directed by award-winning filmmaker Jamie Kastner, who brought us films like Kike Like Me, and The Secret Disco Revolution. (Here’s the interview from 2012).

A Skyjacker’s Tale opens today at the Hot Docs Cinema in Toronto.

I spoke to Jamie in studio at CIUT 89.5 FM..

 

Significant Hair. Movies Reviewed: Viva, Green Room, Sing Street

Posted in Cuba, Cultural Mining, Horror, LGBT, Movies, Music, Punk, Skinhead, Thriller by CulturalMining.com on April 21, 2016

Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Can hairstyles hold messages about your job, your politics, your musical preference or your sexuality? This week I’m looking at movies about men with significant haircuts: a family drama from Cuba, a thriller/horror from the US, and a musical from Ireland. There’s a boy in Havana who’s dying to try a wig on; some punks trying to avoid dying when the skinheads are wigging out, and a kid in Dublin who will change his hairstyle for a girl he’s dying to meet.

A017_C001_11119KViva

Dir: Paddy Breathnach

Jesus (Héctor Medina) is a young man who lives alone in Havana. His dad was a prize fighter who ran off when Jesus was three (his picture is still on the wall.) Later, his mom died leaving only her record collection of classic Cuban boleros and torch singers. And her threadbare apartment. Now he’s 18 and all alone, an adult orphan. He earns a meager living cutting the hair of old ladies in his neighbourhood, along with one important client.

Mama (Luis Alberto García) runs a bar popular among foreign tourists. It features travestidos, drag queens who perform on stage in makeup, wigs and gowns, lip-synching and dancing for an appreciative audience. Jesus is there backstage to Héctor Medina in VIVA, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.4clean and style their wigs.

But when one performer suddenly quits and Mama is left with an open space, Jesus volunteers to take her place. He knows all the songs by heart, and he longs to express himself. Mama is dubious. It’s not just the clothes she says, you have to feel it, get inside of it, live it. But after begging and cajoling he’s allowed to try out. His persona is named Viva. At first clumsy and awkward soon Viva dares to get off the stage and walk among the clients. Viva spots a new customer, a rough-looking middle-aged man, and gathers her courage to approach him. But when she sings to him and touches him, he punches her in the face, knocking her to the floor. They kick the man out, and help patch up Jesus’s split lip. He goes home feeling miserable. But who does he find in his apartment? The same man. I’m Angel, he says, and I’m your father.

Jorge Perugorría and Héctor Medina in VIVA, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures2-1Turns out, Angel didn’t exactly run away. He’s been in prison for 15 years, and now he’s home again. He’s a mean, selfish drunk and spends all his money on cigarettes and rot-gut rum. He takes over the apartment: food, coffee and bed. He’s macho and wants his son to harden up. Jesus is self-reliant and tough in his own way, but definitely not macho. Jesus hates this stranger who has taken over his life, but… Angel is his father, and the only family he has. Or is he? Mama says Jesus is welcome to come back to the club, to stay with his new “family” — he’ll even get a room to live in. Angel forbids him from dressing up like a woman and “humiliating” himself on stage. But that is the only place where Jesus finds fulfillment… and his sole source of money. As a gay man in Cuba there are very few jobs open for him. It’s that or the sex trade.

But Angel has a secret of his own — the reason he’s come home to spend time with Jesus. Can the two of them get along? Can they accept each other for who they are? And will Viva ever enter the picture again?

Viva is a moving drama about contemporary gay life in Havana. The cast is all Cuban, and is shot on location. It doesn’t cover up or apologize for the seamier side of Havana, including its poverty. It stars Jorge Perugorría as Angel, one of Cuba’s best-known actors, famous in North America for his role in Strawberry and Chocolate, another Cuban movie with a gay theme. Héctor Medina is a newcomer but also very good. Surprisingly, though, this movie is officially considered an Irish production — its writer and director are both from there. I don’t speak Spanish, but I’m told the dialogue, words and accents are muy authentico.

12642920_1557369967920554_2236015225478540444_nGreen Room

Dir: Jeremy Saulnier

Sam, Pat, Reece and Tiger are hardcore anarcho-punks from the east coast. Their band is touring middle-America, playing at dive bars and roadhouses in Corn Country. They’re musical purists – no social networking or  iTunes. It’s vinyl discs and live performances – or nothing. The r0BLjE_greenroom_01_o3_8676897_1439243368problem is they’re not making any money. And when a promised gig goes south, they have to siphon gas out of parked cars just to keep driving. So when a local punk offers them a paid show at a country roadhouse, they jump at the chance. Just don’t talk politics they’re told. And don’t play zmQWRr_greenroom_03_o3_8677014_1439243414anything political.

