A Second Green Revolution – One Man, One Cow, One Planet

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Across India, farmers are rejecting chemical agriculture and turning to sustainable organic practices.

On one side, an American multinational, Monsanto, which sells genetically modified seeds and chemical fertilizers and pesticides. On the other, Indian farmers and an ally from New Zealand, who work together to grow crops independently.

By all means, question the science behind biodynamic farming. But look at the results. And apply the same skepticism to the science behind Monsanto’s selling of chemical agriculture and genetically modified crops.

Start here:

Film website

Shah Jo Raag Fakirs Freed from Homeland Security

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I was privileged to hear Shah Jo Raag Fakirs last night at Asia Society, but not after they spent several hours in custody at JKF. Ridiculous, since Pakistani Sufis are fighting the good fight for the soul of Islam (and for all of us), and are suffering for it. Fortunately Homeland Security listened to reason, in the form of a phone call from Rachel Cooper, director of Cultural Programs and Performing Arts.

From the program:

“Shah Jo Raag belongs to the family of musicians who sing at the shrine of Shah Lateef in Bhit Shah in the traditional manner that was created by the Shah himself about four hundred years ago. Shah Jo Raag is a direct descendant of Shah Jamal who was very close to Shah Lateef and his family has been the keeper of tradition. Every Thursday the session of singing begins after the esha (night) prayers and lasts the entire night. During the annual Urs celebration the singing goes on nonstop for the three days of the event. The Wai singers dress themselves in black and chant, strumming the dhamboor, the instrument created by Shah himself, and sing “Wai” the kalaam of the Shah by turns. Shah Jo Raag has been singing at the shrine for the last thirty years. His group has won awards in Paris, the Lateef Award and Rafi Peer Award in Pakistan.”

Even this brief encounter was unforgettable. Gratitude to the trio, who must have been exhausted after their journey and incarceration. Also to Asia Society and William Dalrymple, the author of Nine Lives – In Search of the Sacred in Modern South Asia.

Stillness in Motion: Selections from “American Movie Critics”

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American Movie Critics: An Anthology from the Silents Until Now. Edited by Phillip Lopate. New York: Library of America, 2006. [Amazon]

A fascinating book. Wonderful for updating your Netflix list, and also for getting a sense of America’s love affair with the movies from the start.

Some quotes:

“The rhythm of the play is marked by unnatural rapidity. As the words are absent which, in the drama as in life, fill the gaps between the actions, the gestures and deeds themselves can follow one another much more quickly. Happenings which would fill an hour on stage can fill hardly more than twenty minutes on the screen. This heightens the feeling of vitality in the spectator. He feels as if he were passing through life with a sharper accent which stirs his personal energies.” – Hugo Munsterberg (b. 1863)

“First of all, reality (today anyway) is largely the invention of journalism and is based on the formulas of the neat, transmissible word-summary of action past. Visual media simply convert this formula into sight terms. In both fiction and so-called fact media, or a fusion of them, the same banal process always takes place: the technicians invent a plausible simulacrum of what is supposed to happen or have happened in life. A newsreel or documentary film is supposed (a) to represent accomplished fact or (b) typical and/or current and continuous fact. Each is an item, more or less edited, detached from the whole continuum of reality yet presumed to stand for reality-reality in an ontological sense, the “world,” and so on.” – Parker Tyler (b. 1904)

“The Astaire-Rogers dance films were romances, or rather, chapters in a single epic romance…. in those years dancing was transformed into a vehicle of serious emotion between a man and a woman. It never happened in movies again.” – Arlene Croce (b. 1934)

“…audiences who have been forced to wade through the thick middle-class padding of more expensively made movies to get to the action enjoy the nose-thumbing at “good taste” of cheap movies that stick to the raw materials. At some basic level, they like the pictures to be cheaply done, they enjoy the crudeness; it’s a breather, a vacation from proper behavior and good taste and required responses.” – Pauline Kael (b. 1919)

“People like me who champion pornography on the grounds that it is life-enhancing are constantly being told that it isn’t truly life-enhancing, because it is only a travesty of the real thing. The difficulty with that argument is knowing what the real thing is. Whenever I ask for a definition, my interlocutor begins to sputter; precisely as “everyone” knows that blue movies are boring, “everyone” knows what the real thing is. But I don’t. Or I do and I don’t. I live bathed in a continuous erotic glow, and I recognize pornography as among the thousand blessed things that heighten this glow. Like sunlight, like water, like the smell and taste of skin, it helps make me happy. I foresee that with every passing year it will become increasingly precious to me: a vade mecum when the adventure of old age begins.” – Brendan Gill (b. 1914)

“Film is stillness in motion. There is no such thing as a moving picture. All pictures are still pictures. The illusion of movement in film comes from passing a succession of perfectly frozen images before a lens so rapidly, with a convenient eyeblink between them, that we are deceived into thinking that stillness is action. Take the film out of the projector and look at any one frame – as you now must, if you wish to see it at all – and you will see what Keaton may have seen all his life: rigidity at the heart of things, rigidity as the very condition of apparent activity. Keaton may have taken his esthetic – even his attitude toward life – from the knowledge he derived every time he finished a strip of celluloid. What was printed on the celluloid was immobile, silent as the tomb, an extract and an abstract from the void. It was also, at the same time, part of a continuum, and when the continuum was seen whole – miracle of miracles that this should be possible – what had been indisputably dead leapt to unreal, yet mysteriously persuasive, life. Now Zero moves, has being, joins the tangible – without ceasing to be Zero. Whether he arrived at his identity consciously or not, Keaton became what film is.” Walter Kerr (b. 1913)

Films recommended by selected critics, not yet on Netflix:

Edgar Allan Poe (1909)
Man’s Genesis (1912)
Greed (1924)
Moana of the South Seas (1926)
Hog Wild (1930)
The Fatal Glass of Beer (1933)
The Devil Is a Woman (1935)
Ceiling Zero (1936)
Elephant Boy (1937)
God’s Stepchildren (1938)
Youth Runs Wild (1944)
Counter-Attack (1945)
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)
Saratoga Trunk (1945)
Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948)
Intruder in the Dust (1949)
The Tall Target (1951)
Banditi a Milano (1968)
High School (1968)
The Coming Thing (1970)
Law and Order (1969)
Hospital (1970)
The Gland Hotel (1975)
Welfare (1975)
Meat (1976)
Cheek to Cheek (1986)

Films I Want to See in New York – 8 – Winter’s Bone

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Winter’s Bone
Debra Granik, USA
2010, 100 min

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence (Ree), John Hawkes (Teardrop), Kevin Breznahan (Little Arthur), Dale Dickey (Merab), Garret Dillahunt (Sheriff Baskin), Sheryl Lee (April), Lauren Sweetser (Gail), Tate Taylor (Satterfield)

Opening June 11, Angelika and Lincoln Plaza.

“It ain’t much, but it’s all we have.”

Winner of two independent juries’ prizes at this year’s Berlinale, Winter’s Bone is the unflinching telling of a Ozark Mountain girl’s desperate quest to keep her family intact by finding a father who vanished after posting their home as bond.

Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), the sole support of her younger brother and sister and mentally ill mother, is a classic film heroine who when up against impossible odds won’t take no for an answer. Dead or alive, she must find her meth-cooking father, defying a near-cultic criminal syndicate that manufactures, supplies, and supports crank culture in the Ozarks.

Based on a novel by David Woodrell and set on location in Christian and Taney counties in southwest Missouri, Winter’s Bone uses experienced actors in the lead roles and local actors and residents for most of the secondary parts. Dale Dickey is electric in the role of Merab, wife and gatekeeper to the local crime lord. John Hawkes shows unexpected tenderness and loyalty as Ree’s fearsome, addicted uncle. And Jennifer Lawrence inhabits the lead role with hardscrabble grit and enduring vulnerability as she tries to see her brother and sister through their own childhoods.

After several scouting trips to the area, and with help from local guides to one of the North America’s more exotic and dangerous locations, cinematographer Michael McDonough and production crew manage to skirt hillbilly cliche in settings of meth labs, run-down farms, and honky tonks.

In one expert nighttime composition, Ree waits in her uncle’s truck while he engages the opposition with some calculated violence, an American flag darkly reflected in windshield.

Update: US Distributor – Roadside Attractions (2010)

Films I Want to See in New York – 7 – Putty Hill

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Putty Hill
Matthew Porterfield, USA
2010, 89 min

Cast: Sky Ferreira (Jenny), Zoe Vance (Zoe), James Siebor, Jr. (James), Dustin Ray (Dustin), Cody Ray (Cody), Charles “Spike” Sauers (Spike), Catherine Evans (Cathy), Virginia Heath (Virginia), Casey Weibust (Casey), Drew Harris (Geoff), Marina Siebor (Marina)

To be screened at BAMcinemaFEST, Sun, Jun 13 at 8:45pm

A junkie’s house, a boy’s death. Girls smoking in the woods. Cops on the hunt for a bank robber. Grandma is a good egg. Tagger – Rest in Peace, Cory.

A girl comes home to her estranged father’s tattoo party. A karaoke wake. Visiting a dead brother’s junkie lair at night. All he kept was his skateboard. The friendship of girls.

