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Indies, foreigns, docs, videos, revivals and shorts...
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last update 16.Apr.13
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First Position
dir-prd Bess Kargman
with Aran Bell, Rebecca Houseknecht, Joan Sebastian Zamora, Miko Fogarty, Jules Jarvis Fogarty, Michaela DePrince, Gaya Bommer Yemini, Flavio Salazar, Mariaelena Ruiz, Denys Ganio, Bo Spassoff, Stephanie Spassoff
zamora release US 4.May.12,
UK 12.Apr.13
11/US 1h35

 edinburgh film festival
First Position This Spellbound-style doc follows a handful of hopeful dancers to a youth competition where their future will be decided. With jobs and scholarships on offer, the stakes are very high for these kids, so travelling with them on this journey is both suspenseful and emotionally involving.

Filmmaker Kargman chooses six young dancers to follow through training routines and home lives. Each has a distinct story: Jules (10) and his sister Miko (11) have different passions for dance; Aran (11) is in a military family that moves him all over the world; Brazilian prodigy Joan (16) has dreams much bigger than his earthy reality; Michaela (16) is a war orphan from Sierra Leone adopted by an American couple; and Rebecca (17) is under huge pressure from her parents. Of some 5,000 entrants to the Youth America Grand Prix, only 40 will get scholarships or a position in a dance company.

To get this far, these kids are already the best of the best: naturally gifted athletes and artists who have both pure talent and all-consuming ambition. The film gets deep under their skin, as we see their outrageously intense preparations and hear their sometimes jaw-dropping back-stories. All of these young people must face physical injuries, parental pressure, economic stress, racial prejudice and ongoing schoolwork along with the demands of dance.

So as the competition approaches we become extremely invested in them, like nervous parents waiting in the wings. Kargman packs the film with telling details that are intriguing, moving and sometimes shocking. We also meet their teachers, friends and, most importantly, their dedicated parents. Miko and Jules' dad notes that his kids work harder and longer than he does. Joan's mother was a dancer who wanted a daughter, but has encouraged her son to dance to keep him out of trouble, even if training in New York means she never gets to see him.

As the epic competition progresses, Kargman captures the mounting suspense, creating a nail-biting narrative that's thrillingly emotional as the momentum builds. Surprise injuries, wobbly performances and deeply personal doubts make each of these dancers complex, loveable characters who blossom under the pressure. The film is perhaps too timid and cute, avoiding darker or quirkier details, but it's beautifully shot and edited. And the high-stakes final performances are simply stunning.

U themes, some grisliness
26.Jun.12 eiff
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F**k for Forest
dir Michal Marczak
scr Michal Marczak, Lukasz Grudzinski
prd Michal Marczak, Mikolaj Pokromski
with Tommy Hol Ellingsen, Leona Johansson, Danny DeVero, Natty Mandeau, Kaajal Shetty, Fairy, Ava, Nadine
johansson release Pol 23.Nov.13,
US Mar.13 sxsw,
UK 19.Apr.13
12/Poland 1h26
F**k for Forest F**k for Forest is an erotic ecological charity that aims to change the world with love and sexuality. They run projects to protect nature in Brazil, Ecuador, Costa Rica and Slovakia, while arguing that saving the planet is sexy. So it's rather odd that this documentary is so dreary.

With an observational style and some deadpan narration, the filmmaker centres on FFF members including the founders Tommy and Leona and former Olympic show-jumper Danny from Norway. They hang out, often naked, recruit activists and look for projects to support financially. But people are reluctant to accept no-strings cash from a group dedicated to such open sexuality. During the film, they tour the South American rainforest, culminating in a lively encounter with a Peruvian community that questions their intentions, mainly because they can't believe that FFF doesn't want to exploit their land like other Europeans.

The film is as loose and unstructured as FFF itself, sometimes catching telling personal moments, including a scene in which Danny's family treats him as an embarrassment, or when Leona comments that for her even picking a flower feels like murder. These young people are unable to feel shame about something as natural as nudity and sex; they believe we should be ashamed about what we're doing to Mother Nature.

You'd think that this doc would be like a raucous pornographic orgy, but it's actually a thoughtful exploration of an unusual attempt to merge a hippy lifestyle with environmental activism. There are amusing moments that catch the dry wit of these colourful people who dress in anarchist chic, like exhibitionist Captain Jack Sparrows. But there isn't much energy: it's a dark and quiet film that feels padded by random scenes of people just sitting around cuddling.

It's more interesting to see Tommy and Leona negotiate about projects, showing their genuine concern for the planet. Their website features sexually explicit photos and videos to draw attention to the natural side of love, so it's hard not to see this as much more than a fetish subculture. Albeit a colourfully expressive one. But their valid argument is that the people who are destroying the planet and waging war are often the same ones who suppress sexuality and nudity. And since sex is used to sell us all kinds of products, why not use it for a good cause?

