Women, Desire. Films Reviewed: The Misandrists, The Feelings are Facts: the Films of Nazlı Dinçel

Posted in 1990s, Berlin, Feminism, Germany, Lesbian, LGBT, Satire, Sex, Sex Trade, Terrorism, Turkey, Women by CulturalMining.com on February 1, 2019

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

This week I’m looking at avant-garde, sexual films. There are lesbian terrorists in Germany disrupting the patriarchy, and a filmmaker in Wisconsin disrupting the traditional documentary.

The Misandrists

Wri/Dir: Bruce LaBruce

It’s 1999 in a forest near Berlin.

In a stately manor, uniformed schoolgirls study biology, philosophy, and politics, taught by stern nuns with severe habits. The school’s symbol? A cross on an orb. The girls share their meals with the nuns at a candle-lit table. But this is no ordinary girls’ school. The students are all adults, former petty thieves, runaways and sex workers. Their teachers are radical feminist separatists. The habits they wear are just costumes they put on to fool outsiders. Their prayers celebrate the fact they were born as women not men, and they worship the vagina, ova, reproduction, and lesbian sex. (And the cross and the orb is actually an inverted women’s symbol!)

Big Mother (Susanne Sachsse) sleeps beneath giant mugshots of Emma Goldman. She tells the students to practice sex with each other – but avoid monogamy. Some of them watch explicit gay porn for helpful tips. Their ultimate goal is to destroy the patriarchy and create a world without men… by any means necessary. Their first terrorist action as the FLA (The Female Liberation Army) will be to force Berliners to watch the all-women porn film they plan to create. All the students are happily engaged in sex, except one: Isolde (Kita Updike). For some reason she feels excluded. But this isolated world is disrupted by an unexpected arrival: a wounded revolutionary named Volker (Til Schindler) fleeing the police. Isolde hides him in the basement. What will happen if the man is discovered? Will the FLA’s action be a success? And is there a traitor in their midsts?

The Misandrists is Toronto’s homocore punk pioneer Bruce LaBruce’s latest film And his first with a nearly all-female cast. (It’s a follow up to The Raspberry Reich, also about German radical activists, and is strongly influenced by The Beguiling.) It stays true to Blab’s earliest super8 films, combining satire, humour, queer topics with explicit sex, radical politics, and a distinctly non-Hollywood feel. The cinematography (James Carman), costumes and makeup go way beyond his early films, but the intentionally shocking and disruptive style is true to form.

Does it all make sense? Kind of. Does a slow-motion pillow fight with scantily-clad young women make fun of 1970s softcore porn… or is it just gratuitous titillation? I’m not sure why there are extended scenes of women necking with a hard boiled egg, and some of the extended political screeds recited in flat monotones test any viewer’s patience… but again deliberately, revisiting German expressionism.

Agitprop as lesbian porn.

But it really hits home with its sex-positive attitude combined with clever challenges to preconceptions about gender, sex and genitalia (ie “what makes a woman a woman?”).

It’s funny, surprising and ultimately satisfying. Just don’t expect a traditional, mainstream movie.

The Feelings are Facts: the Films of Nazlı Dinçel

Nazlı Dinçel is an American filmmaker in Wisconsin, who immigrated from Ankara, Turkey as a teenager. Her work documents her sex life on 16 mm film, in an often abstract and disjointed manner. Her embrace of the tactile nature of her topics translates into a handmade, hands-on style of filmmaking. A typical short film will alternate between over-exposed film stock or a black screen and explicit footage. A large part of her films is the text, recited dispasionately by the narrator and accompanied by the same words scratched or burned into the film stock itself… often one word (or part of a word) at a time.

Her images vary from disjointed body parts – vaginas, penises, buttocks, mouths – and the omnipresent hands and feet, painted with glittery nailpolish. Her forms include shots of nature and ancient ruins, as well as more intimate bedroom shots. Images are framed by lens irises, reflected in mirrors, bookended between black, silent screens. Sound consists of voices, pop music, and a constant ticking and scratching sound (is that the sound of the 16mm camera itself?)

Her stories come from her own sexual experiences, retold. Her early days of solitary experimentation as a teenager hidden in a washroom where she lost her virginity, she tells us, to a carrot. And her later relationships and sexual encounters. It also deals with her own cross-cultural alienation, with Turkish folklore and Islamic prayer clashing and combining with her changes in adolescence and as a woman.

In Her Silent Seaming (2014), she shares the bedside murmurs of some of the men she has slept with. As the narration progresses it gets more and more repetitious with the words scratched into film eventually reaching a disturbingly frantic peak. Images vary from blurred footage of sex organs to the artist herself in a Marilyn Monroe wig kissing a mirror with her lipsticked mouth.