Putty Hill in the Northeast of Baltimore is both urban and bucolic. A filmmaker was working a coming-of-age tale about a group of metal-heads skirting the fringes of Baltimore. It was a timely script, but financing fell through. To rescue the work of everyone involved, he shot a new film in 12 days. Director Matt Porterfield:

“Putty Hill is not quite like anything I’ve ever seen. On a most basic level, it is an amalgam of traditional forms of documentary and narrative realism. But it is an approach to realism in opposition to the anthropological, lyrical, and romantic currents present in most of the genre. More importantly, though the structure of the film was plotted, the details of individual scenes were largely improvised, breathing life into the dialogue and bringing an enhanced degree of naturalism to the relationships between characters. I had already established firm bonds with my cast working with them on Metal Gods, so they trusted me enough to take risks and bring a level of emotional honesty to the material.”

A triumph of salvage. Not to be missed.

US Release: Feb 18, 2011 (Cinema Guild)

Films I Want to See in New York – 6 – Sawako Decides

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Kawa no soko kara konnichi wa / Sawako Decides
Ishii Yuya, Japan
2009, 112 min

Cast: Mitsushima Hikari (Sawako), Endo Masashi (Kenichi), Aihara Kira (Kayoko), Shiga Kotaro (Sawakos Vater Tadao), Iwamatsu Ryo (Nobuo).

To be screened at Japan Cuts Festival of Contemporary Japanese Cinema (July 1 – 16, 2010)

After five years, five jobs, and five boyfriends, Sawako (Mitsushima Hikari) still has not fully arrived in Tokyo. Her favorite phrases are “can’t be helped” and “working class is why.”

Kenichi (Endo Masashi), a toy designer at the toy company, has determined to live an “eco lifestyle.” Sawako spends evenings with him and his daughter Kayoko (Ahira Kira), while he clumsily knits a sweater vest, baby blue like his own, intended for Sawako. Instead of a good-night kiss at her door, Kenichi asks Sawako for her empty cans to recycle.

In Sawako Decides (literal translation of the Japanese title is “Hello From the River Bed”), we learn the power of a “lower-middling woman” – chu no ge no on-na.

Yuya may have hit on the trope of the decade with his observation that “the image of small shellfish squirming in the riverbed also contains a hopeless gravity that was a perfect fit.” He says his influences are musical even more than cinematic, and I believe him; Sawako Decides is wonderfully paced. And Mitsushima Hikari is an expressive, physically precise comic genius.

Films I Want to See in New York – 5 – Double Tide

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Double Tide
Sharon Lockhart, USA/Austria
2009, 99 min

For two weeks each year in South Bristol, Maine, low tide occurs twice within daylight hours—once at dawn and once at dusk. From the perspective of her stationary camera, filmmaker Sharon Lockhart documents the progress of a solitary clammer (Jen Casad) in these magic hours as she hauls her heavy skid out into the shallow cove and makes her way across the mudflat.

The clammer works for 45 minutes in the fog of dawn. Slowly, sunlight touches the landscape. Colors and features emerge, a Japanese landscape painting come to life. These are momentous events.

No words or music accompany the clammer at her centuries-old, physically demanding, solitary work. The intermittent buzz of an insect, the slap of boots in mud, a sharp sucking pop as she pulls clams from their nests, the dull thunk as they land in her bucket, a distant foghorn.

The screens breaks to black, then the 45-minute cycle repeats in the late afternoon, twilight sun, blue sky. A completely different picture – somehow the clammer seems much bigger, her world smaller.

Once she finds something that hurts – says “Oh!” and pulls back her hand. She tires, her hand seems to cramp. A cough. Nearby children’s voices as she finishes her work, washing heavy buckets of clams as darkness falls.

Double Tide is Lockhart’s fourth film about work (after (Nō, Lunch Break and Exit).

Update: US Release – Nov 12, 2010

Ethnopharmacology of the Horse Warriors – Medicinal Plants of the Tamang

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Uprety Y, Asselin H, Boon EK, et al. Indigenous use and bio-efficacy of medicinal plants in the Rasuwa District, Central Nepal. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2010 Jan 26;6:3. PubMed PMID: 20102631

Ecologists at Vrije Universiteit Brussel interviewed plant collectors, medicinal plant cultivators, traditional healers, and traders among the ethnic Tamang people to document 60 medicinal formulations from 56 plant species.

From the background:

“The Rasuwa district presents some of the best examples of graded climatic conditions in Central Himalaya. Pronounced altitudinal gradients, coupled with complex topography and geology, have resulted in a rich biodiversity and unique vegetation patchwork. Therefore, the district harbours a rich diversity of medicinal plants. The Chilime VDC [Village Development Committee] lies in the northern part of the district, bordering the Tibetan part of China, and comprises temperate to alpine climates within 2000-4700 m altitude. The local inhabitants are part of the Tamang indigenous people, which comprises 98% of the total Chilime VDC population. People from the Tamang ethnic group have a rich culture and possess sound traditional knowledge. However, they are economically and socially marginalized and far from having their basic needs fulfilled.”