The place turns out to be a bar for white-supremicist skinheads. And the green room (that’s where bands wait before they go on stage) is laden with neo-nazi, stickers, confederate battle flags and white power logos. Nice…But a few skins aren’t going to stop them. They start their set with a cover of the Dead Kennedy’s classic Nazi Punks F*ck Off! Dead silence. The skinheads aren’t pleased. Still, once they switch to their heavy loud tunes the crowd is slamming and enjoying the concert. All is good. But just as they head out, Pat (Anton RgkQ20_greenroom_05_o3_8677128_1439243450Yelchin, Chekov on Star Trek, 2009) remembers he left his smart phone in the green room. He busts in only to see something he shouldn’t have seen: a skinhead girl lying dead on the floor with a knife sticking out of her head. Pat dials 911 but they grab his phone.

Soon enough, the whole band is locked into the room with one door and no windows, along with a nasty-looking skinhead guard and Amber (Imogen Poots) a skin who was friends with the dead woman. No telephone. And no one knows they’re there.

O7LNWN_greenroom_02_o3_8676969_1439243390Things take a turn for the worse once Darcy shows up (Patrick Stewart, Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek:The Next Generation). He’s cold, sinister and forboding. A big guy in the Stormfront circuit, Darcy owns the club. He doesn’t want the police there, and he doesn’t want the punks talking about the murder. And he has dozens of True Believers – young neo-nazis who want to make their first kill – at his beck and call.

It turns into a battle between the punks (and a skinhead ally) armed with nothing more than a box-cutter, lightbulbs, a single handgun and a fire-extinguisher; and a gang of skins looking to kill. Once killer dogs enter the battle, people start dying.  Can any of them survive an all-out attack? Or will they disappear in a shallow grave in the woods?

Green Room is a great action/thriller/horror movie. My heart was pounding about a third of the way through, and didn’t let up til the end. It’s a typical house-in-the-woods type horror movie, but without the bikini-clad college students of a typical slasher pic. The women – including Sam (Alia Shawkat)–  are as tough as the men. And Imogen Poots is amazing as the Chelsea who joins the fight; so good, I didn’t recognize her until the closing credits.

12768265_228216354192538_6006492979310558347_oSing Street

Wri/Dir: John Carney

Cosmo (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is a middle-class kid at a private Jesuit school in Dublin in the 1980s. He lives at home with his parents, his little sister and older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor) a pothead who dropped out of college. But when his family falls on hard times he is sent to a rougher school run by the Christian 12771938_228217334192440_5486446044202041047_oBrothers. (Canadians know the name from the Mt Cashel orphanage in St John’s, Newfoundland, notorious for its horrific abuses.) Cosmo gets bullied from day one, especially by a skinhead. The school is run by men in black priestly gowns from neck to feet, and who are not adverse to corporal punishment. But all is not pgo441_singstreet_02_o3_8934407_1453302712lost. Because across the street from the school he sees a beautiful girl who looks like a model. She even has a proper model’s name: Raphina (Lucy Boynton). Thinking quickly he invites her to star in his band’s video for their next song – and she agrees. Only problem is, there’s no video, no song, and no band. Somehow Cosmo has to make it happen. He meets Eamon (Mark McKenna) and together they start writing music. But will they have it all ready in time for the school prom?

Something about this movie grabs me – I really like it. It’s your basic boy-meets-girl/ coming-of-age story, and it’s set in the 80s but there’s nothing old or tired about it. Sing Street feels fresh and new.

Green Room and Viva both open on April 29th in Toronto: check your local listings. And starting today in Toronto is the wonderful Irish musical Sing Street.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

April 13, 2012. Interview: Simone Rapisarda Casanova talks to Daniel Garber about his film The Strawberry Tree at Images Festival

Posted in Animals, Art, Canada, Cuba, Cultural Mining, documentary, Images Festival, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on April 16, 2012

Simone Rapisarda Casanova talks about The Strawberry Tree, a film he shot in a remote fishing village in Cuba that was later flattened by a hurricane. Simone shares his thoughts on the Three Utopias, the relationship of the artist and his subjects, honesty, class, and shooting a film looking up from the floor.

April 6, 2012. The Dispassionate Eye. Movies Reviewed: Images Festival, Strawberry Tree, The Pettifogger PLUS Bully v. Fightville

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

…I’m back again with some movie reviews. As I’ve said, springtime is film festival time. You can catch the Toronto Film Society’s “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” weekend at the Carlton Cinema in Toronto starting on May 11th, for a chance to see B&W film noir and other classics from the 1940’s, like Suspicion, The Big Sleep, The Glass Key and Double Indemnity.