Solitary Acts (4,5,6) (2015) consists of three films of thoughts and memories of sexual experimentation, culminiatng in explicit, extreme close up footage of a woman, presumably the filmmaker, pleasuring herself, andlater doing the same to an unidentified man.

Shape of a Surface (2017)

…takes us to ancient Roman ruins in Turkey, with a call to prayer in the background as she observes headless Roman statues, and later orally worships a living man.

Between Relating and Use (2018)

…is the most cerebral of all the films, a semiotic examination of fetishes, in both the anthropolical and sexual sense of the word. But of course it also includes her trademark sparkle-nailed foot paired with a man’s genitals.

Instructions on How to Make a Film (2018) introduces beginner filmmakers to the joys of film, a medium she admits is nearly obsolete.

These are beautiful, thoughtful, deliberately disjointed, and highly personal films. As they progress so do the images, with written words becoming less and less reliable, until in some of her later films they cease to match their meaning.

I have only seen a digital version of these films on my computer, but you can see the original short films in all their 16mm glory at the AGO Jackman Hall on February 12 as part of the monthly Vertical Documentary series.

Nazlı Dinçel will be present at the screening. And you can see The Misandrists at the TIFF Bell Lightbox tonight with Bruce LaBruce in person for the Q&A.

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

Daniel Garber talks with filmmakers Çagla Zencirci and Guillaume Giovanetti about Sibel at #TIFF18

Posted in Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Disabilities, Drama, Folktale, France, Movies, Mystery, Turkey, Women by CulturalMining.com on September 14, 2018

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

Photos by Jeff Harris

It’s present-day Turkey. Sibel is a fiercely independent young woman who lives in an isolated mountain village near the Black Sea. Having lost her voice after a fever at age five, she communicates with her father using a traditional whistling code, still known to older villagers. She’s a keen hunter and trapper who seeks a lone wolf said to be lurking in the woods. But in her search she traps a different sort of wolf — a crazed and bearded man, on the run from the army. She nurses him back to health in her cabin in the woods. Can she maintain a secret life with her newfound prisoner/friend? Or will word reach the disapproving villagers below?

Sibel is a new film, a Turkish/French co-production that explores the classic folklore and customs of the Black Sea region. It’s also a rich and fascinating look at an independent woman living within the restrictive rules of traditional village life.

Sibel had its North American premier at Toronto International Film Festival and is playing again this Saturday. It’s jointly directed by Guillaume Giovanetti and Çagla Zencirci, French/Turkish partners, who previously made Noor and Ningen together, both of which played at TIFF.

I spoke with Çagla and Guillaume in studio at CIUT 89.5 FM, during TIFF18.

Art House or not? Films reviewed: Florence and the Uffizi Gallery, The Revenant, Mustang

Posted in Art, Canada, Clash of Cultures, Cultural Mining, Movies, Turkey, Western by CulturalMining.com on January 15, 2016

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

“Art house movies”. That traditionally meant low-budget indie movies that play at rep cinemas and film festivals. But times are changing and definitions are blurring. This week I’m looking at three movies. A violent, outdoor western with scenery as pretty as art; an art-house drama about five Turkish sisters confined to their house, and a 3-D look at an Italian house of art.

florence3d-580x326Florence and the Uffizi Gallery (in 3D and 4K)

The Republic of Florence was a city run by oligarchs, not kings, in the Italian Renaissance. And above all were the Medici family. This film – with the help of Italian art historians and an actor playing one of the Medicis — takes you on a tour of Florence. You see uffizi gallery-4its bridges, chapels, palaces and museums and get a very close look at – and explanation of – its paintings, sculptures and stained glass windows. Most of all it looks at the art of the Uffizi Gallery. Uffizi means office, as it was originally built for bureaucrats in the 16th Century. Now it has Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, david3d-580x386the very different Davids of Donatello and nearby Michaelengelo (in the Piazza di San Marco); Caravaggio’s head of Medusa, and the great battles of Paolo Ucello. I remember reading Janson’s History of Art when I was a teenager so a lot of these images are familiar to me, but this is the closest I’ve ever come to the art itself. The movie is a combination tourist ad and art recording. One criticism: 3D is great for sculpture and architecture – the camera all but caresses the naked statues it films – but two-dimensional paintings turned 3-D just look weird. But unless you’re heading to Italy soon, this is your best chance to see it all up close.

revenantThe Revenant

Dir: Alejandro G. Iñárritu

It’s the 1830s in the old West. Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a guide for a troupe of frontiersman carrying their furs to a trading post. He’s helped by his son Hawk of the Pawnee Nation (Forrest Goodluck) – they communicate in Pawnee. But they are attacked and many killed – seemingly for no reason – by Sioux warriors on horseback. Glass bravely gets them to safety. Then a second disaster strikes: he is attacked and nearly killed by a revenanthuge bear defending her cubs. He can’t go on, but the team’s captain leaves three volunteers to give him a proper burial when he dies: Hawk, Bridger a greenhorn on his first trip (Will Poulter) and Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) a very shifty character. Fitz does something terrible and then throws Glass’s body in a ditch. He convinces the naïve Bridger he’s dead and they’re under attack. They flee to the revenantfort. But Glass finds the strength to come back from the dead – that’s what revenant means – and seek revenge.