The Tamang people use medicinal plants to treat cuts and wounds, respiratory problems, gastrointestinal disorders, cough and cold, musculoskeletal problems, fever and headache, weakness and dizziness, menstrual disorders, dermatologic infections, ophthalmologic problems, and toothache, among other ailments.

The authors recommend phytochemical and pharmacological studies of the Tamang’s traditionally used medicinal plants, perhaps starting with potentially high-value species including Astilbe rivularis, Berberis asiatica, Hippophae salicifolia, Juniperus recurva, and Swertia multicaulis. They note that while medicinal plants provide huge opportunities for community development and livelihood improvement, local people are often deprived of the benefits. Proper management of medicinal plants could serve as a sustainable income source for the Tamang, which in turn could help generate incentives for biodiversity conservation.

Breathless – A New View of Carcinogenesis

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López-Lázaro M. A new view of carcinogenesis and an alternative approach to cancer therapy. Mol Med. 2010 Mar;16(3-4):144-53. Epub 2009 Dec 28. Review. PubMed PMID: 20062820; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2802554.

Miguel López-Lázaro of the University of Seville posits that the altered metabolism of oxygen by tumor cells presents a target for cancer therapy that may be more productive than genetic signatures. According to the argument, alteration in the metabolism of oxygen is a common feature of cancer cells and plays an important role in carcinogenesis. The development of any cancer requires that the future tumor cell both acquires a complex set of DNA alterations and develops an alteration in the metabolism of oxygen. Because tumor cells and normal cells metabolize oxygen differently, this difference could be exploited to target tumor cells selectively.

From the conclusions:

“In addition to building up a complex set of DNA changes, evidence suggests that the development of any cancer requires that tumor cells acquire an alteration in the metabolism of oxygen. Interestingly, this alteration in the metabolism of oxygen can make cancer cells vulnerable to therapeutic intervention. Their increased basal levels of H2O2 and their higher dependence on glycolysis for their survival make cancer cells more susceptible than normal cells to treatment with prooxidant agents and glycolysis inhibitors. Because this alteration in the metabolism of oxygen seems to be a common feature of tumor cells, this therapeutic approach could be used for the treatment of a wide range of patients with cancer.”

Films I Want to See in New York – 4 – This Way of Life

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This Way of Life
New Zealand / Canada, 2009
Director: Thomas Burstyn
Cast: Peter Ottley-Karena, Colleen Ottley-Karena, Llewelyn Ottley-Karena, Aurora Ottley-Karena, Malachi Ottley-Karena, Elias Ottley-Karena, Corban Ottley-Karena, Salem Ottley-Karena

In a rare bit of luck, I met the filmmakers in Berlin while covering Forum. Their film was in another section, Generation, so I asked for a DVD. One of the smartest things I did during the festival.

I can’t improve on the Berlinale essay:

“Family life in New Zealand. Except that this is no ordinary family: filmmaker Thomas Burstyn spent four years capturing on camera daily life in one Maori household. Peter and Colleen Karena (Ngati Maniapoto) have six children and fifty horses. Peter is in his early thirties and a horse whisperer by trade – as well as a farrier, butcher, saddler, hunter, labourer and philosopher. The life he leads is very close to nature – and this makes him something of an outsider. His life is also unfettered – as is that of his self-confident children. It’s almost as if the word ‘risk’ doesn’t exist for them: barefoot, bareback and without reins or riding hat is for instance the way the Karena’s six-year-old daughter gallops across the New Zealand prairie.

“When the family’s house burns down, the parents, their oldest son (eleven-year-old Llewelyn, from whose point-of-view the film is told) and his five younger siblings decide to pitch their tents on a nearby beach. But although their family life appears to become even more idyllic, it is not without its conflicts. The Karenas live in the here and now, in spite of their parents’ traditional gender roles. But while Colleen devotes herself to looking after the family, Peter still has an axe to grind with his father. The film focuses on the way in which he mends this broken relationship and, at the same time, manages to maintain a healthy relationship with his own son, Llewelyn. Some people may think that the Karenas live a life of poverty. But this isn’t true. THIS WAY OF LIFE is a film about freedom.”

I am dying to see this beautiful film on a big screen. Some of the compositions are destined to become classics for film students in the new century. Children riding across a hill, a glistening body of water. New Yorkers deserve to see this movie.

[Berlinale]