Daniel Garber talks with Kitty Green about her new documentary Ukraine is Not a Brothel

Posted in Breasts, Cultural Mining, documentary, Feminism, France, Hotdocs, Protest, Resistance, Sex Trade, Ukraine, Uncategorized, Women by CulturalMining.com on May 9, 2014

Kitty Green at CIUT 89.5 FMHi, 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, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Ukraine is at the top of the news. Beginning in November last year, Euromaidan street protests drove President Yanukovych out of office Kitty Green 2and out of the country. Soon after, Russia took control of Crimea, with sites in Eastern Ukraine facing further unrest. But long before any of this, a different form of protest, one you could call unique, was taking root in that country. The group is called Sasha Shevchenko (right) and Inna Shevchenko (left) from "Ukraine is Not a Brothel". Photograph by Ozan Kose.Femen. It’s a self-proclaimed feminist protest group. What’s unusual is the form of their protests: to oppose the oppression and sexual exploitation of Ukrainian women… they expose their slogan-covered breasts for the cameras!

A great new documentary that played at Toronto’s Hot Docs gives an inside view of the Femen protestors and exposes their contradictions. The film is called UKRAINE IS NOT A BROTHEL and I spoke with its Australian director, Kitty Green, on April 29th, 2014 in Toronto. Kitty talks about protests in Ukraine, the sex trade, feminism, Femen, its members, the languages spoken, and the meaning of the word “girl”.

Sticking Your Neck Out. Hot Docs Movies Reviewed: An Honest Liar, Point and Shoot, Demonstration

Posted in Barcelona, Cultural Mining, Dance, documentary, Hotdocs, L.A., Libya, Magic, Prison, Protest, Resistance, Road Movie, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on May 3, 2014

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, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Cel-phone cameras are ubiquitous now. So it’s getting harder to separate the relentless recording of everyday life from a real documentary. Filmmakers really have to stick their necks out to find something amazing and surprising and beautiful. But some do just that. This week, I’m looking at three films playing at Hot Docs. There’s a magician who exposes tricksters; an adventurer who joins a (non-religious) jihad; and political demonstrators… who dance?

An_Honest_Liar_1An Honest Liar

Dir: Justin Weinstein and Tyler Measom

The Magnificent Randi was a Toronto-born magician and escape artist who modeled himself after the Great Houdini. Like Houdini, he is famous for his deception and dramatic escapes.  And like Houdini, he devoted his second career to exposing the fake fakers: the ones who bamboozle audiences into thinking their tricks are for real. I’m talking faith healing televangelists like Peter “out poison!” Popov, the fake TV psychics, and the pseudo-scientific prestidigitators. He has a long-held rivalry with Uri Geller, the spoon bender from the 60s and 70s who claims he has telekinetic powers.

Randi also showed how easily scientists can be fooled as they tried to probe alien An_Honest_Liar_3abductions and ESP. Using young collaborators and his own deceptions, Randi manages to fool even a dedicated scientist if he tried. He secretly places students (who claim they have special abilities) into the experimental pool, and later reveals his tricks – much to the dismay of the scientists. He provides the scientists with a list of what to look out for, but still manages to slip through the cracks. Today he lives in California with a dramatic white beard and walks with gold-topped cane.

This is a fascinating and very well-crafted story, with a twist all its own. Turns out his longtime partner and collaborator, Puerto Rican artist Jose Alvarez, has a lie he keeps under wraps for three decades. Ironically, the two met on the old TV quiz show To Tell The Truth. These honest liars make for a very interesting movie.

Point_And_Shoot_3Point and Shoot

Dir: Marshall Curry

Matthew Van Dyke was a coddled kid from Baltimore, “the only child of an only child of an only child”. Fascinated by movies like Lawrence of Arabia, the blue-eyed boy dreams of exotic and dangerous adventures.  At the same time, he’s also a cube of quivering jello with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) and a remarkable sugar phobia. So, after university (Middle Eastern Studies), Matt decides to take a crash course in Manhood. He sets off on a motorcycle trip from Gibraltar to Afghanistan, across North Africa and the Middle East. He documents all his travels with a video camera and a helmet attachment. In Iraq and Afganistan, as a freelance war reporter, he falls in with US soldiers. They teach him the basics of rifle shooting, machine gunning and missile launching. OK… fun and exciting, I’m sure, but mere backpacking adventures do not a Hot Docs movie make.

