23rd Annual Pacific Rim Film Festival 2011
(above: Last Paradise, Oct 14, 7pm.)
by Richard von Busack
Every year, the Pacific Rim Film Festival provides free films from around the world to the Santa Cruz and Watsonville area. This year 19 countries have provided movies on the theme “When Strangers Meet.” This year’s selection includes documentaries on the last good places on earth, the spiritual aspect of bells, Hawai’ian culture, and memories of old soldiers. All screenings are free except for the closing night benefit:
FRIDAY OCT 14:
Del Mar Theatre
Last Paradise (7pm)
Clive Neeson, son of wildlife documentary maker John Neeson, has seen a lot of glorious places in his lifespan, and that also means he’s seen a lot of paradises paved, and beaches fouled. While he ends on a note of hope (how else can a documentary maker end, with a note of suicide?) the contrast between Bali, Guerrero state’s Petacalco, and other pristine spots as they once were, and as they are today, is sobering. New Zealand’s Neeson hopes for preservation, and the fact that more and more people know what’s been lost and what might be saved is indeed an upbeat note. And there’s nothing like feasting your eyes on the Bali as it was in the 20 cent a night days.
Some 200,000 Korean children have been adopted in America and the west, and Tammy Chu’s documentary follows the story of what happened to some of them.
FRIDAY OCT 14:
Cabrillo College Watsonville Center
6pm: Sleep Dealer (2008)
Matrix gone Mexican: it’s Alex Rivera’s cyberpunque drama about a future of computerized braceros and locked-tight borders between the United States and points south.
FRIDAY Oct 15:
Del Mar Theatre
1pm: Concerto (1pm)
From the Philippines: Paul Alexander Morales’ story of a Mindinao family who finds an uneasy friendship with the Japanese occupiers, due to mutual love of music.
3:30pm: A Barefoot Dream (3:30 pm)
In East Timor, recovering from years of colonization by Indonesia, a retired soccer player starts a new life training a barefoot group of kids in the world’s most popular sport. Based on the story of Kim Sin-hwan, the Korean coach whose team went all the way to the big time.
7pm: Tibet: Murder in the Snow
Documentary on the murder of Tibetan nun Kelsang Namtso, a refugee crossing the Himalayas. Australia’s Mark Gould directs.
9:15: The Star and the Sea
Biopic about Xian Xinghai, the Macau based composer who went from utter poverty to the Paris Conservatory.
SATURDAY Oct 15:
Cabrillo College Watsonville Center
4pm: 442: Live With Honor, Die with Dignity
The festival’s biggest surprise, if the subtitle is disputable. Never forget that the Latin poet Horace died in bed long after writing “dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” (it’s sweet and honorable to die for your country). “Dignity” might not be the right word for death on the battlefield. Yet a lot of marble, bronze and rows of white crosses speak of the heroism of the Nisei fighters. It’s a story one would have considered well-known, but modern memory is what it is. The surprise then is how director Junichi Suzuki makes it fresh. He not only found a dozen still living veterans of the 442nd Infantry Regiment, but also got them to speak with much openness, and even poetry, about what they went through. These interviews include the best one I’ve seen with Senator Daniel Inouye about his wartime experiences, even though the senator wrote a book many years ago about what he went through. (He notes going from Sunday school student to “#1 killer.”)
Members of the 100th Batallion were known as “the Purple Heart Battalion” for the number of casualties they took; they were cited with 7 presidential unit recognitions. They were present at some of the WW2 battlefields that I rejoice the most at having missed: in particular Monte Cassino and the severing of the Gothic Line (the latter, a nocturnal action that took only an unbelievable 32 minutes, is the site where Inouye lost his right arm).
A question that puzzles gun-shy people like myself and Colonel Flashman is where such soldiers find their bravery. 442 suggests they found it trying to disprove the shame laden on them, being people particularly proud of their ancestors, as well as their relatives kenneled in concentration camps. Even if they were citizens, these Niesei were treated as vermin after Pearl Harbor broke out. Some had even been on military duty (as 90 year old veteran Ted Tsukiyama notes, the Pentagon with horror “found out the Territory of Hawaii was being guarded by a bunch of Japs”). Here is a fascinating anecdote about Admiral Tojo’s message to Japanese residents of America, officially releasing them from their duty to Dai Nippon. This is all in accordance with the samurai code, but certainly some whites must have dismissed it as a crafty Asian ruse.
