Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Arrival City

Arrival City: The final migration and our next world by Doug Saunders

The word slum or favela comes with a preconceived notion of overcrowded shacks, garbage pile-ups, crime and poverty mostly because of television/cinematic images and magazine stories. But who are the people living in these locations and where do they come from? How is their average day spent? How much distance do they travel for their everyday jobs? A 10 second clip on a news channel, where the camera merely pans across the landscape, won't give much answers.

Doug Saunders rightly points out that words such as slum and favela do not highlight the true nature of these locations. Instead, he prefers the word arrival city which properly conveys the dynamic nature of such locations where people are constantly arriving from villages or leaving for middle class neighborhoods. Such ‘arrival cities’, which exist mostly on the outskirts of a city or are hidden within a city's core, serve as a transition point for the new migrants in their attempt to carve out a better life. These locations are not the migrants final destination as may be incorrectly inferred by the stagnant image portrayed by the word slum. In fact, people make an arrival city their first stop because it is the easiest way to establish a footprint in a vast metropolis. The migrants share a common dream that once they save up enough money, they can then move to a better neighborhood and own their own apartment or house. Ofcourse, as a certain percentage of migrants leave an arrival city, another group move in to take their place.

Saunders’ Arrival City paints a vibrant picture about some of the people who have taken the brave step of leaving their village behind for starting life in a new city. He also perfectly illustrates the emotional and financial two-way connection between the arrival city and the village. It is safe to assume that an arrival city will always have a relationship with the vast city’s core but in reality, the arrival city is also tied to the rural homes of the migrants. This relationship between a village and arrival city is similar to that between an immigrant's new nation and their homeland. An immigrant or a migrant is more closer to their homeland and village respectively and often send financial help back home to their family while trying their best to save enough money for moving up the hierarchy in their new metropolis setting. However, the migrants everyday lives can either be nurtured or ruined by state/national government policies and attitudes. This is where Saunders’ book really stands out as he does not merely list individual stories but offers examples of where proper government policies ensure that citizens living in an arrival city can be successfully integrated within a city’s/nation’s fabric.

Arrival City covers many individual cities and villages across five continents and constructs a complete picture right from the creation of the early arrival cities to the current global locations. Ofcourse, one would not expect any less from a fine journalist like Doug Saunders. His columns always offer an intelligent balanced perspective on global issues and are a huge reason why I continue to read The Globe and Mail. Three years ago, I wrote him an email which ended with the following words:

I do hope you have a book planned for the future with a collection of your articles or other writing that you have done during your travels.

Thankfully, that book has now arrived and is one of the most relevant books published in the last few years. I can now put Doug Saunders in the same bracket as Ryszard Kapuściński, Robert D. Kaplan and Eduardo Galeano as journalists whose words are a window into the larger world out there.

Interestingly, 3.5 years ago I was inspired by an article on Iranian cinema by Doug Saunders to do my own mini spotlight on Iranian film. So it seems appropriate that his book should form an inspiration for another cinematic spotlight. However, given the breadth and depth of material covered in Arrival City, it will not be a simple 5-6 film spotlight. Even if I picked a single film from each country covered in the book, it would mean a minimum of 15 titles to cover China, India, Bangladesh, Brazil, England, Germany, Turkey, USA, Canada, Kenya, Columbia, Holland, Iran, Poland and Spain. However, a proper arrival city film spotlight would require at least 2-3 titles per country. An easy solution would be to reference films I have already seen pertaining to some of the book material and only watch new films to fill in the gaps.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Vintage Monday Night Football

Monday evenings are hardly known for soccer stories but today is a Monday that will go down in soccer history. Everywhere, almost every soccer fan, could be found buzzing only about Barcelona's 5-0 demolition of Real Madrid. The heated derby between these two rivals is always an occasion to savor but today's jaw dropping score-line combined with the beauty of Barcelona's play is going to ensure that this game will live long in the memory.

Sid Lowe's column perfectly manages to capture some of the beauty that was in display at the Nou Camp:

Pep Guardiola's side were imperious, their control breathtaking. Speaking of genuinely special, if this was indeed the game that decided the best player in the world, there can be only one answer. Messi failed to score for the first time in 10 matches but his performance – like those of Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernández and Sergio Busquets – was sublime. There were fewer brilliant dribbles, less fantasy but there was a stunning assuredness and impeccable precision in the passing. This was the Messi who controls the game and then decides it.

