Tag Archives: movies

When Two Worlds Collide: The Battle of Bagua


When Two Worlds Collide
Directed By Heidi Brandenburg and Mathew Orzel
2016, Peru
Spanish with English subtitles
Human Rights Watch Film Festival
Walter Reade Theatre, NYC, 16 June 2016
[Film Website]

In December 2007, President Alan Garcia of Peru signed a Free Trade Agreement with the United States. The following June, Garcia’s administration pushed a number of legislative decrees through the Peruvian Congress, including a new Forest and Wildlife Law (DL 1090) and another law, DL 1064, which made it possible to convert state forest lands into private agricultural lands through administrative re-classification. These laws essentially opened Peru’s Amazonian rainforests for the wholesale extraction of natural resources (oil, gas, lumber, etc.) by foreign (primarily U.S.) corporations. The government, however, did not consult with the indigenous people who lived on the 45 million hectares affected by the legislation, in violation of the Peruvian constitution and Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO), to which Peru was a signatory.

Indigenous organizations led by La Asociación Interétnica de Desarrollo de la Selva Peruana (AIDESEP) responded with a series of strikes, protests, and road blockades through June 2009, when Garcia’s administration ordered the national police to forcibly remove protesters in the Amazonas province of Bagua. A small, heavily armed troop of officers fired on nearly 5,000 protesters and the ensuing battle left 33 dead (10 protesters and 23 policemen, with another officer missing and presumed dead).

The government revoked DL 1090 and 1064, AIDESEP lifted the strike, and Peru’s first prior consultation process began, which the government and some NGOs declared a success while AIDESEP and others maintained was plagued by “irregularities, lies, manipulation attempts, and a lack of a consensus in the end.” More than 100 protesters were charged with crimes including murder and sedition, notably among them Alberto Pizango, then chairman of AIDESEP. [1]

Filmmakers Heidi Brandenburg and Mathew Orzel open When Two Worlds Collide following Pizango as he hunts and fishes on his ancestral lands, awaiting the outcome of his trial. They expand to document firsthand accounts of indigenous people throughout Amazonas, who reveal how their water, land, and wildlife have been contaminated by extractive industries and how they hope to conserve what remains in a country where they are vastly outnumbered and a world where international investment and trade laws overwhelmingly support corporate rights over all others (environmental, indigenous, human). Contemporary news footage shows President Garcia and his cabinet as they propagandize for extraction and belittle the indigenous protest movement as jungle savagery run amok. Raw video captured by handheld cameras on the scene by local journalists, protesters, and police show the escalation from confrontation to lethal violence, and resulting corpses and funerals.

When Two Worlds Collide effectively integrates storytelling, investigation, and advocacy in a remarkably measured and balanced approach to a potentially explosive subject. While focusing on Pizango and the protesters, the filmmakers open the narrative to include the father of the policeman whose body was never found, who seeks news of his son in Amazonas, and the family of Captain Miguel Montenegro, killed during the conflict after attempting to keep the confrontation peaceful.

When Two Worlds Collide won a World Cinema Documentary special jury prize for Best Debut Feature at Sundance, and will open in NYC at Film Forum on August 17, 2016. The film is scheduled for release in Peru in August-September.

1. Historical summary based on “Box II: Peru’s New Forestry and Wildlife Law” (Environmental Investigation Agency, 2016).

The Act of Mining – Two Documentaries from New Directors/New Films


Eldorado XXI
Directed By Salomé Lamas
2016 Portugal/France
Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara with English subtitles

Behemoth / Beixi moshuo
Directed By Zhao Liang
2015 China/France
Mandarin with English subtitles

Two documentaries from this year’s New Directors/New Films depict the evils released on earth when men plunder the underground.

Salomé Lamas’s Eldorado XXI opens on a frozen landscape where a mining town of aluminum sheds emerges. New Yorker readers will recall the scene from William Finnegan’s Letter from Peru, “Tears of the Sun: The gold rush at the top of the world”:

“The mines at La Rinconada, a bitter-cold, mercury-contaminated pueblo clinging to the glaciered mountainside, are ‘artisanal’: small, unregulated, and grossly unsafe.”

