Oct 24, 2015

Sarah Gavron's "Suffragette"

Factory workers and British suffragettes Maud (Carey Mulligan) and Violet (Anne-Marie Duff) in a still from Suffragette.
In theaters now, Suffragette is that rare narrative film made from the point-of-view of a working class woman, in this case one living in early 20th century Britain. You can read my interview with the director, Sarah Gavron, here: http://www.filmjournal.com/features/demanding-be-heard-sarah-gavron%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%98suffragette%E2%80%99-dramatizes-british-women%E2%80%99s-fight-vote

My review of Suffragette also appears in Film Journal International: http://www.filmjournal.com/reviews/film-review-suffragette

Oct 19, 2015

Patricio Guzmán's The Pearl Button: In Theaters this Weekend

A still from "The Pearl Button" of the Humboldt Current, which marks an area of low salinity ocean that flows along the west coast of South America and that marks a unique ecosystem. (Courtesy of distributor, Kino Lorber Pictures).

If there were a poet laureate of Chile’s Atacama Desert, it would be documentary filmmaker Patricio Guzmán. In Nostalgia for the Light (2011), Guzmán probed that high, arid land, famous for its observatories, and its spectacular views of the Milky Way, for evidence of crimes that are the subject of all of his documentaries. They were committed during the sixteen years of dictator Augusto Pinochet’s regime. In his latest documentary, The Pearl Button, the writer-director becomes the bard of oceans, and in his sublime narrative voice, ruminates on their depths as the repository for human history.

The Pearl Button is comprised of several storylines that arise from that quotidian object. One button represents the only piece of evidence in a murder case that will never be brought to trial. It was discovered off the Pacific coast of Chile, not far from the Atacama Trench, annealed to a railroad tie. These wooden ties weighed down the bodies of Pinochet-era victims dropped from helicopters. Guzmán re-enacts that chilling crime and imagines the body and mind of the “disappeared” person now flowing in oceanic memory, along with countless others who suffered the same fate. 

Writer-director Patricio Guzman on his epic voyage along Chile's Pacific coast during production of his sublime documentary, "The Pearl Button." (Courtesy of Kino Lorber Pictures.)
During production on The Pearl Button, the 74 year old writer-director embarked on a sea journey along Chile’s 2,600-mile coastline, mostly inaccessible by land or air. Along the way, he discovered another narrative thread: the story of Jemmy Button, an indigenous 19th-century man who was paid one pearl button to travel to England in order to be “civilized.” Button later returned to his coastal community, among many other nomadic aboriginal locations in what is now Southern Chile and its archipelago. Europeans eventually decimated the native peoples, although some escaped. Guzmán speaks to a few of their descendants, including the last Kawésqar speaker. Once ocean nomads, they are now prevented by the Chilean government from putting to sea in their traditional canoes.