VTIFF: 31 movies in 68 hours
[some were short]

Some introductory notes... I go to this festival every year. Sometimes I only see a few movies. Most times I try to see as many as I possibly can. For $35 for an all-weekend pass, it's about the best film festival bargain that I know of, and the quality of the films is good... especially if you're into social justice issues. The festival solicits films in three categories: Environment, Justice and Human Rights, and War and Peace. There is also a local showcase which is the most varied and often the most interesting.

Since I've gone for several years now -- probably having seen over 100 films in all-- I am starting to notice some trends. First, many if not most of the films are 54 minutes long, more or less. This is, of course, because they are being made for eventual wide distribution to TV audiences; a good gig if you can get it. However, this trend also leads to other samenesses in these films, specific techniques that are used over and over. In one film, they catch the eye and evoke emotion, when seen in three in a day, they scream "ARTISTIC DEVICE" and become less effective. These are, in no special order: None of these devices made the movies bad, or in any way unwatchable, but I was left thinking if perhaps there are more possible ways to make a socially responsible movie. I felt myself becoming more receptive to movies that managed to break out of this mold.

[note: if a link goes to the VTIFF website, it's because I honestly could find no good link. sorry.]

VT Filmmakers' Showcase

Da Speech (8 min)

Loud techno music over graphic depictions of war and violence. In my opinion, this sort of made-for-media presentation of the atrocities in war reduces the impact of serious violence into just another thing to watch on the tube. Bothersome. [backstory]

The Last Link (54 min)

A truly lovely movie about the Basque sheep herding tradition and its shift into this country. This movie was done by a local film maker who, regrettably, due to time constraints did not get to speak too much about this film. This documentary takes place both in Wyoming where generations of settles Basques still maintain local traditions but are getting priced out of sheep herding due to prices that haven't changed significantly since the 1940's. It then moves to The Pyrennes and a Basque village where the returning sheep herder and his family get to meet generations of family members who stayed in the old country, and some who returned after moving to the US and getting disillusioned. Unlike the US, the Basques in France are able to make a living with specialty cheeses and sheep products and the difference between the two cultures is striking in more ways than just language. A sweet and enduring film. [link]

Ice (4 min)

Strikingly attractive movie shot all on one of those Canon Powershot cameras and saved onto 250MB flashcards. Little teeny lovely movie about ice skating on Lake Champlain. Nice soundtrack, really idyllic mood. The filmmaker was there and when he told the audience that he made it all on his little camera everyone sort of said "wow".[link]

Ode d'ete (13 min)

Somewhat tough to watch movie basically watching a girl swim [or struggle?] in the water on what looked to be a nice summer day. Attractive to look at with lots of interesting colors and underwater shots of feet and hands and fabric, but also a bit herky-jerky. If Blair Witch Project made you dizzy, this may not be for you. If you like losing yourself in imagery and sound, you'll love this. [link]

Only a Farmer (9 min)

Second film by the guy who made "Ice" this was a film with different female farmers in Vermont reading a poem called "Only a Farmer" a poem that reads like Wendell Berry wrote it. Lots of character and beauty watching women do their work and read their poems. Short and sweet. However, the poem is exactly the same, word-for-word, as one in a Tennessee Farm Bureau movie, also from this year. The film maker claims it's a coincidence, I'm not so sure. [link]

Town Meeting (30 min)

Another Vermont-y movie, this one outlining a traditional Town Meeting where the contentious issue of civil unions is raised. This was one of the only fiction pieces I saw. However the film makers took about 90% of the dialogue for the characters in the film [which run the gamut from right wing nut to newly emigrated Yuppie to old timer to lesbian teacher] from print sources such as newspapers and magazines. This gives the characters some real verisimilitude. The interactions range from light to heave but the movie moves along quickly and has a Vermont ring to it all. Not expecting to like this one and I came away charmed. [link]

Voiceless Echoes (32 min)

I started out not liking this movie much, it seemed amateurish and a bit heavy-handed. It's interviews with four different single parents talking about single parenthood and, in general, why it was hard. The filmmaker was in the audience and she came up and talked after the film. The first thing she said was "I know it's amateurish..." and went on to describe how she made it on a shoestring, it was her first film and it was just important for her to get the story out there. She was so likable it gave me new eyes for the movie which, in hindsight, I appreciate much better. [link]