Barcelona 5 - 0 Real Madrid: Nov 29, 2010, Villa double, Messi show

Here are some other vintage La Liga El Clásico derbies:

Real Madrid 2 - 6 Barcelona : May 2, 2009, a double by Henry

Real Madrid 4 - 1 Barcelona: May 7, 2008

Barcelona 3 - 3 Real Madrid: March 10, 2007, Messi hat-trick

Real Madrid 5 - 0 Barcelona: January 7, 1995, Zamorano hat-trick

Barcelona 5 - 0 Real Madrid: January 8, 1994, Romario hat-trick

No way, Jose!!!!

I have nothing against Real Madrid football club but their current manager Jose Mourinho is another matter altogether. His arrogance knows no bounds and he is clearly one of the most disrespectful managers working in the game. Sure he has plenty of trophies to his name but he has achieved those on the back of a dismal game plan of playing negative football, fouling opponents and insulting opposing managers. Mourinho was also responsible for forcing an honest ref like Anders Frisk to retire after Mourinho's lies caused Frisk to receive death threats. Last week, even by his negative standards Mourinho hit a new low when he instructed two of his Real Madrid players to get sent off on purpose so that they would have a clean record for the next round of the Champions League. Yes there are cheats who insult the game every week by diving and rolling about on the ground. Yes there are managers who instruct their players to get "stuck in" and take out an opponent out but even the crudest managers don't ask their players to get red cards on purpose.

So it is with great pleasure to read the following score-line in today's El Clásico derby:

Barcelona 5 - 0 Real Madrid

Barca have their revenge, not only from this season, but from last season when Inter Milan led by Jose knocked Barca out of the Champions League. Mourinho's fans, and he has plenty in the media some of whom hailed last week's red card instructions as genius, will point that this is only his first loss this season and his team can still win multiple trophies. I am sure he will win trophies this year with Madrid but for once beautiful football won over arrogance.

The beautiful football of pass, pass and score wins over the negative instructions of sitting back, fouling and red cards.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Global Box Office, part II

As expected, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part One) dominated the past week's global box office. Harry Potter was the #1 film in all countries it opened except in Turkey where it was at #2:

1 Five Minarets in New York 625
2 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part One) 373

Harry Potter opened in 373 Turkish screens earning an average $4,621 per theater whereas The Turkish-American co-production Five Minarets in New York showed in 625 theaters earning an average of $4,590 per theater. On average, Harry Potter earned slightly more so you can be sure that for Part II, Hollywood will try to add a few more screens in Turkey. However, Five Minarets in New York is in its third week and is still putting up strong numbers.

The model that Hollywood clearly follows is to flood as many screens nationally and internationally as possible. In Brazil, Harry Potter.. opened in 1014 screens, more than double the number of screens which played Elite Squad 2 (492 screens).

The same story was found in Japan where the film opened in 872 screens, more than double the screens showing the Japanese film SP: The motion picture yabô hen which in its 4th week still earned a strong $5,853 per theater.

1 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part One) 872
2 SP: The motion picture yabô hen 394

Interestingly, the film didn't open in South Korea yet where the local box office is dominated by two Korean films, in their 2nd and 4th week respectively:

1 Choneungryukja 637
2 Boodang Guhrae 337
3 The Social Network 361

In its 4th week and showing in 337 screens Boodang Guhrae earned an average of $4,002 per screen which was slightly more than the opening average of $3,581 put up by The Social Network despite playing in more screens. Traditionally, South Korea is just one of a few countries that has been able to hold off the big Hollywood films with its local cinema, so the strategy in South Korea appears to be hold off releasing the film until maximum profit has been reaped from other nations.

Many nations yet movie to unite them all. So much for cinematic choices.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Film Festivals...

In Richard Porton's TIFF piece, Reginald Harkema provides a key summary:

...Politics are of course (as with everything) a huge part of it. I have become a bit of a drinking buddy with an ex-programmer and he tells me horror stories of films that he absolutely hated and would never program, but because of the stature of the filmmaker (sex, race, celebrity, connection to the festival), they were programmed. I saw this happen this year, too, and one wonders about those many good Canadian films that didn’t get programmed when so many bad films are.

Reginald Harkema is talking about Canadian Cinema but the above statement equally applies to films programmed from any country at a film festival. No film festival can stand up and admit that every single film is selected based on merit alone. The higher the number of sponsors for a film festival, the greater the chance that films will be selected to please some sponsors or board of directors. Ofcourse, the bigger a film festival, the more the number of programmers at that festival. Each programmer has their own cinematic taste so it is impossible that all the films at a festival will suit every programmer, let alone appease every single festival patron.

Porton uses this line to describe the New York Film Festival:

Unlike a “boutique” festival such as the New York Film Festival, which showcases a small number of films that its programmers assert represent the year’s crème de la crème..

New York has a smaller selections of films but even NYFF opened with The Social Network, a Hollywood buzz film. Film Festivals need such buzz films to exist. That is a fact of festival life that cannot be avoided. Based on my programming experiences at local film festivals (CIFF, CPAFF), I have come to believe a film festival needs a certain commercial vs art film ratio in order to succeed. That means, a festival needs to show a certain number of commercially accessible films in order to earn some profit so as to show the truly artistic films which may incur a loss. This is because there may be only a few cities in the world where art films will make a profit so film festivals have to bend their ways to accommodate various other films that will get the crowds in. Also, art films like commercial films don't come cheap. In fact, every year that precious Cannes film will require almost the same programming fee as that new buzz Hollywood film. Back in 2006, I was able to get a worthy art film for free but that was a rare case and I am certain that will never happen again.

A few of us have worked hard to program that ideal film festival but every year, it is frustrating to see cinematic gems go overlooked while crowds pack substandard films. The irony is that if it were not for the substandard films, then the festival would have suffered a financial loss and been unable to get worthy films the following year.

Film festival goers are a curious bunch though. If they don't like a movie at a film festival, they direct extreme hatred at the programmer or even the film festival, because in their view the film programmer committed a grave sin by booking an awful film. Yet, these same film goers will never direct such venom at a multiplex owner for booking garbage, week in, week out. In fact, people will gladly return to the multiplex the following week despite suffering the previous weekend. But if these same people have a bad experience at a film festival, there is a good chance that they will not return to see another movie at the festival.

Cinephiles will rightly complain about movies a film festival does not book but will then go about ignoring new works from unknown directors, as if the only films worth seeing are from "masters" praised in Cannes/Venice or only films from a certain country are meant to be seen. For example, in my city, some cinephiles assume any French film is automatically superior to any Asian film because in their view the French have a history of good film-making. So they ignore works of art that are coming out of Thailand, China or Malaysia but will sit through any French language film, even if the film is from an unknown first time French director.
In addition...

It is a fallacy to believe that film festivals have the ultimate say in every single selection. The reality is that festivals are sometimes at the mercy of distributors and producers when it comes to showing some films. Of course, since very little is written about the inside workings of a film festival, people attribute the presence or absence of a film to the programmers decisions. Sure festival programmers have to answer for their selections but unseen powers behind some festival decisions are able to avoid any justifications.

Film programmers often have a thankless job because they can never satisfy everyone and there is a good chance they will be criticized by some segment of the film going public, no matter what films they select. Sometimes individual programmers are praised because a critic or cinephile might like that programmer's selections. On the other hand, a programmer who might be dismissed by professional critics might be held in high regard by the festival's board of directors because the programmer regularly picks films that draw crowds.

Popular vs art. The never ending film festival struggle.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Ways of Wine & Revolucion

The wonderful Argentine film The Ways of Wine is playing for free on, until tomorrow Nov 21.

The film is a self-discovery journey with a touch of humor. In the manner of Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist, the film shows that sometimes one may travel the world to search for meaning but the real answer that they are seeking lies closer to home. Ofcourse, the real learning comes from the journey itself.

Also, the Mexican film Revolución is showing for free on mubi only on Saturday (Nov 20) and Sunday (Nov 21).

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Global Box Office

This weekend the new Harry Potter movie will clearly dominate most of the global box office ticket sales. There are more than 4000 theaters booked across North America to show The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 and some theaters have a staggering number of shows per day. For example, in Calgary there are a record number of showtimes in most of the multiplexes:

1) Scotiabank Chinook theater has 19 shows per day through the weekend with 15 in the regular theatres and 4 in the IMAX screen. And Chinook also has 4 midnight shows tonight. Previously, a Hollywood film only had one midnight show on Thursday night but anticipating the crowds, Chinook has booked 4 slots.

2) Empire theatre on Country hills has 17 shows per day from Friday through Sunday. After Sunday, they drop down to the low number of 14 per day.

3) Sunridge Spectrum has 15 per day.

4) Empire 10 in the South has 14 shows per day on the weekend and drops down to 11 after the weekend.

5) Westhills has 12 per day.

6) Crowfoot Crossing has 12 per day.

7) Eau Claire only has 2 per day.