The Revenant is a simple story played out in the spectacular scenery of western Canada. It seems historically accurate, with indigenous groups speaking their own language, and it shows some of the atrocities whites committed against them. And there’s some cool background music and furry costumes and hats. But this is actually a mainstream action movie – fights, chase scenes, a damsel in distress, and a heavy dose of parental revenge – that’s all gussied-up in art-house garb to try to win a few Oscars.

Don’t get me wrong – I liked it, despite the excessive blood, graphic wounds, and DiCaprio’s non-stop grunting and staggering around. And there are some interesting mystical sidebars and dreamy detours to add a bit of spice to the very simple story. But basically it’s still just an action/Western.

f764866e-0e33-4ae7-8994-0c7bdef78e3fMustang

Dir: Deniz Gamze Ergüven

Lale, Nur, Ece, Selma, Sonay are five young sisters living in eastern Turkey on the Black Sea. They are five beautiful girls with rosy cheeks and raven hair,  brimming with girl power. Since their parents died, they’ve lived with their uncle and grandmother, and are more or less left to their own devices. They spend their days playing, reading, watching soccer, and flirting with guys. They are as free as wild horses, like Mustangs running across the prairie. But then something changes. When school gets out for summer, they’re spotted splashing in the water and playing chicken fights with some of the 8b1b96b0-c74a-43cf-8857-7647562711dfschoolboys. And later one sister is seen, unsupervised, with a boy in an orchard.

Suddenly their home becomes a prison, their entrances and exits tightly controlled. They’re like princesses locked in a castle tower. They’re told to cover their hair, act civilized, be polite, conservative, and submissive. It doesn’t work. Theyre d4283799-648b-49f5-80cf-92aae5a92f3ctough and independent girls, not so easily tamed. Even so, soon they’re being married off, one-by-one, to men they don’t love. Can any of the sisters resist this, and escape to freedom?

Mustang is a really nice, low- key movie. It’s a sweet, funny and touching coming-of-age drama. The five young actresses are all new and all wonderful. The cast and first-time director are Turkish, but the film has a very French feel to it (it’s France’s nomination for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar), along with a healthy dose of Fiddler on the Roof.

The Revenant is now playing in Toronto and Mustang opens today. And Florence and the Uffizi Gallery is playing next Thursday, on January 21st; check your local listings.

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

Sleeping and Dreaming. Movies Reviewed: Selma, Winter Sleep

Posted in Cultural Mining, Drama, Movies, Protest, Turkey, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on January 9, 2015

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.

Dark winter is a good time to catch up on your lying down. To sleep, perchance to dream. But if you’re sleeping you’ll miss all the good movies. Aye, there’s the rub. This week I’m looking at two dramas. One from Turkey is about a rich man in a sleepy town. The other is an American historical drama about a man who had a dream.

10351815_525480020927675_3324277747508183543_nSelma
Dir: Ava DuVernay

It’s 1964. The civil rights movement is in full swing. LBJ’s in the White House, Democrat and die-hard segregationist George Wallace is in the Alabama governor’s mansion and J Edgar Hoover is in the FBI, spying on everyone. But on the street, leading the protests is Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo). He has led a series of successful, non-violent actions. The bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. The desegregation campaign in 10456099_511775325631478_5522343266601578699_nBirmingham. And then in Selma, Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey) attempts the unthinkable. She applies to register to vote. But the Jim Crow laws are still in full force, making it virtually impossible to vote… unless you’re white.

King had just won the Nobel Peace Prize and is allowed to talk directly to 10882341_519526858189658_7896291437479059800_nLBJ (Tom Wilkinson). But his call for election reform is firmly rejected by the White House. So King and his confreres set off for Selma, Alabama to bring the protest home. As a preacher King is dedicated to non-violent resistance, modeled on Gandhi’s principals. But the local police have no such restrictions, clubbing, whipping, and even killing the unarmed protesters. But because the sheriff, mayor and governor are elected by a basically all-white electorate, the police can kill blacks with impunity. This makes the voters rights movement all the more important.10304498_516263568515987_3469586445239309478_n

So the protests evolve into a series of actions, culminating in a march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama. They are sure it will capture the nation’s attention if they are able to do it? But will the powers that be allow it to happen? King wonders why America can send soldiers to Vietnam, but not to Alabama where Americans are being attacked.

