By Michael Benton
This is the start of our seventh year for the Bluegrass Film Society. We are still dedicated to providing a forum for BCTC film students and filmmakers to watch films from around the world. Due to our involvement with BCTC’s Peace and Conflict Studies, we also are continuing to choose films that explore conflict as well as meditations on the possibilities for peace. As always, in the spirit of our Humanities department, we seek to find films that celebrate creativity and imagination. All films are at 7:30 P.M. in the Bluegrass Community and Technical College auditorium and are always free of charge.
8/24: Sanjuro (Japan: Akira Kurasowa, 1962: 96 mins)
Kurasowa has made so many great films that have had a huge influence on filmmakers around the world. Perhaps one of his most beloved characters is the ronin Sanjuro from Yojimbo (1961). The film spawned countless official and unofficial remakes, and in Sanjuro Kurosawa brought back the iconoclastic snarling antihero played by the great Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune. Once again, Sanjuro sets about playing on the greed and hypocrisy of official culture and subverts common sense notions of the samurai code.
8/31: Zift (Bulgaria: Javor Gardev, 2008: 92 mins)
A powerhouse performance by Zahary Baharov (as Moth) fuels this surreal, nourish tale of a day in the life of a Bulgarian prisoner released back into his mid-20th century communist society. This is an autocratic society in which anyone able to carve out a chunk of power is then able to write their own laws with no concern for others. Supposedly, “Zift” refers both to a chewing substance once popular among poor Bulgarians and is also slang for excrement.
9/7: Stake Land (USA: Jim Mickle, 2010: 98 mins)
I had just about given up on the possibility of a good vampire film being made again in the wake of mawkish travesties like the Twilight series. Then I stumbled across this gem. One of the main character’s motto is “live free or die trying” and in this post-apocalyptic world the vampires are ravenous, but they are far from the most dangerous predators. Like any horror film worth the trouble, this one speaks to our current political landscape of extreme nativist/fundamentalist rhetoric. [This film is being screened as part of the Cult Film Series at Al’s Bar]
9/14: White (Poland/France/Switzerland: Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1994: 91 mins)
White is the second film in Keislowski’s thematic trilogy “Three Colors” celebrating the colors of the French Flag that represent Freedom, Equality and Fraternity. Following the stunning masterpiece Blue (1993), this is a dark comedy that follows the marital difficulties of Polish immigrants in France.
9/21: If a Tree Falls: The Story of the Earth Liberation Front (USA/UK: Marshall Curry & Sam Cullman, 2011: 85 mins)
“If a Tree Falls is a rare behind-the-curtain look at the Earth Liberation Front, the radical environmental group that the FBI calls America’s “number one domestic terrorist threat.” With unprecedented access and a nuanced point of view, the documentary tells the story of Daniel McGowan, an ELF member who faced life in prison for two multi-million dollar arsons against Oregon timber companies. The film employs McGowan’s story to examine larger questions about environmentalism, activism, and terrorism.” (synopsis provided by studio)
9/28: Even the Rain (Spain/France/Mexico: Iciar Bollain, 2010: 103 mins)
Howard Zinn’s quote: “The memory of oppressed people cannot be taken away and for such people revolt is always an inch below the surface” is featured in this tale of two Spanish filmmakers traveling to Bolivia to film the story of the European colonization and enslavement of South Americans. While filming, they become embroiled through the actions of their extras in the historic peasant resistance against the attempt to privatize all water in Bolivia.
10/12: Police, Adjective (Romania: Corneliu Porumboiu, 2009: 115 mins)
Cristi is a police officer tasked with the job of following a young man who is smoking marijuana with his friends. Observing the youths’ activities, he begins to question the morality of locking up young people and destroying their lives for essentially harmless activities. As he begins to question the system, he falls down a rabbit hole of bureaucratic absurdity where the letter of the law is to be enforced even when it is wrong. What follows is a Kafkaesque exploration of policing, laws, language, and the state.
10/19: The Exiles (USA: Kent Mackenzie, 1961: 72 mins)
A few years back we watched Charles Burnett’s long lost, classic student film, Killer of Sheep (1981), which explores the harsh realities of an African-American community in the 1970s. The Exiles is another long unavailable student film and similarly explores the lives of urban Los Angeles Native Americans over a period of 12 hours. The film is celebrated as an original and powerful document of Native Americans.
10/26: 13 Assassins (Japan/UK: Takashi Miike, 2010: 141 mins)
Miike has been amassing more films directed than anyone else in the 21st century. He is also an important explorer and experimenter (within the confines of a studio system) of genre films. In this film, clearly influenced by Akira Kurasowa’s masterpiece Seven Samurai (1954), Miike breaks out all the stops and demonstrates his growing mastery of filmmaking.
11/2: The Secret of Kells (Ireland/France/Belgium: Tomm Moore & Nora Twomey, 2009: 75 mins)
The selection this semester for the Family Film Series, this is a film that is guaranteed to appeal to viewers of all ages. This is a beautifully animated film that follows a mythic tale of a young boy’s struggle with creativity and intelligence against darkness and violence.
11/9: Hands Over the City (Italy/France: Francesco Rosi, 1963: 105 mins)
Political film that examines the corrupt schemes that lead to the urban devastation of Naples, Italy (one is reminded of the crime ridden urban wastelands of the 2008 Italian film Gomorrah). This film is just as important now for its attempt to examine what happens when money rules politics and how this corruption begins to shape the environments in which we live.
11/16: Korkoro (France: Tony Gatliff, 2009: 111 mins)
One of my favorite films is Gatliff’s early film Gadjo Dilo (1998) about a young man’s search for a legendary singer among the Roma (gypsies) in Romania. That film was a powerful portrait of an exuberant culture: filled with music, food and dancing, even when exploring more serious issues. In Korkoro, Gatliff turns to the WWII experiences of the Roma in NAZI occupied France. Sadly, their devastation at the hands of NAZIs in the death camps and the complicity of occupied countries in their round up is often forgotten. Like the earlier film there is a mad ecstasy in the fierce pursuit of a life free from the controls of the state, in this case it comes into full conflict with the NAZI attempt at total domination. “Korkoro” is the Roma word for Freedom.
11/23: The Great Dictator (USA: Charles Chaplin, 1940: 125 mins)
Chaplin knew that the powerful fear ridicule and, with that in mind, he put his creativity into a portrait of the absurdity of fascist dictators. This is a film that you can bring the whole family to see and it is never too early to start discussing the dangers of fascism.
11/30: Black Moon (France: Louis Malle, 1975: 100 mins)
After his success with Lacombe Lucien (1974) which caused a serious controversy over its French protagonist collaborating with the NAZIs, Malle turned to this surrealist experiment. Described as an apocalyptic, sensual, Alice in Wonderful and celebrated for the beauty of its shots, this is a film that can’t really be explained, it just has to be experienced.