Monday, March 07, 2011

Birds Eye View Festival preview

Tomorrow, International Women's Day, sees the premiere of the Birds Eye View festival of women's film-making (albeit missing an apostrophe). Having seen a handful of the films, I think it's a pretty strong bill, featuring features, shorts, live music and some filmmaker Q & As.

Best of the bunch I've seen is Zeina Durra's debut feature, The Imperialists Are Still Alive! The title gives a clue to the film's tongue-in-cheek style. After a standout opening sequence featuring an Arab conceptual artist in New York staging a photo shoot with gun-toting Iraqi women, and champagne-swigging guests in an art gallery discussing a possible CIA rendition of a friend, my mouth was hanging open. The juxtaposition of the deadpan performances with the art-world-meets-global-issues was breathtaking. The film loses its way a bit, but Durra displays a keen eye for irony and sharp social commentary.

Compared to that, Susanne Bier's Oscar-winning drama, In a Better World, was a bit of a disappointment, a melodrama considering masculinity and power in both Africa and rural Denmark. It all goes a bit kitchen-sink-drama, as a troubled boy draws his bullied friend into a revenge fantasy. The scenes in an African refugee camp, in which a Swedish doctor attempts to provide treatment while wrestling with his marital problems, display a problematic issue for western filmmakers: none of the African characters has a name. They are merely types: victims, helpers or warlords. Quite disappointing.

Of the docs, Orgasm Inc. and Women of Hamas are timely and thought-provoking, as well as illustrating the lengths filmmakers will go to get their story out. Israeli filmmaker Suha Arraf was unable to get into Gaza once the border was closed, but enlisted local filmmakers to gather her footage. Liz Canner was working for a pharmaceutical company that was developing a new product for "female sexual dysfunction" when she found herself questioning the party line and embarked on a quest to discover the truth behind the need for this product.

Special events include an appearance by Margarethe von Trotta, who is the filmmaker in focus. Imogen Heap, Micachu and Tara Busch are among the musicians providing live scores to classic silents by Maya Deren and Germaine Dulac in Sound in Silents.

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