10425078_516816565127354_731155393230546598_nThe movie covers the months surrounding the protests in Selma, the contributions of the other protesters, including a competing student movement operating out of the same town. It also delves into the personal lives of Martin and his wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo). And subtly woven into the story is the fact that the FBI was bugging and spying and harassing on the whole movement, punctuated with late-night phone calls and constant surveillance and intimidation.

This is an engrossing and exciting film. There was some odd miscasting, things like Tim Roth who I love as an actor, but doesn’t make it as George Wallace. He just doesn’t achieve that good-old-boy feeling. And some of the side characters are prone to speechifying everyday conversations. But that doesn’t matter. Oyelowo is fantastic as Martin Luther King, both in his speeches and as a believable character. And it gives an intimate look at the behind-the scenes organizing of the civil rights movement. Its an historical drama but educates and excites the viewers at the same time.

(As an aside, I recommend you stay through the closing credits as the music plays. You’ll hear a recording from Selma in the 1960s that will forever alter how you think of the song Kumbaya.)

874882c8-50e1-4819-a38a-eb9944263924Winter Sleep
Dir: Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Aydin (Haluk Bilginer) is a former actor and now a well-to-do landlord. He lives in Cappadocia in Turkey, known for its lunar landscape, where people live in homes carved straight out of volcanic ash. Wild horses roam the nearby fields. He owns a small hotel, and delights in chatting with tourists from Japan, and young adventurous travelers.

Aydin spends his time writing snooty columns about unimportant things for a local paper. And he earns money from the people who live in the nearby homes inherited from his father. But he doesn’t handle the “little”724aeafa-61b5-4bfd-973a-c8dcc5a1bcd1 things like rent collection. So he’s shocked when, going out for a drive, a schoolboy Ilyas throws a rock straight at his car breaking a window! What is the meaning if this?

Back at home, he shares the dinner table with his beautiful young wife Nihal (Melisa Sözen), and his recently divorced sister Necla (Demet Akbag). They keep their conversations civil and intellectual, but filled with hidden, barbed invectives and sly, hidden insults. Afterwards, they each retreat to their own wing of the house.

29efeb47-8756-4bbf-86ed-4bcd8e236852But gradually, as winter comes, the quiet easy life he lives begins to unravel. Nihal devotes her time to a fund-raising project that Aydin dismisses as a silly project. And his sister’s own anger also leads to friction among the three. Aydin is distracted by side ventures – such as taming wild horses after a chance comment by a motorcycle-riding adventurer. Meanwhile, despite the pleading of an imam, the poorer people, including one of his tenants, are ignored… with troubling results.

Winter Sleep is a long, subtle — but never-boring — look at its characters. The beauty of the scenery and photography and the impressiveness of the film comes from the way you follow the emotions, as the stories slowly revealing themselves over the course of conversations: feelings of love, guilt, envy and jealousy, gradually rise to the surface. Subtlety triumphs which makes the sudden surprises all the more shocking. I like this movie.

Winter’s Sleep and Selma both open today in Toronto, check your local listings. And the Canada’s Top Ten series continues at the TIFF Bell Light Box with great Canadian films like The Price We Pay, Corbo, Mommy, and In Her Place.

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

Nov 18, 2011 Eurasia. Almanya, Piercing 1, Kevin Hart Laugh at my Pain, EU and Reelasian Film Festivals

Posted in China, comedy, Cultural Mining, Drama, Germany, ReelAsian, Turkey, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on November 21, 2011

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.

Last week, I talked about movies East Asia. (The Reelasian Film Festival is still going on North of Toronto, with movies showing this weekend in Thornhill.) And the EU festival of European films opened last night. But if you look at any map, and you look for Asia, you’ll find this massive body, this huge slab taking up most of the space. And you’ll find there is no Asia, there is no Europe, it’s a made-up concept. There’s just one huge continent. It’s Eurasian. There are cultural differences, for sure, but the geographical distinctions are dubious at best.

So, this week I’m talking about a European movie where so-called Asians (from Anatolia) immigrate to Germany; an animated film from China, filled with western icons — McDonalds, BMWs — that are out of most people’s budgets; and a film from the US, which is basically about… well America of course.

Piercing I

Dir: Liu Jian

This is an animated film from China, released a few years back that played at ReelAsian, but has taken on a new resonance.