Perhaps a third of Lamas’s film consists of a single shot from a stationary camera, eyeing hundreds of miners descending into and ascending out of this portal to hell.

Other episodes depict a circle of pallaqueras (women who scavenge bits of gold from the nearly depleted mine), chewing coca leaves and smoking cigarettes (“we’re going to die anyway”) as they discuss the upcoming presidential election; a night-time scene of profoundly drunken men navigating the town’s alleyways; and miners’ prayers to the mountain deities before entering the mine.

Before arriving at ND/NF, Eldorado XXI was screened (in IMAX format) by the Berlinale Forum, which also chose Lamas’s scarily fascinating Terra de ninguém for its 2013 edition (read my post).

Zhao Liang’s Behemoth (Beixi moshuo) brilliantly juxtaposes a rumination on Dante’s Divine Comedy with the sights and sounds of destruction of Inner Mongolian grasslands by Chinese coal mining companies.

Completely blacked out by China’s official media outlets, Beixi moshuo has nevertheless gained attention via international festivals:

“The transformation of paradise into purgatory, with hell firmly in sight, gets imposing visual treatment in Chinese filmmaker Zhao Liang’s Behemoth. This image-based hybrid of documentary and poetic allegory is a plaintive account of the rape of the earth by coal mining companies in the Inner Mongolian grasslands, and of the dehumanizing existence of local and Chinese migrant workers.” – Hollywood Reporter

“Drawing as much on music and long-form poetry as cinema, Behemoth works like a symphony as it takes us from the surviving pastoral enclaves of rural Mongolia to the hellish noise, dust and smoke of the mines, factories and iron foundries. But it also has a more incisive political message for audiences in the developed world, illustrating as it does the environmental and human cost of the Made-in-China economic miracle that we all benefit from.” – Screen Daily

“Maverick indie helmer Zhao Liang continues his muckraking tour of China’s social and environmental woes with the stunningly lensed, cumulatively moving “Behemoth.” Acting as a modern-day Dante on a tour through Inner Mongolia’s coal mines and iron works, Zhao (“Together,” “Petition”) eschews narrative for an impressively self-shot poetic exercise in controlled righteous outrage, emphasizing the contrasts between rapidly dwindling green pastures and dead landscapes disemboweled by toxic mining. The human toll is also here in the final sections, making starkly clear the price impoverished workers pay for back-breaking labor. Zhao’s quiet yet powerful indignation will play to the arthouse crowd, and his striking visuals should ensure that “Behemoth” receives berths beyond environmental fests.” – Variety

Opening to viscerally shocking explosions against a soundscape of Mongolian throat-singing, Beixi moshuo depicts the literal elevation of Hell onto a rapidly disappearing verdant plain of Mongolian horsemen and their grazing sheep, devastating an ancient way of life and poisoning Chinese workers for the end result of a ghost city.

Mining is murder, and we are all accomplices.

Virtual Berlinale 2016


I can’t attend the Berlin Film Festival this year, but if I could, here are nine movies I would definitely make an effort to see:

A Magical Substance Flows into Me
Palestinian Territories / Germany / Great Britain 2016, 68 min
Arabic, Hebrew, English
Jumana Manna

Posto avançado do progresso / An Outpost of Progress
Portugal 2016, 121 min
Hugo Vieira da Silva

2016, 148 min
Burmese, Mandarin
Wang Bing

Avant les rues \ Before the Streets
Canada 2016, 98 min
Atikamekw, French
Chloé Leriche

Life on the Border
Iraq 2015, 73 min
Zohour Saeid, Mahmod Ahmad, Delovan Kekha, Diar Omar, Ronahi Ezaddin, Sami Hossein, Basmeh Soleiman, Hazem Khodeideh

Qapirangajuq: Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change
Canada 2010, 54 min
Ian Mauro, Zacharias Kunuk

Antes o tempo não acabava / Time Was Endless
Brazil / Germany 2016, 85 min
Portuguese, Tikuna
Fábio Baldo, Sérgio Andrade

Ghana / USA 2016, 90 min
English, Kusasi
TW Pittman, Kelly Daniela Norris

Sufat Chol / Sand Storm
Israel 2015, 88 min
Elite Zexer

This Machine Makes Knowledge


A Knowledge Machine


What is a website but a machine, powered by electricity and information?

I am developing a website to chronicle my search for knowledge to support new collaborations for sound environmental stewardship and the promotion of human health and creativity.

My method derives from “As We May Think,” a 1945 Atlantic Monthly essay by Vannevar Bush, President Roosevelt’s science advisor during World War II. Bush’s vision led to the development of the hyperlink and the World Wide Web.

Today at its launch, the machine captures three areas of investigation:

  • Ethnobotanical Herbarium: local knowledge about useful plants. Open access to peer-reviewed journal articles in ethnobotany, via my blog. Includes real-time updates from PubMed and the Encyclopedia of Life, and a gallery of photos of medicinal plants on display at leading botanical gardens in the U.S., Mexico, and Europe.
  • Native Cinema: films with a local POV. Movies about people, places, and cultures, with real-time updates via IMDb and producers’ websites and links to my blog posts from film festivals focusing on independent world cinema.
  • Sacred Places: sustainability from the ground up. A guide to biosphere reserves, natural parks, and other protected areas. Includes links to my blog posts, park websites, and profiles on UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme MaB Database of biosphere reserves and the World Database on Protected Areas.

At the same time that I’m developing this new resource, I am reaching out to more than a hundred institutions around the world that have engaged my attention via the machine, to offer my services as a consulting writer, providing:

  • writing and editorial services (including but not limited to key messages, press materials, white papers, website development, and social media campaigns)
  • development and publicity support
  • strategic counsel (especially for startups and established groups facing novel opportunities and challenges)

My intent is to make good use of my ability and experience to promote the work of those groups to potential partners and funders globally.

I invite you to follow this blog and my Twitter feed as I integrate new resources and continually tweak the machine to become more efficient and comprehensive.

The information on my websites is not intended as a substitute for medical professional help or advice but is to be used only as an aid in understanding current medical knowledge. A physician should always be consulted for any health problem or medical condition.

2015 Fall Season, NYC


Here are my picks so far for the fall season:

24 September, 7:30 pm
Metropolitan Opera

28 September, 6:00 pm
Mountains May Depart
New York Film Festival, Alice Tully Hall

29 September, 8:30 pm
The Forbidden Room
New York Film Festival, Walter Reade Theater

30 September, 9:00 pm
Cemetery of Splendour
New York Film Festival, Alice Tully Hall

3 October, 8:00 pm
Old Times (preview)
Roundabout Theatre Company, American Airlines Theatre

7 October, 6:00 pm
No Home Movie
New York Film Festival, Walter Reade Theater

8 October, 7:30 pm
21st Century Choreographers – Thatcher, Binet, Schumacher, Peck, Branstrup
New York City Ballet

9 October, 6:00 pm
The Treasure
New York Film Festival, Francesca Beale Theater

12 November, 7:30 pm
You Us We All
Next Wave Festival, BAM Harvey Theater

21 November, 8:00 pm
Thérèse Raquin
Roundabout Theatre Company, Studio 54

Sources for a Film about Vaslav Nijinsky


Shhh!  Don’t tell anybody, but I’m working on a screenplay about art, love, innocence, arrogance and schizophrenia, focusing on the life and death of two artists: Vaslav Nijinsky and Friedrich Hölderlin.

It will be an open-source project, conducted on this blog, my twitter feed and my website, in the spirit of “As We May Think,” a 1945 Atlantic Monthly essay by Vannevar Bush. (Bush’s vision of the memex led to the development of the hyperlink and the World Wide Web.)

I’m starting with this post listing my initial sources, which I will update here until I can figure a way to best document on my website.

  • Nijinsky: A Life of Genius and Madness by Richard Buckle
  • The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky (ed., Romola de Pulszky)
  • The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky (ed., Joan Acocella)
  • Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkuhn As Told by a Friend by Thomas Mann
  • Les Ballets Russes de Nijinsky (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1w6cg5I10c)
  • Nijinsky 1912-L’Après-midi d’un Faune (full version)
  • Nijinsky and Rudolph Nureyev – L’apres midi d’un Faune
  • “The Castaway” by William Cowper
  • The Greeks and the Irrational by E.R. Dodds
  • Schizophrenia as a Human Process by Harry Stack Sullivan, M.D.
  • The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes

I’m using these open platforms because it suits my purposes but to be honest, I won’t be unhappy if nobody follows my progress.  (I think I’m the best person to realize this scenario, but if circumstances make that impossible, I want to leave a record for somebody out there who can continue the work.)

