History

Fantasia 2017 Review: Estonian film November (Rehepapp)

In the Estonian film November (Rehepapp), Liina’s mother is waiting for her daughter in the graveyard.

November (Rehepapp) is a black-and-white film that draws upon Estonian history and folklore. It plays out like a timeless, definitely-not-Disney fairy tale – almost everybody is dressed in rags and has a very dirty face, even though they DO have saunas. As far as we can see, those saunas are used more by the dead than by the living. Every autumn, villagers await their deceased relatives in the local graveyard, then take them home for food, gossip and a sauna. Rumour has it that the dead are somehow transformed into giant chickens while using the sauna.

Even more fantastical than those ideas, for me, was the concept of the kratt – a sometimes cranky, sarcastic creature made from odds and ends (branches, pitchforks, hay) who serves his master by stealing things and doing chores around the farm. A kratt does not come cheaply, though – a person has to sell his soul to the devil to make his kratt come alive. Where does one meet the devil? At the crossroads, in the dead of night, of course.

There’s nothing bucolic about life in the countryside – the peasants face hunger, poverty and the plague. There is conflict between parent and child, Christianity and paganism. Co-operation seems like an unknown concept; greed and selfishness abound. People are willing to betray family, friends, and neighbours for any small advantage. Many hope to get their hands on a legendary cache of hidden silver.

In the Estonian film November (Rehepapp) Liina (Rea Lest) watches in dismay as Hans (Jöšrgen Liik) stares at the baron’s daughter.

Young Liina (Rea Lest) lives with her father, who wants to marry her off to his gross old drinking buddy, Endel. Liina will have none of it; she wants to marry Hans (Jörgen Liik), her friend and contemporary. But Hans is smitten by the sleep-walking daughter of the German baron who rules the area from his imposing manor house. (Unlike the others, the baron and his daughter have clean faces and clean clothes. At home, the baron wears a fancy embroidered coat that makes him look the Liberace of his day. German actor Dieter Laser plays the baron; Imdb.com says he was also in the Human Centipede films.)

The baron (Dieter Laser) and his daughter (Katariina Unt) are among the few clean, well-fed people in November(Rehepapp). Just how tall is that hat, anyway?

Google tells me that Estonia was among the last European countries to be Christianized, and the last to abolish serfdom, as well. Though the characters in the film are nominally Christian, that doesn’t stop them from stealing things from the church, nor does it stop Liina from asking a witch to help her win Hans over. If they are still serfs, that would go far in explaining their miserable circumstances.

I saw November (Rehepapp) at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal. Both screenings were sold out, so I was very lucky to see it at all. Unlike some of the other popular films at the festival, November is not full of laughs, or action, but it’s well worth seeking out.

Oscilloscope Films has the North American distribution rights and will give the film a theatrical release in the fall.  Watch out for it! An article on the Deadline.com web site has a very apt quote from Oscilloscope’s Dan Berger: “November is one of the most unique and stunning films to come along in some time. It’s equal measures beautiful love story and balls-to-wall bonkers-ass folk tale. It keeps you rapt, guessing and intrigued from its first frame to its last.” Yeah, what he said!

Some films are quite entertaining while we’re watching, but once they’re over we move on. After  watching November the first thing I looked up was the kratt – was it the author’s invention or was it part of folklore? Folklore it was! Then I wanted to know about Estonian history, its rulers, serfdom, paganism and Christianity, saunas for the dead, the ravages of the plague, etc., etc. I really like it when that happens, though such exploration delays my reviews a bit.

November’s cinematographer Mart Taniel won the Best Cinematography in an International Narrative Feature award at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival. I can’t find photos of one of the more stunning images in the film – a lake surrounded by trees with white leaves.

November is based on the novel Rehepapp, by Andrus Kivirähk. There doesn’t seem to be an English translation yet, but it has been translated into French, as Les Groseilles de novembre: Chronique de quelques détraquements dans la contrée des kratts. Another book by Andrus Kivirähk has been translated into French as Homme qui savait la langue des serpents. In English it is called The Man Who Spoke Snakish. Kivirähk’s books are available at Amazon and Indigo; Indigo has German and Spanish translations of the “Snakish” book, as well.