So that means on Friday there are a total of 91 shows of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 throughout the city. That number goes up if one includes the nearby towns which are within 30 minutes driving distance from Calgary. These high number of shows are not only specific to Calgary but can be found in other Canadian cities. Multiplexes from Halifax, Montreal, Quebec City, Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver have more than 10+ shows of Harry Potter a day, although two theaters in Greater Toronto standout. The AMC Courtney Park 16 in Mississauga has a jaw dropping 24 shows per day from Friday-Sunday, with 19 in the regular theaters and 5 IMAX shows. But AMC 24 in Whitby goes even further by having 27 shows in a single day (22 regular + 5 IMAX). Whitby's population is only 112,000 but its close proximity to Toronto means that there will be some out of town people driving down to see the film. Also, in Toronto the theaters are starting their shows at 9:30 am but in Calgary we only have shows starting at 11:30 am.

A sampling of some cities across the United States show the same high number of bookings per day, with AMC River East 21 in Chicago showing 27 shows per day and many others from L.A to New York having 10+ shows per day. A theater with a single screen is only able to show 4-5 shows per day due to the film's running time of 2.5 hours. On the other hand, the more the number of screens in a multiplex, the larger the number of shows that multiplex will have.

The film series have a huge following around the world so safe to say, the new film will be deployed on a large scale across the Globe. Also, this is just Part I of the movie. The second part would probably follow a similar booking model and thereby generate more revenue. In this sense, it makes sense for Part I of film to be released in mid-November, before the Christmas season films start getting released so that as many screens can be dedicated to just this one film. At this rate, I am certain that Hollywood and the multiplex theater owners probably never want this franchise to end.

Recent Global Box Office

A quick look at some countries & regional box offices show the reach of Hollywood. As per, the same few Hollywood titles show up in multiple countries and in some countries/regions, Hollywood easily dominates the top 5. It will be interesting to revisit these charts in a few weeks when a common title will dominate almost all the regions.

note: besides the film title, the number of screens the film showed in is also listed.

1 Paranormal Activity 2, 57
2 Saw 3D, 57
3 Due Date, 47
4 The Switch, 36
5 Jackass 3-D, 47

1 Jackass 3-D, 198
2 The Social Network, 291
3 Skyline, 181
4 Red, 244
5 Life as We Know It, 242

1 Unstoppable, 1
2 The Social Network, 1
3 Eat Pray Love, 1
4 Takers, 1
5 Marmaduke, 1

1 Paranormal Activity 2, 7
2 Due Date, 7
3 Furry Vengeance, 5
4 Garfield's Pet Force, 3
5 Eat Pray Love, 7

1 Tropa de Elite 2, 597
2 Red, 207
3 Muita Calma Nessa Hora, 184
4 Saw 3D, 253
5 Due Date, 188

Two Brazilian films show up in the top 5 with Elite Squad 2 managing to show in 597 screens, double the number of screens for the Hollywood films on the list.

1 Unstoppable
2 Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole
3 Wind Blast
4 Ai chu se (Color Me Love)
5 My Sassy Girl 2

After the top 2 spots are a Hong Kong, Chinese and a Korean-Chinese co-production (My Sassy Girl 2).

East Africa
1 Unstoppable, 8
2 Despicable Me, 3
3 The Social Network, 3
4 Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, 3
5 Charlie St. Cloud, 2

1 Potiche, 440
2 Les petits mouchoirs, 629
3 Due Date, 385
4 Saw 3D, 181
5 Unstoppable, 430

It is not surprizing to see French films in the top 2 spots but Hollywood is certainly making up some ground in France.

The Indian box office, obtained from
1 Golmaal 3
2 Action Replayy
3 Endhiran - The Robot
4 Due Date
5 Jhootha Hi Sahi

The two Diwali releases Golmaal 3 and Action Replayy still dominate the charts but Due Date has managed to make the top 5. In Northern India, Bollywood films regularly dominate the box-office and despite its best efforts, Hollywood has not been able to make much dent.

1 SP: The motion picture yabô hen, 394
2 Ghost: In Your Arms Again, 305
3 Despicable Me, 229
4 Eiga Hâto kyacchi Purikyua! Hana no miyako de fasshon shô... desuka!? 163
5 The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, 264

A Japanese film is at #1 and there are only 2 Hollywood films in the top 5. Interestingly, the #2 film Ghost: In Your Arms Again is a Korean-Japanese co-production remake of the American film Ghost.

South Korea
1 Boodang Guhrae (Conflict of Interest) 523
2 Red, 331
3 Bad Couple, 366
4 Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, 240
5 Devil, 188

Along with India and Japan, South Korea is another country where the local cinema manages to hold off Hollywood on a regular basis. Although this week, 2 Hollywood films and the American/Australian co-production Legend of the Guardians are in the top 5.