But here’s what happened next. When he reconnects with a Libyan hippie friend he’d Point_And_Shoot_1met in his travels, he ends up sneaking into Libya during its civil war. He joins the Benghazi rebels, fighting Gaddafi’s soldiers, and standing beside men shouting Allahu Akbar as they fire missiles at far off targets! Things take a turn for the worse and Matt ends up in solitary confinement in a government prison. His mother and girlfriend are terrified. Will he get out? And if he does, where will he go next?

Point and Shoot is a great adventure story about a man who carries a Leica camera in one hand and an AK 47 in the other. It is politically naïve — the movie doesn’t talk much about geo-political issues, ideologies, or the long-term ramifications of that war. Its real strength is as a first-hand look at a fascinating and exciting personal adventure.

Demonstration_1Demonstration

Dir: Viktor Kossokovsky (and 32 others)

A year ago, Spain was in economic turmoil when it’s right-wing government imposed crushing austerity measures. This led to huge demonstrations. In 2013, 32 students in Barcelona, each armed with a video camera, record it all, right in the middle. The general strike, the crowds, and the peaceful marches… and the less than peaceful responses from the riot police. The demonstrators seem split between those who wear Gandhi masks – peaceful disobedience – and the hacktivists in their Guy Fawkes masks.

This movie, though, is about the beauty of crowds, and movement. The running back and forth, the burning dumpsters, and the attacks from helmetted police.  It’s set to Minkus’s Don Quixote, and its beautiful and revealing. Against a backdrop of Gaudi’s Demonstration_4curvy, drippy architecture you see an old-timer who has been demonstrating most of his life, and young students out for their first demo. And some secrets revealed: dozens of “Black Bloc” activists are seen climbing happily into police vans (not arrested); they’re all agents provocateurs, planted in the crowd to ignite violence and justify police attacks.

Demonstration is an artistic look at a public protest.

All of these movies and more are playing through Sunday at Hotdocs. All students and seniors can go to daytime screenings for free! Go to hotdocs.ca for details. And Toronto’s Jewish Film Festival also opens today and continues all next week, including a brand new Canadian movie called the Pin – about young lovers hiding in Lithuania during WWII – and it’s in Yiddish. Looks interesting… Go to tjff.com for more info.

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

Motown Movies. Films reviewed: Brick Mansions, Super Duper Alice Cooper, Only Lovers Left Alive PLUS Hot Docs

Posted in Action, Art, Cultural Mining, Detroit, documentary, Drama, Hotdocs, Movies, Music, Uncategorized, Vampires by CulturalMining.com on April 25, 2014

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, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

VVS_BrickMansionsPosterThis week, I’m looking at three interesting movies with a connection to Motor City (Detroit). There’s a Hot Docs documentary about a stadium rocker; an art-house drama about a faded rocker; and an action flic about two guys caught between a rock and a hard place.

Brick Mansions

Dir: Camille Delamarre (Based on Luc Besson’s Banlieu 13)

Brick Mansions is the name of a derelict housing project in a future Detroit. The city has built a huge guarded wall around it. Why? High crime rates. The wall also blocks all the city services like schools, fire department or police. But thousands of people still live there. It’s ruled by a drug lord named Tremaine (RZA of Wu Tang fame) along with his odious henchmen, including a giant white bodyguard, Brick Mansions RZA, Bellea chubby lieutenant, and a sexy hit-woman in garters and fishnet stockings who carries a cat o’ nine tails.

The corrupt police are all paid off, so what happens in Brick Mansions stays in Brick Mansions. And just one man, Milo (David Belle), fights back. He steals Tremaine’s drugs and flushes them down the drain, to keep the block drug-free. So Tremaine kidnaps his girlfriend in retaliation. In his crusade to free her and bring Tremaine to justice, Milo kills a crooked cop.

Brick Mansions Belle Walker Courtesy VVS Still 21Then a neutron bomb is detected inside Brick Mansions, all hell breaks loose. The Mayor calls Damien, their best undercover cop (the late, Fast and Furious’ Paul Walker’s last film) and teams him up with cop-killer Milo. Can the two of them work together, stop Tremaine, rescue his girlfriend, and save the city from nuclear annihilation? And can Detroit’s corruption-ridden government be trusted?Brick Mansions Belle VVS Still27

Forget the story for a minute – the plot is not important. This movie is really about parkour. Parkour is a sport involving jumping on and off buildings, platforms, swinging and sliding on wires, spinning around poles. Sort of an acrobatic martial art, where life is one big obstacle Brick Mansions, Belle VVS, cropped photocourse. The star, David Belle, is one of that sport’s French founders, and he gets to show off his military cirque de soleil-ish prowess in scene after scene.

