Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Palm Springs FilmFestival: 8 Films on World War II and 2 on China

What do 8 films on World War II -- all submitted for Academy Award consideration for Best Foreign Language Film by their originating countries -- have in common with two Chinese Films, City of Life and Death (Nanking Nanking) a 9th film about World War II and Quick Quick Slow?

1. They are all part of the Palm Springs International Film Festival. (White Ribbon, Winter in Wartime, Broken Promise, Ba’aria, Max Manus, Protektor, Draft Dodgers, Reverse - except for Ba'aria)

2. All the films are state financed.

3. All are male centric (except for Reverse).

3. All (perhaps not the romantic comedy Quick Quick Slow) reflect the realization that war is not a black and white issue but involves many shades of good and bad, personal decisions as well as national decisions, all are male centric, and all call for re-examination today as ultimate tools to destruction of all mankind in the face of current conflicts still occurring around the world.

The contradiction of this desire for peaceful resolution which would result in greater liberty for all segments of a society is given substance by the Chinese decision to pull their films from Palm Springs because Palm Springs insists on showing the Tibetan documentary, The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet’s Struggle for Freedom, about the Dalai Lama and protests over Tibet's status vis a vis China. Obviously we're not waging a war over this here in the U.S. but just as obviously, it is apparent that the words and sentiments being expressed by the films are the idealistic reexamination of the past and not the Real Politik of the present.

Parenthetically a further contradiction: Nanking, Nanking is also dislked by many of the Chinese for the supposedly sympathetic portrait of some Japanese colonial miltary officers during that infamous WW 2 massacre of thousands of innocent Chinese civilians by the Japanese Army.

My interview here in Palm Springs with Nicolas Steil, the president and CEO of Iris Productions in Luxembourg shed an interesting light on the universal need to give voice to one's thinking. After his career in journalism in print and producing TV news, in 1986 Steil was one of 5 who decided to start a film industry in Luxembourg from scratch. Today it has all of 600 industryites (US has about 10,000) in a country with a population of 500,000. They produce 25 coproductions a year with France, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Italy and the UK. They have 20 active directors, no film school. During the war years his film Draft Dodgers depicts, the Germans took over Luxembourg quite quickly and the young men were forced to serve in their army or flee. Steil, who has produced numerous works and directed docs, news and much live theater chose this story as his debut fiction feature, taking 5 years to write and raise financing. He chose it because of the urgency of not repeating such war elsewhere, as a way to use in schools, especially after September 11, to create a political conscience about engagement and the necessity of engaging on different levels and for many complicated reasons.

A nation such as Luxembourg, but probably not just Luxembourg, was comprised of 4% collaborators and 4% resistors during the war years. The rest of the population just waited...It is likely that after September 11 until today 4% of the US population is vociferously jingoistic, 4% is determined to resist the racist and jingoistic factions and the rest just waits...hoping the world will be alright in the end.

To be a part of the Palm Springs Festival, resisting -- as did the Melbourne Film Festival -- the demands of the Chinese State to pull films expressing undesirable points of view, as Toronto Film Festival did and Edinburgh did not -- resisting demands of individuals not wanting the Israeli point of view to be visible, to be part of the international film community actively engaging in this dialogue of unity vs. exclusion puts us personally into that 4% segment of resistance which is exactly the reason most of us entered the world of independent film to begin with. I am proud to stand with Darry McDonald and the rest of the Palm Springs International Film Festival for the freedom of expression in this country and to resist the dictates of any country or individual to determine which film should or should not be played.

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