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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Ebertfest 2010:Aftermath of Genocide, Aftermath of Shallow Consumerism, and the Stunning Visuals of Man with a Movie Camera

Now that I’ve got all the Apocalypse out of my system, I wanted to catch up on writing about the other films I’ve seen here at Ebertfest. Yesterday I caught the two other films screening earlier in the day. The first film, Munyurangabo, directed by Lee Isaac Chung. Munyurangabo is a journey film about N’Gabo,a Rwandan orphan traveling with his friend Sangwa on a quest for bloodletting justice. Along the way, the pair stop to visit Sagwa’s family, and then all these issues of Hutus and Tsutsis and genocide crops up and complicate matters.
Sangwa’s family is Hutu, N’gabo is Tutsi, and Sangwa’s parents don’t want their son’s friend around. N’gabo has his own issues, since he no longer has a family because they were murdered by Hutus during the genocides. All this business of warfare over seemingly inncocuous surface differences — Christian versus Muslim, Hutu versus Tutsi, capitalist versus communist, Nazi versus Jew — is something I struggle to understand, and I’m not sure films like Munyurangabo make it any easier, for me at least, to grasp the whys and wherefores over what seems to me to be meaningless, endless bloodshed. What is it about man’s nature that makes him to want to hurt and kill? I don’t know, and I don’t have any clearer understanding after seeing this film. But that’s okay, because I don’t think the filmmakers were going for anything quite so in-depth or philosophical here as much as they were telling a tale of loss, redemption and friendship.

At it’s heart, this is a simple story about two boys who are friends in spite of the differences a genocide they didn’t want or cause has brought about; these are differences that, to Sangwa’s parents, should be enough to keep their son from befriending N’gabo at all. It’s not such a different story than a white kid and a black kid in the Deep South in the 1950s (or sadly, even today in some places) forming a friendship, or the straight kid who sticks by his best friend even after he comes out as gay, or any other story about friendship where two people look beyond what should be the thing that divides them to find the commonalities and bonds that unite.
It’s also, though, a story about the emptiness of revenge. This bloodlust, this hunger to strike back, has driven N’gabo all his young life: his father was brutally murdered, his mother died after carrying him away from their home, a part of the river of refugees fleeing the bloodshed. It’s a story like so many of the tragic stories out of Rwanda and Darfur, these places where the most brutal genocide has ravished nations, where small children are stolen and forced to become “soldiers” who murder with clubs and machetes. It’s a story we’ve seen explored before through better-known films like War/Dance, The Devil Came on Horseback, Hotel Rwanda, Why We Fight, and more … and a part of me gets worn out by seeing the brutually and the end results of all this senseless violence over and over again, while another part of me knows these stories need to be told, and still another wonders if telling them makes any difference.
The hopeful part of me wishes desperately that the telling and retelling of these tales of human horror will, ultimately, get through to enough people to change things, while the cynic in me looks around, not just at places like the Middle East and Rwanda and Darfur, but right here in America, where the election of a black man to the presidency has brought out an ugliness, a deep-rooted fear and racism that one would think had been stamped out long ago. Do the stories like Munyurangabo ultimately matter? I think they matter, yes, but I’m not sure I believe any longer that they will make a real impact on the deeper problems underlying the stories they tell.
Speaking of things not changing, the film following Munyarangabo was Michael Tolkin’s The New Age, a very early 1990s film about overspending and shallow materialism that, sadly, probably rings even truer in 2010 than it did in 1994, when it was made.
Watching Peter Weller and Judy Davis wallow in the shallow pool of huge mansions, expensive artwork, designer clothing and six-figure salaries earned (or not) and lost, seeing Tolkin’s funny, yet hugely depressing vision of empty souls and morally bankrupt lives, right on the heels of a film about a kid who’s lived through genocide … well, I couldn’t help but ponder why in the hell we’re so damn shallow and obsess so much over things that don’t matter. I couldn’t help but see a smidge of irony in overhearing an older couple coming out of the theater talking about the opulence and overspending in the film and how ridiculous it was that people live like that, while they were both themselves dressed in obviously well-made, spendy clothing, she fairly sparkled with rings and necklaces and bracelets, and they got into a luxury car and drove away. I think Tolkin was particularly onto something when he called the store the Witners open in his film Hipocracy, but I’m not sure a lot of people got it, or at least, they don’t look at a film like that and see the ways in which it reflects back at them their own lives.
Lastly for this dispatch (because I want to talk about Synecdoche, NY in a separate piece), Friday featured one of my favorite things about Ebertfest: the silent film accompanied by the Alloy Orchestra. This is always a treat, but this year’s feature, Dziga vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera, completely blew my socks off. The film is more or less a documentary capturing a day in the life of the Soviet Union in 1929, mostly in Odessa, starting off with the sleepiness of the town and its citizens waking up, then following the often frentic pace of the day. Man with a Movie Camera, is, of course, noted for Vertov’s astonishing pioneering use of camera techniques still used in film today; there are double exposures, slow and fast motion, freeze frame shots of physical movements of the body, both human and animal, use of split screens, overlays, dutch angles and even split screens with dutch angles.
In certain ways, Man with a Movie Camera resembles the 1930 film, People on Sunday, which I saw at Telluride a few years back. But where People on Sunday was a more straightforward, verite approach to a simple day in the life of ordinary people (and captured, notably, an ordinary day off in Germany shortly before things would change forever with the rise of Hitler), Man with a Movie Camera sets a much different pace and notably explores a wide range of technique. The result is this hammering of the visual senses that is completely entrancing, especially when enhanced by the talents of the Alloy Orchestra playing its live score along with the film. Image after image after image flows over you and all you can do is sit back and take it all in, but it leaves you rather breathless. I turned to a colleague after the film wrapped and we both just said, “Wow.” Definitely one of the best silent films I’ve seen at Ebertfest since I’ve been coming here.
More on the films I saw Saturday, Trucker and Barfly, plus a revisiting of Synecdoche after my weird year of illness and doctors, still to come …

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon