RIDM Review: Guantanamo’s Child: Omar Khadr

Omar Khadr, centre, talks to members of the media outside the Edmonton home of his lawyer Dennis Edney.
Omar Khadr, centre, talks to members of the media outside the Edmonton home of his lawyer Dennis Edney.

The fine Canadian documentary Guantanamo’s Child Omar Khadr is many things at once – chilling, heartbreaking and heartwarming; a record of shameful behaviour but also one of kindness and dedication; and a testimony to the resilience of the human body and spirit.

Omar Khadr was only 15 years old when he was gravely injured in a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002. That made him a child soldier by definition, though it did not save him from being accused of murder and being imprisoned for 12 years. (A photograph taken after the battle shows gaping holes in his chest; I was amazed that he survived at all.)

In the film, Khadr himself describes the torture and ill treatment he suffered at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan and later at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. His account is backed by former prisoners and the former military men who witnessed or delivered this torture themselves. Treatment and medication were withheld when Khadr would not or could not say what his interrogators wanted to hear, in contravention of the Geneva Convention.

We see videotape of a visit that CSIS investigators made to Guantanamo. Khadr is happy to learn that they are Canadians, you can hear it in his voice – he mistakenly thinks they have come to help him, but then he realizes that’s not the case at all. When he tells them about his wounded arms, one man says “you look fine to me.” This interview was not new to me, it’s part of the film You Don’t like the Truth: Four Days Inside Guantanamo, but watching it still makes me sad and angry. It’s one more lesson to all of us that we can’t necessarily depend on our own government to look out for our interests, even though it is legally and morally obliged to do so.

Omar Khadr as a teenager.
Omar Khadr as a teenager.

Those are some of the shameful things in Guantanamo’s Child: Omar Khadr. Now for the positive side.

Edmonton lawyer Dennis Edney spent years representing Khadr and fighting for his release. It took four years of effort before he was even allowed to meet with Khadr. Others might have given up long before then. Edney has won many awards for his work, and probably deserves many more. Khadr was returned to Canada in September, 2012, and sent to prison. In May, 2015, he was released on parole into Edney’s custody. He lives with Edney and Edney’s wife Patricia, in their Edmonton home. Khadr says that over time, their relationship has changed from a lawyer-client one to a father-son one. It’s lovely to see the way they interact with each other. Edney says he looks forward to seeing Khadr graduate from university. He wipes away tears describing prison visits with Khadr at Guantanamo, when he tried to reassure him that eventually he would be released and that they would go camping and fishing together in Alberta. Edney wanted to show Khadr photos or maps of the places they would go, but even that was not allowed.

Despite the treatment he received, Khadr is amazingly, remarkably calm. (he could probably write a self-help book about surviving under intense pressure.) He takes obvious joy in just breathing fresh air, and being able to look up at the sky. He talks of his decision, while still in Guantánamo, not to allow the people who were mistreating him to take up too much space in his head. I wonder how many of us could do the same? Khadr wants the chance to prove to former prime minister Stephen Harper, and other Canadians, that he is not the man they think he is.

Guantanamo’s Child: Omar Khadr is co-directed by Toronto Star journalist Michelle Shepherd and Patrick Reed. Shepherd followed the case for years and also wrote a book, Guantanamo’s Child: The Untold Story of Omar Khadr, which was published in 2010. Reed’s previous films include Fight Like Soldiers, Die Like Children (2012), which is about former General Roméo Dallaire and his campaign to end the use of child soldiers.

Guantanamo’s Child: Omar Khadr (click on the film’s name to be taken to the RIDM synopsis)
Directed by Patrick Reed Michelle Shephard

Country : Canada
Year : 2015
Language : English, Arabic
Subtitles : English
Runtime : 80 min.
Production : Peter Raymont
Cinematography : John Westheuser
Editing : Cathy Gulkin
Sound : Downy Karvonen, Sanjay Mehta, Peter Sawade

Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, 6 p.m.
Theatre J.A. De Sève, Concordia University, 1400 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.
RIDM (Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal) runs from Nov. 12-22, 2015. Visit the web site ridm.qc.ca for more information.

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FNC 2015: Film producer Barry Navidi offers the inside scoop at a free master class Wednesday afternoon

Marlon Brando, left, and Johnny Depp signed on to make the film Divine Rapture in 1995, but the film could not be completed. The documentary Bally Brando explains what happened.
Marlon Brando, left, and Johnny Depp signed on to make the film Divine Rapture in 1995, but the film could not be completed. The documentary Bally Brando explains what went wrong.

