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last update 2.Jun.12
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Catastroïka: Privatization Goes Public
4/5     MUST must see SEE
dir-scr Aris Chatzistefanou, Katerina Kitidi
prd Thanos Tsantas
with Naomi Klein, Slavoj Zizek, Ken Loach, Greg Palast, Luis Sepulveda, Aditya Chakrabortty, Costas Douzinas, Ben Fine, Dani Rodrik, Boris Kagarlitsky, George Katrougalos, Spyros Marketos
release Gr 26.Apr.12,
UK 7.Jul.12
12/Greece 1h27

Watch the film online:
catastroika This vitally important documentaries will either leave you quivering in fear or rising up in protest. There's no middle ground. It's a shocking, rage-inducing depiction of how fire-sale privatisation is devastating democracy around the world.

Amid rising unemployment and crippling inflation, the Greek government has sold off virtually everything the taxpayers own to pay its debts. This requires discarding the constitution and labour laws: essentially, it's a coup by "economic sharks" who say there is no alternative. But the bankers are lying about the nature of the debts, essentially stealing assets from generations of Greek citizens and leaving them in long-term economic agony.

This story is only a springboard from which the film explores the history of privatisation starting in 1991, when the US helped Russia sell off its assets to the highest bidder, and the resulting poverty reduced Russians' life expectancy by a decade. "It was the decimation of a nation," says Klein. And this Reagan/Thatcher neo-liberalism has had similarly devastating effects in Britain and America (the rail systems), France (water utilities), California (electricity utilities) and much of South America and Africa, all spearheaded by corporate bosses in the form of the International Monetary Fund.

With skilful cinematography, colourful images and witty touches that catch us off guard, the filmmakers carefully demonstrate how, in each case, privatisation requires the actions of a dictator to dismantle the law, limit freedom and syphon off centuries of investment so corporations can take the profits without the risks (which still lie with taxpayers). Essentially, the bankers who caused the debt crisis are profiting from it yet again. Each example sends chills down our spine, because the filmmakers so carefully explain why the news stories have never quite made sense: well, news media are owned by the same multi-nationals that fuel the IMF.

At a time of global recession, is it wise to put millions out of work due to "austerity measures"? It is if you just want to take the money and run. Privatisation and deregulation have failed everywhere they've ever been tried, and yet the IMF is forcing it through, violating laws and the explicit will of the people. Is it any wonder people are starting to say "no"? This film is a relentless assault on our senses, with facts that connect the dots in seriously unsettling ways. The only hope is for the general public to exercise their political will, as is happening in Latin America. Bring on the revolution!

15 themes, language
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Ping Pong
dir-prd Hugh Hartford, Anson Hartford
with Les D'Arcy, Terry Donlon, Lisa Modlich, Inge Hermann, Ursula Bihl, Dorothy de Low, Rune Forsberg, Sun Yong Qing, Joachim Modlich, Bianca Alejo-Jackson, Paul D'Arcy, Gerhard Bihl
d'arcy release UK 6.Jul.12
12/UK C4 1h20
Ping Pong Most people in the West are only barely aware of world-class table tennis, but this documentary could create a new generation of fans. Actually, three or four generations. It's about over-80s champions who turn out to be great movie characters.

The filmmakers centre on eight competitors as they prepare for the 2010 World Championships in China. In Britain, weightlifter Les (89) and cancer-survivor Terry (81) compete in different divisions but are still arch-rivals. Austrian-born Lisa (85) lives in Houston with her 65-year-old gun-toting husband Joachim; Inge and Ursula are both 90-year-olds from Germany; Rune (85) is from Stockholm; Sun Yong (80) is from Inner Mongolia; and the group's senior member is Dorothy, a strong Australian competitor at 100.

All of them have shelf-loads of medals and trophies. While coping with the physical issues of their ages, they face competition with hilarious good humour and a wide range of preparation techniques. Inge turned to ping pong to help her recover from a series of strokes, and it worked wonders. Sun Yong swears by his Chinese herbal remedies but still smokes and drinks. Terry faces recurring cancer with dry wit and determination. And with her serious Texan hairdo, Lisa is like an unstoppable Beth Grant character.

You couldn't make these people up, and the Hartford brothers clearly enjoy following their journeys to the championships. So by the time they're playing each other in the arena, we can't help but cheer them on. Ursula observes that "the young people are sh**ting themselves" in the face of the older players. While talking to the camera, Lisa lets it slip that she was in the French Resistance during the war. And during his climactic match a breathless Terry turns to the cameraman and jokes, "Lend me your lungs."

With lively, skilfully intimate camerawork and sparky editing, the film captures the players' personalities and the energy of the matches. It's also accompanied by a terrific musical score that keeps the pace brisk, even though the filmmakers never cut away for a cheap laugh. Yes, the film keeps a smile on our faces all the way through, but it also inspires us to perhaps think about doing something with our golden years besides sitting around moaning about our aches and pains.

