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last update 25.Oct.11
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Dreams of a Life
dir-scr Carol Morley
prd Cairo Cannon, James Mitchell
with Zawe Ashton, Alix Luka-Cain, Martin Lister, Elton Edwards, Alistair Abrahams, Lynne Featherstone, William Barthorpe, Mandy Allen, Prue Almond, Kim Bacon, Daniel Roberts, David Gibbs
ashton release UK 16.Dec.11
11/UK Film4 1h30

london film festival
Dreams of a Life This beautifully assembled exploration of the life of a Londoner is hauntingly, desperately sad as it reveals a person so isolated that she fell through the cracks. The filmmaking is skilful and powerfully moving, even if it feels more like a TV doc than a feature film.

In 2006, Joyce Vincent was found dead in her North London flat with her television still on and newly wrapped Christmas presents around her. She had been dead for three years. But who was she? Why didn't her family report her missing? How could someone just disappear like that? There was no way to determine the cause of death, because the body was so badly decomposed, although the police ruled out suspicious circumstances.

Clearly there's a lot more to this story than meets the eye. To piece together a timeline, Morley interviews journalists, council employees and Joyce's friends. Morley also inventively uses actors (Ashton and Luka-Cain play her as a woman and child) to re-enact scenes from Joyce's life based on photos showing a lively, educated, sexy mix-raced woman who wasn't even 40 when she died.

The camera work is sharp and intimate, and as the film progresses, Joyce's life begins to come into focus. Watching her friends react to a recording of her voice is moving, while the re-creations show a head-turning woman who was the life of the party but was secretly lonely. She drifted in and out of peoples' lives, adapted to them, got into an abusive relationship and eventually lost touch with her friends, who just assumed that she had moved on.

Despite feeling rather padded out, the film is a powerfully evocative exploration of how easy it is to get lost in a big city and how little we actually know about friends we assume are out there having a great life. Everyone has a past that we know very little about. Joyce certainly did, and as she moved around London over the years she always fitted in with the people she met, yet no one noticed it when she vanished. And as her story starts coming into focus, the film takes on a bluesy, sad tone that really gets under the skin.

12 themes, language
25.Oct.11 lff
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How to Start a Revolution
4/5     MUST must see SEE
dir-scr Ruaridh Arrow
prd Richard Shaw
with Gene Sharp, Jamila Raqib, Robert Helvey, Srdja Popovic, Ahmed Maher, Ausama Monajed, Volodymyr Viatrovych, Iason Athanasiadis
sharp and raqib
release UK Sep.11 rff
11/UK 1h25

raindance film festival
how to start a revolution This fascinating documentary combines an explanation of non-violent protest with momentous events of the past several years, vividly proving its own points. It's also a terrific profile of an extraordinary man.

Gene Sharp is an unassuming 83-year-old political science professor whose writings have changed global history. His specialty is peaceful resistance, and his books have been used to challenge oppressive governments everywhere from China to Zimbabwe, including in the Arab states this past spring. Basically, he distils common-sense ideas into practical actions like using an identifiable colour scheme (such as Iran's green protests), painting signs in English (to draw foreign pressure) and, above all, avoiding all violence while winning over the police and military to the democratic cause.

His one colleague in his Boston office is Raqib, an articulate and passionate former Afghan refugee. And then there's Helvey, an ex-military man who uses Sharp's theories to help revolutionaries all over the world. We also meet local protest organisers like Popovic in Serbia, Maher in Egypt, Viatrovych in Ukraine and Athanasiadis in Iran, all of whom have put Sharp's principles to use, with varying degrees of success.

The film is shot and edited with skill, drawing us into the story while carefully outlining the theories point by point. And along the way the most surprising thing is that Western governments have completely dismissed Sharp's writings. It's difficult not to conclude that they're actually not interested in democracy or freedom at all, but rather in how much money the military-industrial system can make. Which makes this film rather terrifying.

Through all of this, filmmaker Arrow recounts Sharp's life in a thoroughly involving way, highlighting his "eureka!" moments and weaving in astonishing footage from the front lines of each protest mentioned. These clips are rarely seen glimpses of people standing up for freedom in a peaceful way, often facing horrific violence at the hand of their own governments.

Seeing Sharp's massive impact on world history is thoroughly inspirational, mainly because he refuses to take any credit, seeing himself as a mere researcher. Meanwhile, Russia suppresses his writings, Iran has accused him of being a subversive agent and Venezuela treats him like an enemy combatant. All because he wants to help people have the choice to decide their own political destinies.