Dog Lady / La mujer de los perros – New Directors/New Films


Dog Lady/La mujer de los perros
Directors / Screenwriters: Laura Citarella, Veronica Llinas
95 minutes, Argentina, 2015
North American Premiere
Thu 03/26/2015 6:30 PM
Walter Reade Theater, NYC

Costume designer: Carolina Sosa Loyola
Composer: Juana Molina
Cast: Veronica Llinas

“An indelible and quietly haunting study of a nameless woman (memorably played by co-director Verónica Llinás) living with a loyal pack of stray dogs in silent, self-imposed exile in the pampas on the edge of Buenos Aires…” [more at ND/NF] [Variety review] [THR review]

“I’m not even a dog person!” So he says. But this year Gavin Smith brought home not just one, but two, remarkable dog movies from last year’s deployments to Cannes and Rotterdam — White God and La Mujer de los Perros.

White God has a North American distributor for theatrical release, so I’ll focus on La Mujer.

Verónica Llinás and Four Co-Stars

Made by “five women and twelve dogs, the majority female,” La Mujer de los Perros (Dog Lady) is an assured, finely wrought character study three years in the making, chronicling four seasons of a woman living wholly in the present, outside the market economy, with a loyal pack of canine companions.

The film opens with a soundscape of birdsong and dog-panting, and transitions to an idyll of sight and sound in which every sight is a painterly composition and every sound contributes to a symphonic whole.

La Mujer steers clear of sentimentality. The nameless protagonist evokes the hunter goddess Diana in costume and action — she’s a deadeye with a slingshot — but she lives in a very real world where one must hunt, find water, and seek health care to maintain even a bare subsistence living. I haven’t seen such a primal film performance since Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone.

The pacing is masterful, and the perspective Olympian, no more evident than in the heart-wrenching, long-lens final shot.

U.S. distributors, what are you waiting for?

The Fool / Durak – New Directors/New Films


The Fool/Durak
Writer-Director-Editor-Composer: Yury Bykov
Director of Photography: Kirill Klepalov
116 minutes, Russia, 2014, DCP
Sat 03/21/2015 9:15 PM
Walter Reade Theater, NYC

Cast: Artem Bystrov, Nataliya Surkova, Boris Nevzorov, Kirill Polukhin, Darya Moroz, Yury Tsurilo, Irina Nizina, Alexander Korshunov, Maxim Pinsker

“The lives of hundreds of the dregs of society are at stake in this stark, grotesque portrait of a new Russia on the verge of catastrophe…” [more at ND/NF] [IMDb]

Today it is the honest men who are the fools.

Called at midnight to check out a pipe leak in a decrepit housing project, plumber and engineering student Dima (Artyom Bystrov) discovers that the building is going to collapse, perhaps before dawn.

Darya Moroz and Artem Bystrov in The Fool
Darya Moroz and Artem Bystrov in The Fool

Against the objections of his wife (Darya Moroz) — who realizes that exposing the crack in the building, and the corruption that caused it, will destroy any chance of a normal life for their family — Dima resolves to track down the mayor (Natalya Surkova) in the wee hours of her 50th birthday party, attended by all the city’s venal officials.

Yury Bykov’s multiple-prizewinner at Locarno channels Dostoyevsky by way of Sidney Lumet. Brutal cinematography and crackling sound design are matched by bone-chilling dialogue that survives translation:

“Why do you even care about these lowlifes?”

“If the building collapses, I don’t care. This is not a life.”

“We live like animals and die like animals because we don’t mean anything to each other.”

Dima just wants to save the lives of 840 derelict souls. In his world, and ours, that makes him a fool. The building will fall, or not, and he can do nothing to change that.

There is no excuse for The Fool not to have theatrical distribution in the U.S.  With halfway competent marketing, it will fill seats, make money, and start people talking about important issues.