It takes place in around 2008, when Wall Street was crashing, the real estate bubble had burst, and Obama had been swept into office in a tidal wave of hope that he would fix some of the things that Bush and Cheney had been allowed to ruin. Meanwhile, in China, the economy there was feeling the ripple effect of the recession in the U.S.

But this animated film deals with how it affected two regular guys, two buddies in Southern China who hang out at night in their dark hoodies: Da Hong has long hair, Zhang has a scar near his eye. They hang out, chain smoking cigarettes, as they try to come up with some way of making a bit of money. But they’re stymied at every turn, by the greedy businessmen and the corrupt police al around them.

Zhang gets beaten up by a security guard at the place he works. But instead of an apology he loses his job. So he gives up on his urban ambitions and decides to take the train back to his village. But just before he catches the train, he sees an old lady, a victim of a hit and run. So he calls an ambulance, takes her to a hospital, and waits to make sure she’s OK. But guess what? Her daughter’s a nasty cop who blames Zhang for the accident – why else would someone help a stranger unless they were guilty of a crime.

He gets beaten up by the cops, and bad turns to worse as he and his friends get dragged into a complex, corrupt bribery scam involving his ex-boss.

Some of you may have heard about the sad story of a little girl, Yueyue, in China who was run over and left to die and then ignored by a dozen passersby, before someone tried to save her. People wondered, how could this happen? But in this movie, they deal with the consequences that good Samaritans have to bear when faced with a culture rife with low-level corruption.

What’s especially interesting about Piercing 1 is it’s look. The director, Liu Jian, an artist, uses a rough, dark two-dimensional animation style, combined with a sort of a Beavis and Butthead lay-out, with the two guys trading profanities in their very funny conversations about their dismal lives, combined with the dark intrigue of street crime. Piercing gives a seldom-seen look at the left-behind in Southern China.

The EU Film Festival is on now in downtown Toronto. It’s a unique festival for a few reasons. First, it’s sponsored by all the different European consulates, each of which who each show one movie from that country. So you get to see movies in the original Czech, and Polish, Danish and Spanish, not just in English. The second thing is – they have some interesting Q&As to go with some of the movies. There’s one that looks great on the 19th, on how to do an international co-production, by Michael Dobbin, the producer of the Hungary-Slovenia-Canada co-production called the Maiden Danced to Death. And the third thing? The movies are all free! Just show up – I recommend 45 minutes early – and wait for a free ticket at the Royal.

I’m just going to talk about one movie today:

Almanya: Wilkommen in Deutschland / Welcome to Germany

Dir: Yasemin Samdereli

Three generations of a German family gather to hear an announcement. The Grandfather Huseyin (Vedat Erincin), has been picked to give a speech before the Chancellor Andrea Merkel, because he was the millionth (well, millionth plus one) immigrant back in the 60’s when Germany let in guest workers. But his grandson, Cenk (Rafael Koossouris) can’t speak a word of Turkish. In school, the kids tease him because he doesn’t know anything about his “Heimat”, his ancestral homeland.

So his sister Canan tells him their family history. The movie jumps back and forth between the 60’s and the present day, where the Grandpa decides to take everyone back to Turkey – some for the first time — for the fall vacations.

This is a very endearing movie, with the feel of Amelie – nostalgic, but not kitschy. It’s a German movie, but completely from the points of view of the German- Turkish family as they struggle to understand a new culture, language and life. Some funny scenes where one son thinks the Germans worship a dead guy and practice cannibalism at Mass each Sunday. The Grandfather is afraid they’ll soon be wearing dirndls and lederhosen and eating pork knuckles if they take on citizenship. And none of them can understand that strange, lilting Bavarian accent at first – it’s not the German they were expecting. But the movie shows the gradual assimilation, with a shift in cultural attitudes, intermarriage, and changes in the German Melting Pot.

I liked this movie a lot (except for a little bit of cornball near the end with slo-motion laughter and tears – uggh!) and it leaves you with a good feeling. Good acting, good story, a simple, well-made movie.

Kevin Hart: Laugh at my Pain

Dir: Leslie Small and Tim Story

This is a stand-up comedy movie about and starring Kevin Hart, a short, African-American funny man. This movie’s in three parts. The first section, and most boring part, is just him showing life in the neighbourhood of Phillie where he grew up. His cheese steaks, his school, his home, and his homies. Strictly for fans. If it was TV, I’d change the channel. The second part — most of the movie — is of a stand-up performance before a huge audience, where he talks about his parents, school, church, weddings, funerals, middle-class money troubles– pretty M.O.R. stuff, just a little bit funny. Like his aunt who pretend-faints at any dramatic junction at Church or his father who goes commando under his sweatpants. Only some laughs, as he imitates the characters.

