“Farah Goes Bang” could be called a comedy about people getting screwed. Farah’s quest to lose her virginity provides one of the plot threads in local filmmaker Meera Menon’s dramedy. Given that the film’s other screwing happens nationwide with President George W. Bush’s re-election, the laughter dies quickly in one’s throat.
The titular Farah is an Iranian-American college student who’s taking a cross-country road trip from Los Angeles to Ohio with her roommates K.J. and Roopa. It’s the autumn of 2004, and the trio is heading to the battleground state of Ohio (with a side trip to Texas) to campaign for Bush’s opponent John Kerry. The Iranian-American student hopes the trip will help her feel comfortable with both her ethnic identity and her losing her virginity.
Menon definitely deserves props for having two of her three lead characters unapologetically be women of color. Roopa, though, never grows much beyond her naďve idealist role.
Nikohl Boosheri’s Farah gets the film’s best moments. Her finding self-pleasure with a toy gun or developing an emotional connection with a Korean War veteran is endearing.
The punching out of obnoxious people provides the political storyline’s only sparks of life. For a campaign that Roopa describes as her generation’s 1968, the three women’s political failure feels inconsequential.
“Drones In My Backyard” is a documentary short from Alan Snitow, another local filmmaker. Snitow’s sighting of a neighbor’s drone in his supposedly private backyard leads to a musing on drone technology’s growing ubiquity. How comfortable should Americans be with current uses of unmanned aerial vehicles?
Military drones spying on and/or killing people represents the most familiar use of these unmanned vehicles. Seeing a machine-gun mounted drone riddle a car makes the viewer wonder about this technology which can erode moral qualms about taking human life. Claims that drones can fight forest fires or can be used to do remote wilderness work seem more like attempts to whitewash the technology.
Building a working unmanned aerial vehicle out of a plastic take out box and other detritus is certainly impressive. But just because one can create a drone to give users literal bird’s eye views of flying doesn’t necessarily mean that one should create such a machine.
11 days after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, a group of New Orleans police officers (including one Anthony Villarosa) shot at some Katrina refugees seeking shelter on the Danziger Bridge. The police shootings wounded six refugees and killed two others, one of whom was mentally retarded Ronald Madison (aka Shockley). None of the refugees were armed.
Lawrence Andrews’ amazing short film “ownerbuilt” is not a narrative about that controversial shooting. Instead, it’s an attempt to rebuild through anecdotes and found sounds a neighborhood devastated first by a hurricane then by a corrupt police department hoping to escape justice. A YouTube video performance piece serves as the film’s spine, its creator a neighborhood resident known only as Noel. Andrews’ contribution to the project is to use animation, audio manipulation, and his interactions with Noel to help immerse the viewer in the lives of Ratchet, Shockley, and Shockley’s brother Lance.
“ownerbuilt” offers an intriguing portrait of a neighborhood’s spiritual reconstruction. The recent overturning of the convictions of the cops involved in the Danziger Bridge shootings means the reconstruction process will take a lot longer.
Mia Engberg’s excellent experimental debut feature “Belleville Baby” deserves viewer notice. The award-winning film offers an off-kilter recollection of a first love without smothering it in romantic sentiment.
Vincent reconnects with lover Mia ten years after his disappearance. Physical memorabilia of Mia’s time with Vincent may no longer exist. But her memories of their relationship can be resurrected with his prodding. As Mia’s memories are teased to the surface, her recollections take her from political riots to a beloved cat named Baby. Should Mia see Vincent again?
Differing interpretations of the Orpheus legend provide a touchstone for understanding the course of Engberg’s film. Was Orpheus’ failure the result of naivete about love’s power? Or did Eurydice simply resign herself to permanent residence in the underworld?
“Belleville Baby” makes the case that both interpretations of Orpheus’ story are correct. As someone from the housing projects, Vincent seems fated to deal hash and otherwise live a criminal life. Mia, the daughter of a defeated leftist activist, feels her love and will power can help Vincent change his fate.
One of “Belleville Baby”’s effective contradictions is that Mia and Vincent’s love becomes more real and tragic despite the film’s lack of images of romantic kisses. There is footage of a parking garage and the prison Vincent spent time in. Hearing Mia’s recollections and thoughts over these images creates by indirection the idea of their romance as a refuge from the world’s harsh realities. The viewer’s participation is further engaged to imagine the details of the moments Mia recounts.
“Belleville Baby”’s discussion of leftist politics is not a tangent but a key to understanding the former couple. References to colonization and Mia’s queries about Vincent’s criminal activities leads one to suspect Vincent is not white and that he resents being treated by her as a cause du jour. The Florence Rey trial sequence teases out parallels and differences between Florence’s and Mia’s relationship.
Yet for all the recollections and disagreements, Mia’s love cannot help Vincent leave the underworld he lives in. But as the Nina Simone song heard over the closing credits suggest, Vincent’s longing for freedom is a goal in itself.
(“ownerbuilt” screens with the shorts “Wanderlust” and “Families Are Forever” at 8:30 PM on October 12, 2013 at the 142 Throckmorton Theater (142 Throckmorton Avenue, Mill Valley). “Belleville Baby” screens at 3:00 PM on October 11, 2013 and 3:15 PM on October 12, 2013. Both screenings take place at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center (1118 Fourth Street, San Rafael). For further information about the films and their screening times, go to www.mvff.org