Monday, November 16, 2009

WFFBKK '09: Capsule reviews part 4

CalArts Shorts: Portrait Documentaries from Women's Perspective

This is a compilation of five shorts by women directors, curated by filmmaker Sompot "Boat" Chidgasornpongse (Diseases and a Hundred-Year Period), who is attending the California Institute of the Arts and is working on his thesis.

  • Hollywood by Stephanie Owens (US) -- This is a portrait of a town's local character, a gregarious woman named Hollywood who is obsessed with Hollywood and NASCAR. She does paintings and drawings and mugs for the camera. Delightfully diverting. I wonder what Hollywood thought about it being in black and white?
  • Eight Women by Laura Bouza (US) -- Eight women, now in their 80s, who in the 1960s formed a housewives' modern dance group, the Confettis, in Bridgeport, Connecticut. They achieved top levels of professionalism and recognition in the dance world, and could have toured all over, but they stayed local so they could continue to raise their families. Amazing women.
  • Me Broni Ba (My White Baby) by Akosua Adoma Owusu (Ghana/US) -- An experimental look at hair salons in Ghana, and the elaborate and laborious woven hair extensions that culminates in a look at girls and women practicing hairdressing on discarded white dolls. Very cool.
  • Speech Memory by Caroline Key (US) -- Through an interview with her father, the director details the life of her dead grandfather -- a deaf-mute Korean born in Japan during its occupation of Korea and who communicated through Japanese sign language. Interesting and traumatic.
  • The Wet Season by Brigid McCaffrey and Ben Russell (US/Suriname) -- Back to Africa. This experimental portrait of life in a farming village has a fractured narrative and long, staring takes.

The first two were accessible and were bridged by the experimental Me Broni Ba (my favorite). The package becomes increasingly challenging in terms of difficulty for general audiences but more in line with what festival-goers and programmers would expect and like. (5/5)

Colors of Our Hearts by Supamok Silarak (Thailand) -- This was a repeat for view for me. This docudrama look at the lives of minorities and migrant workers in Thailand blew me away when I first saw it back in June. I wanted to watch it again to see if it was still as powerful as I thought. It was, maybe even more. The audience reaction was highly favorable, and a lively Q&A followed, in which a man hijacked the microphone to a disagree with one question/statement about how and why Burmese and minority women are ending up in the sex trade in Thailand. Another woman broke down in tears during her question. The plan for this film, produced by the Friends Without Borders organization in Chiang Mai, is to show it to minority communities and maybe rights groups. Hopefully it'll be available on DVD in a year or so from the Friends Without Borders website. (5/5)

A Letter to Uncle Boonmee and I Forgot the Title by Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Christelle Lheureux (Thailand/Italy/France) -- Nabua, Nakhon Phanom is a small northeastern Thai village that in 1965 was occupied by the Thai military in a brutal and deadly anti-communist purge. Apichatpong film his multi-channel Primitive art project there and Boonmee is an overview. The camera floats around the village while village men voiceover a letter to Apichatpong's reincarnated uncle, in which the project is explained. Primitive ends in Liverpool on November 29 and in Paris until January 3. I want to get on a plane right now and see it, but I can't, so Uncle Boonmee will have to do for now. I Forgot the Title is equally beguiling, with an abstract look at a man roaming the blackened landscape of a volcano cone who finds a woman up there. They are meant to be Marcello Mastroianni, with his impeccably tailored suit and silver-haired charm, and the delicate Ingrid Bergman, incongruous to the smoking, otherworldly scenery. Apichatpong and Lheureux were collaborating filmmakers on the Ghost of Asia segment of the Tsunami Digital Short Films project in 2005 and are reunited in this pairing of their short films, mainly because they fit together in a 90-minute timeslot. (5/5)

Flooding in the Time of Drought by Sherman Ong (Singapore) -- This 158-minute experimental docudrama is compiled from an eight-channel art installation that was shown at the Singapore Biennale. It deals with eight couples, mostly living in Singapore's HDB apartments. They are various nationalities and ethnic backgrounds -- Mainland Chinese, Indian, Malaysian, Filipino, Thai, Italian, Singaporean and pan-Asian. The backdrop for their stories is a water shortage that is gripping the city and causes everyone a lot of anxiety about the economy and living in Singapore. Even when it's raining, people are still short of water because there is no capacity to capture the seasonal heavy downpours. Many want to get out, but have no place else to go. Others want to get in, and will do almost anything for citizenship. They sit around in their apartments and talk. Their stories are surreal, but amazingly they are based, at least in part, on real-life situations. Probably the weirdest episode is also different because it is the only one not set in the HDB flats -- it's in a grand house with a swimming pool, showing the great disparity between the wealthy and the ordinary. And they are Thai characters. This soap-opera episode involves a young man who arrives at the house. The lady tells him to wear women's clothing when he sleeps, because many Thai men in Singapore have died from sleeping-death syndrome, thought to be caused by a ghost that preys on men. Does the ghost get him? Well, you'll have to try to catch this at another festival -- it's headed to Rotterdam -- to find out. (5/5)


  1. Boat says:

    I'm happy that you liked the CalArts films! :)

    (Sorry, I inadvertently rejected the comment you made Boat.)

  2. Akosua Adoma Owusu was quoted in the article, "DC Area Teens Flip The Script In A Film Workshop". Please read it at


Please, no questions or comments about where to download movies or subtitle files.

Please read the FAQ about Thai films on DVD before asking about where to find a Thai movie on DVD with English subtitles.

Make your comments pertinent to the post you are commenting on. For off-topic comments, general observations or news tips, consider sending an e-mail to me at wisekwai [ a t ] g m a i l [d o t ] c o m.

All comments are moderated. Spam comments will be deleted.