1 Red, 8
2 Megamind, 8
3 Saw 3D, 5
4 Unstoppable, 7
5 Due Date, 7

1 Unstoppable, 85
2 Skyline, 85
3 Megamind, 82
4 The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec, 50
5 Takers, 52

The only non-Hollywood film is Luc Besson's French film The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec at #4 which is playing in 50 screens.

1 Unstoppable, 3
2 Takers, 8
3 Machete, 6
4 Golmaal 3, 1
5 Despicable Me, 4

The absence of Nigerian films is not surprizing as the local Nollywood films are sold only as DVDs (pirated and legal). Also, Bollywood films are pretty popular in Nigeria so that explains why Golmaal 3 is at #4.

1 Paranormal Activity 2, 40
2 Hachiko: A Dog's Story, 22
3 Avatar: Special Edition, 7
4 Jackass 3-D, 10
5 Life as We Know It, 26

1 Skyline, 891
2 Megamind, 711
3 Due Date, 543
4 Easy A, 272
5 Brestskaya krepost, 542

The Russian war drama Brestskaya krepost is in its second week and still hanging in the top 5. Also, it is showing on 542 screens, just one screen short of Due Date. But Skyline and Megamind clearly have the upper hand on the number of screens in Russia. The end of the cold war is proving to be a good thing for Hollywood.

1 Megamind, 57
2 Unstoppable, 29
3 Red, 25
4 Due Date, 27
5 The Social Network, 20

It is not surprizing to see Hollywood rule here as well because the array of shopping malls around Singapore also contain shiny multiplexes.

1 Skyline, 171
2 Nam Phee Nong Sayong Kwan, 66
3 Sammy's Adventures: The Secret Passage, 25
4 Due Date, 45
5 Fan Mai, 55

While Skyline dominates the screens, it is nice to see two Thai films in the top 5. The biggest surprize is to see Sammy's Adventure, a Belgian animated film at #3. This film won't probably open in UK and the US until early 2011.

Supply/Demand & the Hollywood/Multiplex model

There is a large demand for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, going by the advance tickets sold already. In Calgary, almost all the Thursday midnight shows are already sold out and most of the Friday evening shows are gone too. So if there are millions of people who want to see this film around the world, then the theaters are merely catering to the masses.

On the other hand, only large Hollywood studios have the deep pockets to create enough prints for the large number of multiplex screens around the world. In the last decade, a huge number of multiplexes have opened up around the world, including North America. These multiplexes need films to pack the people in and large Hollywood studios are able to provide the necessary product. Plus, since a studio can distribute multiple prints, it makes it easier for a theater owner to deal with a single representative from a large studio and co-ordinate the mass deployment of a film.

In India, Bollywood replaces Hollywood as that large studio entity. Key Bollywood films flood the multiplex screens throughout the year. The two recent Diwali films being an example and back in Feburary, it was My Name is Khan that dominated the multiplex. There were hourly shows of My Name is Khan at almost every multiplex in New Delhi and it was a struggle to see anything but Karan Johar's new film. For example, I wanted to see Ishqiya but there was only a single show of the film in two multiplexes in South Delhi -- one show was at 10:25 am and the other show at 9:40 pm. The mass flooding of the multiplex market allowed My Name is Khan to be deemed a success after the opening weekend but one could find empty theaters around New Delhi just a few days after the film opened. In a sense, it was a waste to have the same movie playing everywhere when there wasn't a demand.

In some cases, the demand for a film may exist but in other cases, the big studios try to manufacture demand by having multiple shows of their films. The studios believe if there are few options given to the public, then there is a good chance that people will walk into one of their movies. But I do believe that at the end of the day, multiplex theater owners will show whatever they believe will make them the most money. For example, in December 2008 only one multiplex (Eau Claire) in Calgary showed Slumdog Millionaire. The film put up amazing attendance numbers and as the film continued to gather awards, other multiplexes in the city started showing the film. By the end of January 2009, all the 7 multiplexes in the city where showing the film.

While majority of the multiplexes in North America follow the herd by booking whatever Hollywood dishes out, there are some examples of multiplexes that take the initiative and show atleast 1-2 different titles away from the regular Hollywood pack. The Eau Claire Cineplex in Calgary being such a multiplex. It regularly reserves one screen for an indie/documentary/alternate title on most weeks. Currently, it is showing Inside Job on a single screen, the same as the new Harry Potter film. Last year, Eau Claire was the only multiplex in the city to show both parts of Steven Soderbergh's Che. Also, for the last few years the Calgary International Film Festival has been able to use two of the theater's six screens for the entire 10 day festival duration.

