movies

Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri

 

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Frances McDormand in Three Billboards outside Ebbing Mssori. Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

I did not run out and see writer/director/producer Martin McDonagh’s new film Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri because I knew it had something to do with an abduction of a young girl, and as a  parent, I tend to avoid plots like that. I didn’t really read about the film either, just enough to know that Frances McDormand was in it and that it was curiously labeled a dark comedy. This last factor is what got me to the theater earlier today; how could a film about the loss of a child be comic?

Three Billboards accomplishes this difficult feat because it isn’t actually about what happened to the lead character Mildred Hayes’ daughter Angela as much as it’s about what happened to the community around this awful event, and by extension, what happens to communities all over the world in the face of trauma, injustice, and tragedy.

McDormand plays Hayes as a steely-eyed, somewhat frightening, divorced mother trying to make it through each day in the wake of her daughter’s vicious rape and murder several months earlier. Frustrated with the lack of suspects brought in and her sense that the police are too busy harassing African-American kids for misdemeanors to “do their job” and investigate the murder, she takes the odd step of purchasing space on three billboards on the remote road near where her daughter was killed to chastise the police chief by asking why there have been no arrests. When it is revealed that the chief has pancreatic cancer, the town turns on Hayes, seeing her billboards as cruel considering he is on his deathbead.

And in a sense, it is cruel for her to leave those signs up in light of the chief’s devastating illness that will leave his two young daughters fatherless in a matter of weeks or moths. But it is this sort of  morally ambiguous circumstance that is piled up in layers throughout the brilliantly constructed script. The characters face tragedy after tragedy, each one responding in the way humans ordinarily do: with anger, violence, and hatred. And time and time again that response leads to further injustices, more pain for someone, and little by little an erosion of the community itself.

I could talk about the strength of McDormand’s performance, the equally solid work of Woody Harrelson as the Chief and Sam Rockwell as a racist police officer, but the weight of the film is carried by its script, which never feels predictable, but ends up seeming very real and very familiar. Police brutality, anti-cop violence, misogyny, racism, the victimization of young women, even the crimes of the Catholic Church are all subjects broached here, but ultimately, I was moved by everything in the story leading to the conclusion that anger in the face of tragedy must be tempered by thought, compassion, and an abiding vigilance guarding our common humanity.

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Tom of Finland Opens in New York

c474032a-dd9f-485b-8ff5-0b69c9abf9c0.jpgI caught this film at Tribeca earlier this year and, coincidentally, there was an art gallery in Provincetown showing original works by “Tom of Finland.” The movie is opening on Friday in New York and I really hope it will make its way to the Cape, because it was a really interesting perspective. I really never knew much about Finland’s position during World War II, and although the story is about an artist whose depictions of homoeroticism have made him a household name in Finland as well as in the gay community around the world, the impact of the war that is shown this film is really quite fascinating. Anyway, here is a story I wrote about it in Provincetown Magazine this past spring.

Spotlight on Syria: Houses Without Doors

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Director Avo Kaprealian in “Houses Without Doors”

One of the great discoveries I’ve made for myself over the years programming this festival is the world of Syrian documentaries. In our very first edition of the Cape Cod Festival of Arab & Middle Eastern Cinema we showed a film called A Flood in Ba’ath Country by Omar Amiralay, which brilliantly and cinematically documented the Syrian people in a remote area under the previous Assad regime. I’ve seen that film many times now and even showed it again in a subsequent edition of the festival. Each year I have become aware of additional documentary work being done by Syrian filmmakers, sometimes anonymously created and shown online only, and sometimes more successfully disseminated through mostly Western film festivals, such as the Tribeca Film Festival or the Berlin International Film Festival.

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Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “El Topo” is incoroporated into the Syrian documentary “Houses Without Doors.”