18 themes, language, nudity, sexuality


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3/5   Infidèles
dir-scr-prd Claude Peres
with Claude Peres, Marcel Schlutt
schlutt and peres
release Fr Dec.09 fi,
UK 25.Mar.13
09/France 1h34
Unfaithful Ostensibly an experiment pushing the boundaries between director and actor, this pretentious, indulgent film starts out so amateurishly that most people won't make it through the first 20 minutes. But it gets more interesting as it goes along, letting a contrived situation progress in unusual directions.

With no obligation, French filmmaker Claude meets with German actor Marcel in a flat one night. They don't know each other, but Claude invites Marcel to have sex with him. With the cameras rolling, they talk haltingly about their feelings, smoke some cigarettes and try to get romantic. As dawn breaks, Claude goes out to get some breakfast, then they chat while they eat, getting to know each other and sparking some real intimacy. And things get more interesting when Claude lets Marcel use the camera and tell him what to do.

The film opens with a silhouetted scene of the two men getting undressed then putting on new clothes, hinting that the whole thing is an act. Peres continually taunts Schlutt, refusing to tell him whether he's active or passive, or even whether he feels attracted to him. The interminable first 20 minutes are shot in pitch blackness; we can only hear snippets of banal conversation ("I'm going to make a coffee") or the sounds of something going on that we can't see. When the sun comes up, the shadows recede in more ways than one.

Yes, there's nothing particularly spontaneous or revelatory going on here. Peres is carefully staging this supposedly casual encounter, and yet the technical quality is pretty awful. Heavily shadowed images, heavily accented English, a terrible sound mix and an abrasive score all obscure the interaction. There are moments that are playful and insightful, but Peres continually blocks our view, clearly wanting this to be more than just two gay men having sex. But it's difficult to see it as anything more than that. And the pompous title doesn't help.

Even so, there's an interesting, possibly important idea here about shooting a sex scene without a plot, premise or characters for the performers to hide behind. And there's an even more valid point about a director's role opposite an actor. But this film is so clumsily made that it doesn't even work as porn. At the end, they sit on the floor and talk about the experience, which adds some resonance that at least gives the film some meaning.

18 themes, language, explicit sexuality
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We Went to War
5/5     MUST must see SEE
dir Michael Grigsby
prd Rebekah Tolley
with David Johnson, Dennis Bolinger, Barbara Wyatt, Michelle Carlile, Jarod, Tish, Tammi, Jean
we went to war release UK 29.Mar.13
13/UK 1h17
we went to war It's impossible to understate the importance of this documentary, in which British filmmaker Grigsby returns to the subject of his landmark 1970 ITV documentary I Was a Soldier, the first film to explore the experiences of young veterans returning home from Vietnam. And this 40-years-later update feels unnervingly urgent.

The 1970 film followed David, Dennis and Lamar, three young soldiers who returned to their small Texas town and tried to rebuild their lives. Today, David is still a loner who feels shut out from life but relies on friends to "push the hurt away". Dennis has a large family, but says it took 20 years to stop having nightmares. He gave up talking about the war because no one could possibly understand ("How many body bags have they had to zip up?"). And Lamar's widow and daughter talk about how he coped by drinking to numb the pain, which gave him terrifying flashbacks and fits of rage.

Grigsby mixes scenes from his earlier film with thoughtful new footage, quietly observing patterns of everyday life in this ranching town while providing the space for the facts to sink in. It's haunting and unforgettable to cut between the two films, almost eliminating the intervening years. This puts us right into these men's heads and lets us see the striking long-term effects of combat. Along the way there's also a remarkable scene in which Dennis meets two young veterans from Iraq who have had similarly difficult homecomings.

The film is also a powerful comment on America, as we see exactly what has changed (the family-run shops that filled the town's main street are all boarded up now) and what is still the same (David continues to spends his days fishing). Then we hear about the ongoing effects of Agent Orange, including the fact that Lamar died in 2002 at age 55 of cancer brought on by exposure to the chemical.

Most striking is the shift in attitudes. Lamar's haunted optimism from 1970 is eerie enough without dissolving into an image of his gravestone. And all of them comment that, as David says, "It was an endless war where we didn't accomplish nothing." He also notes that war is always about money, and the people pay for it: the victims, the surviving soldiers, their families and friends. So why is it surprising that, according to official statistics, 18 veterans commit suicide every day? What other outcome can be expected for young people who are ordered to kill strangers while their friends are being killed around them?

PG themes, language
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