Coming to PBS’s POV this coming Monday, August 31: THE STORM MAKERS
Guillaume Suon’s intimate exploration of the toll of human trafficking made its debut at Busan last year. Other fest appearances include IDFA, Thessaloniki Doc, Movies That Matter, Full Frame, DOK.fest Munich, Docs Against Gravity, Sheffield, and AFI Docs, among others.
Suon’s effectively understated film tackles the disturbing topic of human trafficking in Cambodia from an unexpected perspective – not only from that of a former slave who managed to escape, but also from two individuals actively involved in recruiting and entrapping young people into captivity, and, in so doing, creating the turmoil in the lives of their family that lends the project its title. Representing the former is Aya, a young woman sold into supposed maid service in Malaysia when she was just 16. Instead, she faced forced imprisonment, the confiscation of her passport, mental and physical abuse, and rape. Though she managed to escape, Aya’s mother treats her with contempt, angry that she has brought back a baby out of wedlock – another mouth to be fed. If that isn’t disturbing enough, Suon weaves in the stories of Pou Houy, the owner of a recruitment agency who matteroffactly notes the vulnerabilities upon which he preys, and who has somehow rationalized his actions to the extent that he believes he is a pious Christian; and Ming Dy, a local recruiter Pou Houy employs to find victims from rural villages. Shockingly, Ming Dy has already sold her own daughter into slavery in order to pay her bills. Suon presents these figures refreshingly free of histrionics, underscoring the fundamental economic and social disparities that inform their troubling decisions and that have led them to justify the exploitation of even family members for income.
Coming to theatres tomorrow, Friday, August 28: MY VOICE, MY LIFE
Ruby Yang’s profile of high school students preparing for a musical theatre performance premiered at a special event in Hong Kong last Fall. Fest screenings have included Hong Kong, Manchester, Nashville, CAAMFest, and NYC’s Asian American, among others.
Yang surveys multiple students from several lower-performing high schools, including a school for the blind, as they commit to a six-month rehearsal process for a musical to take place at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. Meant to be an inspirational journey, the film profiles several misfits who wouldn’t be expected to succeed, but through perseverance and an occasional second chance afforded them by their thoughtful teachers and advisors, they conquer bad habits, discover confidence, and, in the case of the blind students, demonstrate that they’re more capable than others might initially suspect. As with most survey projects like these, there are several subjects whose presence adds very little, and instead dilutes the impact made by the few more compelling students’ stories – though even the latter are unfortunately superficial. Ultimately, while some audiences may find the film succeeds in its inspirational mission, others will instead remain unconvinced by its sentimentality, cheesy score, scattered focus, and a surprising lack of energy and visual flair, given the subject matter.
Coming to theatres this Friday, August 28: I TOUCHED ALL YOUR STUFF
Maíra Bühler and Matias Mariani’s unusual chronicle of an unreliable narrator’s love life debuted at Rio last year. It has also screened at FID Marseille, Minneapolis-St Paul, RIDM, and MoMI’s First Look fests, among others.
Initially setting out to document the stories of foreigners in Brazilian prisons, Bühler and Mariani, who appear on camera here throughout, quickly shifted gears once meeting their ultimate protagonist, Christopher Kirk. An American who traded his rote life as an IT consultant in Olympia WA for one of self-stylized “adventure” in Colombia, Kirk relates his story in a well-rehearsed yarn delivered from prison, but what becomes quickly apparent is that this film is not really about how he ended up behind bars. Instead, the focus seems to be on Kirk’s obsessive and exasperating relationship with a Japanese-Colombian woman – referred to only as “V” and only shown in fragmented or blurry visuals – who he suspects, and confirms through shady means, is an unfaithful liar. However, as Bühler and Mariani demonstrate through interviews with Kirk’s friends, V is little more than a MacGuffin here as well, with Kirk himself emerging as the more curious, and potentially even more manipulative, figure. While the filmmakers make a number of frustrating missteps – their largely unnecessary inclusion within the film, Kirk’s groan-inducing voiceover, and the repetitive and not particularly illuminating footage of scrolling through his hard drive – their overall sense of story construction makes the film thoroughly engaging.
Coming to VOD today, Tuesday, August 25: OUR MAN IN TEHRAN
Drew Taylor and Larry Weinstein’s Canadian-focused look back at a now legendary escape from Iran made its bow at Toronto in 2013. Its festival circuit also included Thessaloniki Doc, Full Frame, Newport Beach, and Galway, among others. It now comes to VOD via iTunes.
I previously covered the doc out of Toronto here.
Coming to DVD today, Tuesday, August 25: IRIS
Al Maysles’ portrait of an inimitable NYC mainstay premiered at the New York Film Festival last year. other festival screenings included the Hamptons, San Francisco, Tallinn Black Nights, Palm Springs, Miami, Ashland, Full Frame, Sarasota, and Belfast, among others, before it came to theatres this past Spring.
I previously wrote about the doc upon its theatrical release here.
Coming to DVD tomorrow, Tuesday, August 25: CITIZENFOUR
Laura Poitras’ Oscar-winning behind-the-scenes story of Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing debuted at the New York Film Festival last year. Other fest screenings included DOC NYC, London, DOK Leipzig, CPH:DOX, IDFA, and Goteborg.
I previously wrote about the film upon its release
Coming to DVD tomorrow, Tuesday, August 25: BANKSY DOES NEW YORK
Chris Moukarbel’s look at the notorious street artist’s month of NYC-based activities had its world premiere at the Hamptons last year. It went on to screen at DOC NYC, New Zealand, and DocAviv, among others.
I previously wrote about the doc here.