Film producer Barry Navidi has worked with actors Marlon Brando, Johnny Depp, John Hurt, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Anthony Hopkins, Debra Winger and Al Pacino, to name a few. He worked with Pacino on The Merchant of Venice, Salomé and Wilde Salomé. He must have so many interesting stories to tell.
Navidi was born in Iran, and according a recent-ish article in Variety, he hopes to make a Hollywood production there some day.

According to that same article, his next project is a film about the artist Modigliani. Navidi told reporter Nick Vivarelli: “Right now we are casting; we are going to have a couple of big stars. If all goes well we will start shooting early next year in Budapest. There is potential for a cameo role for Al (Pacino). But he is also creatively involved: He is going to help me cast the movie, and he gave the writer a lot of notes.”

Divine Rapture, Navidi’s 1995 project with Winger, Hurt, Depp and Brando, was an ill-fated one. It was a story about an Irish woman who seemed to have risen from the dead. Debra Winger was set to play the woman, Brando would be the parish priest. The residents of Ballycotton, Ireland, hoped that the film would make their town a tourist attraction, but it was not to be. About 24 minutes of film were shot over 10 days before it was discovered that the company backing the film didn’t seem to have any money.

Bally Brando, a 50-minute documentary about the disaster, will be shown before Navidi speaks. The film is in English, and directed by Brendan J Byrne. Navidi will speak for about 40 minutes.

Bally Brando and Master Class with Barry Navidi, free admission
Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015, 5 p.m.

Cinémathèque Québécoise, Salle Fernand Seguin
355 de Maisonneuve Blvd E. (metro Berri-UQAM)

For more information about Bally Brando and the master class, visit the FNC web site.

FNC 2015 Review: The Sandwich Nazi

Vancouver deli owner Salam Kahil is the star of the documentary film The Sandwich Nazi. The film was directed and edited by Lewis Bennett. It's one of many films being shown at Montreal's Festival du nouveau cinŽema. (Photo by Rommy Ghaly)
Vancouver deli owner Salam Kahil is the star of the documentary film The Sandwich Nazi. The film was directed and edited by Lewis Bennett. It’s one of many films being shown at Montreal’s Festival du nouveau cinŽema. (Photo by Rommy Ghaly)

The Sandwich Nazi is a documentary portrait of Vancouver deli owner Salam Kahil. His customers call him Sal. Anyone who thinks Canadians are dull and boring has not met this guy.

Sal has a dirty mouth and a big heart. Viewers can assess some of his other parts in the last moments of the film.

Sal was born into a large family in Lebanon. He left home at an early age for assorted reasons. He lived in 18 countries before coming to Canada in 1979 and he has the photos to prove it. I didn’t hear him name our city, but it looks like he lived here in Montreal for a while.

When he was no longer “young and pretty” he went into the deli buiness, with La Charcuterie Delicatessen, a “Scandinavian place with a French name” being the most recent one. In addition to sandwiches, he sells imports you probably won’t find at your local supermarket. Customers are fond of the pickled asparagus from Denmark. When someone calls to ask if he has “Norwegian cooking chocolate” he says there’s probably some in the back. (You can see that chocolate on the La Charcuterie’s web site and lots more – Viking Bread, Norwegian fishballs, many cheeses, condiments, cookies, candy and sweets, including the very yummy Anthon Berg Marzipan Plum in Madeira. The site includes a recipe for Danish meatballs! )

(Looking at that website made me want to visit Montreal’s La Vieille Europe on St. Laurent, since it might have some of those things.)

Sal has many stories to tell, most of them crude. He says he used to be a male escort who could be hired by men or women. He says he has also been a very successful sperm donor (twins!) for women who did not have (or want) a male partner.

He tells these stories to his customers as he prepares their sandwiches. They’re an extra garnish, you might say. Are they all true? Are some exaggerated? Who knows? Who cares?

The sandwiches themselves are HUGE. Sal says they’re the best in the world and his customers seem to agree. Don’t go the film on an empty stomach.

The film’s title is a reference to the “soup Nazi” from the Seinfeld TV show. That guy made great soup but customers could be banished forever if they did not obey his many rules. Sal has rules, too; payment is cash only and he demands politeness and respect from his clients. For the most part, he seems to get it. We only hear one or two banishment stories.

As far as I can recall, the “soup Nazi” did not have any redeeming qualities beyond his culinary talents. In contrast, Sal and his army of volunteers prepare meals and distribute them to the poor and the homeless of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside on a regular basis. He treats those people with warmth and respect and they are obviously happy to see him and his food. He feeds the volunteers, as well. We learn about many other good deeds in the film.