Locations include the Vosges region and the Epinal Cemetery in France, where the old soldiers burn incense for their dead comrades. The crew goes to Dachau, which was liberated in part by Nisei soldiers attached to Patton’s Army ( it’s underscored here, these soldiers had gone from Manzanar to the death camps). We also see the monastery at Monte Cassino itself, rebuilt on the heights it has commanded for more than an eon; it still looks like something you’d prefer to fight as far away from as possible. The testimony of Edward Yamasaki, a stretcher bearer, makes me even doubt the conviction with which I started out the paragraph: he recalls the memory of a peaceful even “clean” death of one of his fellow soldiers. The music is by Kitaro.
SUNDAY Oct 16:
DEL MAR THEATRE
1pm: Empire of Silver (2005)
Palo Alto’s Dr. Christina Yao (Metroactive.com interview here) directed this epic about the rise of a Rothschild-like family of Shanxi bankers whose connections with the Imperial family contribute to their fortunes. But when the Boxer Rebellion commences, they’re threatened with disintegration. Rambling, but it’s an eyeful, and Aaron Kwok stars as the playboy third son who has to take over the family business.
3:30 pm 3 Idiots (2009)
Fans of the immortal Stooges will agree this is a title to conjure with, but Rajkumar Hirani’s film–the highest grossing Bollywood film ever made–is a lot more like Revenge of the Nerds that the work of the Three Wise Guys. Tom Hanks lookalike Aamir Khan is the ingenious ringleader of a trio of rebels at an oppressive technical college in Dehli. Pranks galore, mostly aimed at the stodgy Dean Bitterman figure (lisping, mustached Boman Irani) whose cute daughter (Kareena Kapoor) is being romanced on the sly. A very resonant film in a land where the British educational traditions of stuffing, swotting and grinding still hold sway.Yet for its’ technical slickness it is–how to say it–pretty basic. While 3 Idiots gives up some scenes that are pretty funny parodies of the black and white realistic movie of the 1950s, it also depressingly shows little a chance the social drama has in the face of a film this candy-coated, ridden with fart jokes and rather happily idiotic.
SUNDAY Oct 16:
7pm: Family of the Wa’a (2011)
The Wa’a: a Hawaiian outrigger canoe. Filmmakers Alyssa Federle and Zachary Fink follow paddlers Kimokeo Kapahulehua as he tries to circumnavigate the islands–a mere 1650 mile journey through rough waters. Federle and Fink will appear at the screening along with four local paddlers.
MONDAY OCT 17:
DEL MAR THEATRE
12PM: Last Paradise See ABOVE
Without the !Alarma! worthy melodrama customary to fictional border stories, debuting director Rigoberto Perezcano tells the story of a Oaxacan who comes to Tijuana to come to America.
4:45PM: A Barefoot Dream See ABOVE
7:15PM: Shodo Girls!!! (2010) Kind of a school kids movie, recommended for smarter 12-18 year olds. It’s a Japanese version of the common British movie plot (Full Monty, etc.) in which a dying industrial town revived by performance. In this case, it’s the new fad of calligraphy as a sport, using music, crowds, and brushes as heavy as dumbbells. When the sumi ink starts flying, it looks like action painting to the westerner.
9:45PM: Summer Wars (2009)
Mamoru Hosada’s excellent anime is a mashup of the candy-coated artist Murakami and Kore-eda’s Still Walking. Those who don’t care for the flying caped bunny-rabbit avatar King Kazma will prefer Summer Wars’ other side: a look at an extended family reuniting in the sweltering rural Nagano for the matriarch’s 90th birthday. Grandma is the head of a samurai clan with more pride than money. The reunion is disturbed by crisis: in the virtual realm of Oz (the core of the Internet, populated by millions of cartoony avatars) a rogue program arrives, stealing identities and threatening the grid. This family (led by granddaughter Natsuki’s sort-of boyfriend Kenji) will get inside and fight them off. Some 20 minutes pass before the first battle scene. In this, Hosada, a vet of Spirited Away’s Studio Ghibli, seems committed to flesh out a tale that’s both eye popping and intelligent.