Brick Mansions is not meant as a great movie. It’s a “B movie”, a stoooopid movie, riddled with inconsistencies, with an ignorant take on issues like race. But I enjoyed it anyway, for the great action and fast-moving, choreographed fighting.

Super-Duper Alice Cooper: a Doc Opera

Dir: Reg Harkema

Alice Cooper was originally, the name of a group, not a man. Vince Furnier is born in Detroit, the son of a preacher man, whose family moves to Phoenix, Arizona for health reasons. By high school, he’s heavily into Salvador Dali and Beatlemania. He starts an insect-named band with his high school buddies (first the Earwigs, then the Spiders) and they start getting radio play while still teenagers. The thing is, they aren’t very good or special. Better at the spectacle than the music. They soon discover that, in LA, image is everything. They meet a girl group in Frank Zappa’s basement who help them with their makeup, cultivating a glam look. Soon enough, they’re wearing sequinned Ice-Capades Super Duper Alice Cooper Affichejumpsuits, and appearing on stage with lots of props and animals. And using a Ouija board they channel a Victorian witch named Alice Cooper (or so they claim). And that becomes the name of the group.

Next, at a rock festival in Toronto, comes the infamous chicken incident (He says didn’t actually bite off the head; it was the audience’s fault). The rest is fame and super-stardom. Furnier gradually morphs into the ever-more-outrageous and self-destructive character, Alice. Their shows become more elaborate, even as Alice Cooper’s fame grows. Eventually the group collapses, Alice goes solo, and he crashes and burns in a bubbling cauldron of eye make-up, skeletons, groupies, drugs and alcohol. This movie is a lot of fun. It manages without a single talking head. Instead, the voices of rock stars, agents and producers narrate an oral history, illustrated by countless animated still photos, period film clips and concert tapes. Very creative, ingenious, fast-moving. And it’s all tied together with silent film footage of Dr Jeckyl and Mr Hyde, the two Alice Coopers. Vince, the straight-laced preacher’s son, and Alice, the outrageous performer, both in the same body. All of this punctuated with hits like Eighteen, Schools Out, and No More Mr Guy. It’s a intensely edited documentary. I’ve never been an Alice Cooper fan, but found it super-duper to watch.

RZ6A6685.CR2Only Lovers Left Alive

Dir: Jim Jarmusch

Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is a reclusive rock musician who lives in a crumbling, bombed-out mansion in downtown Detroit. He lives a languorous existence, playing the lute, listening to vinyl, and mourning the loss of culture and refinement. His only visitor is Ian (Anton Yelchin) his dealer, who brings him the good stuff and keeps his fans at bay.

His long time, on-again, off-again lover Eve (Tilda Swinton) lives far away, in Algiers, where she hangs out with presumed-dead cultural icons like Christopher Marlowe. She’s equally "only lovers left alive"listless, with the air of a pre-Raphaelite opium eater. But neither Adam nor Eve is addicted to drugs. It’s human blood they need – they’re vampires. But they don’t kill the “Zombies” anymore (that’s their word for muggles), they just drink plastic pouches of blood smuggled out of hospitals.

Life continues, but things are disrupted when Eve’s sexy sister suddenly shows up in Detroit. Ava (Mia Wasikowska) is noisy and selfish, and doesn’t stick to his moral guidelines. When "only lovers left alive"she sees blood, she takes it, even if it’s still in a friend’s veins. Will Adam and Eve ever be reunited? Will their love last forever? And will this movie ever end?

I have mixed feelings about this film. It has incredible night photography of faded Algiers and post-apocalyptic Detroit. Just amazing. And I could listen to the soundtrack all day. But the story is weak and the movie too slow and long. Either you buy into the conceit — that vampires are a RZ6A8434.JPGsecret nation of underground Goth hipsters, addicted to blood, not heroin – or reject it. I rejected it. It felt like a never-ending Lady of the Camellias. The whole faded rock-star/junkie as hero-vampire? Just die already.

This movie would work better as a coffee table book with an accompanying music playlist.