The documentary was made over several years. On more than one occasion, Sal says he will return to Lebanon to visit his family, even naming a departure date. But he doesn’t go. When he’s finally ready to make the trip, the film crew wants to accompany him, but his family says no. Sal documents things himself, and shares his footage with the filmmaker and viewers upon his return. This includes a hair-raising, high-speed drive through a sniper-infested area – not something that happens on your average vacation.

The Sandwich Nazi is one of the hundreds of films being shown at the Festival du nouveau cinéma. Read more about The Sandwich Nazi on the FNC web site.

 


The Sandwich Nazi
, directed and edited by Lewis Bennett
Original Version In English, 72 minutes long

Tuesday Oct. 13, 2015, 21:30
Program #163
Cinéma du Parc 1, 3575 Ave, du Parc

 

FNC 2015: Film festival offers a triple dose of Al Pacino with Wilde Salomé, Salomé and a personal greeting to Montrealers from the actor

Al Pacino can be seen as King Herod in the films Wild Salome and Salome. The films will be presented, twice, as a double bill at the Festival du nouveau cinema in Montreal.
Al Pacino can be seen as King Herod in the films Wilde Salome and Salome. The films will be presented, twice, as a double bill at the Festival du nouveau cinema in Montreal.

In 2006 Al Pacino presented a staged reading of the Oscar Wilde play Salomé in Los Angeles. He played King Herod, a role he had played several times before, and the then-unknown Jessica Chastain played Salomé. The actors wore modern dress.

Pacino filmed the play, for a theoretical eventual release. That film is simply called Salomé. (Though back then he was going to call it “Salomaybe.”)

He filmed the rehearsals of Salomé and background material on Oscar Wilde – that film is called Wilde Salomé. It includes remarks about Wilde from Gore Vidal and Bono, among other people, and trips to Wilde’s birthplace in Dublin, his former home in London and the Paris hotel where Wilde died in Nov. 30, 1900 at the young age of 46. We see the infamous wallpaper from his famous quotation: “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.”

As a director, Pacino does not hesitate to show himself acting petulant, confused or even ridiculous, as when he stands in the Mojave Desert with a camel.

He’s very funny, too. He says that during the play’s run no one will be asked to turn off their cellphones, because many of the attendees will be doctors or dentists and people might need to reach them in emergencies. He goes on to add that only doctors and dentists could afford the high ticket prices charged by the theatre and that those high prices were not set by him.

Jessica Chastain is the revelation of Wilde Salomé, she’s just luminous. Pacino’s cranky and querulous interpretation of Herod seems a bit weird, but maybe he has his reasons.
I think Wilde Salomé could appeal to just about anyone. Filmmakers, acting students, fans of Oscar Wilde, Al Pacino and Jessica Chastain would find it especially entertaining. That probably covers a lot of people!

FNC 2015 Salome Chastain

Wilde Salomé is being presented along with Salomé (which I have not seen yet), and BONUS! before they begin, attendees will be treated to video Al Pacino recorded just for them. It’s approximately 23 minutes long, and seems to have been made relatively off the cuff. Looking at his hands I wondered if the jewelry he wore as King Herod came from the costume dept. or from his own personal collection.

Wilde Salomé is 95 minutes long, Salomé is 78 minutes, and Al Pacino’s greeting is about 23 minutes long. Read more about Wilde Salomé and Salomé on the FNC website.
Wilde Salomé and Salomé
Monday, Oct. 12, 2015, 12:30
Program #138

Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015, 13:30
Program #317

At Cinéma du Parc, 3675 Ave du Parc

FNC 2015: Film festival offers 8 films made in the two Koreas

 

A scene from the South Korean film The Shameless.
A scene from the South Korean film The Shameless.

The Korean peninsula is in the spotlight as the Festival du nouveau cinéma shows three films made by South Koreans, four made by North Koreans and one documentary shot (mostly) in North Korea by a British company with an American subject (Dennis Rodman) and an Irish narrator.

In alphabetical order, the three South Korean films are Coin Locker Girl, directed by Han Jun-He), The Shameless, directed by Oh Seung-Uk, and Right Now, Wrong Then, directed by Hong Sang Soo. You can read synopses of these South Korean films on the FNC web site.
The North Korean films are A Bellflower, The Flower Girl A Schoolgirl’s Diary, and The Tale Of Chun Hyang. Read synopses of the four North Korean films here.

Former basketball star Dennis Rodman was demonized by some people because he went to North Korea, several times, and met with dictator Kim Jong-un. Montreal's Festival du nouveau cinema will show the documentary, Dennis Rodman's Big Bang In Pyongyang, which takes us along for the ride.
Former basketball star Dennis Rodman was demonized by some people because he went to North Korea, several times, and met with dictator Kim Jong-un. Montreal’s Festival du nouveau cinema will show the documentary, Dennis Rodman’s Big Bang In Pyongyang, which takes us along for the ride.