TUESDAY OCT 18:
1pm: Railways (2010)
Capra-cornish but undeniably appealing mid-life crisis drama. 49 year old Tokyo exec Tsutui Hajime (Kiichi Nakai) is imploding with overwork. He’s estranged from his family, and he’s cut deeply by the shame of participating in corporate layoffs. When his mother falls ill, he joins her in the remote and lovely Shimane prefecture. There he fulfills his smothered childhood dream to work on trains. It’s not easy—even the small railroads are sticklers for timetables and white-gloved protocol. And his wife stays behind in Tokyo. But the trolley-sized wooden train, coursing past emerald paddies and edging summer backyards, is beyond picturesque. It’s a train as Paul Theroux described it: a machine in the garden.
3:30pm: Mana I Ka Leo (2010)
Ruben Carrillo’s handsome short documentary on mele oli, the ritual Hawaiian chants that go back long before the European arrivals. The fine vocalists here, such as Hokulani Holt, insist that these chants are “far different than poetry on a page…and you don’t have to know what the words mean.” These particular addresses in an ancient tongue to the streams, the lava, and the shore line go untranslated; then again it’s hard to find words to describe the landscapes Carrillo photographs so beautifully, and maybe it’s just best to listen. Filmmakers Carrillo and Dwan Kaniaupio appear in person. BILLED WITH 442: Live With Honor, Die With Dignity SEE ABOVE
7pm: It Tolls For Thee: Bells and Their Stories (2011)
Local filmmakers Eric Thiermann and Aleksandra Wolska meditate on an instrument that “connects the heaven and the earth” with music by the Sonos Handbell Ensemble (four members will perform before the movie). The two directors tour places where bells have particular religious and cultural significance. In Japan the airs are sanctified by the sounding of huge Buddhist bells, purging “the 108 defilements” of mankind. In Krakow, the Sigismund bell—a 500 year old, 30-ton national symbol—is pealed on All Souls Day. (Interesting by the way to see that the Day of the Dead is as big a deal in Poland as it is in Oaxaca.) In Romania, differently-abled children are taught music through hand chimes, and in Los Angeles the Mark Twain Ringers, a handbell ensemble including kids with troubled backgrounds earn to find some kind of togetherness. (This is a particularly touching passage; the children are quite open about their losses.) The footage is often gorgeous; particularly fine is the montage of inscriptions on the rims of ancient bronzes, and the chiming performance of Bach’s famous Toccata in a cathedral by gloved performers seems especially Christmassy.
A couple of points: Ms. Wolska’s narration can be redundant sometimes, as is often the case in the indie documentary; we see soldiers march in parade and she notes “…soldiers march…”. And the rhapsodizing about how church bells “issue invitation” may be fulsome. In the past they didn’t always invite, they commanded attendance. I’d agree with Marlene Dietrich that America has a lot of churches but not enough church bells. But since this film evokes Donne in its title and narration, consider Keats’ lines: “The church bells toll a melancholy round/Calling the people to some other prayers/Some other gloominess, more dreadful cares/More hearkening to the sermon’s horrid sound.”
WEDNESDAY OCT 19: RIO THEATRE
Closing Night Benefit
(Above: Patagonia Rising)
7pm: Aloha Spirit: James D. Houston & The Music of Hawai/ Patagonia Rising
Local hero Geoffrey Dunn’s 11 minute documentary about the Houstons’ love of the music of Hawaii, with previously unseen interviews with the late novelist. BILLED WITH Patagonia Rising A last frontier is in trouble: the far end of Chile is under siege by hydroelectric and water privatizing and purchasing schemes, with two major rivers being considered as damning spots. This axiomatically remote and beautiful land, seen in Brian Lilla’s camera, is worth protecting for everything that’s downstream: and far more is downstream than it looks. Director Brian Lilla will be on hand to discuss the latest developments.