Pop = want now, Art = wait forever

Popular films by its nature have to be seen right away. So if people don't get to see the advance screening or midnight show of the newest studio film, they will try to watch it on the first day or the first weekend. Everyone wants to see the film right now.

On the other hand, cinephiles are used to waiting a few years to see foreign/indie films. The difference in the distribution model clearly makes the wait seem painful. But foreign/indie films have to follow the festival circuit first to gather some attention before the theatres will come calling. Slumdog Millionaire is such an example. If the film had not won the audience award at The Toronto International Film Festival, then I don't think it would have gotten the momentum that it did. That award and word of mouth suddenly made it a must see film, just like a regular Hollywood film.

I know about the popular vs cinephile difference quite well because more than a decade ago I belonged to the popular cinema crowd. I used to line up every friday evening to see the newest Hollywood or Bollywood film. But I eventually crossed over to the cinephile line. I still visit the popular lines every now and then, but not as regularly as I used to. I would really like the "want now" model to be applied to some foreign films but as it turns out, there aren't enough cinephiles standing in my city's lines to warrant the local theaters to book those foreign films. Thankfully, the three art house theaters in the city have not given up and are still doing their best to carry on. The Uptown is showing the fully restored Metropolis tonight and The Plaza has a new Spanish Cinema Film Festival running from tonight until Monday. Also, Fair Game finally opens in the city, naturally in Eau Claire along with at Chinook. So there are some diverse cinematic options this weekend as opposed to only Harry.. but don’t tell that to Hollywood otherwise they might eliminate the limited non-studio options left to people.

Monday, November 15, 2010

2011 Copa America Film & Book Festival

An updated summary of the books and films selected for the 2011 Copa America Spotlight in lieu of the recently made draw for the South American soccer tournament:

Group A: Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Bolivia
Group B: Brazil, Paraguay, Ecuador, Venezuela
Group C: Uruguay, Chile, Mexico, Peru

** Note: Costa Rica have officially replaced Japan at the Copa. However, I will still have a book and film representing Japan.


Argentina: Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar
Brazil: Zero by Ignácio de Loyola Brandão
Bolivia: Aurora by Giancarla de Quiroga
Chile: The Secret Holy War of Santiago De Chile by Marco Antonio de la Parra
Colombia: The Armies by Evelio Rosero
Costa Rica: Cocori by Joaquin Guteierrez
Ecuador: The Ecuador Reader, edited by Carlos De La Torre, ***
Japan: Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Mexico: The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
Paraguay: I, The Supreme by Augusto Roa Bastos
Peru: Conversations in the Cathedral by Mario Vargas Llosa
Uruguay: Body Snatcher by Juan Carlos Onetti, ***
Venezuela: Chronicles of a Nomad by A.A. Alvarez

*** Note (May 9, 2011): these two were new replacement entries after English translated copies of the following two original choices were not readily available.
Ecuador: Huasipungo by Jorge Icaza
Uruguay: The Shipyard by Juan Carlos Onetti


Argentina: Crane World (1999, Pablo Trapero)
Bolivia: Cocalero (2007, Alejandro Landes)
Brazil: Black God White Devil (1964, Glauber Rocha)
Chile: Tony Manero (2008, Pablo Larraín)
Colombia: Crab Trap (2009, Oscar Ruiz Navia)
Costa Rica: Cold Water of the Sea (2010, Paz Fabrega)
Ecuador: Cronicas (2004, Sebastián Cordero)
Japan: Tokyo Sonata (2008, Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
Mexico: Duck Season (2004, Fernando Eimbcke)
Paraguay: Noche Adentro (2009, Pablo Lamar, 17 min)
Peru: Milk of Sorrow (2009, Claudia Llosa)
Uruguay: A Useful Life (2010, Federico Veiroj)
Venezuela: El Don (2006, José Ramón Novoa)

[Update May 9, 2011]

Substitute / Bonus Films

I will be watching an additional number of South American films to compliment some of the above titles. This will mean at most one title from each country.

Argentina: Lion's Den (2008, Pablo Trapero)
Colombia: The Wind Journeys (2009, Ciro Guerra)
Ecuador: Ratas, ratones, rateros (1999, Sebastián Cordero)
Paraguay: I Hear Your Scream (2008, Pablo Lamar, 11 min)
Peru: Madeinusa (2006, Claudia Llosa)
Venezuela: Araya (1959, Margot Benacerraf)

Two films for Ecuador have been added courtesy of Michael C. and Pacze Moj.