Deconstructing Supper (48 min)

A very pleasant Canadian film exploring some of the questions surrounding GMOs. The narrator, John Bishop, is a Canadian chef who is GMO-curious when his customers start asking about GMOs in the food. He embarks on a world tour, going to the US, India, organic farms in Canada, and a biotech trade show, to ask some questions and prepare meals with the local foods. The upshot? While this is definitely an anti-GMO film, there is an attempt to get both sides of the argument and the pro-GMO folks are not portrayed as being evil or stupid, just possibly not people with the best interests of the food-eaters of the world in mind. As one woman portrayed in the film said "GMO foods are a solution in search of a problem" which sums up the eventual conclusion of the narrator as well. [link]

El Caballo (54 min)

A look at the complex set of issues confronting wild horse herds in the US today. The Bureau of Land Management is responsible for maintaining the small herds of wild horses in the US as a resource, and yet they regularly round some of them up and sell them very cheaply at auctions under the guise of an adopt-a-horse program. Horse advocates claim this is nothing more than the BLM showing bovine chauvinism and they want the practice stopped. There was also some historical discussion of whether the wild horse is actually native to the US or not. The movie was a standard made-for-tv show and has lots of good footage of horses. [link]

Livable Landscapes (57 min)

A weird movie nominally about sprawl and how to avoid it. The consensus of this film seems to be "well hire a progressive developer!" It does not seem to touch on the more pressing question of whether we need more development at all. While I appreciated this film's upbeat tone and clear examples of how several New England communities have dealt with sprawl issues, there did seem to be this overarching theme of "well since development is inevitable, you may as well do it properly..." and I wasn't so sure I agreed with their premise. Majorly funded film, which also made me a bit suspicious. [link]

A Lot in Common (57 min)

Sweet hippie feelgood movie about a community gardening project in Berkeley California which, while lively to watch was basically exactly like you think it would be. Some annoying graphic effects, a lively cast of quirky characters and a grand neighborhood project made with an abundance of community goodwill. [link]

Organic Prophecies (44 min)

An interesting hagiography of sorts of a Canadian organic farmer and professor made by one of his workers or students [I was unclear which]. This man provides not just all the moral reasons why organic farming and food is good for people but also gives us a little bit of chemistry background as to why biodiversity is a good thing and monoculture is a bad thing. Lots of tasty looking vegetables and fruit make cameo appearances. One of the better "why organic?" films I've seen lately. [link]

Razing Appalachia (53 min)

Compelling movie about the destruction of nature and people's homes in West Virginia by mining companies. This movie take s slightly different turn in that it shows the people who are against the min expansion and tells their stories, but, instead of making it into a small man vs. Big Mining Company story, the filmmakers show the opposing side as the working miners who fear that without mine expansion, they will lose their jobs. So, it's poor person versus slightly less poor person, and the mining executives tell the same stories about how they're not so destructive and everyone is against them and blah blah blah. Lots of nice scenery shots and some West Virginia history. Also, the predictable banjo music.[link]

Sea and Stars (11 min)

An attractive and captivating illustrated short about a fisherman who glimpses beauty for a short while in time and loses it not too far afterwards. Sad ending, lovely to look at, and one of the few films made with After Effects type software that I could bear to watch. Calming and impressive. [link]

Justice & Human Rights

Anonymously Yours (87 min)

I wasn't going to see this movie but it was wedged between a few others I wanted to watch... so I did. It's a fascinating look at the lives and stories of women who work, or have worked, as sex workers in Burma. Even though it's clear from the tone of this film that they don't really think that working as a sex worker is a good career, the movie does manage to present many opinions. Some of the women who do it don't mind it and see it as a way to earn a living and get good clothes and food and housing for their children. Others are horribly abused and miserable. The spunkiest and most interesting woman who tells her story is a breath of fresh air for her matter-of-fact approach to all the rotten things that happen to her. Sadly, by the end of the film she is declared "missing" and the movie ends on that down note. One of the things you notice as you watch is the way the culture in Burma is very boy/girl. While the film makers don't outright have a "men are pigs" agenda, you see in their choice of shots how the men get to hang out in public, act out, relax and whatnot, while you hear from the women that they go see a different sex worker every night, or how the culture is so male dominated it's hard for a woman to find work without being a sex worker. Some of the women are even married and the film makes you think a lot about the role of marriage and sex in different cultures. Interesting, not graphic, thought-provoking. [link]

Arms for the Poor (28 min)

Three days later, I can't remember a thing about this movie except that I agreed with it. It was not in any particular way memorable. The upshot was, the US sells arms to anyone who will pay for them, then these countries go off and do horrible things with those weapons, sometimes even against Americans. This is wrong. [transcript]

Brothers and Others (54 min)

A movie that manages, without guile, to discuss the various ways, both overt and not so noticable, that Muslims and other minority groups have been treated differently since 9/11. The film focuses not just on the families that have been split up by the INS detaining Muslim men for expired-visa violations but also more "normal" seeming 30-somethings who get mysterious visits from the FBI and have to worry about who in their office dropped a dime on them. I enjoyed this movie because while it presented some tough issues, it seemed to hold back from being super-preachy, instead it let these people tell their own stories and allow you to think for yourself "Wow, that must be horrible, dealing with all that."[link]

Cry for Bobo (10 min)

Short funny clown crime movie with most of the visual puns you could think of and a few you couldn't. Very funny, brief and left me wanting more. [link]

The Forbidden Team (54 min)

Formulaic PBS-type documentary about a Tibetan soccer team's trials and tribulations when getting ready for an international match in Holland. Great movie, fun to watch, but left a lot of unanswered questions if you weren't pretty well versed on what was going on in Tibet. Lots of cute high school boys in soccer clothes, a bit short on details like "who is paying for this?" "why are they in India?" "why do they have this soccer coach and no field?" "who is that guy the coach keeps talking to?"[link]

A Girl, A Horse, A Dream (52 min)

Completely engrossing movie on the history of female jockeys in Australia. Apparently until a few decades ago, women were not allowed to be professional jockeys in New South Wales. They agitated to get to ride professionally, but there is still a lot of lingering sexism in the industry. Even with rules to prevent outright harassment, many women will still not speak up for fear of being unable to find people who will let them ride for them. This movie mostly follows one female rider as she changes in female-jockey changing rooms that are often a little more than bathrooms and endures lack of sponsorship, harassment and a variety of asinine comments while continuing to win races. She is very charismatic and interesting to listen to and endures a lot of the hardships with good spirits and wry asides. [about the jockey]

Murmuring Sound of Running Water (18 min)

Wonderful to watch and yet impossible to understand. This movie was a dialogue-less film from Iran which, I know from the blurb, was about " a day in the life of a custodian of a holy shrine." He is shown performing a wedding and a funeral, but they looked a bit the same to me and so I was a bit confused. The movie is lovely and has many pleasant shots of young girls at play in an un-self-conscious way that you rarely see in American films. [link]

Suspino (72 min)

Regrettably, this movie about the plight of Gypsies in Eastern and Western Europe contained most of the things I dislike most intently about documentary "issue based" film making. While I agreed with the film's thesis -- that the Roma have gotten the short end of the stick since forever and they are persecuted in a way not usually seen against racial minorities because of so little prosecution against their assailants -- I disliked the way it was presented. One family was mainly shown, first living in a shack on the outskirts of the city and then forcibly relocated to a trailer camp which was cleaner and safer, but not any nicer. They had three children and begged on the streets for subsistence money. When I lived in Romania, I often saw the Roma on the street begging. Many Romanians would tell me that the Gypsies would hide gold in their hair or in their teeth and that they all lived in rich-people houses. This was, obviously, a lie, but questions remained. Is it true the Roma are unemployable? Can they really not get documentation as residents of a country? Do people despise them because they are Roma, or because they are poor and often beggars? The family shown was far from a model family and seemed to begrudge the housing they were given and the place they were living. Of course, every poor person does not need to be grateful for the charity they are shown, but it was definitely a mixed message film. Good for lots of daily life scenes of the Roma and some particularly good exposition of a brutal Roma slaying in Romania. Bad because it didn't do too much to help the Roma cause and a lot of the information seemed to be presented with little to back it up and little or no balancing information. [link]