The film November is based on Andrus KivirŠahk’s book Rehepapp. It has been translated into French as Les Groseilles de novembre: Chronique de quelques dŽétraquements dans la contrŽée des kratts. There is no English translation. Another one of his books is available in French and English translations as L’homme qui savait la langue des serpents and The Man Who Spoke Snakish.

November (Rehepapp) is an Estonia, Poland, Netherlands co-production, in Estonian and German, with English subtitles.
Written and directed by Rainer Sarnet
Cast: Rea Lest, Jörgen Liik, Dieter Laser, Katariina Unt, Taavi Eelmaa, Arvo Kukumägi, Heino Kalm, Meelis Rämmeld
Cinematographer: Mart Taniel
Production company: Homeless Bob Production, PRPL, Opus Film
North American distribution by Oscilloscope.

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RIDM 2016: Review of documentary film NUTS!

The documentary NUTS! uses animation, photos, old film footage and newspaper clippings to tell the story of medical charlatan Dr. J.R. Brinkley.

The documentary NUTS! uses animation, photos, old film footage and newspaper clippings to tell the story of medical charlatan Dr. J.R. Brinkley.

The documentary film NUTS! tells the story of Dr. J.R. Brinkley (1885-1942). He became a very wealthy man by selling his alleged medical expertise, along with his dubious potions and questionable procedures.

J.R. Brinkley was a pioneer in three fields – medicine, business and radio. He became rich and famous as the “goat-gland doctor.” He claimed to cure impotence and infertility by implanting goat testicles, or pieces of them, into his male patients, who then went on to father “miracle babies.” A public relations man saw to it that articles about Brinkley appeared in newspapers across the U.S. It was suggested that one of these miracle babies might grow up to be another Lincoln, Edison or Shakespeare. Men flocked to Brinkley’s clinic in the tiny town of Milford, Kansas for the surgery and paid hundreds of dollars for it.

Brinkley gave health advice, sexual and otherwise, on his own radio station, KFKB, which was one of only four commercial stations in the U.S. at the time. He received thousands of letters from listeners and answered them on a show he called Medical Question Box, which ran several times per day. He recommended his own elixirs, which could be ordered from the station or bought from many pharmacists. KFKB grew from 500 watts in 1923 to 5,000 in 1927. In between his talks, the station ran lectures, French lessons, and played country music instead of the staid “potted palm music” of more conventional stations. This increased the popularity of country music.

NUTS! artfully combines animation with archival footage, photos, and newspaper articles about Brinkley. He’s often seen in a white suit, like Col. Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame. Like a wealthy entrepreneur of our own day, Brinkley also ventured into politics. He ran for governor of Kansas twice, and got lost of votes. When his broadcasting license and his license to practice medicine were revoked in Kansas, he moved to Texas where he built a palatial estate and set up a one-million-watt radio station over the border in Mexico. (Many years later, the DJ Wolfman Jack would broadcast his shows from that station.)

Brinkley bought fancy cars, airplanes, three yachts and even hired a filmmaker to document a family cruise to the Galapagos Islands. Brinkley, wife Minnie and son John are seen toting guns and looming over dead creatures. They caught five turtles, too. Green Turtle Soup!

Most of the film describes Brinkley’s life as just one roaring success after another, the same way his prolific biographer-for-hire Clement Wood did in the book The Life of a Man. The only thing that kept his life from being totally perfect were some little skirmishes with hidebound naysayers in the American Medical Association and elsewhere who were determined to halt the course of progress, etc., etc. They called him a quack.

The financial success was real, but unfortunately for many of his patients, Brinkley WAS a quack, much better at selling than he was at surgery, but somehow it took years for the general public to find that out. He had gone to medical school, but it was an unaccredited one, and he did not complete the course.

In 1939, in a very unwise move, Brinkley took his nemesis, the editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, Morris Fishbein, to court, accusing him of libel. Brinkley lost the case and his reputation was shattered. Injured patients (or their survivors) sued him for damages. By 1941 he was bankrupt, and in 1942 he died of a heart attack.

NUTS! is quite fascinating just as it is, but I would have liked to know more about all the harm Brinkley did. The Internet helps with that, though. A review of the book The Fraudulent Life of John Brinkley, by Pope Brock says that hundreds of his patients died. That being the case, I find it amazing that he couldn’t be stopped sooner.