The three countries missing films are Ecuador, Paraguay and Japan. There are no shortage of Japanese titles but it is the Paraguayan entry that will most likely be the last title to be picked. The one readily available Paraguayan film is Paraguayan Hammock but I already used that for the 2010 World Cup Movie Festival so I want to pick a new Paraguayan film but currently nothing appears to be on the horizon. If I am still stuck for a title come June 2011, then I will go with Paraguayan Hammock.

All entries should be judged prior to the soccer tournament's kick-off on July 1, 2011. So that means all books have to be read and all films have to be seen by June 30, 2011.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Spotlight on Dassin

After I encountered Jules Dassin’s magnificent heist film Rififi a few years ago, I was puzzled as to why I had not heard about him previously. Surely, a director capable of making such a fine film deserved to be held in high regard. But why the silence regarding his name?

Maybe one reason why I didn't hear much of Dassin was because there was a time when he was blacklisted in the United States. On the other hand, the positive comments found in a 2008 retrospective indicate that he was appreciated by quite a few critics, so maybe I somehow was looking in the wrong places when praises of his films were handed out.

Regardless of the reasons, I wanted to do a mini spotlight and pay tribute to a director who crafted a film like Rififi. So a few featured films:

Brute Force (1947)
The Naked City (1948)
The Law (1959)
Phaedra (1962)
Topkapi (1964)

The 5 films cover a range of topics and show Dassin's versatility. Brute Force is an engaging and detailed look at prison life, The Naked City is a noirish film about a murder investigation, The Law is a fascinating look at the way of life in a small Italian town, Phaedra is a Greek tragedy about a passionate affair and Topkapi is a playful heist film.

Heist but with some humour

Topkapi sets itself apart from Rififi with its humour and overall playful tone. Yet, it still manages to spend a good amount of time depicting the robbery planning. At the film's start, the heist planner lays out the 3 cardinal rules of theft:

"Plan meticulously, execute cleanly and don't get caught before, during or after."

Another requirement for the heist is that it should only involve amateurs with no criminal record so that after the robbery, when the police round up the usual suspects or criminals on their watch list, no one will come looking for the amateurs.

Topkapi was made almost 4 decades before Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven yet the two films share a bond regarding the planning and execution:

1) Just like Ocean’s Eleven, there are no guns used in Topkapi. The initial plan in Topkapi did require a gun and ammunition but once the Turkish border security and police discover the gun, then the plan is altered to be carried out without any arms.
2) Both films go about assembling a team with defined roles for each member, including an acrobat. The team in Topkapi consists of only 6 people but each person knows their role.
3) In both films, the team is lead by a duo. In Topkapi it is a male-female combination whereas in Ocean's Eleven Danny Ocean and Rusty lead the pack.

Also, Topkapi features an engaging hanging rope robbery sequence presented with no background music, thereby increasing the crime’s tension. This scene clearly appears to have inspired the Ethan Hunt rope scene in Mission Impossible.

The city..oh the city

New York City is a key character of The Naked City and the film starts and ends with overhead shots of the city. There is a narrator to guide the audience and inform us that the film’s story is just one of the 8 million tales that exist in the city.

Dassin's film focuses on the policemen who try to solve a murder. There are detailed discussions about the suspects and eventually a series of clues allow a valid trail to be chased down. But it is not easy to find a suspect in a city with many possible leads. As one policeman tells another that their suspect could be any one of the half million males that match the description. The story certainly benefits from being set in a time when neighbours knew each other and could therefore assist in solving a crime. For example, in one scene a policeman goes to a neighbourhood and asks the children if they know a boxer who plays the harmonica. They are able to point the inspector towards the right building. Such a quick identification would not be possible in a modern day North American city because of the isolation that exists in downtown condos/apartments and even in the suburbs.

Pacze Moj has an excellent write-up about The Naked City.


While I relished watching all 5 films, The Law is probably my favourite because of the attention to detail regarding the small Italian town setting. In a sense, the closeness of the characters who live across from each other and know about other's affairs is an extension of The Naked City in which people were known by their name and occupation and were not just statistics. The Law also benefits from having Gina Lollobrigida play the sensuous Marietta, a female that is the object of desire of every male in town. The film also has Marcello Mastroianni playing a quiet, shy man and Yves Montand playing the opposite character of Matteo Brigante, a man who wants to rule the town and have his way with any woman, Marietta included ofcourse.