Texas Doughnut Shop (21 min)

This was a family film done by a Korean film maker about his aunt and uncle who own one of the 500 Korean owned doughnut shops in Texas. They work eleven hours a day, seven days a week and net about $20K a month [for a 154 hour work week] which they are putting away to put their kids through school. It was a pleasant little day-in-the-life film with short interviews with the aunt and uncle and some interesting facts about the doughnut shop biz. [link]

War & Peace

Beautiful Cloud (5 min)

Creepy and yet forgettable this was another movie which depicted the horrors of war with bad digital effects and two dimensional animation that was not at all interesting. [link]

The Fortunate Son (4 min)

Short movie using the lyrics of this well known song as a jumping off point for discussing the privilege of GW Bush and his crafty escape from the Viet Nam war through joining the National Guard. Short, catchy, a bit heavy with on-screen quotes. [link]

The Friendship Village (50 min)

I missed the first few minutes of this film. Its central character, George Mizo, died soon after the film was completed of Agent Orange related diseases. He was an activist for international reconciliation with Vietnam and worked on creating a Friendship Village in Vietnam to help children with Agent Orange related deformities. The movie makes the compelling point that the damage done by Agent Orange and the war in Vietnam did not end with the end of the war but continues on in the form of disabled children and a war-torn country still filled with land mines and unexploded ordnance. According to the film, one out of every 234 people in Cambodia is an amputee. Mizo relates how difficult it has been for him to receive veterans benefits from a country that would prefer to put Vietnam behind it. Very difficult to watch, but very impressive. [link]

Pristina Sacrifice (10 min)

Probably my favorite movie of the festival. This one was made by a young Scottish director who came all the way here just to attend the screening of this movie. He answered some questions afterwards and was completely charming, The movie is a B&W short which has no dialogue and a really spectacular soundtrack. It's a pretty straightforward story of a boy who meets a girl in war-torn Kosovo [why Kosovo? The director says "I was fed up with Scottish people and I was damned if I was going to make a film about them."]and then needs to appeal to her Dad who happens to be a chess enthusiast. The secret? Beat the man at his own game to get the girl. Even though the theme is standard the presentation is not. The movie has a film-like quality even though it was shot on video. No idea when or where you can see this one, but keep an eye peeled for it.[link]

Swiss Soldiers (56 min)

The only movie that did not capture and maintain my attention, this film was a historical look at four Swiss men who fought for the French Foreign Legion during WWII and continued to support deGaulle even after France had sided with Germany. The movie was good and told some great stories, but it had a bit too much of a talking-head quality to really hold the interest of someone who wasn't already interested in WWII history. At the start, the movie seemed to be trying to make the point that these were men who fought for their country and they should be celebrated as veterans, not scorned as people who fought for what was the "other side." [link]

True Believer (4 min)

Terrible. Bad use of software and unoriginal animation claims to show us the dangers of fanaticism but only focuses on the old favorite fanatics: Sadaam, Osama, Stalin and Franco. There are many worse fanatics and many more compelling treatments of them. [link]

Nuclear Showcase

My Wife's Features (35 min) & Bring Back My Mother, Bring Back My Father (20 min?)

These two movies were shows as part of the Nuclear Showcase. They were made by a Japanese Saki company executive who also creates films. In fact, he seems to film many of the major events in his life. One of these movies is about his wife who was near the epicenter of the Hiroshima blast and has chronic health problems as a result. In the film, she takes care of her mother-in-law who is bedridden and needs constant care while being very sick herself. It is a bit strange to watch the film maker watch her do all of this while not seeming to help and there is a point in the film where his wife looks directly at the camera and says "you don't love me, you just want to put me in your movies" that is bone-chilling. The second film was shorter and seemed to chronicle the peace movement in Japan more than the personal stories. The subtitles in this movie were a bit off sometimes, but the imagery was excellent and the sheer span of material he had available -- we can actually watch his wife's health deteriorate over several decades, it seems -- is quite an accomplishment. The filmmaker, Kawamoto Akito, was present at the screening and filmed us watching his movies. [link]

read about movies from 2002 or 2001 as well.