Finally, the documentary, Dennis Rodman’s Big Bang In Pyongyang, gives us an inside view of the several visits the controversial former basketball made to North Korea. Read more about it here. 

The Festival du nouveau cinéma runs until Oct. 18, 2015 in several theatres in downtown Montreal. Consult the FNC web site for schedules, synopses and to buy tickets.

FNC 2015: Ninth Floor, a documentary film about the ‘Sir George Williams computer riot’ will be shown where the events took place

Concordia professor Clarence Bayne (left), director Mina Shum and producer Selwyn Jacob across the street from the Henry F. Hall Building of Concordia University. (National Film Board of Canada photo.)
Concordia professor Clarence Bayne (left), director Mina Shum and producer Selwyn Jacob across the street from the Henry F. Hall Building of Concordia University. (National Film Board of Canada photo.)

“Sirens reverberated through downtown Montreal as fire trucks and police cars rushed towards the three-year-old Hall Building. Surrounded by riot police clashing with protestors, the ninth floor of the jewel of Sir George Williams University was on fire. Black smoke billowed from open windows and onlookers watched with horror and disbelief.” (Excerpt from an anniversary article by Justin Giovannetti in the student newspaper The Link, Feb. 10, 2009.)

It’s known in local lore as the “Sir George Williams computer riot.” In May 1968, a biology professor at Sir George Williams University was accused of racism against his Caribbean students. After months passed without action from the university administration, students occupied the ninth floor computer centre in February of 1969. Eventually, computers were trashed, windows were broken, and punch cards floated down onto the snowy street below. The riot squad moved in; someone started a fire. The damage was in the millions of dollars.

Computer punch cards and other paper litters the ground below the Henry F. Hall Building of Concordia University in February, 1969. (Concordia Archives photo via Nationa Film Board of Canada web site.)
Computer punch cards and other paper litters the ground below the Henry F. Hall Building of Concordia University in February, 1969. (Concordia Archives photo via Nationa Film Board of Canada web site.)

On Friday, Oct. 9, 2015 we Montrealers will have a rare opportunity involving time, memory and (physical space). In the ground floor in Room H-110 of the Henry F. Hall Building, of Concordia University, we can watch a documentary about the events that took place all those years ago, just a few storeys above. (Before the occupation, a committee to discuss the complaints against the teacher had taken place in H-110 itself.)

Among the people who attend tonight, some will have little to no knowledge of what happened, some will have watched footage on the nightly news back in the day, some might have been part of the occupation. Some might be second-generation Concordia students.

What will it feel like? I can’t imagine, but I intend to find out. I’m sure there will be many interesting questions and comments. Director Mina Shum and members of the Concordia Caribbean Student Union will be among the guests at the screening.

Ninth Floor was shown at the Toronto Internationl Film Festival (TIFF) and received positive reviews. Some U.S. writers expressed surprise and disappointment that Canada is not always the kinder, more gentle nation that we (and they) might like to think that we are.

For those who cannot go on Friday, Oct. 9, there will be another screening at noon on Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, in the J. W. McConnell Building across the street.

Ninth Floor is being presented by the Festival du nouveau cinéma and Cinema Politica of Concordia University. There is a Facebook page for the screening of Ninth Floor.

You can also read about Ninth Floor on the FNC web site. The 2015 Festival du Nouveau Cinéma runs until Oct. 18, 2015.

Cinema Politica Concordia: Fast food workers in New York fight for rights and wages in The Hand That Feeds

 

Still4credit: Jed BrandtDiego Iba–ez, left, and Mahoma L—pez in a scene from the documentary filme The hand That Feeds. Photo credit: Jed Brandt
Diego Iba–nez, left, and Mahoma Lo—pez in a scene from the documentary film The Hand That Feeds. Photo credit: Jed Brandt

The Concordia branch of Cinema Politica gets back into gear for the 2015-2016 school year with The Hand That Feeds, on Monday, Sept. 21, 2015.

The award-winning documentary, written, directed and produced by Rachel Lears and Robin Blotnick, follows fast-food workers in Manhattan as they struggle for decent wages, safer working conditions and respect. A brief description on the website of The Hand That Feeds reads: “Shy sandwich-maker Mahoma Lopez unites his undocumented immigrant coworkers to fight abusive conditions at a popular New York restaurant chain. The epic power struggle that ensues turns a single city block into a battlefield in America’s new wage wars.”

