From 9/11 to hip-hop hits, films pique fans' interest
By Moon Yun Choi
Special to The Advertiser
|Fans flocked to last weekend's kickoff of the Cinema Paradise Film Festival.
Dario Belenfante/Cinema Paradise Pacific Film Festival
The crowd started gathering in earnest at the Art House at Restaurant Row for the opening-night film "Ever Since the World Ended," about what happens to survivors after a plague eliminates almost all the world's population. More than half of the 170-seat theater filled up for Friday's screening, a good showing despite heavy traffic that prevented people from arriving on time.
Afterward, a crowd gathered in the lobby to discuss the film. People were very enthusiastic. Sergio Goes, main organizer of the festival and a filmmaker himself, was there with friends and co-organizers, among them Chris Kahunahana. Among those in the high-energy crowd was filmmaker Eric Byler, who grew up in Hawai'i, and whose film "Charlotte Sometimes," about an Asian-American auto mechanic struggling with his desires for two women, will be the closing-night film at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow.
On Saturday evening, both theaters were sold out. People packed inside to see "Pleasure and Pain," a bio about roots-rocker Ben Harper, while "11'09"01" got its Hawai'i premiere in the main theater. For Sunday's showing of "La Tropical," a film that takes you inside Cuba's most famous dance club, people were seated in the aisle and standing by the back wall. The film was hot.
On Sunday, a girl was filming the crowd at Restaurant Row. She and seven others were part of a Youth Media Workshop in which, under the guidance of festival video artists, the budding 12- to 18-year-old filmmakers got a chance to film, edit and complete a five-minute documentary that was screened that day.
The workshop also included an Independent Filmmaking Panel, including Christian Gaines, director of festivals at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles; Udy Ebstein, president of 7th Art Realizing, an L.A. film distribution company specializing in independent films; Bob Bates of Anagram Pictures, a local filmmaker; Goes, whose film "Black Picket Fence" played at the festival; and Kathy Xian, festival co-director and a local filmmaker.
Organizers of this festival of 80 films made good selections and did what it set out to do, by inspiring film fans and wannabe filmmakers in Hawai'i.
It was a coup for the festival to obtain "11'09"01." Eleven directors from countries around the globe filmed 11 shorts on their perspective of Sept. 11, 2001, timed to a symbolic length: 11 minutes, 9 seconds and one frame.
Iranian director Samira Makhmalbaf's film was especially effective: In it, children from an Afghan refugee camp in neighboring Iran are called by their schoolteacher to class because two airplanes have crashed into the World Trade Center. The teacher draws a circle on a blackboard representing one minute and asks the class to be silent for those who died in the tragedy. Burkina Fasso director Drissa Ouedraoga's film was cute. Set in the west African nation's capital, a group of friends think they've spotted Osama Bin Laden, and they set out to capture him so they can receive the reward money and use it to take care of a friend's sick mother.
In some of the other shorts, the directors showed compassion but also made clear that they do not agree with U.S. foreign policy.
The politics have made this collection of shorts controversial at other showings, including Toronto.
'The Anarchist Cookbook'
"The Anarchist Cookbook" was offered in the New Directions category. Though it was thoroughly entertaining for about one-third of its length, it wasn't inventive enough to qualify, really, as a step in a new direction. Nevertheless the coming-of-age comedy set in Dallas had people laughing. The bright-but-derisive college dropout at its core lives with a hell-raising anarchist group. He and his wild friends are relatively harmless and have fun living "a completely free existence." But things turn dark after a character named Johnny Black comes along and turns the anarchy into something lethal.
This film from the Hip-Hop Film Fest portion of Cinema Paradise will be shown again at 4:15 p.m. today.
For hip hop-loving fans of the popular underground band Living Legends, "Street Legends" is a chance to see the crew in a documentary that follows the rappers during their performances on a three-week tour from San Francisco to Vancouver, British Columbia. Todd Hickey, who shares directing credits with Corey Johnson, said that "being on the road with them was the best experience. They sold out every show. They did 12 shows. I included the seven best ones."
In watching "Street Legends," you're watching a work in progress. The filmmakers finished editing only days before the festival, so it still needs tweaking. Hawai'i's screening over the weekend was only the third time "Street Legends" was shown. After a screening, the filmmaker makes more edits. Now that's fresh.
'Straight Outta Hunters Point'
This documentary was well-received at its first showing, and plays again at 6:30 tonight.
"Straight Outta Hunters Point" is a moving documentary by Kevin Epps about a San Francisco neighborhood where gang-related violence is pervasive, people can't find jobs, and drugs and guns are in wide circulation.
The documentary does a good job of taking outsiders into the neighborhood. Scenes from funerals where mothers are overcome with grief after the gunning down of their sons and daughters are emotional and intense.
As a way to solve the city's problems, the San Francisco Police Department sets up a gang task force. The neighborhood shows hostility toward police patrolling what seems like every corner. The film recounts a riot in September 1966 ignited by a shooting of a youth by a cop. The hostility makes it a hotbed for a more troubles in the future.
Yet Epps, who lives in Hunters Point, holds on to his dreams.