The World Before Her — a gem at the Little Rock Film Festival

One of the exciting things about a film festival, is that you never know what you’re going to stumble upon. Quality ranges from awful to exceptional. The World Before Her, directed by Nisha Pahuja, is that occasional gem. And having walked out of at least one film with shaky, out-of-focus cinematography (Beasts of the Southern Wild), I feel compelled to say that it’s a joy to watch a film with something to say, artfully stated, with crisp imagery (cinematographer Mrinal Desai).

The movie follows two extremes in modern India. Young women in a Hindu nationalist camp learn to become dangerous militants,  soldiers in an upcoming war with Christians, Muslims, and anyone else threatening Indian culture (as they perceive it). Another group of young women submit themselves to painful skin bleaching and Botox sessions, in order to win the Miss India Pageant. The prize? Being embraced by the modern world.

At the “Indian taliban” camp, the most militant girls lead the newcomers. Pachi is one of these leaders. She admittedly enjoys terrifying her charges, and lives a life largely controlled both by the camp and her domineering father. Her father beats her, and then become angry when she cries. He boasts that he burned her foot with a hot iron when, at seven years of age, she lied about doing her homework. In response, says Pachi, “I’m becoming heartless.” She reprimands herself. Her father has a right to beat her. After all, he helped give birth to her and then allowed her to live, even though she was a girl.

The film also follows beauty contestant Ruhi and her very supportive family. Ruhi’s mother hopes that she wins the pageant, so that she can escape the small town in which they live and enter a world where there are choices. But even as Ruhi and those competing against her prepare, they find themselves in Burka-like garb. The girls are draped in white sheets, so that only their legs are exposed for a photo shoot. It’s a perverse fantasy of the photographer to shoot only “strong, muscular legs” undistracted by womens’ beautiful bodies or personalities.

Because the movie is fascinating, I’d like to tell you more. But it would be a crime to spoil such a wonderful film. Enjoy the trailer but, more importantly, be sure to watch the movie.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a great movie

Last weekend, my husband and I went to see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The premise of the film is that several financially-strapped British retirees decide to move to India, where the pound might go farther. But the story is much more than a fish-out-of-water tale. Instead, it deals with the dilemmas faced by many individuals as they age in a society that worships youth and pushes older people aside. This delicate, thought-provoking theme could make for some dreary storytelling. Instead the audience is drawn in by the film’s warmth and humor.

As the audience left the theater, middle-aged people had tears in their eyes. Older men and women smiled broadly — someone had finally understood. Everyone seemed uplifted — assured that, at any age, life can be an adventure.

Jeff Nichols – Take Shelter and Shotgun Stories

From June 10, 2011 Following a screening of his 2004 film, Shotgun Stories, at the fifth‑annual Little Rock Film Festival, producer‑director Jeff Nichols was interviewed by film critic Philip Martin. At the Cannes Film Festival, Nichols’ latest film, Take Shelter, won the Critics’ Week competition against seven other films, as well as the Society of Dramatic … Continue reading

Filipino Amerasians Left by the Ship

From June 8, 2011

On Saturday, June 4, I saw Left by the Ship at the fifth‑annual Little Rock Film Festival. The documentary follows the stories of Amerasian children born in the Philippines. Their Filipino mothers were forced into prostitution by poverty. Their American fathers were servicemen who have since left the country—and their children—behind. The children are the only Amerasians fathered by servicemen not recognized as American citizens by the U.S. government.

Director‑producers Emma Rossi Landi and Alberto Vendemmiati were present after the screening for a Q&A session.

The pair started making the film in 2007. They made connections with Filipino families through Emma’s mother, who was a peace activist and knew former Filipino prostitutes.

Someone in the audience asked whether the gray, threatening skies in the movie were intentional—included to reinforce the children’s plight. Said Alberto, “It rained all of the time. We were stuck in the room because of the weather, so we were forced to [shoot out the window].”

“We were the whole crew,” he said. The pair used two cameras, and filmed during three production trips lasting two months each. Emma and Alberto funded the first production trips. “We didn’t get a salary for more than three years,” said Emma.

Emma says that, in the Philippines, family is important. Someone not having family is considered nothing. Family is that “one thing that is richness in poverty.

Left by the Ship will be appearing on PBS next spring.

The Conversation with a blind assassin

From June 8, 2011 The Conversation was a featured short at the 2011 Little Rock Film Festival. It’s about the abilities and frustrations of a hired gun, who happens to be blind. Visually impaired director, Leon Tidwell, says that “good comedy comes from frustration. A lot of these things are me… No, I’m not a … Continue reading

First Dog, a charming children’s film

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First Dog is a family‑friendly film for young children screened at the Arkansas Film Festival on Saturday, June 4, 2011. It’s about a boy who finds the President’s dog after the dog wanders away after a press rally. Although Danny is tempted to keep “Teddy,” he decides that returning the dog is the right thing … Continue reading

Indie Film Distribution panel

From June 7, 2011 At the Little Rock Film Festival there was an excellent panel on independent film distribution (Friday, June 3, 2011). Tim Basham from Paste magazine moderated the discussion with Diana Sperrazza (Executive Producer for Investigation Discovery), Harry Thomason (Director of the festival’s featured film The Last Ride, and Erik Jambor (Director of Indie … Continue reading