Only Lovers Left Alive and Brick Mansions open today: check your local listings. And Super Duper Alice Cooper – along with many other fantastic documentaries are playing now at Hot Docs. Rush tickets at daytime screenings are free for students and seniors. Go to hotdocs.ca for more info.

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

Hot Docs Photo Gallery 2013

Posted in Canada, Cultural Mining, Hotdocs, Jeff Harris, Movies, Photo Gallery, Toronto by CulturalMining.com on May 5, 2013

photographs by Jeff Harris

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Daniel Garber talks to John Kastner about his new documentary NCR: Not Criminally Responsible

Posted in Canada, Crime, Cultural Mining, documentary, Hotdocs, Mental Illness, Movies, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on April 25, 2013

Kastner_JHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Our justice system says if someone commits a crime they should be arrested, tried and — if guilty — sentenced. We need that both for the victims of crime and also because it’s just the right thing to do. Everyone agrees.

But what happens if the person who committed NCR_Not_Criminally_Responsible_1the crime is not responsible for it, because he was mentally ill or deficient when the crime took place? Surely it’s not fair to jail people who didn’t intentionally commit a crime. But nor can they simply be labeled innocent.

Somewhere between guilt and innocence is a legal territory known as NCR — not criminally responsible. Well there’s a new documentary that’s premiering at Hot Docs in Toronto, called NCR. It follows the victim — a young woman named Julie — and the perpetrator of the crime, Sean, a mentally ill young man who attacked her, seemingly at random, as the court is determining whether or not he is criminally responsible. I spoke by telephone with the venerable Toronto documentary-maker JOHN KASTNER about his new film NCR, premiering at Hot Docs.

July 26, 2012 Heroes vs Superheroes. Movies Reviewed: The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

Posted in Art, Batman, China, Comics, Cultural Mining, 艾未未, Hotdocs, Movies, Super-heroes, Uncategorized, US, 中国艺术 by CulturalMining.com on July 27, 2012

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..

People like to watch superheroes and supervillains, whether its on the big screen or on the news screen – media gobble up anything in the news that seems horrific, and when it can be tied to movies or TV – like the recent shooting disaster in Colorado, it’s media gold. But what about a real hero? Those are harder to find. Do we give as much attention to heroes as villains, and what about real heroes vs comic book superheroes?

This week I’m talking about two action movies about superheroes trying to save Manhattan from being blown up, and a documentary about a real guy, an artist, who’s trying to stop China from imploding.

The Avengers

Dir: Joss Whedon

OK, NASA is building a machine called the tesseract that is powered by this bluish glowing cube about yea big. But a skinny goth with a glowing, golden sceptre — the Norse god Loki — puts the scientists under mind-control and zooms off somewhere to open a hole in the universe that would let an army of slimy metallic evil creatures from outer space take over the world.

So a group of people with special powers are brought together by a secret US government agency — SHIELD — to fight supervillain Loki. There’s Thor, the God of Thunder with a heavy hammer, Bruce Banner, the scientist who might turn into the Hulk at any moment, Ironman, a rich dude who’s also an inventor; Captain America, an earnest military guy from the 1940s who wears an ice-ballet stars and stripes leotard and carries a super-strong shield; and the black widow Natasha, a former Soviet spy who now fights bad guys everywhere. They all get loaded onto this mammoth airborne battleship the size of a small city. And, for some reason, Loki’s locked up into a glass cage on board.

Since they’re superheroes, they get into a bunch of fights: Thor vs Ironman, Hulk vs Thor, etc etc… until they finally get it together to fight the real baddies. But of course Loki and his hypnotized minions are going to stop them. Will the good guys beat the bad guys? Or will the earth crumble, taken over by Loki’s alien allies? Uh… guess.

This is a pretty goofy movie but it’s directed by Joss Whedon so you know it’s going to be watchable with lots of collapsing buildings falling apart just behind someone running full speed toward the camera. Cool. And the space aliens — who look like massive flying trilobite armadillos with sharp teeth – get in some amazing urban disaster scenes, smashing through glass office towers. The big stars – Robert Downey Jr, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlet Johansen, Samuel Jackson, and Tom Hiddleston as Loki — all seem to be having a good time.

And the bits of sardonic humour thrown in here and there, helps it a lot. Not great fun, but at least good fun once all the fighting starts.

