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last update 13.Apr.11
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My Country My Country
4.5/5     MUST must see SEE
dir Laura Poitras
prd Jocelyn Glatzer, Laura Poitras
with Dr Riyadh, Richard Armitage, Carlos Valenzuela, Edward Wong, Kristopher Scarcliff, Peter Towndrow, Andre Remmers, Scott Farren-Price, Renato Gonclaves, Edward Robertson, Aaron Castle, Roy Therrien
release US 4.Aug.06
UK 18.Apr.11 dvd
06/US 1h30

See also:
THE OATH (2010)
My Country My Country Every Westerner should be required to see this riveting exploration of the situation in Baghdad. Mainly seen through the eyes of a local doctor, it highlights serious issues in a personal way that puts the situation into a relevant context we never see in news coverage.

Dr Riyadh is a Sunni Muslim working in a free clinic in Baghdad. He visits inmates at Abu Ghraib prison, talking through the fence to men, women and children who don't know why they're being held. "We are an occupied country with a puppet government," he replies. "What do you expect?" So he decides to run for the Baghdad council in the February 2005 elections, knowing that it will put stress on his family. And also that his Sunni community will probably boycott the election.

Filmmaker Poitras takes a quiet, fly-on-the-wall approach, capturing moments that are both strongly emotional and dryly hilarious. In addition to Riyadh's sparky family, She has astonishing access to election observers, US forces, journalists and security contractors. Assembled together, we get a remarkably detailed picture both of life in Baghdad under American occupation and of the challenges of foreigners trying to do their jobs in such a tricky place.

Riyadh provides an intelligent running commentary on the occupation. Watching reports of the attempted assassination of a government minister, he wryly observes that "they consider this the fruits of democracy". He also notes that Americans don't seem to realise that all religions, including Islam, preach justice; a true Muslim would never commit murder. And seeing things from his perspective is often harrowing, including daily events like kidnappings and bombings are harrowing, plus a horrific US-led offensive with six hours of shooting that left scores of civilians dead.

Still, this Oscar-nominated film never takes sides. Poitras carefully shows the international forces as thinking, feeling people who are trying to help. But we can also understand why the average Iraqi on the streets thinks that America doesn't care at all about what happens to them. One Kurdish contractor notes that, even though he's a Bush supporter, "Baghdad is worse than ever: no power, no water, no security". And on election day, Riyadh's wife sighs, "We have no country, our country was lost."

15 themes, language, violence
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The Oath
dir-prd Laura Poitras
with Abu Jandal, Brian Mizer, Robert Worth, Habeeb al-Bahri, Saboor Hamdan, Hamoud al-Hitar, Bob Simon, William Glaberson, Charles Swift, Lawrence Morris, Michael Scheuer, Jeffrey Gordon
jandal release US 7.May.10,
UK 18.Apr.11 dvd
10/US 1h36

edinburgh film fest

See also:
the oath This austere, involving doc takes an astonishingly personal look at a volatile political situation, giving us a side to the story we rarely hear. It's such a balanced approach that can't help but challenge and change our worldview.

In November 2001, US forces arrested Salim Hamdan and eventually sent him to Guantanamo, where he waited seven years for trial. Kept in isolation, he communicated regularly by letter with his wife, children and brother-in-law Abu Jandal in Yemen. And it's Jandal who gives the film its focus. Now a taxi driver, he was Osama bin Laden's bodyguard from 1997 to 2000. He also helped recruit jihadists, including Hamdan, who like many others found in bin Laden the caring father figure they never had.

The film parallels Hamdan's lonely existence (recounted through his letters) with Jandal's life in Yemen. And their stories have one haunting difference: Jandal was interrogated by a compassionate FBI agent who quickly and humanely extracted virtually all of the intelligence the US gained about al-Qaeda. This agent then testified against "enhanced interrogation" in court. By contrast, Hamdan was tortured and held in inhumane conditions that left him a hollow, changed man after he was finally acquitted.

Both of these men were only guilty by association: they knew bin Laden, so they must be terrorists, even if they never participated in any terrorist activity. And without excusing them, filmmaker Poitras quietly lets us understand why young men might take horrific action. She also gets her hands on amazing never-seen footage of both US forces and al-Qaeda, including an astonishing ABC-TV interview with bin Laden from 1998.

This haunting, honest doc provides the political details while keeping the focus on the human story. It sharply explores vulnerable young men pulled into jihad who are later overwhelmed by whether what they did was right or wrong. The title comes from the al-Qaeda oath, which Jandal struggles with daily, along with wrenching regret about recruiting Hamdan. It's a serious issue in Islam to abandon an oath, yet Jandal knows he was a different person then. Clearly, his work encouraging young men to seek education rather than jihad is urgent. Although despite renouncing violence, he still believes that America is determined to wipe Islam off the map.