Mexican immigrant Lopez worked at an Upper East Side branch of a 24-hour deli called Hot & Crusty Bagel Cafe. Employees were underpaid and often verbally abused. They were not entitled to vacations or sick days. In a six-minute video “Op-doc” called Occupy Bakery that Lears and Robin Blotnick made for the New York Times, Lopez remarks that “consumers want to buy organic food, and they worry about how animals are treated. . .but why aren’t these same values applied to people?”

In the text that accompanies their video, the filmmakers state: “In the early 20th century, immigrants were at the forefront of the labor movement that helped build our middle class. Today, when the fastest growing job sectors are retail and food preparation, the struggles of low-income workers and their families matter more than ever. Turning these jobs into living-wage jobs while fixing our broken immigration system would lift millions out of poverty and benefit our entire economy by increasing consumption and tax revenue. Mr. López’s story is part of a growing wave of low-wage and immigrant workers organizing across New York City and around the country that has the potential to spark this kind of change. It’s time we admit it: America runs on the labor of the undocumented. Their struggle for rights, inside and outside the workplace, is an inseparable part of our democratic project.”

To me, it seems both moral and logical that people receive a decent salary for their hard work. And yet, a short review of The Hand That Feeds in Mother Jones magazine mentions a scene that shows “a co-worker counting out the $290 he’s just received for a 60-hour workweek. . .” Other articles about fast foodworkers in New York indicate that some work as long as 72 per week without receiving any overtime pay.

It’s important to note, as well, that Hot & Crusty was not some mom-and-pop operation, either. According to an article on the web site Waging Non-Violence,  it was a “corporate restaurant chain backed by a multimillion dollar private equity investment firm.”

Many enthusiastic reviews have been written about The Hand That Feeds. IndieWire calls it “a rousing chronicle” and a “well-plotted and captivating David & Goliath story,” RogerEbert.com calls it “suspenseful and inspiring” and the Village Voice says that it’s “filmed with the urgency and suspense of a Hitchcock thriller.”

In his review, Frank Scheck of the Hollywood Reporter points out that Lopez is a “likeable, camera-friendly personality,” while Jen Chaney of The Dissolve reminds us that the fight was very much a group effort: “The victories in the effort to establish the Hot & Crusty Workers’ Association speak to what happens when multiple individuals channel their efforts toward a worthwhile cause. The employees at Hot & Crusty stage protests, organize picket lines, and circulate flyers, but their actions have the most impact when they are joined by people in the community, fired-up change agents from the then-burgeoning Occupy Wall Street movement, and members of other unions who rally behind their cause. By building the documentary around an ensemble cast, Lears and Blotnick demonstrate, in terms of content as well as filmmaking, that the voices of a few can galvanize the voices of many.”

In a scene from the documentary film The Hand That Feeds, Nazario G., left, and Felicito Tapia illustrate the principle that working together can creates powerful results. Photo credit: Jed Brandt
In a scene from the documentary film The Hand That Feeds, Nazario G., left, and Felicito Tapia illustrate the principle that working together can creates powerful results. Photo credit: Jed Brandt

In a Women and Hollywood article for IndieWire, co-director Rachel Lears was asked: “What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?” Her reply was: “I would hope that people leave the theater with an invigorated sense that it’s possible to stand up – individually and collectively –  and create meaningful, local change that really affects either their own lives or those of others.”

If you watch the trailer for The Hand That Feeds that’s just below this blog post, you’ll see that someone has remarked; “minimum wage jobs are for highschoolers. . .” Kevin Jagernauth of the The Playlist tackles that misconception in his review of the film: “What’s most astonishing in watching the documentary is the commitment these workers have to keeping the kind of jobs that many presume are disposable, given to high turnover, or simply a waystation or rite of passage on the way to something better. What “The Hand That Feeds” admirably makes clear is that these aren’t teenagers or students earning extra cash on the side. These are men and women with responsibilities to their spouses and children, with rent to pay, and other expenses, who don’t have the luxury to quit and find something else. Each paycheck matters, but by the same token, while they are willing to work hard, there is only so far they will allow themselves to be abused, not just by management, but by a system (particularly in the food industry) that regards their efforts as minimal, unimportant, and replaceable.”

THE HAND THAT FEEDS
Directed by Rachel Lears & Robin Blotnick / United States / 2014 / 84 ‘ / Spanish – English / with English subtitles
Monday, Sept. 21, 2015, 7 p.m.
Concordia University, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd., W., H-110, Montreal
The screening is part of DisOrientation 2015, co-presented with Solidarity Across Borders and Concordia Food Coalition, and will be followed by a discussion with organizers and members of the Immigrant Workers Centre – Montreal. The venue is wheelchair accessible.