'Criticism is the only thing that stands between the audience and advertising.' - Pauline Kael


Paul Robeson With Oakland, Ca. Shipyard Workers, 1942

Black August

So in order to best cover all bases, progressive film critics tend to consider three categories of assessment, rather than two: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. The first two are self-explanatory. And the third category is reserved for movies that may have been impressively put together, but there's just something offensively anti-humanistic about them.

Stay tuned......

The Organizer

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Tribeca 2015: Jimmy's Hall Illuminates Occupy Movement A Century Ago

Some movies are miracles simply for existing, warts and all. And Jimmy's Hall is certainly among them, in excavating a past that those who control the world with money and military might, would rather be forgotten.

Directed by Ken Loach, this biopic dramatically recounts the suppression and politically motivated persecution of Irish communist activist Jimmy Gralton, however ideologically timid and vague, during the suffering and uprisings of the Great Depression years. And the only person ever deported and driven into exile for his ideology, by Ireland. And yes, you probably never heard of him, whether in Ireland or this country. Buried history alert.

And apparently the Red Scare persecutions, with left activists imprisoned or driven to suicide or into exile, wasn't only taking place in the United States back then. With Gralton targeted in Ireland by the landed gentry in league with the Catholic Church. Gralton emigrated to the United States in 1909, but returned to Ireland to fight in the Irish War of Independence and again in 1932. Where he led the Revolutionary Workers Group in Leitrim, a predecessor of the Communist Party of Ireland.

Gralton originally departed from Ireland for the United States, an itinerant docker, sailor, and miner engaged in the mass struggles against joblessness and poverty in New York City where he becomes a US citizen. Though this key inspiration and political education in Gralton's life is unfortunately missing in action from the film.

Barry Ward as Gralton returns to Ireland to reestablish on his family's small farm land, the cultural and educational hall of the title. Which soon leads to butting heads with the priests and landlords alike, known angrily among the rural Irish population there as 'the masters and the pastors.'

There are inspiring socio-political episodes throughout Jimmy's Hall, as relevant today as back then pertaining to popular struggle everywhere.  - though with too much emphasis proportionately on romantic and local entertainment interludes - of an occupy movement that was apparently in full swing in rural Ireland a century before Occupy Wall Street. As the poor were routinely evicted and driven from their homes and farms by the landed gentry supported by the Church - and these reactionary forces of oppression confronted vividly in the film, by a mass re-occupy land recovery movement.

Following Gralton's deportation, he was never allowed to return to Ireland. But he continued to struggle in mass movements in the US, never giving up hope in the triumph of the people, until he died in Bellevue in 1945.

Jimmy's Hall is a feature of the Tribeca Film Festival, and will open theatrically in July. More information about the Tribeca FF is online at: Tribecafilm.com.

Prairie Miller

Friday, April 24, 2015

Tribeca 2015: Stranded In Canton

 By Liza Bear

New York, April 24--looks like Denmark picked off a lot of awards at Tribeca....I missed both Bridgend and Virgin Mountain.. one Virgin film was enough for one festival...and I've read "Killing Williamsburg", black humor novel about fictitious suicide epidemic ...and seen Virgin Suicides.......
but I did watch every frame of STRANDED IN CANTON, directed by Mans Mansson, a laid-back and wryly humorous film, not an award winner so far but should be, not Danish but Swedish...bittersweet...not clichéed...v open-ended ending....light, but stays with you

A mélange of fiction and real life situations, the story's about Lebrun, a Congolese farmer..."j'ai ma porcherie, mes poulaillers, ma pisciculture...je ne suis pas un businessman...." whom Mansson had met in Kinchasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, when he played a whole season there as a member of a football team. All the other players were Congolese. After his football career, Mansson went to art school in Stockholm and started making films. A modest grant from CPH: DOX, a Danish organization, in Copenhagen to make a film in China inspired Mansson to cast Lebrun as his lead.

In the film Lebrun is trying to extract himself from an impossible predicament in Canton (Guangzhou), where's he stuck with a whale load of bright yellow Joseph Kabila presidential election T-shirts, which haven't been delivered to the Congo and are now worthless because the election is over. Wassim, the Lebanese warehouse manager wants a a large payment for months of container storage. Like many of the roles in the film, Wassim plays himself and, according to Mansson reached by phone upstate, pretty much invited himself into the production when he saw the two-person crew shooting. on the street. ie the director doubling up as cinematographer and his sound person.

That's the whole deceptively simple story, how Lebrun passes the time, trying to get out of this predicament, raise the dough to pay off Wassim. He has a buddy, Frank, (Frank No)) with terrible marketing ideas; No was hired as production translator from Mandarin and Cantonese, and doubles up as a main actor. There's a non-romantic interest, a Beyonce-like but Platonic Cameroonian girl-friend, who is the common sense anchor of the film and acts as a sounding board for Lebrun's delusions of savoir-faire.

The acting's very good, unaffected and subtle...my face cracks up as I write this because in a way it's such a ridiculous story, but so emblematic of false hopes of fast fortunes...not only of the Congolese and sub-Saharan African diaspora in Guangzhou, China's highly polluted manufacturing hub, but of expatriates everywhere, who are escaping the economic destitution of countries ravaged by exploitation, war and government corruption,,,,,Text by Liza Béar

PS Mansson says script was not prewritten , but developed during production. Screenplay credits go to Mansson, Li Hongqi and George Cragg. The film is a succinct 79 minutes in Cantonese, English, French, Lingala and Mandarin, With Lebrun Iko Isibangi , Nana Nya Sylvie, WAssim Hasbini, Frank No playing versions of themselves.

Liza Bear produces Cherchez La Femme on Youtube. She also writes for Bomb Magazine. Liza is a member of The James Age Cinema Circle.