The Dark Knight Rises

Dir: Christopher Nolan

As in The Avengers, a super-villain, this one called Bain, — a big guy with a mask over his mouth — descends on Manhattan, aka Gotham City, because he wants to take over, seize Wayne Enterprises’ secret energy-generating device (with WMD potential), and then kill everybody. Why? Doesn’t really matter. Because he’s a bad guy, I guess.

But billionaire philanthropist Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is in retirement, his company running dry, and the forlorn orphans he used to help are left abandoned. Meanwhile, in a French Revolution-style takeover, they storm the Bastille letting the world’s worst criminals out of jail, a Robespierre-type judge sentences everyone to death or exile, and the NYPD are all locked up in a collapsed underground tunnel. Who will save everyone? It takes the combined efforts of a tough, young cop (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and a slinky cat burglar (Anne Hathaway) to finally get Batman out of his funk to fight the bad guy. But Bain locks him up in a pit in central Asia with no way out. Oh no!

I dunno about this one. Two hours and forty minutes later we get to see the ending, find out who will triumph and what is the villain’s secret. To be honest, this is a pretty stupid movie. The effects are good enough, but never seem to be justified – they’re evoked seemingly at random. Great actors — like Tom Hardy as Bain and Christian Bale as Batman – spend the movie masked, with distorted voices. Why bother? They could have meat puppets doing the same thing. What a waste. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anne Hathaway are a bit better, as their characters actually get to develop, but in general, this movie was a humourless drudge. Good enough to watch, but not worth dying for (this is not meant to downplay the terrible shooting at the premier in Colorado).

Incidentally, the scariest part for me was when someone walked past my aisle seat, with a loud, sudden pattapattapatta clacking sound. Everyone jumped and stared and a security guard came running into the theatre to investigate, but it turned out to be just some guy spilling reese’s pieces all over the steps.

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

Dir: Alison Klayman

But what about a real hero?

Ai Weiwei (艾未未) is a Chinese artist and photographer who studied in NY in the 80s and 90s and is now an international art celeb. He helped design the Beijing Olympic stadium and his photography – he’s famous for giving the finger to all the world’s great buildings — and installations are widely known. And he has impeccable credentials: his dad was Ai Qing (艾青), the poet who was jailed by the Nationalists, and who joined the Communist Party and participated in Mao Zedong’s famous Talks on Art and Culture at Yen’an. That’s major historical creds in postwar China.

But Ai Weiwei doesn’t like everything going on in China these days. So when a poorly designed school building collapses in Sichuan, killing hundreds of kids, his art turns political – after painstaking research he creates a memorial listing all the names of the dead. But this is taken as a possible insult to the the authorities. He is arrested and beaten up by a violent cop known only by his badge number. So begins his odyssey, fighting the powers that be, and trying to get justice using his art, his writing, the media, lawsuits, fighting in court, and filming everything, everywhere he goes.

He is one of the signers of Liu Xiaobo’s Charter 08, and generally makes a name for himself, not just as an installation and photographic artist, but as a leading dissident — a sort of a Chinese Michael Moore, but one with deep artistic and cultural capabilities.

This documentary (that opened this year’s Hotdocs) is very important as an historical record. While it may be a case of the filmmaker being in the right place at the right time – It’s mainly shot with a handheld camera allowed to trace and document his life: in the galleries, his encounters with the police, his family life, including time with his son (from an unseen mother, not his wife).

He comes across as a bit unlikeable – not a smiling panda, but an irascible, sometimes obnoxious stubborn man. But one who sticks to his principles (freedom of speech, freedom of expression, an independent judiciary, etc). AI Weiwei has had his studio destroyed by the government, he’s been thrown in a secret prison — allegedly for tax reasons – and fined millions of dollars, but he hasn’t stopped fighting. Really interesting and worth seeing if you’re interested in China, politics, or art.

The Avengers and Dark Knight Rises are playing now, check your local listings; and Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry opens today in Toronto.

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

Daniel Garber interviews Amie Williams, Brian Austin, and Melissa Austin about the new doc We Are Wisconsin

Posted in Cultural Mining, documentary, Hotdocs, Politics, Protest, Resistance, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on June 3, 2012

ImageOn Tuesday, June 5th, the people of the State of Wisconsin will vote whether to recall Governor Scott Walker because of his unprecedented attack on the state’s public sector. A new documentary (that played at Hotdocs 2012 in Toronto) called We Are Wisconsin looks at the events that led up to this recall election. After the Republican Governor tried to pass a law eliminating collective bargaining, nurses, police officers, fire fighters, social workers, students, labour leaders, activists and many others — over 100,000 of them — converged on Madison and occupied the Capitol building.