We might like to think that we live in a more sophisticated age these days, but there are all too many quacks out there, and the Internet is even more powerful tool than a one-million-watt radio station.

Minor Canadian connections that don’t appear in the film: When he was separated from his first wife, Brinkley kidnapped his young daughter and fled to an unspecified location in Canada, for an unspecified period of tiime. Later, after he achieved fame and fortune, Brinkley liked to fish in Nova Scotia. Oh, not particularly a Canadian thing, but Brinkley was also a bigamist.
NUTS!
Country : United States
Year : 2016
Duration : 79 min.
Director: Penny Lane
Editing : Penny Lane, Thom Stylinski
Production : Caitlin Mae Burke, Penny Lane, James Belfer, Daniel Shepard
Writer : Thom Stylinski
Sound Design : Tom Paul

You can see NUTS! Saturday, Nov. 19, 3:30 p.m. as part of RIDM, Montreal documentary film festival.
Cinémathèque Québécoise – Salle Principale
Director Penny Lane will attend the screening, which will be presented with French subtitles.

RIDM 2015 Review: Polar Sea 360° is a virtual-reality voyage to the Arctic with a rich, detailed, online component, too

Screen grab from Polar Sea 360 web site. Clicking on it won't do anything!

Screen grab from Polar Sea 360 web site. Clicking on it won’t do anything!

Go to RIDM’s UXdoc Space at Cinémathèque Québécoise, put on the virtual reality headset, and you’ll find yourself immersed in the Arctic – except you won’t need big mitts and an extra warm coat.

You can look right, left, up, down or behind you; there’s always something to see. You might be in a helicopter, on a blue-sky, sunny day, hovering above ice, snow, glaciers and icebergs or somehow outside the ‘copter, looking into it at the pilots. You might be on the deck of a small boat, in the dining room of cruise ship, or riding through a small village on an all-terrain vehicle. On top of all that, you can see the aurora borealis shimmering in the night sky in its mysterious way.

For me, it was a fascinating experience and well worth the trip to the Cinémathèque, which is conveniently located mere steps from the Berri-UQAM metro. But that’s not all, there so much more!

Before and/or after experiencing the Arctic in this way, you can find a wealth of information, from many points of view, at the web site polarsea360.arte.tv  There is a video with several chapters, and a “magazine” with 10 episodes; some of these episodes also have short videos embedded in them, as well. During the main video, and many of the video segments, viewers can use the arrow keys on their computer to get a 360-degree view. (The project can be enjoyed on smartphones and tablets, too, but I used a desktop computer. If you have a virtual reality headset at home, you cam use that. too. The web site has links to three companies that sell them.)

Screen grab for the Polar Sea 360¡ web site shows Arctic ice bergs.

Screen grab for the Polar Sea 360 web site shows Arctic ice bergs.

Polar Sea 360° is an international project with participants from Canada, Argentina, Denmark, France, Germany, Greenland, Ireland, Norway, and Switzerland. They include Arctic residents, authors, amateur explorers, biologists, a Canadian Coast Guard officer, filmmakers, geographers, geologists, historians, photographers, a prof in international politics, sailors, sea captains, scientists, singers, and veterinarians.

Climate change, and the way it affects people, wildlife and the landscape, is a major topic of the videos and the texts. The trip offered by the French cruise ship Boréal would not have been possible in past decades, because the ice was thicker then. Increased access to the Arctic means more shipping, exploration for oil and minerals and the habitat destruction and pollution that can come with that.

We also learn about the DEW Line, the Franklin expedition, explorer Roald Amundsen, and Inuit history and culture, including the forced relocation of some Inuit to Resolute Bay to shore up Canada’s arctic sovereignty claims, the abuse at residential schools, the importance of narwhal and seal in the traditional Inuit diet, their hospitality customs, hunting methods, throat singing, traditional place names, historical routes, and the problems of the present day; Nunavut has highest suicide rate in Canada.

A graphic about Arctic sovereignty from Polar Sea 360. The international, interactive project combines information about ecology, geology, history, politics and more.

A graphic about Arctic sovereignty from Polar Sea 360. The international, interactive project combines information about ecology, geology, history, politics and more.

The waters being navigated in Polar Sea 360° are part of the famous, near mythical, Northwest Passage. Mention of it takes me back to Grade 6 history class. (You, too?) In those days, we didn’t learn much about the negative aspects of exploration and the imperialism that came with it. But we did learn about the Northwest Passage – for centuries, explorers dreamed of it and searched for it – a quicker way from Europe to the riches of Asia. The man (of course, it would be a man!) who found it would be rich, famous, admired, bring glory to his country, etc. It was a big deal then and it has become a big deal once again. Read more about the RIDM presentation of Polar Sea 360° here.

 

Polar Sea 360°

Country : Canada, Germany
Year : 2014
Language : English, French, German
Runtime : (up to you!)
Platform : Réalité Virtuelle / Virtual Reality (Samsung Gear Vr)
Website : http://polarsea360.arte.tv
Production : Irene Vandertop, Thomas Wallner, Stephanie Weimar
Artistic Direction : Thomas Wallner
Technical Direction : Scott Herman
Sound : Janine White
Contact
(Production)
Thomas Wallner, Deep Inc., thomas@deep-inc.com

Visit the UXdoc Space at Cinémathèque Québécoise, 335 de Maisonneuve Blvd E., from Nov. 12-22, 2015, from 11a.m. to 8p.m., to see Polar Sea 360° and other interactive presentations.
RIDM (Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal) runs from Nov. 12-22, 2015. Visit the web site ridm.qc.ca for more information.

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.

Documentary film How to Save the World examines the early days of Greenpeace

A Russian whaling ship towers over protesting members of Greenpeace.

A Russian whaling ship towers over protesting members of Greenpeace.

 

RIDM, Montreal’s documentary film festival, takes place in November. But outside of that framework, RIDM’s Docville series presents a film at Excentris on the last Thursday of the month.

The selection for May, How To Change the World looks at the early days of Greenpeace. The non-governmental environmental organization now has branches in 41 countries, but it got its start in Vancouver, B.C., back in the 1970s.

Long before Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, smart phones, and widespread access to the World Wide Web, Greenpeace activists were able to galvanize the public against the testing of nuclear weapons, and the killing of whales and baby seals. They famously vowed to place themselves between the harpoons of fishermen and the whales those fishermen were hunting. Look at the trailer below, to see how vulnerable the Greenpeace members were, bobbing on the ocean waves in their small, inflatable boats while huge whaling ships loomed over them.

How To Change the World is a Canada-U.K. co-production, directed by Jerry Rothwell. Rothwell was blessed with access to many hours of original 16 mm footage that had been shot by cinematographer Ron Precious near the beginning of his career. In an interview with IndieWire, Precious says: “We got some great images for sure, like [Greenpeace co-founder] Paul Watson on the back of a dead whale. These are images that become iconic. For me, they’re some of my proudest moments. My entire career in film, nothing tops that. What gave me the most satisfaction was the days doing that work with Greenpeace.”

Canadian hippie journalists, photographers, musicians, scientists, and U.S. draft dodgers were among the people who created Greenpeace.

Canadian hippie journalists, photographers, musicians, scientists, and U.S. draft dodgers were among the people who created Greenpeace.

In his Director’s Notes, Rothwell writes: “The group had a prescient understanding of the power of media, knowing that capturing the perfect image was the most powerful weapon of all. But their footage richly evokes not only the dramatic actions they undertook, but their friendships and conflicts, dilemmas and decisions – a sometimes crazy mix of psychedelia and politics, science and theatre.”

In addition to dealing with dramatic public actions by Greenpeace, the film goes behind the scenes to document the internal workings of the group and disagreements and power struggles between three of the founders Paul Watson, Patrick Moore and Bob Hunter.

The film’s soundtrack includes music from Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Pink Floyd, Canned Heat and Country Joe and the Fish.

How To Change the World had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, and has been shown at many other festivals since then, including Toronto’s Hot Docs Film Festival, DOXA in Vancouver, theTrue/False Film Fest in Columbia, Mo., and the EcoFilm Festival in Portland, Ore. Future screenings will take place in San Francisco, Sheffield, England, Sydney and Canberra, Australia, Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Oakville, Ontario.

Will Jackson, left, Bous De Jong, Bobbi Hunter, Al Morrow, director Jerry Rothwell, John Murray, Rex Wyler and Emily Hunter at How To Change The World premiere at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival on January 22, 2015 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images for Sundance)

 

HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD
Directed by Jerry Rothwell. Canada/United Kingdom. 2015. 112 min. In the original English.
Thursday, May 28, 8 p.m., Cinéma Excentris, 3536 St Laurent Blvd.