Early this year, I found Avo Kaprealian’s film Houses Without Doors. I was stunned by the filmmaker’s courage—not only because he was filming in Aleppo even after being arrested and having his footage destroyed, but also because of the uniqueness of his vision. The film, shot from the Kaprealian family’s window in Aleppo, documents the changes to their Al-Midan neighborhood as the war in Syria escalates. The neighborhood is home to many Syrians of Armenian descent, including the filmmaker. His footage is combined with audio and sometimes video of other films, including two  films about Armenian, Stan Brakhage’s The Act of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes, as well as the neo-surrealist midnight movie El Topo by Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodoroswky, creating a mesmerizing contemplation on the interconnectedness of Armenian refugees who came to Syria and the current plight of Syrians seeking asylum in other countries.

It is really unfortunate that Avo will not be able to join us tonight at the screening at Wellfleet Preservation Hall (7 p.m. Friday, May 5) because he is a very interesting filmmaker with a great passion for cinema. I did, however, have the opportunity to “talk” with Avo virtually, and I will be playing a portion of my audio interview with him after the screening tonight.

Before Houses Without Doors, we will screen the short film Daesh Girl by Abdul Almutairi, a Saudi filmmaker who made this film while studying film in the United States. This film tells the story of a young woman who joins ISIL in order to free her girlfriend. Almutairi will be able to join us from Saudi Arabia tonight via Skype after we screen his film. We previously screened Almutairi’s film 1991 in Wellfleet, so it is really exciting to bring him back this year.

Houses Without Doors screens tonight, Friday, May 5 at 7 p.m. at Wellfleet Preservation Hall, 335 Main St., Wellfleet. For tickets and information on this screening as well as the entire festival schedule, click here. Tickets will also be available at the door 30 minutes before screening time.

Programmer Notes: Opening Night Selections

HalalLove-stillI am so excited to bring to Cape Cod another edition of the Cape Cod Festival of Arab & Middle Eastern Cinema. For a couple of years now I have wanted to add comedies to the program, but I was never able to get the ones I wanted until this year. Opening night at the Chatham Orpheum Theater (Thursday, May 4, 6 p.m.),, after a wonderful reception with Middle Eastern food and cash bar, I am proud to present to you the feature comedy from Lebanon, Halal Love (and Sex) by Assad Fouladkar.

Halal Love (and Sex) was chosen because it is funny, at times dramatic, well acted, and overall a wonderful film, but also because this is a comedy I feel you will relate to, even as different as our countries are. In the film, we meet three romantic couples at different stages in their relationships. Living in a Muslim country, and being Muslims themselves, the rules and codes of their religion and culture restrict how they can behave, but there are also certain “loopholes” that give the characters some hope that they can resolve their romantic issues. This is something I think people who follow other religious traditions will relate to, but also, all of us can find ourselves in the situation of being stuck between what our hearts desire and what our communities will allow.

Humor is an essential human coping mechanism, but from the images we see of Lebanon, the Middle East, and the Arab world, one would think there is no sense of humor in these places. We only hear about terrorism, refugees, anti-Americanism, and religious extremism. So, although this film is a comedy, I believe it is still a vitally important film to screen this year, and I hope you will join be there tomorrow night.

To read more about Halal Love (and Sex) and its director’s thoughts about making the film, check out this story in Variety from when the film was screened at Sundance  last year.

18119506_791511167678237_5634968043991553126_nIn addition to the reception and screening of Halal Love (and Sex), we will be showing E.A.S., a short film by Kays Al-Atrakchi, an Iraqi-Italian filmmaker living and working in the United States. The film takes place in the U.S. in the near future, at a time when Arab-Americans must hold special ID cards. It was a film Al-Atrakchi made before President Trump was in office. In his director’s statement, Al-Atrakchi says, “When I came up with the original idea that ended up becoming E.A.S., I imagined a fictional America where Arab immigrants were viewed as hostile and national ID databases and interment camps were quickly becoming the law of the land. I could never have imagined that my fictional vision of an increasingly paranoid America would be so close to becoming reality.”

We are hoping to discuss this short film with Al-Atrakchi via Skype right after it screens, so please join us for this.

Opening Night is Thursday, May 4, with a reception at 6 p.m. and the screenings starting at roughly 7 p.m. Tickets ($25 including the reception) are still available online or at the box office at the Chatham Orpheum Theater, 637 Main St., Chatham.