15 themes, language, violent images
18.Sep.11 rff
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Sarah Palin: You Betcha!
dir Nick Broomfield, Joan Churchill
prd Nick Broomfield, Cassian Elwes, Marc Hoeferlin
with Nick Broomfield, Sarah Palin, Chuck Heath, Sally Heath, Mike Wooten, Anne Kilkenny, John Stein, Frank Bailey, John Bitney, Lynda Green, Colleen Cottle, Howard Bess
palin and broomfield release US 30.Sep.11,
UK Oct.11 lff
11/UK 1h31

london film festival
Sarah Palin: You Betcha! With his usual disarming, faux-bumbling style, Broomfield sets out to get the real story of Sarah Palin. But she won't talk to him, and her supporters are told not to, so it's difficult to get a balanced view. Which tells us rather a lot.

While trying to set up an interview with Palin, Broomfield travels to her hometown of Wasilla, Alaska. After a friendly encounter with her parents (Chuck and Sally Heath), he talks to former friends (including Kilkenny, Stein and Cottle) who are now on Palin's enemy list. Suddenly Broomfield is shut out completely. He meets Palin at a book signings and public appearances, but the only people who agree to be interviewed are those who she has "thrown under the bus". And there seem to be rather a lot of these.

Broomfield and Churchill (who operates the camera while Broomfield carries the boom-mic) tenaciously try to get a balanced look at Palin, but they're knocked back at every turn. As a result, we clearly see how Palin's private anger and personal vendettas sit at odds with her smiley hockey-mom image. The filmmakers collect a terrific range of old photos and video footage that documents Palin from her school years to her in time as Wasilla mayor, Alaska governor, Republican candidate and right-wing pundit.

The approach is refreshingly light-handed: this is certainly not a hatchet job. But nothing is revelatory either. At least the film breaks the surface of news stories, most notably in interviews with Wooten and others at the centre of "Troopergate". Meanwhile, some interviews inadvertently confirm some more outrageous claims about Palin. Thankfully, the filmmakers just let these comments linger in the air without over-egging them.

What emerges is a portrait of a typical politician, someone gifted at making everyone she meets feel like they're the most important person to her while her private life is awash with private feuds, personal agendas and a belief that she is God's chosen one. Where the film becomes frightening is in clips, interviews and evidence that show how Palin simply can't accept her failings, blaming others for her mistakes. And with their fair approach, Broomfield and Churchill's film might ensure that she's never has political power again.

PG themes, language
14.Oct.11 lff
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This Is Not a Film
4.5/5     MUST must see SEE
dir Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb
scr-prd Jafar Panahi
with Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb
panahi release UK Oct.11 lff,
US Oct.11 nyff
11/Iran 1h17

london film festival

31st Shadows Awards

this is not a film There's something eerie about watching this film just a few days after filmmaker Panahi had his draconian prison sentence (six years) and 20-year ban from filmmaking upheld by an appeals panel. Because this mock-doc, of course, is not a film.

Essentially, we are just watching Panahi while he's under house arrest awaiting the appeal ruling. His friend Mirtahmasb is operating the camera, although sometimes Panahi provides reverse angles with his iPhone. Panahi also figures that he's only banned from writing or directing a movie, so he decides to read and re-enact one of his banned scripts for us. Pointedly, it's about a young woman locked in her home by her parents to keep her from running off to university.

Yes, the layers of meaning are witty and provocative. Panahi stares across the city from his ninth-floor balcony, watching fireworks and trying to resist the urge to capture it on camera. As a true artist, storytelling is in his blood. He also goes through a some of his own films, looking for key moments when non-professional actors surprised him by finding a truth he hadn't expected. Of course, this is echoed in Panahi's appearance here, as well as a hilarious sequence involving a young arts student who turns up collecting the rubbish. Not to mention the neighbour who tries to get Panahi to babysit her yappy little dog. But then, he's already watching his son's pet iguana Igi, who nearly steals the show.

Along the way, Panahi also chats with Mirtahmasb about the dire state of filmmaking in Iran, with filmmakers under threat from the government for saying things that are prohibited. This is a political sentence, Mirtahmasb observes, neither legal nor judicial. As they talk, it's obvious that none of them has a clue what the government is looking for, or what it is offended by. It's also profoundly sad, as Panahi and Mirtahmasb mourn the silencing of important artists. Including themselves.

The film is so playful that it keeps us laughing all the way through, even as it pointedly reminds us that Iran is a progressive, modern country with a terrifyingly repressive government. And watching one day in Panahi's life tells us more than a more didactic documentary ever could. Really, this should be essential viewing for anyone interested in either cinema or global politics.

PG themes
19.Oct.11 lff
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© 2011 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall