Vincent van Gogh, new film


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Loving Vincent, Official Theatrical Trailer

7 August 2017

LOVING VINCENT is the world’s first fully oil painted feature film. Written & directed by Dorota Kobiela & Hugh Welchman, produced by Poland’s BreakThru Films & UK’s Trademark Films.

The film brings the paintings of Vincent van Gogh to life to tell his remarkable story. Every one of the 65,000 frames of the film is an oil-painting hand-painted by 125 professional oil-painters who travelled from all across the world to the Loving Vincent studios in Poland and Greece to be a part of the production. As remarkable as Vincent’s brilliant paintings, is his passionate and ill-fated life, and mysterious death.

In theaters beginning September 22.

New BBC wildlife film


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Earth: One Amazing Day – BBC Earth

25 July 2017

From BBC Earth Films, the studio that brought you Earth, comes the long-awaited sequel – Earth: One Amazing Day, an astonishing journey revealing the awesome power of the natural world, narrated by the Oscar-winning American movie icon, Robert Redford.

Hummingbirds, how to film them in slow motion


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What It Takes to Film Hummingbirds in Slow Motion | National Geographic

28 July 2017

Once, high-speed cameras were ungainly contraptions, difficult to operate and lug into the field. Now they can fit in a large pocket and are as essential to hummingbird biologists as binoculars are. The sheer magnitude of information captured by these cameras can be hard to fathom.

The Eagle Huntress, film review


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The Eagle Huntress Featurette – Soaring Cinematography (2016) – Documentary

Directed By: Otto Bell

The Eagle Huntress follows Aisholpan, a 13-year-old girl, as she trains to become the first female in twelve generations of her Kazakh family to become an eagle hunter.

On 18 June 2017, I saw this worthwhile film, recorded in the Altai mountains in the west of Mongolia.

There are many reviews of it; very positive ones; but also some with criticisms. I will look at those expressed on this BBC page; then, my own reservations.

The BBC notes that originally, publicity for the film claimed that young Aisholpan was the first female hunting with a golden eagle ever. Not true, as US historian Adrienne Mayor showed. The Eagle Huntress publicity then changed to saying that Aisholpan was the first huntress ever in her family of traditional eagle hunters.

Ms Mayor and others also pointed out that the film emphasized prejudices among older men against women hunting with eagles too much. Probably that is for dramatic effect in this documentary; like the film Pride (made with actors) over-emphasized homophobic prejudices as a problem for solidarity between striking Welsh miners and LGBTQ activists, the theme of the film.

The BBC article concludes:

Despite her criticisms of the film, the historian Adrienne Mayor agrees that Aisholpan is a worthy heroine.

“Her bravery and her feats in that eagle hunting contest are really amazing and inspiring,” she says.

Now, my own issues. Part of the film shows Aisholpan capturing a young eaglet from its nest on a steep cliff, to train it to become her own hunting eagle (earlier, she used to work with her father’s eagle). I don’t think eaglets should be taken from their nests (except sometimes briefly to ring them by licensed ringers putting them back in the nest a few minutes later). However, hunting golden eagles in Kazakh culture have to be freed after seven years, roughly the time of sexual maturity. In the opening scene, Aisholpan’s father takes his bird to a mountain top and says: my eagle, you have done nothing but good things for me. I now give you a last meal of meat. Then, you can fly away wherever you want. This love for the birds contrasts sharply with the commercial abuse of captive birds of prey and owls in the Netherlands, Belgium and elsewhere.

Her father praises Aisholpan for catching especially a female eaglet. Female golden eagles are bigger and better at hunting than males.

Also, the film shows fox hunting with an eagle, to make a fur coat. I oppose fox hunting and fur worn by humans. However, one cannot equate the film scene with fox hunting in, eg, Britain. In the cold Altai mountains, people would be unable to live without fur and meat from eagle hunts. While in Britain, rich people, who can buy as much fake fur as they want, usually don’t even use the fur of butchered foxes. British toff fox hunters block foxes’ underground escape burrows, and have them torn apart cruelly by dogs.

Aisholpan’s parents are religious Muslims. However, contrary to prejudices about Muslims, they believe in equality of men and women, including for their daughter to become an eagle huntress. The girls in the film don’t wear headscarves, let alone chadaris/’burqas’.

In winter, Aisholpan’s nomadic family lives in a house. In summer, in a yurt. Besides this tent with a history of thousands of years is a twenty-first century solar panel.

After training her young eagle, called White Feathers (name not mentioned in the film), Aisholpan decides to participate in the annual eagle festival, near the provincial capital Olgii.

The film scenes recorded at the festival don’t show the seventy golden eagles participating killing any prey. A four man jury gives points to participants for interaction between human and bird, and reaction speed of the eagle. Aisholpan’s eagle breaks the speed record, making her hunter the winner.

That makes Aisholpan not only the first female victor, but also the youngest one ever. Her eagle, not yet one year old then, was probably also one of the youngest winners ever. After winning, Aisholpan holds White Feathers high above her, indicating that the bird is the real winner.

Carefully, Aisholpan polishes the cup she got for winning at the festival.

Then, in winter, she goes far into the mountains with her father. It is very cold; there are icicles on their horses’ mouths. The horses sink deep into treacherous snow and slip on ice.

Finally, White Feathers catches her first fox for Aisholpan’s fur coat.

Morgan Spurlock, known from a critical documentary on McDonald’s, is involved as producer of this film.

Sami blood, film on racism in Sweden


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26 January 2017

Eliza Morris interviews Director Amanda Kernell about her new film Sami Blood.

By David Walsh in the USA:

10 June 2017

There are still compelling reasons to pay attention to interesting, artistic films, such as Sami Blood (Sweden), Past Life (Israel) and Radio Dreams (Iran-US), all of which opened in the US in early June.

Most of the films in movie theaters in the US at the moment are poor, juvenile or worse. As a result, the public is increasingly turning away. From 2009 through 2012, North American box office grew by slightly less than two percent. 2016 was one of the worst years in the history of the American film industry in terms of ticket sales per person. The decline seems likely to continue this year. Revenues climb solely because of the rising cost of movie tickets.

The exhaustion of the large film studios’ (i.e., conglomerates’) collective imagination has reached a dangerous, nearly provocative level. …

Sami Blood

There are films that are painful and pleasurable at the same time. Amanda Kernell’s Sami Blood, from Sweden, is not an easy film to watch. It creates considerable unease and anxiety, reflecting the internally conflicted, nearly impossible situation of its central character.

The film, Kernell’s first feature-length work, is set in Sweden primarily in the 1930s. Elle Marja (Lene Cecilia Sparrok), 14, is a reindeer-herding Sami girl, who is sent to a state boarding school aimed at “civilizing” its students.

The Samis are an indigenous people inhabiting northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula in Russia. Like other indigenous peoples, they have long faced racism and oppression.

One of the early scenes is memorable. Elle Marja is rowing herself and her younger sister, Njenna (Mia Sparrok), across a beautiful, tranquil lake. They are on their way to the boarding school, leaving their mother and everyone they know behind. Njenna cries quietly. “I don’t want to go,” she says simply, while her sister pulls the oars.

Elle Marja is a bright, ambitious girl. She wants very much to assimilate into the Swedish population. She sharply tells her sister, “You must speak Swedish.” Meanwhile local farm boys call them “dirty Lapps,” although one seems to be Sami himself.

One day, officials come to the school in a car and the girls and boys line up in their native costumes. The event starts out like some sort of stuffy but harmless bureaucratic ceremony. Horrifyingly, the officials are there to measure and photograph the Sami children, as part of research into “racial characteristics.”

Elle Marja wants to continue her education, she starts dreaming of another life, but her teacher (Hanna Alström) somewhat regretfully lets her know that “You people don’t have what it takes” to get by in the wider world. Eventually, Elle Marja takes off, for Uppsala, a large city. She tries to impose herself on the family of a Swedish boy she has met. Every effort to fit in ends in awkwardness for her, if not humiliation. At one point, a young guest at the family’s house, an anthropology student, asks her patronizingly to perform a traditional Sami singing style.

In any case, she needs money to pay for her schooling. She goes back home and demands a sum of cash. In an outburst, she tells her mother: “I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be with you. I don’t want to be a f–––––– circus animal.”

Kernell’s film is made with great sensitivity and attention to detail. The director was born in 1986 in the far north of Sweden to a Swedish mother and Sami father. Sami Blood was reportedly inspired by the experiences of Kernell’s grandmother. The filmmaker told an interviewer that the treatment of the Samis was an “untold” story and a “dark chapter” in Swedish history. The film, she said, is about someone “leaving what you’re from, becoming another.” What are the consequences for Elle Marja when she “cuts all ties”?

The worst part of the story is that in order to make a life for herself, Elle Marja has to absorb into herself elements of racism and contempt for her own people. This is what Swedish society does to her. In one especially difficult scene, Elle Marja, who is trying to pass herself off as a “normal Swede,” is obliged to shoo away her own beloved sister, pretending not to understand what she is saying and blurting out, “Get away, you filthy Lapp.” Njenna may never forgive her for this.

The drama is remarkably intimate. We know at times almost more than we want to know about Elle Marja’s predicament. Kernell also provides hints of broader social processes–the concern with “race” and eugenics, for example. In the same interview, she said that she did not want to “explain” anything, but simply tell the story.

This is not the occasion to enter into a polemic on that score once again, especially in regard to a film that, for the most part, is moving and clear-sighted and a filmmaker who is obviously conscientious and humane.

However, it is one thing to recognize that artists for the most part are more expert at “showing” the world than explaining it, that they are seized by powerful impressions that have a strong element of intuition. It is another to make a positive program, as so many artists do today, out of “not explaining.” In our view, the filmmaker or novelist requires “high intellectual powers,” in Aleksandr Voronsky’s phrase, and cannot make progress without “immense, very persistent and complex rational activity.”

Sami Blood is an extraordinary, deeply felt film. But it is probably the sort of work that can only be done once. Even as it is, its strong emotional content should not blind us to certain tendencies that may endanger Kernell’s development: the relative narrowness, the intense immediacy.

James Baldwin, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, on film


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I Am Not Your Negro Official Trailer 1 (2016) – James Baldwin Documentary

5 January 2017

Directed By: Raoul Peck

Writer James Baldwin tells the story of race in modern America with his unfinished novel, Remember This House.

On 10 June 2017, I went to see this film.

Unfortunately, not so many people in the cinema for this important work. It includes both historic footage of Baldwin, and texts written by him, spoken by actor Samuel L. Jackson.

The subject is James Baldwin and three fighters for African Americans: Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers. Baldwin started to write a book, Remember This House, about these three, but it was still unfinished when he died. Baldwin noted that these three men were all different, yet had common ground. Eg, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X got closer to each other’s positions as time progressed.

Baldwin knew all three of them personally, and was deeply shocked when all three were murdered in the 1960s. He was older than all of them, and had expected that King, Malcolm X and Evers would all survive him.

The film is also about another person, younger than Baldwin, whom he survived: fellow African American author Lorraine Hansbury. The film tells how Baldwin and Hansbury in the 1960s had a conversation with Robert Kennedy, then Attorney General of the USA. Baldwin and Hansbury told Kennedy how African American children, when going to newly integrated schools, were attacked by white supremacists. They suggested that Robert’s brother John F. Kennedy, then president of the USA, should walk along these children into a school as a sign of government commitment to anti-racism. Robert Kennedy rejected that idea.

This hurt Baldwin, as school integration was why he had returned to the USA. He had left his native country for Paris because of racism. In the 1950s, he had returned as he had seen in a French newspaper a photo of a 15-year-old black schoolgirl, Dorothy Counts, harassed by racists in North Carolina in the southern USA. The film shows clips of white demonstrators against school integration, brandishing nazi swastika signs.