But he’s really on his game in the middle, when he starts talking about sex, and when he gets into the physical performance he’s really good at. So he jumps around the stage, he’s on the floor, he attacking a chair, he’s doing the hula-hoop, he’s letting his mic mimic how he pictured his father when he was a little kid. He tells about his inner thoughts when he’s on the dancefloor in a club. He totally owns the crowd during that part.

And then the third part, his skit comedy, has its ups and downs, very slow to start… but he eventually gets into a very funny scene – (during an imitation of Reservoir Dogs), where he gets distracted from robbing the bank by a flirty but demanding bank teller.

Laugh at my Pain has it’s good parts and its boring parts, but it’s always fun to see stand up on the big screen.

Laugh at my Pain opens today, check your local listings; Almanya, Welcome to Germany is playing at the EU Film Festival – running all week, check listings on eutorontofilmfest.ca; and Piercing 1 played at reelasian Film Festival. Go to reelasian.com and try to catch Buddha Mountain – a great movie from China about three disaffected youth who find common ground with an angry and depressed Peking Opera singer — in Thornhill if you missed it last week.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, Cultural Mining . com.

October 16, 2011. Toronto. An Interview With Derek Hayes, Author of the New Book “The Maladjusted”

Daniel Garber: I’ve read all of your stories many times, but now I’d like to hear you talk a bit about them. There’s a tone of black humour in this book, Derek, but would you say most of the short stories in your new collection, The Maladjusted (October, 2011, Thistledown Press) are comedies or tragedies… and why?

Derek Hayes: I think they are tragic for some of the characters, but not in any way that matters to anyone but themselves. And for this reason I hope readers will find the stories funny. I’m interested in characters that for their own personal, deeply-rooted reasons have bad habits about how they think about the environment they live in.

I know the title of the book comes from the name of one of the short stories, but is it safe to say that the protagonists in most of them are having trouble fitting in… in social situations, workplaces, or relationships?

Yes, each story has at least one character who has trouble fitting in. I’d also add that it’s not the social situations, workplace or relationship per se that is inherently troublesome, but the characters thinking that is distorted or “off” in some way.

Most of the stories are told through the point of view of the male characters; do you see a bit of yourself in those guys, or is it more often your impressions of people you observe?

I definitely see myself in some of the characters. And others. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise for people close to me to know that I suffer from anxiety sometimes. But the actual details of the stories are madeup. It’s easy to take material from my own life and adjust, exaggerate, fabricate in order to make a narrative that works on its own terms.

A lot of your stories take place overseas — why is that?

About twelve years ago I worked in Istanbul for a year and then Taipei, Taiwan for two years. Three of the most enjoyable years of my life. I met a lot of interesting people and for lack of a better way of saying it, felt “alive” for the first time in a few years.

What’s your favourite story from the collection?

I think most writers of short stories would be reluctant to pick one, or maybe some writers would. I can’t speak for others I guess. I tried to arrange the collection in a way to keep the reader engaged, interspersing the more neurotic of the stories throughout so as not to exhaust readers.

I think some of your characters are just a little bit odd or off, while others are way out there. Which type of personality is harder to capture in writing?

The ‘way out there’ characters are more difficult to capture. Perhaps like the author is trying too hard. For a story to work readers have to feel a connection to a character, and if a character is too strange, readers may feel manipulated or put off. But having said that I’m not so sure I’m thinking about any of this when I’m writing a story.

Congratulations on your first published book, Derek! I know you have some great novels to follow.

Yeah, I have three novels. Mentee is about a struggling teacher. Kadikoy is about expats in Istanbul, and The Streets is about a basketball coach. It’s also about a guy who is looking for his mentally ill brother. All of which, you, Daniel, edited by the way 🙂 And you edited The Maladjusted. I’ll take this opportunity to thank you for that as well.

Thanks Derek, and thanks for the interview.

Derek Hayes will be launching his book across Canada with a series of readings, beginning October 19th in Toronto.

  • October 16: Ottawa, Nicholas Hoare (downtown), 5-7p.m.
  • October 19: Toronto, Type Books on Queen West (near Trinity Bellwoods Park), 7-9p.m.
  • October 23: (with Sean Johnston) Vancouver, Cafe Montmartre (downtown), 7-8p.m.
  • October 29: London, Oxford Books  (Oxford and Richmond), 2:30-4:30p.m.
  • November 20: Edmonton, Thomson/ Wright House, 1-2 p.m.

