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Film Festivals

DocuWeeks (July 31st - August 20th, 2009)

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*(Updated 08/12/09)*
(Please check back soon for capsule reviews of 10 more films. Full reviews will be added only for films with distribution as their theatrical release date approaches.)

Garbage Dreams
Directed by Mai Iskander.

In Norwegian with subtitles. This absorbing and illuminating documentary follows three teenage boys, Osama, Adham and Nabil, living in the outskirts of Cairo as part of the 60,000 Zabelleen, Arabic for "garbage people," who make a basic living out of recycling garbage. As one of the Zabelleen boys wisely says, they have three different classes: Upper, Middle and Nothing. Without recycling garbage, the Zabelleen simply wouldn't know how to survive. When the government hires a foreign company to collect the garbage instead, the Zabellen consider that as a threat to their livelihood. With the help ofs Laila, a Zabelleen nurse, they look for ways to prove their usefulness and to continue collecting garbage. it's interesting to watch how Osama, Adham and Nabil react when they travel to Whales, UK, where they observe the way that garbage is recycled there and come back to Cairo to share their newly attained knowledge. Director Mai Iskander does a terrific job of showing the impoverished conditions and struggles of the Zabeleen while also adding some insight and hope about how they overcome their many hardships. Their innate desires to gain knowledge and to succeed in life through diligence, determination and persistence feel quite inspirational.
Number of times I checked my watch: 1.
No distributor, yet.

Hunting Down Memory
Directed by Thomas Lien.

In Norwegian with subtitles. This fascinating, somewhat suspenseful documentary follows Řyvind Aamot, a young man from Norway who had travelled to China at the age of 27, but, mysteriously lost all of his memory there. His last memory is awakening on a train and he recalls everything and everyone after that moment, but not before it. He can't remember his name, recognize his mother, his friends or even remember why people in China call him Wind. Essentially, he begins his life anew like a curious child getting to know the world around him. He even discovers that he knows multiple languages. Director Thomas Lien spends a little too much time showing the direct effects of his memory loss on those around him, but the documentary becomes more intriguing and interesting once Řyvind, a.k.a. Wind, retraces the steps of his journey in China to try to figure out who helped him during his ordeal and what kind of event might have occured that lead to his memory loss. Řyvind projects some charisma as he candidly and articulately admits his thoughts and feelings in front of the camera, which adds poignancy and insight, especially about the value of memory which many people take for granted.
Number of times I checked my watch: 2.
No distributor, yet.

Severe Clear

Directed by Kristian Fraga.

This timely, honest and compelling documentary follows the experiences of First Lieutenant Michael T. Scotti in the U.S. Marines during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Michael took a home video camera and shot lots of footage throughout his deployment overseas from Kuwait all the way to Baghdad--a total of 300 miles. He provides you with a rare glimpse into what it was really like to be a part of the Marines. You get to watch Marines goofing around and cursing when they're not in battle. Or lining up to go to the bathroom in the dark, a task that's not as pleasant as one would wish it to be. Some of them hide out in a hole in the ground that's meant for fecal matter. The food they eat doesn't look particularly appetizing. As Michael admits, not all of them actually like one another, though. He also confesses that even though he hadn't slept for 90 hours, he's still got lots of energy and alertness. Director Kristian Fraga, who previously directed Anytown, USA, finds just the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally as well as intellectually. Wisely, he doesn't resort to preachiness or voice-over narration with the exception of Michael's own voice as he candidly expresses his thoughts and feelings while he films. Fraga also avoids hitting you over the head with anti-war messages or pro-war messages like the documentary Brothers at War did. Many of the images and sounds speak for themselves and leave you with a lot to ponder about.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0.
Released by Sirk Productions.


Directed by Stephanie Soechtig.

This illuminating, well-researched and vital documentary tackles the many health and environmental issues related to the privatization of water. Bottled water corporations, such as Poland Spring, make a lot of profit each year, but is their water pure and truly safe for drinking? Do bottled water companies have a right to use up a small town's water supply without prior notification/consent and without giving back? Fryebyrg, a town in Maine, suffered a water shortage while, concurrently, the bottled water company continued to pump their water. It turns out that the bottled water industry is unregulated and contains contaminants that pose health risks. Tap water, though, does have regulation and is quite often tested for contaminants. Director Stephanie Soechtig treads similar ground as Flow: For Love of Water, but digs deeper into the crises of water with much more insight and important revelations in a captivating way that avoids preachiness or excessive use of talking heads. For example, did you know that the Pacific Ocean has a section called the Eastern Garbage Patch filled, a giant sea filled with plastic? Many companies use the chemical BPA, or Bisphenol A, to make their plastic bottles. According to independent studies and researchers, BPA is a neurotoxin that leads to many neurological disorders. Soechtig managed to get an interview with the FDA, which claims that BPA is safe at low levels, but they won't even discuss BPA with her when she brings it up. Is the FDA covering up the potential health hazards of BPA just they're trying to do for the controversial food additive MSG? (Please click here to read about the cover-up of hidden MSG and for a complete list of ingredients with hidden MSG.) There's no denying that our own health, the environment and even evolution itself are all at risk when science and law combine with law, propaganda, greed and ego. At least documentaries like Tapped come along every once in a while to raise awareness, to inform the public and to clear the fog of propaganda. Whether or not Tapped will help to cure the general public's apathy toward evolution and environmental causes is a whole other matter.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0.
Released by Atlas Films.

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