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Wednesday, May 28, 2003

SIFF, Day 4
A Great Wonder—a documentary about the two of the “Lost Boys of Sudan” (and one lost girl) who were relocated to Seattle after fleeing Sudan when their parents were killed—or believed killed—in their homeland’s long-running civil war. The director, Kim Shelton, was either extremely fortunate or did excellent research to find her three main subjects: Abraham has trouble with his foster family and after Sept. 11 thinks that everywhere he goes is doomed to discord; Santino is a handsome, charismatic chap who has been on TV and on the cover of the Seattle Times Sunday magazine but who was considered too old to go to high school even though he never had any formal education (other than English lessons in a Kenyan refugee camp); and Martha is a quiet, composed girl who had the good fortune to wash up in a loving, affluent foster family but who must’ve lived through hell on the long march from Sudan. The movie was well-edited and nicely focused, and it allowed the kids to be kids: Abraham clashed with his structure-loving foster family and his ingratitude was a typical teenager reaction. In the end, the story of the thousands of kids who were orphaned (effectively or literally) and walked through 1,000 miles without food or support is so amazing it raises the film to another level.

The Education of Gore Vidal was fascinating because Gore Vidal is fascinating, but I was disappointed in the documentary itself, which was bog standard and unimaginative. I started to suspect it was sponsored by Vidal’s publisher, because the tired old scenes of famous liberals (Eli Wallach, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, etc.—Ed Asner must’ve been busy with I’d Rather Eat Pants) reading excerpts from the American Chronicle series was one cliché away from pages flying off a calendar to express the passage of time. All that said, it did make me want to read at least some of Vidal’s novels.

The Other Side of the Bed was a fun Spanish movie about two couples and their cheating ways. Especially fine were the frequent lapses into song—or vague proximities thereof—complete with back-up vocals and dancers. All four main actors (including Paz Vega of the incandescent Lucía y el Sexo and Natalia Verbeke who played the female lead in Son of the Bride/El Hijo de la Novia and the underrated film Jump Tomorrow) were excellent, as was Maria Esteve as jabbering Pilar, who, I discovered when looking her up on IMDB is the daughter of Antonio Gades, possibly the most important flamenco dancer of the late-20th century (and the star of such movies as Bodas de Sangre, Carmen, and El Amor Brujo). Cojonudo, tio!

Doing Time is the sort of movie you can’t avoid associating with the word “quirky.” It’s composed of several vignettes of life in a very regimented Japanese prison (I was very aware of walking home in a march not unlike the prisoners’), and certainly to this gaijin, much of the discipline seemed comical. The obsessive focus on food (with loving, mouth-watering descriptions of the prison meals) made me leave the cinema absolutely starving. It was also hard not to think how much easier these prisoners had it than the young women in The Magdalene Sisters. I didn’t quite get the opening scene of men crawling through fields in combat gear, but I later learned from the program that the film is based on “the real life prison adventures of cult manga author Hanawa Kazuichi, who did time for unlawful gun possession.”