Dassin managed to turn his exile into a positive aspect by expanding his directorial skills to incorporate European art house and popular ingredients into his films. As a result, he could comfortably make a film in France, Greece, Italy or Turkey and still manage to capture the essence of each city or town as if he was still back in the US.

Incidentally, Hollywood too might be rediscovering Dassin as a remake of Rififi is on the cards.

By the numbers

Two of the 5 films seen in this spotlight were made before Dassin's exile from the US in 1953.
Three films are with the Greek actress Melina Mercouri who married Dassin in 1966.
Topkapi is the only color film out of the 5.
The Law is the only non-English film out of the selections.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Watching Carlos in Canada

So do you want to see the new Olivier Assayas film Carlos?

Do you live in Toronto or Vancouver?

If your answer is no, then you are not privileged enough to see this film in movie theatres. The rest of Canada does not matter as currently only Toronto & Vancouver have had the benefit of showcasing this movie outside of their film festivals.

If the film does open in a few more select Canadian cities, it will more likely be spring or summer of 2011, closer to a year since the film first made headlines when it premiered at Cannes in May 2010.

So what is a Canadian film lover to do?

Simple. Order the film from

The film is in PAL but most Canadian/North American film lovers need to have a PAL DVD player anyway as that is an essential requirement to be able to legally watch most foreign films.

A lot of time and energy is wasted on whether film criticism is dead, whether film viewing is only relevant if seen in a movie theater or whether online film bloggers are putting critics out of a job. No one seems to be paying attention to the bigger issue that the current North American film distribution model is broken. There are great films being made in the world yet most people in North America won't get to see most of them. Certain foreign films will show only once or twice at a local North American film festival and some might play at an art house/indie theatre or at a cinematheque before disappearing for good. Some might not even see a North American DVD release. One way to see a good number of these foreign films is to fly around the world to various film festivals. But that is just not a feasible option.

I truly believe if more quality films are regularly shown in North American movie theatres, then film criticism would be even more alive than ever before. But in the current situation, multiplexes across Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver are showing mostly the same films. As a result, film criticism is restricted to just a few titles. Do we need 30+ writers analyzing The Social Network? No!

Incredibly this same film in multiple venue model dominates the US and parts of UK. It is baffling that in this day and age when there are more choices of films than ever before, the selection at a regular movie theatre is quite limited. But thankfully, the DVD and the online world provides a very useful option.
[Update, Nov 13, 2010]

The Regina Public Library Film Theatre is showing Carlos On Nov 27 & 28. The shorter film version is showing as opposed to the longer 5.5 hour version but still it is incredible to see another Canadian city get this film.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Spotlight on Godard

Every cinephile crosses paths with a Godard film sooner rather than later in their cinematic journey. The only difference is that some follow a more linear journey through Godard's films than others. This variant is not always down to choice as cinephiles who have lived through the 1960's had the unique ability to soak in fresh Godard reels as they arrived but those joining the cinephilia belt in the 1990's had to make do with whatever films they could find. For example, my Godard journey followed the unusual path of first seeing his 1965 film Alphaville followed by Ro.Go.Pa.G (1963) before finally hitting Breathless (1960) and then jumping all the way to In Praise of Love (2001) before working backwards through Contempt (1963), Band of Outsiders (1964) and Week End (1967).

There is so much written material about Godard's films that one can sometimes have the mistaken belief of being familiar with his films even though they have not seen the work. I was surprized to discover that I had only seen 7 of his films even though I could name atleast 20 of his films off the top of my head. Also, the few titles I had seen were very early in my film viewing days as I saw most of the films on VHS tapes. So it was time for me to treat myself to some Godard as a means of catch-up. Also, I hoped that seeing some of his older films might come in handy before I tackled his latest work Film socialisme.

Un Femme di Femme (1961)
My Life to Live (1962)
Le Petit Soldat (1963)
Pierrot Le Fou (1965)
La Chinoise (1967)
Detective (1985)

Of the six films, my favourite would be My Life to Live, a devastating yet beautiful work with a mesmerizing pool hall sequence.

La Chinoise, Le Petit Soldat and Pierrot Le Fou make an interesting political triple bill.

Even though Le Petit Soldat and Detective are separated by more than two decades, they share a common thread about a mistaken killing related to a character reading a hotel room number upside down. In Le Petit Soldat, it is a two digit number but in Detective it is a three digit room number as 666 & 999 are mistaken.