PG some strong themes
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dir-scr Wim Wenders;
prd Gian-Piero Ringel, Wim Wenders
with Pina Bausch, Malou Airaudo, Jorge Puerta Armenta, Ales Cucek, Lutz Forster, Pablo Aran Gimeno, Silvia Farias Heredia, Daphnis Kokkinos, Eddie Martinez, Julie Shanahan, Fernando Suels Mendoza, Tsai-Chin Yu
pina release Ger 24.Feb.11,
UK 22.Apr.11
11/Germany 1h46

pina This isn't really a documentary about iconic dancer-choreographer Pina Bausch. Instead, filmmaker Wenders takes us on a 3D voyage into her work and life. It's artistic and a bit indulgent. And it's pure cinematic magic.

Wenders planned to make this film with Bausch, who died in 2009 just before production started. So instead he creates a kind of elegy for her, experimentally weaving Bausch herself into new stagings with her Tanztheater company in Wuppertal. The focus is on the dancing itself, specifically four key works: the haunting, lonely Cafe Muller; the murky male-vs-female tension of The Rites of Spring; the exuberant and very earthy Vollmond; and the eerie dance-hall encounters of Kontakthof, staged with performers in three disparate age groups.

Wenders shoots these in an elegant, surreal and often witty style that opens up each piece beyond the stage. This is done by plunging the camera right into the middle of the dancers or by putting the dancers in a variety of quirky locations around Wuppertal. The camerawork is simply gorgeous, using the 3D to add depth and texture rather than any gimmicks, although The Rites of Spring's water dance feels especially drenching.

Along the way, the dancers speak in their native languages, making telling comments about their experiences with Bausch and what her work means to them. And she gets the chance to speak ("You just have to get crazier!") as well as to dance through archive footage that's beautifully edited in. As a result, Bausch emerges as a kind of Jedi master whose presence haunts everything the company does. Wenders encourages this by constantly surprising us with cinematic touches, offbeat settings and wry observations.

The result is an emotive journey in which we learn a lot about Bausch's work but litle about her personal life. But this is clearly Wenders' intention, and he continually takes our breath away by revealing the tiniest details in the performances. Bausch's choreography inventively uses every inch of the dancers' bodies to reveal her own soul. Yes, dance evokes things that words can never convey. So in the end, this challenging, sometimes bewildering film becomes a passionate, transcendent exploration of humanity and art.

U some themes
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TT3D: Closer to the Edge
dir Richard De Aragues
prd Steve Christian, Marc Samuelson
narr Jared Leto
with Guy Martin, Ian Hutchinson, Conor Cummins, John McGuinness, Jenny Tinmouth, Cameron Donald, Nick Crowe, Mark Miller, Richard Quayle, Michael Dunlop, Chris Mayhew, Wilson Craig
martin release UK 22.Apr.11
11/UK CinemaNX 1h43
tt3d Beautifully shot and edited, this documentary about the Isle of Man TT race is packed with whizzy imagery and terrific big-screen characters. But the filmmakers miss a trick by not shaping it into a stronger story.

First run in 1907, the Tourist Trophy still feels lost in time, as riders zoom through streets and around perilous mountain curves at outrageous speeds. And 231 competitors have lost their lives on the course. In the run-up to the 2010 five-race series, the filmmakers follow colourful 28-year-old Lincolnshire biker dude Martin as he prepares for the race. His main competitors are the almost ludicrously fit Hutchinson, young local boy Cummins and legendary record-holder McGuinness.

Although it's not all about the winning, clearly. These men just love riding their bikes on public roads at up to 200mph. During filming, three of these riders have nightmarish crashes in which they sustain serious injuries and still vow to return to race. It's this tenacity that makes them fascinating to watch, and the filmmakers really capture their personalities through a series of offhanded interviews in a variety of settings.

And then there's the exhilarating race footage, as we travel the course through bike-mounted cameras, helicopters and other whizzy angles. These sequences are skilfully cut together to keep us gasping at the riders' audacity. But this sense of focus hasn't been applied to the film's overall structure, as it seems to have been compiled by someone too close to the subject matter. A more ruthless outsider could have made it much more riveting for non-fans.

Basically, the filmmakers manipulate events to build suspense, which alienates the audience because it stresses the wrong parts of the story. And this superfluous material dilutes Martin's fascinating personal journey. His seemingly unstoppable charisma is by far the best thing about this film, and his story is tinged with involving emotion as he talks about young friends who have died while racing, his yearning to win his first TT race and the fact that riding a bike is his only commitment, which is why he has no wife or mortgage. With someone this captivating on screen, you really don't care about anything - or anyone - else.

15 themes, language
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