In the meantime, the FBI spied on Baldwin whom they considered a public enemy because of his criticism of racism. Baldwin’s 1,884 pages long FBI file attacked him for being gay. They thought they could use that against him; in a time when there was homophobia, including in more or less progressive sectors like the world of literature, sections of the black liberation movement, sections of the women’s liberation movement and sections of socialist movements. The FBI spied on Lorraine Hansberry and many other African American authors for many decades as well. Lorraine Hansbury, contrary to Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers was not murdered: she died, 34 years old, from lung cancer, and according to Baldwin (not quoted on this in the film) from the stress in her strenuous fight against racism and homophobia.

Baldwin wrote that he had not joined the organisations to which his three murdered fellow fighters against racism belonged. He had not joined Medgar Evers’ NAACP. He was from the north of the USA, where in his experience the NAACP was too middle class, while he was from a poor background. He also did not join the Nation of Islam (NOI; Malcolm X’s organisation in the 1950s) or the Black Panther Party, ‘because I don’t believe white people are all devils’. That might have been a reason not to join the NOI; but it was inaccurate for the Black Panther Party, which militantly opposed white supremacy, not individuals who happened to be white; though the media often wrongly depicted them as ‘black racists’. Baldwin said he had a good white teacher at primary school, to whom he was grateful.

The film does not tell why Baldwin never finished the book Remember This House. I do know that in his later years, Baldwin suffered from cancer; which killed him in 1989, like it had killed Lorraine Hansbury.

The film does not stop with Baldwin’s death. It also includes recent scenes, eg, of the Black Lives Matter movement after the deaths of people like Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

The film mentions war, including a clip of a Martin Luther King speech against the Vietnam war, shouting: ‘Stop the bombing! Stop the war!’

Baldwin says on violence in the film: ‘If Israeli armed forces – I have nothing against that country, I am not anti-Semitic – use violence, they are often depicted as heroes in the USA. If Irish people use violence against British occupation, many Irish Americans and other white people see them as freedom fighters. If Poles use violence against Russians, they are often depicted in the USA as freedom fighters. However, if negroes, if black people, do similar things, then suddenly they are depicted as criminals or monsters’.

In the beginning of the film, Baldwin tells about films he saw when he was small. The ‘heroes’ were often white men killing native Americans. Young Baldwin identified with these ‘heroes’, until he found out that as a ‘negro’, white people, especially white people in authority like policemen, treated people like him rather similarly to those ‘Indians’.

The film has many clips from Hollywood movies. Nut just Westerns with much violence: also films, and TV commercials, in which everyone seems to be white and everyone seems to be happy. Baldwin comments that superficial imagery like this leads to narrow-mindedness and denial of social problems in the USA.

A sharply critical review of Baldwin as a political activist and of the film is here. The reviewer reproaches the film with saying too little about Martin Luther King and Malcolm X; and saying these two came closer together, but not elaborating in what sense. It also criticizes Baldwin and filmmaker Peck for neglecting class and capitalism and their relationship with racism. That is not completely fair. In the film, Baldwin connects the white supremacist United States society to ‘the Chase Manhattan bank‘. Also, in the limited time of a documentary film one cannot extensively discuss too many intricate subjects. This harsh criticism of the Baldwin film is a bit surprising as the same site was rather more positive on another Peck film; and on yet another one.

Finally, Baldwin said that, in spite of being aware of many bad things: ‘I am an optimist; because I am alive’.

An important film worth seeing!

Skellig Michael island, Ireland


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2 June 2017

Over seven miles off the Irish coast lie the sea crags of Skellig Michael, a breathtaking island once home to a community of reclusive monks. More recently, a different kind of hermit used it as his fictitious home: Luke Skywalker.

The video does not mention the many seabirds of Skellig Michael. When I was there long ago, puffins nested along the footpath. There were razorbills and guillemots. On the other Skellig island, Little Skellig, many gannets nest.