Tickets can be bought online.

For more information, visit the How to Change the World Facebook page, or the How to Change the World web site.

Animation film festival wraps up with three films about heroes

Teacher Ralph Whims us ready to defend his students from an invading motorcycle gang, in the short film, The Chaperone.

Teacher Ralph Whims us ready to defend his students from an invading motorcycle gang, in the short film, The Chaperone.

The closing event of the 2015 Montreal Animated Film Festival is all about heroism.
The feature film is 108 Demon Kings. That film takes elements from the Chinese classic novel Shuihui Zhuan (known in English as The Water Margin, Outlaws of the Marsh, or All Men Are Brothers) which is based on 12th century events and first published around 1368, and adds a young prince to make it even more appealing to a young audience. (Though, what with good guys and bad guys, demons, monsters, battles, etc., it ought tobe pretty appealing already!)

Image from the animated film 108 Demon Kings.

Image from the animated film 108 Demon Kings.

The The Water Margin is sometimes compared to Robin Hood to give Westerners an idea of the flavour.

The last minute addition of two shorts emphasizes the heroic theme. They are both Canadian and one is local, too!

High school dance, circa 1972, in The Chaperone.

High school dance, circa 1972, in The Chaperone.

The local one, The Chaperone, is based on a memorable event that took place at Rosemount High School, in east end Montreal, back in the 1970s (though I don’t think the school is named in the film.) One teacher and one DJ are the only adults at a high school dance. (In a recent radio interview, one of the filmmakers said that these days there’d be 10 teachers and eight parents or something like that.)

Anyway, scary-looking members of a motorcycle gang crash the dance. Oh, oh! Teacher Ralph Whims tells DJ Stefan to lock the doors and then proceeds to teach the bikers a lesson, so to speak, using chairs, fists, feet, etc. Just like in the movies! But it really happened! The film uses thousands of crayon drawings, puppets, stop-motion animation scenes showing the outside of the school, passing traffic, and the eventual arrival of police cars, shreds of paper from the explosions of dozens of pinatas, an hilarious live-action segment inspired by B-movies, AND a cheesy (in a good way) soundtrack inspired by blaxploitation films. There are some 3D parts, too. In other words, a bit of everything. It’s truly quite amazing. I watched it at home without the benefit of the 3D aspect, I’m sure it will be even more mind-blowing on the big screen. The film is made by Fraser Munden and Neil Rathbone. Fraser Munden knew the story well, because his father had been one of Ralph Whims’s students.Here’s a link to an article in Spectacular Optical about The Chaperone.

 

mynarski crop

Mynarski

The other Canadian short is Mynarski Death Plummet. It’s about Andrew Mynarski of Winnipeg, a gunner with the Royal Canadian Air Force in World War II. On June 12, 1944 his plane was badly damaged by gunfire and everyone was ordered to don their parachutes and jump from the burning plane. But Mynarski struggled through the flames to try to free tail gunner Pat Brophy, who was trapped at the back of the plane. This film blends live action and animation and ends with a fantastic creation unlike anything else I have ever seen before. The film contains 21,000 hand-painted 35 mm frames!

Here’s a quote from Greg Klymkiw’s Film Corner:

“This is such a great film. I could have watched all seven minutes of it if they’d somehow been elongated to a Dreyer-like pace and spread out over 90 minutes. That said, it’s perfect as it is. The fact that you don’t want it to end is a testament to director Matthew Rankin one of the young torchbearers (along with Astron-6) of the prairie post-modernist movement which hatched out of Winnipeg via the brilliantly demented minds of John Paizs and Guy Maddin. Blending gorgeously arcane techniques from old Hollywood, ancient government propaganda films with dollops of staggeringly, heart-achingly beautiful animation – bursting with colour and blended with superbly art-directed and costumed live action. . .”

108 Demon Kings, The Chaperone, and Mynarski Death Plummet are part of the Closing Ceremony and Awards Presentation of 2015 Montreal Animated Film Festival.
The event begins at 7 p.m., Sunday April 19, 2015 in H-110 of the Hall Building of Concordia University, 1455 de Maisonneuve W.
Visit the website lemiaff.com for prices and more information.

Cinema Politica Mondays: Discover Grace Lee Boggs, an exceptional American

Philosopher, writer and activist Grace Lee Boggs in her Detroit home.

Philosopher, writer and activist Grace Lee Boggs in her Detroit home.

 

There aren’t any dull moments in the documentary American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs.

The philosopher, writer and activist Grace Lee Boggs will turn 100 in June, but in this film, which was released in 2013, she still has all her wits about her. Even more impressive, she still talks about revolution and social change, and does so in Detroit, her home since the 1950s. She has so many stories to share and hasn’t given up hope that people can work together to make a better world. She warns against placing too many expectations on political messiahs, though. She suggests that “We are the leaders we are looking for.”

Grace Lee’s father owned a big Chinese restaurant on Broadway in New York. She tells us that this gave her a comfortable home life, but she also reveals that her mother had never gone to school, and that she could not read or write. Grace Lee herself earned a BA from Barnard College and a PhD in philosophy from Bryn Mawr. Despite those qualifications, cracking the job market was not easy. In those days, she says, even department stores would not hire “Orientals.” She got a job at a library at the University of Chicago that paid $10 per week. She lived in a rat-infested basement and came into contact with the black community when she joined the struggle for better housing.

By the 1940s the Depression was over for whites but not for blacks. The U.S. was gearing up for war but the owners of defense plants would not hire black Americans. Activists began planning a July 1 protest march on Washington. An estimated 100,000 people would take part. To keep the march from happening, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802, banning discrimination in the defense industry. Grace Lee was very impressed by this example of people power in action. As she later told Bill Moyers: “When I saw what a movement could do I said, ‘Boy that’s what I wanna do with my life.’ ”

She went to Detroit because that’s “where the workers were.” She married James (Jimmy) Boggs, who was an auto worker, writer and activist. Until his death in 1993, they worked together in the labour movement and the Black Power movement; they knew Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Their home was a meeting place for thinkers and organizers.

The film includes the derelict buildings we’re used to seeing in reports on present-day Detroit, along with scenes from the past – the prosperous past and the violent one, too. Some parts of the city look a bit like Montreal, with the same kind of buses we used to have; there’s a dark stone building with arches, kind of like The Bay department store on Ste. Catherine St. And then there’s the snow, Detroit seems to get quite a lot of snow, too.

There’s evidence that Detroit’s downhill spiral began much longer ago than one might think. Back in the 1930s as many as 95,000 people were working in one of the plants belonging to the Ford Motor Co., but by the late 1950s automation was already leading to layoffs.

The soundtrack includes “Run, Charlie, Run” a tune by The Temptations about white flight from the city to the ‘burbs. I count myself as a Motown fan, but I can’t remember ever hearing that one before. I wonder if it’s ever played on any “oldies” radio stations?

Philosopher, writer and activist Grace Lee Boggs, left, and filmmaker Grace Lee.

Philosopher, writer and activist Grace Lee Boggs, left, and filmmaker Grace Lee.

The film is directed by Grace Lee, who is no relation to Grace Lee Boggs. They have stayed in touch since 2000 when the filmmaker began work on The Grace Lee Project, a film about several Asian-American women who share the same name. (The Village Voice review of The Grace Lee Project says that Grace Lee Boggs is called Grace X by her neighbours.)

To learn more about Grace Lee Boggs, check out this book list; it includes books that she wrote and books that influenced her.

American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs will be presented by Cinema Politica on Monday, April 13, 2015 at 7 p.m. in H 110 of the Hall Building at Concordia University, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.
Admission is by voluntary donation.

For more information, visit the Facebook page about the screening.

Cinema Political will show films at various outdoor locations during the summer, but American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs is the last presentation at the Hall Building for the 2014-2015 academic year.

 

FIFA 2015: Looking at Gustave Courbet’s The Painter’s Studio as a puzzle and a history lesson

Caricature of painter Gustave Courbet from the documentary film Les Petits Secrets Des Grands Tableaux – Courbet, L’atelier Du Peintre

Caricature of painter Gustave Courbet from the documentary film Les Petits Secrets Des Grands Tableaux – Courbet, L’atelier Du Peintre

 

French painter Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) was admired by some and mocked by others. He was self taught, which earned him the scorn of academicians. He hobnobbed with the rich and powerful though he sided with workers and disadvantaged.

The 26 minute film takes a quick look at Courbet’s life and works before turning to his large and crowded work with the long name – The Painter’s Studio: A Real Allegory of a Seven Year Phase in my Artistic and Moral Life.

The Painter's Studio: A Real Allegory of a Seven Year Phase in my Artistic and Moral Life, by Gustave Courbet.

The Painter’s Studio: A Real Allegory of a Seven Year Phase in my Artistic and Moral Life, by Gustave Courbet.

Courbet created it for a salon at the 1855 Paris World Fair (or Exposition Universelle des produits de l’Agriculture, de l’Industrie et des Beaux-Arts de Paris 1855 to give its full name). The jury refused to accept this painting, though eleven of his other works were shown. (These days, the painting hangs in the Musée d’Orsay.)

In examining the many possible reasons for this refusal, the filmmakers tell us about the many styles that appear in the painting – portraits, still life, history painting – and the people in it, who include George Sand, Charles Baudelaire, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, and the Emperor Napoleon III himself. He had been elected president of France but later staged a coup d’etat and declared himself emperor. In the painting he is portrayed as a hunter wearing tall leather boots. Censorship was so strong at this time that the mere mention of “boots” could result in a prison sentence.

This film is filled with a wealth of detail and historical information.

Les Petits Secrets Des Grands Tableaux – Courbet, L’atelier Du Peintre will be shown as part of a double bill with Beatus: The Spanish Apocalypse, which is 90 minutes long, on Friday, March 27, 2015 at 1:30 p.m. at the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal – Maxwell-Cummings Auditorium, 1379 Sherbrooke St. W.

Les Petits Secrets Des Grands Tableaux – Courbet, L’atelier Du Peintre
France / 2014 / Color / 26 Min / French
Realisation: Clément Cogitore
Script: Thomas Cheysson, Elisabeth Couturier
Editing: Erwann Chabot, Julien Ngo Trong
Music: Roque Rivas
Narration: Clémentine Célarié
Producer(s): Sophie Goupil, Daniel Khamdamov
Production: Les Poissons Volants, ARTE France, Les petits secrets des grands tableaux
Distribution: ARTE France

The Festival International du Film sur l’Art, known as FIFA, runs until Sunday, March 29, 2015. Visit the web site www.artfifa.com for more information.

FIFA 2015 Review: Ian Rankin – My Edinburgh

Crime novelist Ian Rankin looks at the city of Edinburgh.

Crime novelist Ian Rankin looks at the city of Edinburgh.

Popular Scottish crime novelist Ian Rankin shares stories about his early days, (he wrote 16 books before he had a bestseller – such persistence!) talks about his creation police inspector John Rebus and takes us on a tour of “hidden Edinburgh” where there are “always new crime scenes to be discovered.” He says Edinburgh has all of the amenities of a large city while being conveniently compact. And it’s really the main character of his books, more than Rebus himself.

Tiny wooden dolls inisde tiny wooden coffins might be connected to notorious Edinburgh grave robbers and murderers Burke and Hare.

Tiny wooden dolls inisde tiny wooden coffins might be connected to notorious Edinburgh grave robbers and murderers Burke and Hare.

This tour includes a visit to an underground street, several graveyards, the Scottish Parliament, tales of cannibalism and bodysnatchers, the murderers Burke and Hare, the continuing mystery of 17 tiny coffins that date back to the 1830s, and the story of Deacon Brodie, the Edinburgh city councillor and cabinet-maker who was the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. (Stevenson set his story in London, though.) Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conon Doyle was from Edinburgh, too, and he also set most of his stories in London.

Rankin reveals that in the first few Rebus books he set events in unnamed, fictional streets. Later he decided he might as well use real places, so he had Rebus working in a real police station, drinking in real pubs and living in the neighbourhood Rankin had lived in while attending university.

 

"That was my bedroom window," says writer Ian Rankin, pointing at the apartment he lived in during his student days. He decided that his character, police inspector John Rebus, would live across the street.

“That was my bedroom window,” says writer Ian Rankin, pointing at the apartment he lived in during his student days. He decided that his character, police inspector John Rebus, would live across the street.