And starting this Wednesday is the unique and amazing Images Media Arts Festival. Images is North America’s biggest festival of art-driven film and videos, including live performances, gallery installations, and, of course, movies. It’s their 25th anniversary, so you can see new and innovative work, as well as work shown their first year, way back in the 80’s. The Festival opens with John Akomfrah’s The Nine Muses, and closes with a live performance by Yo La Tenga.

The Strawberry Tree

Dir: Simone Rapisarda Casanova

This film is filled with mundane but lovely composed views of life in a small, Cuban fishing village. Scenes range from repairing fishing nets, and fish teeming underwater, and the slaughter of a goat in real time, to a woman peeling plantains, or  a man performing card tricks at a kids’ party.

The director’s camera is an unmoving, dispassionate observer set up on the floor, usually at a distance from the people he’s filming. But the posture of an artist’s indifference is challenged and exposed by the constant patter of the film’s subjects: sexual banter, casual insults, joking stories and comments often involving the artist by name. They talk about his jewelry, make fun of his accent, his attitude, his looks, his wealth, and the way they think his life must like in Canada. And they talk about the film itself and how it distorts – positively or negatively — the way it makes them look.

The calm beauty of the film is balanced with the knowledge (from the very first frame) that everything we see was later wiped away by a hurricane that flattened the village after the film was made.

This is a gorgeous and often funny impression of small town life in Cuba.

To get in the mood for the festival, on Wednesday, the day before Images begins, there’s an amazing free screening of:

The Pettifogger

Dir: Lewis Klahr

This is kind of an art-film, kind of a mood-narrative, about an early sixties gambler. It’s filled with noir-ish newspaper comics, film stills, and found objects like buttons, poker chips, and plastic sword-shaped toothpicks. Everything leads back to hardboiled tough guys — men who wear hats — and their femmes fatales. Using cut-out style animation, Klahr manipulates the collage images across the screen in jerky jumps.

So suspicious comic-strip detectives can be seen peeking through the glassine windows of manila envelopes. Two jacks from a  poker deck do an angry, sullen standoff before skulking off screen again. And everywhere are the bright, coloured icons of that Man’s World: cigarettes, mickeys of scotch, license plates, greenbacks, with hearts and spades, all floating around on the screen. The “bars” of the one armed bandits detach themselves and become coloured bars blocking or censoring the stories he tells… and in the background, sounds of traffic, thunderstorms and ever-suspicious dialogue from radio potboilers.

Check out The Strawberry Tree and Pettifogger at Images, all starting next week.

Last week, I left this studio and saw, a stone’s throw away at Queen’s Park, a protest against bullying. That’s nice, I thought, They’re against teenaged bullying. Until I got closer — it was a pro-bullying demonstration! A what? That’s like a protest against puppies! Apparently, fundamentalist, right wing religious groups object to the new anti-bullying law because it involves teaching about sexuality in public high schools, and calls for allowing “gay-straight alliance” support groups to be started in government-funded schools — in order to help many of the kids who are being driven to suicide by this very bullying. It seems there are people who want to keep bullying just as it is now…

Which brings me  two documentaries opening this weekend, Bully (dir: Lee Hirsch), which is getting a lot of attention, and Fightville (dir: Petra Epperlein, Michael Tucker), both of which I saw at last year’s HotDocs.

Bully is about bullying, Fightville is about Mixed Martial Arts.

So which is the better documentary?

It’s hard to admit, but Fightville is just a much better doc. Although it’s much more commercial in its style, its characters are more interesting, it’s camera work more pleasing, the storyline (two young fighters trying to become pros vs. five high school students who get bullied) more engaging and dynamic. The problem is Bully, which follows five bullied kids around for a year, has the feeling of a fundraiser, a charity infomercial  (the sort of thing you find yourself watching on cable TV at 5 am on a Sunday morning.) It’s bland and it’s slow and it’s a little bit boring. It doesn’t really offer many solutions. And I was left with the impression that the filmmaker intentionally tried to make one poor kid, Alex, (who has a slightly “unusual”-looking face from certain angles), look odder than he really was. Which in my mind is “movie bullying”.

Does this mean bullying (as an issue) is less important than a bloody, competitive sport? Of course not! It’s just that Fightville is a better film than Bully. I often talk about movies with “good taste” versus movies that “taste good”.  But it looks like I’ve been neglecting a third category. Bully is “good for you”. Like brussels sprouts.

Opening this weekend are Lovers in a Dangerous Time, a low budget, pretty, romantic Canadian drama; Pettifogger and the Strawberry Tree (go to Imagesfestival.com) and the docs Fightville and Bully.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site CulturalMining.com.

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