Here’s an excerpt from Derek Hayes’s The Maladjusted:

I climb out of my fourth floor window and onto the fire escape landing, where I look down the alley for Ming. Spring has come and it’s starting to warm up a little. I’m wearing a white robe and flip-flops, and carrying a basket that is attached to a long rope. Inside the basket is the exact amount of money for a medium vegetarian pizza, a bottle of Pepsi and a side order of garlic bread. This is the special from Tony’s. Like an old house-ridden Middle Eastern woman, I lower down the basket of money to Ming, who is standing below the fire escape. Ming is non-judgmental, waiting patiently on the ground, as if all his customers order in this way. He takes the money and places the food into the basket. I carefully pull my dinner towards the fourth floor, stopping just before it reaches the metal landing. I remove the box of pizza and bottle of Pepsi and the garlic bread and yank the basket over the rail. I lie down on the cool surface of the fire escape landing and rest my arm on the warm pizza box.

For the first fifteen days of each month I order a pizza from Tony’s. Then I run out of money. Until the end of the month I live on crackers, canned tuna and tomatoes, which I buy in bulk. My belly fluctuates in size according to the time of month, just as a python’s shape changes depending on what it has eaten.

I’ve got to find somewhere else to buy my groceries. Three weeks ago, as I was leaving Value Mart, I said goodbye to two men, probably fathers, who were waiting for a taxi. They gave me a look, from which I inferred that they thought this was strange. So I told them that I have a mental illness. They said that they were sorry. I refuse to go back there.

I don’t watch TV. I have nothing in common with Chandler, Joey or Ross. My alley’s good for entertainment. My fire escape is on the fourth floor and, because of some creepers – really weeds that I’ve tended that have climbed up from some dirt in three mouldy flowerpots – I am afforded some camouflage, allowing me to watch while being unobserved. The alley teems with life, with meth-heads providing the main drama. Look at them now. The one with the stringy blonde hair, all ninety pounds of him, has picked up a dead mouse and is holding it by its tail. The other has a garbage can lid, thrust out as a shield. He’s trying to knock the rodent from the other kid’s hand, his head craned back in revulsion.

May 25, 2011. Inside Out Festival. Renee, Lost in the Crowd, Gun Hill Road, Black Field, Harvest, We Were Here

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

Toronto Inside-Out festival is one of the world’s biggest LGBT film festivals, that shows movies and documentaries from around the world by and about lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transsexuals. Or queers for short. The festival is continuing through this weekend, mainly at Toronto’s Light Box, and I hear there are still some tickets available, so now’s your chance to catch some of these very varied and interesting movies.

So this week I’m going to look at a cross-section of movies and docs at this festival with a special emphasis on some good movies about the too often neglected “T” in LGBT. Next week: more on the “L” word.

Renee

Dir: Eric Drath

“I’m getting the message across that you can be a transsexual… and yet be a nice, normal, socially acceptable and productive member of society.” – Renee Richards.

Renee Richards was born as Richard Raskin, who grew up as an aggressive alpha male, served in the navy, became a tennis champ, a young man with dating prowess, a surgeon, a husband and a father.

But in the early seventies, after years of agonizing, and (after first chickening out on her first attempt, when she went to Morocco for sex-reassignment surgery) she took the plunge and became a woman. She named herself Renee (French for reborn) and started a new life. She became a sensation on the women’s tennis circuit until the past came out. She was ostracized, alienated by many tennis players, and splashed across the mass media.

They attempted to force Renee Richards to take a DNA test to prove her sex – this despite surgery, hormones, her day-to-day identity, clothes, body, voice and name. So she took them to court.

This is a very good, sympathetic documentary, that uses TV sports footage, home movies, newspaper articles and present- day interviews with family members, and famous tennis players (like Billie Jean King and Martina Navritolova). The most emotionally trying part of the documentary is about her difficult relationship with her son Rick.

Lost in The Crowd

Dir: Susi Graf

…is another documentary, also touching on problems faced by transsexuals and others. But if Renee is about rich and famous celebrities, Lost in the Crowd is about the other side of things. It’s about Queer youth who migrate to new York City to escape homophobia and other dangers in their hometowns, only to find themselves penniless, homeless and alone on the streets of Manhattan. It shows a few of these kids and young adults, many latina, and gay or trans, who seek shelter but end up in prison, on the streets, or dead.

While a very important issue, I was a bit disappointed by the movie, since it mainly just showed the victimization of the runaways by drugs, prostitution, and crime. It didn’t really offer any new viewpoint on the standard risks that face all runaways. One exception were the scenes shot in a prison, where one person (who had been arrested for low-level drug dealing) said he felt more free in the jail than he had in his midwestern small town.

Much more moving was a fictionalized drama about many of the same issues, a movie called

Gun Hill Road

Dir: Rasheed Ernesto Green

This tells about Enrique, and ex-con out on parole going back home. He’s an ultra-macho Puerto Rican-American who was known for attacking any “maricon” in prison who might have looked at him the wrong way. What’s a few months of solitary if he’s defending his own masculinity? He arrives back with his street corner pals to see his much missed son Michael (Harmony Santana). But something about Michael has changed.

He’s living his life as a girl in school, but like a boy at home. He hangs out with his friends at school but faces widespread bullying in the hallways. As pretty and strong Vanessa, she meets a boyfriend at a poetry slam, but he’s less friendly once he discovers Vanessa is a pre-op transsexual. He doesn’t want to see her as a boy – she has to cover up anything that might turn him off. But Michaels’s father doesn’t want to see his son as in any way feminine. He attacks him with a scissors and hacks off his long hair.

Gun Hill Road is a good, moving drama of the trials and tribulations of being trans in a public school, and how both a father and a son have to learn how to understand each other. The actor playing Vanessa/Michael is excellent, and you feel for all the characters. And it has a great latino hiphop soundtrack.

Black Field

Dir: Vardis Marinakis

In the middle ages, at its height,  the Ottoman empire used a special unit in their military known as the Janissaries. This was a division consisting entirely of paid, trained soldiers who were also slaves. They had no outside friends or families because they were kidnapped as small boys from outlying villages in the Balkans. Eventually, they converted to Islam and enlisted in this all-male, elite part of the army — the Janissaries.  In this movie, a wounded janissary (Hristos Passalis) is found outside a Christian convent in a remote, mountainous region of Greece. The black-hooded nuns take him in, chain him up, while they tend to his wounds. A young nun, Anthi  is sent to heal him, but there she makes a surprising discovery  — his genitals are like hers. She is actually a boy, who had been taken in as an infant and raised there, so that the Mother Superior could save him from being kidnapped and made into… a janissary!

The movie follows – literally follows, the camera holds back behind the two as they walk through the lush forest, a green-covered swamp, and a dark rocky area –  the tough, mean, AWOL soldier and the timid, whispering nun, as he forces the newly discovered boy to reclaim his male identity, and eventually become his partner. To make matters even more ambiguous, the boy who was raised as a girl is played by a very good actress (Sofia Georgovassili). It’s a slow-paced, challenging, sometimes violent, and at other times sensuous and exquisitely beautiful,  first film. Very interesting to watch and should be seen on the big screen.

Harvest

Dir: Benjamin Cantu

Marco is a young man who lives and works at an internship program on what used to be an East German communal farm. He wears overalls and a T-Shirt as he sorts carrots, bales hay, and clips the ears off cattle, along with the other interns. But he’s resisting committing himself to a lifetime of farm work. He doesn’t want to write the exam he has to take, mainly because he can’t write well. And he’s a bit of a loner – he won’t go out drinking with the other trainees, and they tease him for it.

But he enters into a silent friendship with a newby, Jacob. Things start to heat up in an abandoned old car (a Trabant?) and they realize they have something in common when Jacob finds the keys and drives them both into Berlin for an evening.

Harvest is another one of these hyper-realistic films –  made on real locations, usually with non-actors, without a complicated plots, and often without a written script. There aren’t that many lines in this movie, and the budding relationship between Marco and Jacob is never really talked about – it just happens. But you totally understand and identify with all the characters, and the farm footage is fantastic – I’d never actually seen an enormous carrot-sorting mill. Harvetst is a very good, understated, realistic drama.

We Were Here

Dir: David Weissman

This is a documentary about San Francisco from the late 70’s until the early nineties. That was the period when the city was transformed from a gay mecca into the epicentre of a worldwide epidemic. I’m speaking about AIDS and HIV, then called the gay plague for the sudden, massive death toll of that community.

This movie is heart-wrenchingly moving because of the way it was made. They found a handful of people who lived there at that time and were somehow involved in that disaster, to tell the story of themselves and their friends directly to the camera.

The movie shows the face of one speaker’s friend and then close-ups, ten days later. So happily galavanting at a Castro street party one day, and then, suddenly, the same man infected with Karposi Sarcoma (cancerous, but painless black spots on the skin) and then, a few days after that, just dropping dead.

No one knew what was going on or what to do about it. Panic set in. The movie shows the quick progression of events — the protests, the medical advances, the set-backs — all told through the eyes of real, sympathetic men and women.

This is a very important, living oral history, illustrated by ample newspaper clips, snapshots and still photos.

These movies and more are part of Inside-Out, continuing on this weekend: you can check times atinsideout.ca . Also opening is the terrific documentary Bobby Fischer against the World, and the Canadian low-budget spooky, post-apocalyptic horror thriller The Collapsed, both of which I reviewed last week, and Little White Lies, a very funny, if long, French social comedy about the secrets and conflicts of a group of friends who vacation together; I reviewed that last year.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, Cultural Mining dot com.

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