Actor and historian Colin Brown runs Rebustours.com, which gives tourists a chance to visit the places mentioned in Rankin’s books. He mugs a bit while reading passages from the books. Rankin himself tags along with Brown for a while. Did the tourists even recognize him? I wasn’t certain. But I was sold on the attractions of Ediburgh. I’d be willing to check it out!
Wednesday, March 25, 2015, 6:30 p.m., at Grande Bibliothèque de BAnQ – Auditorium, 475 de Maisonneuve Blvd E.

Ian Rankin – My Edinburgh, Austria / 2013 / Color / 44 Min / English

Realisation: Günter Schilhan
Script: Günter Schilhan
Cinematography: Erhard Seidl
Sound: Albrecht Klinger
Editing: Günter Schilhan, Raimund Sivetz
Music: Franz Sommer
Narration: August Schmölzer, Stefan Suske, Günter Schilhan
Participation(s): Ian Rankin
Producer(s): Rosemarie Prasek
Production: ORF, 3sat
Distribution: 3sat

http://www.artfifa.com/en
The Festival International du Film sur l’Art, known as FIFA, runs until Sunday, March 29, 2015. Visit the web site http://www.artfifa.com for more information.

FIFA 2015 Review: The Man Who Saved the Louvre

This entrance to the Louvre Museum in Paris was named after Jacques Jaujard, the man who saved the museum's art from destruction during World War II.

This entrance to the Louvre Museum in Paris was named after Jacques Jaujard, the man who saved the museum’s art from destruction during World War II.

The Man Who Saved the Louvre is the intriguing story of Jacques Jaujard. In the late 1930s, with war in Europe looking more and more likely, Jaujard, director of the French National Museums, drew up an elaborate evacuation plan, to keep the country’s cultural heritage safe from bombs and Nazi art collectors, from Hitler on down. This was his own idea, no one asked him to do it.

Near the end of August 1939, 4,000 works of art were packed into crates, ready to be sent to châteaux in the countryside. Art from the Louvre included the Mona Lisa and the sculptures the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Venus de Milo.

During World War II the art treasures of the Louvre were dispersed to a number of chateaux for safekeeping.

During World War II the art treasures of the Louvre were dispersed to a number of chateaux for safekeeping.

While many paintings were removed from their frames and rolled up, others were too delicate for that treatment. Géricault’s huge Raft of the Medusa was loaded onto an open truck, protected only by a tarpaulin. The painting was so large (five metres high, seven metres wide) that it knocked down power lines.

Museum staff members looked after the art works in their temporary homes throughout the war. They protected them from heat, cold and humidity, practiced fire drills every day, and wrote LOUVRE in big letters on the lawns of the châteaux to alert any Allied bombers to the treasures. Some items were moved as many as five times before the war was over.

Louvre warning

Warnings were placed on the ground to alert Allied bombers to the presence of art treasures.

 

Intrigue and a love interest is provided by one of Jaujard’s contacts in the French Resistance. The agent with the codename “Mozart,” turns out to be a glamourous former actress.

The film uses photos, archival footage, Jaujard’s notebooks and testimony from witnesses to tell the story. An animated version of Jaujard makes the occasional appearance as well.

The Man Who Saved the Louvre is presented in a more engaging way than another FIFA selection about art during World War II, the Austrian film Hitler’s Mountain Of Stolen Art. That film, which will also be shown on Wednesday, March 25 (at 6:30 p.m.) looks at a treasure trove of stolen art that was stashed in a salt mine in Altaussee, Austria.

Once he realized that he was losing the war, Hitler gave orders to blow up the mine and the art with it. His order was not carried out, and the filmmakers look at a number of candidates in an effort to figure out try to find out who saved the art. The film just seems to go around in circles and has far too many interviews where the translation is spoken and not given via subtitles.

The Man Who Saved the Louvre

France / 2014 / Color, B & W / 60 min / English with French subtitles, part of a double bill with:

Grandeur des petits musées
France / 2014 / Color / 47 min, / in French

Wednesday, March 25, 2015, at 4 p.m., at the Maxwell Cummings Auditorium, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1379 Sherbrooke St. W.

The Festival International du Film sur l’Art, known as FIFA, runs until Sunday, March 29, 2015. Visit the web site www.artfifa.com for more information.