I spoke with the film’s director, Amie Williams; Brian Austin, a policeman from the capital who started the Cops for Labour brigade, and associate producer Melissa Austin.Image

April 28, 2012. High and Low. Hotdocs Films Reviewed: Finding North, Off Label, The Queen of Versailles

Posted in Cultural Mining, documentary, Hotdocs, Movies, Poverty, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on May 9, 2012

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 to review a few of the many documentaries playing at Hotdocs, Toronto’s documentary mega-festival that opened yesterday. I used to think that documentaries were boring movies that you had to watch when nothing good was on TV. Then I went to Hotdocs.

It shows you what ideas, concepts, problems, and trends are hot right now it’s an amazingly diverse, fascinating platform for everything you’re going to find out about over the next year, pushed in your face all at once right now. It’s filled with good causes, jaw-droppers, shocking strange people, local heroes, and places you never knew about. And stories that are often better than the ones you see in regular mainstream movies.

You get hear new words like Tchoupitoulis (a fascinating trip through New Orleans at night) and Buzkashi! (a Tajik horseback sport.) See celebs like Rick Springfield; and hear about issues like Hindu Fundamentalism (the World before her) , and about Invisible Wars. And hotdocs offers free admission, daytime, if you have a student or seniors’ card. Don’t miss it.

So, this week, I’m talking about three American documentaries about lives at the bottom and at the top.

Finding North

Dir: Lori Silverbush and Kristi Jacobson

This movie asks the simple question – how can so many Americans go hungry? And at the same time… be so fat? 50 million Americans are food insecure in oine of the world’s biggest food producers.

Well, the country is filled with food deserts — places where there is no affordable fresh food available in your neighbourhood. These are amazingly common, even In big cities. Junk food, on the other hand, is everywhere, and affordable, though entirely without food value. How did this happen? Facing North explains. The US government subsidizes big agriculture, to the tune of trillions of dollars (cumulatively speaking). It originally went to local small farmers, but now almost all of it goes to corporaRTE agriculture. So corn wheat and soy — and the cattle and pigs its fed to — are artificially cheap, while fruits and vegetables keep rising in price. The subsidies all go to make hi-fructose corn syrup and deep-fried pork rinds, while only one percent of the whole subsidy budget helps out fruit and vegetable growers. Even people in the movie (it follows families in the west the north east and the deep south) on food stamps or receiving food bank donations are trapped in a world of canned ravioli, chips and pop — fresh fruit and vegetables are way out of reach.

But some people are trying to break free. There’s a terrific scene where a school teacher In Mississippi introduces her class to a honeydew melon, many of whom look they’d never seen one before. This movie movie is a must-see for people concerned with food, nutrition and its effect on poverty.

So what else can you do if you’re just scraping by? The next movie shows one route desperate people are taking.

Off Label

Dir: Michael Palmieri, and Donal Mosher

The drug industry – I’m talking about the legal one here – is enormous. Doctors prescribe drugs for everything, and it generates phenomenal amounts of money. But the one of the big growth areas is off label prescriptions, which means using drugs that prevent epileptic seizures or combat psychotic mood swings for other purposes – like weight loss, calm feelings or just a good night’s sleep, mood stabilizers.

This drug testing used to be done on guinea pigs and caged monkeys, but they really want are human bodies – living ones – to test on. The movie shows the prisoners who used to be tested on for a few bucks – they were told it was just Johnson and Johnson’s bubble bath — until that got outlawed. Now they use, well, poor people. Human guinea pigs who are fed noxious chemicals in strange combinations, and are tested for their side effects. Some of them enjoy it, some not so much, but they all do it for the money.

Often the tests are to see how different drugs react with one another, since so many people have multiple prescriptions at the same time. Polypharmaculture – multiple drugs at once – is one of the biggest potential problems and is becoming ubiquitous despite their unknown side effects.

The movie also deals with the case of a doctor who pushed his patient, who was mentally ill, into double-blind testing of new drugs, even when there’s a clear conflict of interest – the doctor is involved in the study of drug interactions.

This has one of those OMG moments where you just stare at the screen with your mouth hanging open. Its not what you see, but rather, what a subject of the movie tells in graphic detail about what she’s been through. Absolutely shocking. Off label is a very good, very informative and eye-opening movie.