K – New Directors/New Films


Directed by Darhad Erdenibulag & Emyr ap Richard
88 minutes, China, 2015
North American Premiere
Sat 03/21/2015 3:45 PM
Walter Reade Theater, NYC

K may have been conceived with no geographic/ethnographic location in mind, as the film makers state, but anyone familiar with Nicholas Roerich’s 1920s Altai-Himalaya: A Travel Diary will appreciate this film’s brilliant association of petty officialdom in China’s provinces with Franz Kafka’s lunatic bureaucracy.

Land surveyor (Bayin) in K
Land surveyor (Bayin) in K

The New Directors/New Films synopsis provides a good starting point:

“Franz Kafka’s unfinished novel The Castle is relocated to present-day Inner Mongolia, and the translation is startlingly seamless. Land surveyor K (Bayin) arrives in a frontier village, and soon discovers that his summons was a clerical error. Taking a job as a school janitor, K seeks an audience with the high-level minister he believes will resolve the situation, but cannot gain access to the castle where the local government is based. Intermittently aided by a barmaid and two hapless minions, K finds his efforts at clarification stymied by local hostility and administrative chaos alike…” [more at ND/NF] [IMDb]

Shot entirely in natural light, and with an effective soundtrack featuring Western honky-tonk music and John Adams’s The Death of Klinghoffer, K evokes the claustrophobic residences of The Shining, Barton Fink and The Tenant while introducing entirely new tropes of transient paranoia.

A selection of Berlinale’s Forum. The big mystery for me is why this movie hasn’t yet found a distributor for North American theatrical release.

The Creation of Meaning / La creazione di significato – New Directors/New Films


The Creation of Meaning/La creazione di significato
Director/Screenwriter/Producer/Editor/Director of Photography: Simone Rapisarda Casanova
95 minutes, Canada/Italy, 2014
U.S. Premiere (World Premiere, director’s cut)
Thu 03/19/2015 9:00 PM
Walter Reade Theater, NYC

Cast: Pacifico Pieruccioni, Alexander Auf der Heyde, Benjamin Auf der Heyde, Siria Battelli, Bartolomeo Puccetti, Cinzia Bertuccelli, Maria Paola Casanova, Gruppo UIEI Pietrasanta, Coro Versilia, Andrea Taccetti, Francesco Marchetti, Diego Bonuccelli, Marco Bonuccelli, Marco Bondielli, Roberto Walter Colombini, Daniele Eschini, Alessandro Elmi, Massimiliano Pisano, Nellina Pieruccioni

“Though its title arcs toward grand philosophical inquiry, the stirring power of Simone Rapisarda Casanova’s second documentary-fiction hybrid—winner of the 2014 Locarno Film Festival’s Best Emerging Director prize—lies in its intimacy of detail and wry political observation…” [more at ND/NF] [IMDb] [film website]

“Only when the past, present and future meet can the all-too human device we presumptuously call ‘meaning’ be created.” -Simone Rapisarda Casanova

The Creation of Meaning/La creazione di significato
The Creation of Meaning/La creazione di significato

The Creation of Meaning opens in alpine meadow, with a group of schoolchildren reciting events from the final months of World War II, when retreating German forces massacred hundreds of civilians in the Tuscan mountains. Also receiving this catechism, the audience learns that the film is set precisely on the Gothic Line, where blood shed seven decades ago is a living memory and a topic of daily conversation.

The film follows the formerly self-sufficient, now precarious, life of Pacifico Pieruccioni, born seven years after VE Day, tending his hens and goats through our current catastrophe. The same breathtaking mountains that once held Nazi fortifications now provide an efficient means of suicide for villagers facing absolute ruin in the wake of the global economic crisis.

As the fates would have it, Pieruccioni’s own survival depends on the sale of his property to a German land speculator who might deign to allow him to stay on as a caretaker.

Ethnographic documentary, political commentary, and dramatic narrative in equal parts, The Creation of Meaning is essential viewing for anyone who seeks to understand the devastating impact of financial crimes against humanity committed in our generation.

ND/NF selected another important film in this category (Line of Credit/Kreditis limiti), which I’ll discuss in another post.