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Finding help for a new mother, battling a rich creep and cruising the big issues in DOXA’s documentaries

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LETTER FROM MASANJIA: Of the few DOXA films I’ve seen so far this is my favorite because it is so compelling. A man named Sun Yi, forced to work in a Chinese labor camp, puts a note in with a toy styrofoam tombstone being sent to the US and asks for help getting his plea to a human rights organization. A woman in Oregon buys it at K-Mart, finds the note two years later, but with no interest from Human Rights Watch, goes to a newspaper and the story becomes big news. Enough to convince China to close the labor camps.

 

But, Sun Yi, who had already been released by then—that’s him in the photo with Masanjia in the distance-- wants to make a film about his story, his arrest after joining Falung Gong, losing his rights in prison, family breakup, the repression he suffered. Coincidentally, over here in Surrey, Leon Lee, who had won a big award with a film about Chinese organ harvesting, was looking for him. They worked together long distance, in secret and with an anonymous assistant in China, to make this film. It’s got high drama about standing up and not giving in. (Screens Saturday afternoon at the VanCity Theatre) 4 ½ out of 5  

WHITE RAVENS: A LEGACY OF RESISTANCE: Many of us in BC already know what this film is telling us. But it’s worth hearing again. It tells of the remarkable struggle of the Haida people to preserve their culture and resist assimilation. A cast of very articulate people talk about it, often very personally and emotionally. One describes the residential school he was sent to as “worse than a prison” but declares, “I learned to get tough.” Another recalls battles against industrial logging and why they had to be fought. “Here is my healer,” he says. “These trees. This forest.” 

The potlatch, which was officially banned, but survived, is described as “our legislative assembly.” Effects still linger from the time when important elements of the culture like that were taken away.  A young poet named Towustasin Stocker talks of trauma, substance abuse and suicide that colonization brought to his people. The local liquor store for instance was said to be one of the busiest in that part of BC. The talk, backed up with gorgeous cinematography of a beautiful land is a testament to the Haida’s resilience. The director, Georg Koszulinski, interestingly enough, teaches film studies in North Carolina. This one screens next weekend, May 11 and 12. 3 ½ stars out of 5  

NO MAN’S LAND: If you want to understand at least part of the Donald Trump constituency check out this film. You’ll see the extreme edge of the base in action. Early in 2016 a pack of militants took over a wildlife refuge in Oregon claiming their national government had overstretched its power. An earlier action was about grazing rights, but this one wasn’t articulated all that clearly. As one observer put it “Cowboys with guns taking over a bird sanctuary in the middle of a desert screaming about tyranny.” Or as one of them put it: “Freedom and stuff.”

 

They stayed there for 41 days and allowed David Byars to mingle with and film them. The FBI eventually moved them along and one leader died in a vehicle and shooting accident on the way out. The event showed how ready some people are to organize into a militia and clamor for redress of their grievances. And how they often don’t manage to even explain what they are. It seems the frontier never really went away. (Screens Sat and Thurs afternoon, both at the VanCity Theatre) 4 out of 5

OUR NEW PRESIDENT: Donald Trump insists “no collusion” but according to this lively, often funny film he got a lot of “support” from Russia. In the state-controlled media, for instance, and in personal messages from ordinary people. Some wrote songs praising him. Valdimir Putin, who shows up in the film at various events and studios (and playing hockey in one sequence), is said to be backing Trump, although I don’t remember any clip in which he actually says it. The media seem to be saying it for him.

 

The media also took a strong anti-Hillary position, possibly to please Mr. Putin. There’s one news montage, for instance, that runs through all the dirt that people over here only whisper about her. Over there it’s spoken aloud on national television along with praise for Trump’s “hard work” and his success in cracking “the elites”. That’s alongside charges that gas attack videos from Syria are fake and amount to a “staged provocation.” So I don’t know what to make of this film. It’s a view of Trump’s rise as seen from over there but how accurate is it on what people think? And how much is Putin ordering the news content? The film entertaining though. Maxim Pozdorovkin previously made a documentary about the Pussy Riot battles with Putin.  (screens Saturday and Wednesday) 3 out of 5

FREAKS AND GEEKS: I never saw it but I often see references to this TV series and that makes this film a good backgrounder. And a lively, entertaining one at that.The show ran for only 18 episodes back in 1999 and 2000, mostly on Saturday night when its natural audience wasn’t home to watch it. But it has left a significant legacy. First there’s the cast and crew, many of whom have gone on to big things: James Franco, Jason Segel, Linda Cardellini, Lizzy Kaplan and most familiar to us, Vancouver’s own Seth Rogen. It was his first acting job and he admits in the film that he never did graduate from Point Grey High School. He dropped out to do comedy.

There are many clips and most of the actors show up to talk in the film, fondly and even passionately at times. So does Judd Apatow who was the executive producer and has created a strong body of work in comedy, before and especially after Freaks and Geeks. It changed TV and movies about high school forever, making them much more realistic and focused on issues that actually concern teenagers. So argues this film by Vancouver-based Brent Hodge which screens twice next weekend. 3 out of 5   

More in New Movies

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Also an ingenious take on the migrant crisis, and a second appreciation this year of Ingmar Bergman that adds to what we already know from the first

Melissa’s forgeries, Rami’s dead-on Freddie Mercury and a cult classic re-imagined

Also: a bit of opera (real with Maria Callas and fictional in Bel Canto) and an ode to BC’s chief geographical feature in This Mountain Life
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