PG themes, language
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Sing Your Song
dir-scr Susanne Rostock
prd Gina Belafonte, Jim Brown, Michael Cohl, William Eigen, Julius R Nasso
with Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Nelson Mandela, Coretta Scott King, John Lewis, Dihann Carroll, Tony Bennett, Quincy Jones, Tom Smothers, Desmond Tutu, Miriam Makeba, Marge Champion
belafonte release US 2.Sep.11,
UK 8.Jun.12
11/US 1h44

london film festival
Sing Your Song Starting as a biographical documentary about unusually gifted actor-musician Harry Belafonte, this film quickly shifts to explore his political and humanitarian activism. So while it's fascinating, it feels a bit heavy-handed.

Born in Harlem, Belafonte drew on his Caribbean roots to popularise calypso in the 1950s, becoming the first musician to sell 1 million albums. An actor by training, his starring role in Carmen Jones (1954) gave him the clout to challenge racial prejudice in controversial films like Island in the Sun and The World, the Flesh and the Devil. As a Unicef ambassador, he has been an out-spoken leader on civil rights, aid for Africa, unjust war issues and the anti-apartheid movement.

All of this is told from Belafonte's perspective. He narrates his life story with input from friends and colleagues, his wife Pamela, previous wife Julie and four children. What's missing is perspective: criticism is brushed away, and his remarkable achievements are celebrated without context. For example, there's no mention of Band Aid's Do They Know It's Christmas, which inspired Belafonte to assemble USA for Africa's We Are the World. So by the end, this film feels like a pitch for giving Belafonte the Nobel Peace Prize.

Not that he wouldn't be deserving. His activities over the past 60 years have inspired millions as he has refused to compromise his principles. And the film does document the price his family paid for his political passion: two failed marriages and children whose main memories are of him saying goodbye to head off on another mercy mission. Even so, his children, wife and ex are all relentlessly positive about it.

This one-sided approach weakens what's otherwise a lively, enjoyable exploration of this extraordinary man's life. We find ourself wishing there was more music, as each performance is harshly clipped to move onto something else, packing slightly more than is necessary into an already overlong doc. But the archive footage is wonderful, from Belafonte's early TV performances to intimate scenes with John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. Through all of this, he emerges as a likeable, positive-thinking leader who has made the most of his life. And changed the world in the process.

12 themes, language, some violent images
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Woody Allen: A Documentary
dir-scr-prd Robert B Weide
with Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Mariel Hemingway, Louise Lasser, Tony Roberts, Martin Scorsese, Dick Cavett, Martin, Dianne Wiest, Sean Penn, John Cusack, Mira Sorvino, Penelope Cruz, Scarlett Johansson, Naomi Watts, Owen Wilson
allen release US 20.Nov.11,
UK 8.Jun.12
11/US 1h53
Woody Allen: A Documentary Shortened from a more-comprehensive 3.25-hour TV series, this entertaining documentary about Woody Allen's life and career leaves us wanting more. Snappy and expertly assembled, it's packed with amazing material that tells the story of one of America's greatest cinematic artists.

From his happy childhood in Brooklyn to his early days as a stand-up comic, Allen seems to have lived a charmed life, rising above the fray with an intelligent sense of humour and ambitious artistic sensibilities. As a filmmaker, his career has gone through cycles of comedy, drama and experimentation, consistently producing films that entertain and challenge audiences. Timeless classics include Annie Hall, Manhattan and Crimes and Misdemeanors, but even his lesser work is notable. And last year's Midnight in Paris, was his biggest box office hit yet.

The doc includes sharply engaging interviews with actors who are forever linked with him, including ex-wife Lasser (Mia Farrow is strikingly absent) and Oscar-winners Keaton, Wiest, Sorvino and Cruz. We also hear from collaborators like cinematographer Gordon Willis, cowriters Marshall Brickman and Doug McGrath, and producers Letty Aronson (Allen's sister), Jack Rollins and Charles H Joffe. They talk about his unusual confidence in his actors and how his films always ask big questions.

But at the centre is an extensive interview with Allen himself, talking about his personal life, feelings about his movies (he thought Manhattan was a disaster) and quirky working patterns (he still writes on the same manual typewriter he's had since he was a teen). Early TV footage of his comedy routines is priceless. And his first experience with a Hollywood studio was such a disaster that he said, "Never again." And meant it. Indeed, he's one of the only American filmmakers who has never sold out.

Filmmaker Weide dives into the material with vigour, keeping the documentary moving briskly while drawing out Allen's unique wit. Of course the film clips are simply wonderful, as are behind-the-scenes moments from Sleeper and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. The only complaint is that several films are skipped over completely. There's no mention of gems like Radio Days, oddities like Everyone Says I Love You or misses like Scoop. But the wealth of material makes this a must-see for Allen's fans. More please.

15 themes, language
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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall