Film Review: Tribeca Film Festival 2018
Review by: Belle McIntyre
This years line up of films is a veritable cornucopia of international and original points of view and genres, including narrative, documentary and short films, as well as VR and TV. Of the 96 films almost half are by women directors. Almost half are documentaries of such high quality that it will make converts out of any of those who think that documentaries are boring or dry. Full disclosure: I am biased toward that genre. The energy and buzz were deservedly in high gear with some very exciting accompanying performances at the Beacon Theatre, and many talks and panels with members of the film community.
I think someone or many someones have said ‘all art is political”. As we live in increasingly politicized times, it makes sense that there would be evidence of that reality in films being made today. It is overt in some and less so than in others, more of a background element. I am going to give a brief review of a few that I have seen that support that thesis.
Time for Ilhan is the most overt. It is a documentary about a groundbreaking female politician in Minnesota. In 2016, the same year that brought us President Trump, a Somali-American woman ran for representative in the state government and beat a 45-year veteran white American woman from Queens. Fascinating for me was the fact that the largest population of Somalis outside of their own country is in Minnesota. It is a vibrant and well-integrated community and proof that it can be done in our country today. Ilhan Omar is a married mother of two who wears a hajib. She is young, energetic, beautiful and charismatic. She also beat another Somali man in the same race. This film documents her race to her victory and the aftermath of Trump, which finds her expanding her advocacy to include encouraging women to run for office and get engaged in politics to counter the dreadful wave of ugliness and hostility. She is so eloquent and passionate, I have no doubt that her platform will bring her to the world’s attention in the very near future. She is one to watch for. The film is well-paced with a great soundtrack and well-edited. There is no pork.
Island of Hungry Ghosts is a hauntingly disturbing view into a place that I will bet almost no one has knowledge. The benign sounding Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean, is a protectorate of Australia and has a bizarre 200 year history of colonization, invasion and exploitation. It has been a violent history involving migrant labor from China, Malaysia and Singapore, many who died without proper burials according to their customs. This has given rise to the belief among the locals that these ghosts must be appeased once a year to put them to rest. There is another ritual which occurs every year, not caused by humans. It involves a migration of some 40 million land crabs from the dense jungle in the interior to the rugged, rocky coast to mate and lay their eggs in the ocean. The land crabs which are large and red and would be considered a nuisance were they not such an extravagant spectacle that people come to the island to witness this amazing occurrence. To that end, the island blocks off roads to permit their safe passage and has devised numerous clever methods to protect these amazing creatures. Another reality in this primordial place is a dark irony. Deep in the jungle, far from view, is a high security detention center which holds asylum seekers from many countries who have been held indefinitely with little access to the outside world or intervention. A sort of Guantanamo Bay limbo. The film is told from the point of view of a dedicated psychological counselor who tries to help detainees retain their sanity in the face of total uncertainty. It is a chilling and haunting reality comparing the circumstances of the crabs to the humans. What does it say about us?
Smuggling Hendrix, is a narrative film which takes place in Cyprus and the Turkish-controlled territory across the UN buffer zone. The plot involves Yannis’ dog, Jimi, who runs away and crosses the border and Yannis’ efforts to get him back. The political and bureaucratic obstacles are preposterous. When combined with the cultural animosity between the citizens on both sides of the border which have been fostered by the arbitrary delineations of governments, creating enemies out of formerly kindred citizens, things become absurd. The quest to retrieve the incredibly appealing, Jimi, is hilariously improbable, but does bring some bizarre level of acceptance and understanding between a motley crew of unlikely folks. In this film, the political background is the context of the film which gives it a framework. It is charming and entertaining with some truly quirky characters. Wonderful cinematography and soundtrack are top notch.
The Man Who Stole Banksy is a documentary about the wall in Palestine on which Banksy painted provocative images sympathetic to to the Palestinians in 2007. There were mixed reactions to them but they were largely embraced by the populace. When a rogue taxi driver and body builder, Walid the Beast, takes a saw to the wall and cuts out a section of it to sell to a dealer in London, the discourse gets more heated. The film follows the commodification of illegal public art, which can be stolen, sold and ultimately collected legitimately. It raises all sort of ethical, aesthetic and existential questions about artistic integrity. Does a work of art which is made as a political protest in a particular location still have the resonance which the creator intended when it is removed from the context which brought forth the work? Given the enforced secrecy of the artist, known only as Banksy, and who no one can identify, and who is famously reticent, the mystery will be left to the interpretation of others. It is a fascinating and provocative look at art as protest at the axis of politics and commerce.