The 44th Annual Flaherty Seminar Wraps
by Maya Churi
The 44th Annual Flaherty Seminar closed yesterday evening having shown
over 16 films during the course of 6 days. Each film, programmed as
counterpoint to those previously shown, provoked discussions about the
motivations of the filmmakers, questions of their portrayal of reality,
Films shown at this years Seminar included: "Human Remains" a portrait
of the intimate lives of five infamous dictators, focusing on their
favorite foods, film habits and sex lives and "The Smell of Burning
Ants" both directed by Jay Rosenblatt. "The Smell of Burning Ants"
opens with footage of a man about to have his head cut off, repeated ten
times with the voice-over of "one-one thousand, two-one
thousand.......ready or not here I come" setting the audience up for
something extremely frightening, but giving us something far worse.
Through the use of archival footage from the fifties and sixties
Rosenblatt takes the audience on a journey through male psychology and
socialization. The film features images of boys tormenting each other
in school yards and being chastised for showing their "feminine" side.
Re-creating emotions through optical effects, a young boy is told not to
smile, to be tough - eventually, he becomes an accomplice to his own
destruction, participating in violent behavior, and passing down to the
younger generation what it means to "be a man."
"August without Him," the first film to document the life of an openly
homosexual Japanese man with AIDS, by Kore-eda Hirokazu. If this film
were to be shown on PBS in 1986 it would be ground-breaking. In 1994
Japan, that is what the film has become. But, when shown to a 1998
Flaherty audience there was discussion about seeing nothing new.
Creating a clear divide among the participants the argument that the
film lacked certain technical and story telling techniques could not be
denied. But it was the story itself that was important. The story of
the first man to come out as having AIDS from a Homosexual relationship
in a country were everyone who has the disease is a hemophiliac, or so
they say. With this in mind the film created an image of a parallel
culture coming to terms with a disease that Americans have been more
"open" about for almost 10 years.
"Still Revolutionaries" directed by Sienna McLean explored an aspect of
the Black Panther party that few people have seen. Interviewing two
women foot soldiers from the movement McLean unleashed questions about
the groups inner workings. During the discussion questions were raised
about the motivation of the subjects, about why they belonged to a
movement where, as women, they were not gaining any freedom. The
women's roles within the organization were to cook, clean and
sex-on-demand was a common occurrence. But still, the subjects believe
in the movement and the progress it made. When I asked the filmmaker if
she felt any hesitation about showing an aspect of a movement in
American history that re-affirmed the oppositions negative thoughts of
the organization, she responded that it may not be nice but it's the
Another film that expressed two sides of one issue was "On The Edge of
Peace" Directed by Ilan Ziv. The film was the first Israeli-Palestinian
co-production and is a unique documentary that chronicles the first year
of the Isreali-Palestinian peace accords through the eyes of 3 Arabs and
3 Jews. In the form of a video diary the film shows two parallel worlds
living on the same land, discussing the same events from, literally,
different sides of the fence. The diarists document their lives, their
emotions and their families, from the day to day of cooking dinner to
attending demonstrations. The most moving moment came when an Arab
women turned on the camera as Isreali soldiers raided her house.
Somewhat reminiscent of the Rodney King video, without the actual
beating, the camera, at knee level, allowed the audience to overhear an
argument over turning the camera off. She refuses. They insist.
By far the most interesting part of the seminar was the opportunity to
see films and videos from other countries that otherwise may never be
shown here. Then afterwards, it was not the formal discussions that
brought about the most interesting conversations but the dinner table
where, away from the filmmakers, people let down their guard and
expressed their true emotions about what they experienced that day. It
made me realize that, ideally, I would like to attend a Flaherty where
the filmmakers are not present - to get rid of the
question-answer-comment structure of the discussions and really open up
the room to a dialogue. The aim should be to create a forum where
people can freely talk about film, politics and environment. Instead
many of the questions were what one might hear at any filmmaking panel:
"How did you choose your subject?"..."Where do you get your ideas?"...
"Where did the burning stuffed dogs come from and what are they a
metaphor for?" Sometimes it felt as though the questions where going in
circles, repeating the same ideas over and over again, not unlike many
of the films.
Other films included in the seminar were "The Dead Weight of a Quarrel
Hangs" a three part video project that investigates the limits of
writing a history of the Lebanese civil war directed by Walid Raad;
"Around the Time" a legacy of the filmmaker's parents who were brief
lovers during the civil rights movement, the film mixes fact and fiction
in an effort to find the truth about who his mother is and was, directed
by Phil Bertelsen and "Song of Galilee" a film which investigates the
mystical death of the writer Shaul Chavillio directed by Dani Wachsman.