The Queen of Versailles

Dir: Lauren Greenfield

Just in case you’re saying “I don’t want to see any more poor people… they’re yucky” well here’s a documentary about a woman who finds herself super rich. Jackie is in her forties, a former beauty queen with an engineering degree from western New York who set her sites on a big-bucks hubbie. The first one didn’t fly, but with the second one she hit the jackpot. He’s a Yertle the Turtle (30 years her senior) balanced at the top of a time share empire, with properties in Florida and Las Vegas. She has 8 kids – she only planned to have a couple, but once she discovered the concept of nannies she just kept popping them out, cause you don’t have to do anything once they’re born. Jackie’s an impossibly aerodynamically-breasted, smart floozie, whose biggest problem is deciding if it’s a purple zebra or a hot pink cheetah (tank top) day. They fly around in private jets, and are so excited when they see the Palace of Versailles, that they decide to build their own, the biggest house in America, right in the Everglades, complete with a bowling alley, a sushi bar and a health spa, and Italian marble floors. It’s going to be a rococo kitsch-fest, and it’s going up.

And then… the stock market collapses, the real estate bubble pops, and suddenly they’re not so rich, the kids have to go to public school, and most of the servants get fired so there’s no one to clean up after Jackie’s yappy long-haired dogs anymore.

The Queen of Versailles is a hilarious look at the lives of a mega-rich family in America as they weather the economic downturn.

You can see The Queen of Versailles, Off Label, and Finding North – along with many many other great documentaries, like The World Before Her, – right now at Hotdocs. Also opening today is a delightful and funny claymation kids movie called PIRATES! It was made by the same people who did Wallace and Grommit, and I thought this one was almost as good. It’s playing now, check your local listings. Also stay tuned, the Toronto Jewish Film Festival, and the Inside-out LGBT Film Festival are both just around the corner.

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

April 20, 2012. Interview: Sylvia Caminer talks to Daniel Garber about “An Affair of the Heart” her new documentary on Rick Springfield and his devoted fans

Posted in 1980s, Acting, Cultural Mining, documentary, Hotdocs, Movies, Music, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on April 16, 2012

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You might remember pop-rock star Rick Springfield’s hit Jesse’s Girl, and you may have seen him on General Hospital. But a new documentary, An Affair of the Heart (that’s premiering at HotDocs on April 29th), shows a little known aspect of the pop star’s life: his relationship with his devoted fans. Sylvia tells about making the film, an odd trip to  Sweden, and what celebrity fandom’s all about….

April 7, 2012. Interview. Filmmaker Nisha Pahuja talks to Daniel Garber about her new documentary The World Before Her

Posted in Canada, Clash of Cultures, Cultural Mining, documentary, Hotdocs, India, Movies, Spirituality, TV, Uncategorized, violence by CulturalMining.com on April 16, 2012

Religious fundamentalism is triggering violence, riots and even wars across the globe, and is frequently in the news. But what about Hindu fundamentalism?

A new Canadian documentary takes you inside a bootcamp where teenaged girls are trained and indoctrinated into the violent Durgha Vahini movement. The documentary, The World Before Her, Directed by Nisha Pahuja, will have its Canadian premier at HotDocs in Toronto and opens on April 19th at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

It follows two young women. Ruhi is a westernized contestant in the MIss India beauty pageant in Bombay; Prachi Trivedi is a hardline, Hindu fundamentalist and rising political activist who has attended these camps since she was a small child.

We talk about making her new film; westernization vs modernization; the causes and dangers of fundamentalism and extreme nationalism; and the state of women in contemporary India.

UPDATE: Nisha Pahuja’s new film The World Before Her has just won the BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE award at the Tribeca Film festival! Congratulations, Nisha!

Awards Announced: 2012 Tribeca Film Festival:

By Kristin McCracken

“Winner receives $25,000 and the art award “An Unpeopled Land in Uncharted Waters, 2010” by Kara Walker; courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York.

“Jury Comments: “With unprecedented access, great compassion, and a keen eye for the universal, this year’s winner takes a hard and clear-eyed look at the trials of growing up female in today’s fast-changing world. Following young women who have taken diametrically opposed decisions on how to tackle the influence of global forces in their communities, the filmmaker takes us on a journey to examine how the pressures of faith, fashion, and family are bringing up a generation of women who are desperately searching for meaning amidst a reality of few real choices.”

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