Jakarta Piriformis Jujitsu


After 28 hours in-transit arrived from Portland OR to Jakarta, day flipped, body whacked, and ready to recoup and jump on in.  Managed to do so, until, just as jet-lag wobble was evaporating, a piriformis attack hobbled left leg and the 24/7 dose of oscillating pain took its toll on energies and psyche.   I suspect all being triggered by the long silver-tube sit-down + 72 years of solar spinning.  Doing stretches, popping ibuprofen and hobbling along.  And now, back in USA, following one of the worst 12 hour flights I ever experienced, trying to get back to normal, though my body so far is not helping – piriformis not exactly responding to stretches, etc.  The vicissitudes of aging, among other things.



Jakarta:  12 million and counting, a “developing world” jumble of old and new; skyscrapers of the current fashion, tilting, bent, sliced and diced breakups of the old “international style” gridded box.  Inside shopping malls with the standard rich folks brands – Gucci, Prada, etc.  On the streets an anarchic cacophony of cars, motorbikes, taxis, utterly dysfunctional, making for a ride of a few miles an hour’s waste.  Off the major thoroughfares, the map leads to winding roads and alleyways, clogged with vehicles, small stores spilling to the streets.  Akin to other nearby sudden cities of the Asian world, Jakarta is clogged with people moved from the countryside, eking out a living in the new urban world of modernity mixed with 3rd world decay.  The air chokes with smog; the racket of motorbikes is cyclically broken with the calls to prayer issuing from the mosques.


I was in Jakarta, invited by the Arkipel Film Festival, focused on documentary and experimental films, to participate as a juror in the competition, and to show a few of my films – Imagens de uma cidade perdida, and They Had It Coming.  I’d seen perhaps half the films before arriving, via DropBox.  The first days there I watched the rest.  A very mixed assortment of films, from really dreadful to quite wonderful.  I’ll paste below my brief and sometimes acidic comments.  The jury meeting scheduled for 6 hours took 3.  Not much argument as all the jurors liked the three I’d chosen as winners, and it was a simple matter of discreetly suggesting the winners be the films we all agreed on.  The winners then were as follows (comments I wrote for prize presentation, based on jury’s discussions):


Peransi Award for films made by persons under 30.

Made by a youth collective of kids, 11-19 years, in Matemoros, Portugal, What Day Is Today? is a charming, serious work, covering  four decades of  recent Portuguese history, from the Salazar years of dictatorship to his fall, the April revolution and onto today’s current financial crisis.  Utilizing a clever and well-executed stop motion technique, the film unfolds old newspaper fotos, bringing them to life with animation, with a gentle analysis leading the spectator through the ups and downs of Portuguese history in a delightful and informative manner.  It concludes with the assertion that we are all responsible for our own history, for better and worse.  In doing so it carefully avoids the easy pleasures of a blame-game, and places us squarely before the mirror.  Technically and creatively a lovely film most deserving of the Peransi Award reserved for young filmmakers.

iciJury Prize:

Using a severe formal simplicity, Between Here and There, a film by Alexia Bonta, intelligently and compassionately dissects the essence of a sequence of women living in an old person’s home. Despite the near-clinical framing of these people as they are given haircuts, the human passion, joy, and tragedy of life are succinctly made tangible with the most minimal of means. In an uncanny manner this simple work unzips the full panoply of the lives of its characters, making for a work both funny and sad, and leaving ample space for us to meander with our own thoughts on life’s nature and meaning. Tender, respectful, beautifully shot and edited, this film is a good example of the dictum that sometimes “less is more.”


Grand Prize:

Shot and edited in a manner disarmingly simple and direct – long static shots, the occasional walk with camera, subjects centered on screen, I am the people, explores through the eyes of a a now-Parisian intellectual born in Beirut and raised in Cairo, a peasant family in rural Egypt, as the events of Tahrir Square and after unfold. We see the everyday life of work in the fields, herding sheep, the crude grain mill, the making of bread, and the banter and play of a family – including the arrival of an addition. And we see the events shaking Egypt – the challenge to and fall of Mubarak, the election of Morsi, and his fall and the rise of Sissi – largely though the prism of television, which the family watches. And we see the shifting political stances taken – pro and con, changing with the gusts of history: Morsi Yes, and then Morsi No.

The fields stay the same, small changes come and go, as does the electric power. In her film Anna Roussillon does not hesitate to make clear her own views, engaging in conversation and questioning, but she remains fully respectful of the modest people whose portrait she paints, and the history which envelopes them. We the People is a quiet, discreet and compassionate film which while itself is done with a graceful simplicity of means does not stoop to simplifying its subject. A beautiful and beautifully realized work which expands far beyond the village in which it is set.

The balance of the films included a handful of others I might have awarded a prize if it had become a wrangle in the jury room.  Among those would be:
CINZA (ASHES) – very nice minimalist Portuguese film using archival stills
KRIEG DER LUGEN (WAR OF LIES) – German film about “Curveball” – the Iraqi informant whose stories led to the USA attack; claustrophobic, effective.
A PLACE I’VE NEVER BEEN – Swiss film composed of images taken from internet in/around Acropolis; very sophisticated flicker-film, beautifully executed.
MUTASALILUN (INFILTRATORS) – Strong documentary from Palestine, about workers sneaking into Israel for work – harrowing and informative.
After these were a good number of interesting/competent films, but nothing more.  Most of the “experimental” films were plainly bad.  Here’s my notes, with caustic, unforgiving opinions on some of the films:
CINZA – very nicely done, clean, minimalist, still fotos, comes to political aspect subtly, discreet use of CGI to make stills seem to be live         Y
BEEP – S Korean archival compilation played for heavy-handed political satire N
LES TOURNEMENTS – FOR THE LOST — mental hospital, sheepherding, snow just doesn’t work                                              N
ALL THAT IS SOLID – architecture, redundant, then EFX degradation N
A.D.A.M. – landscape/cityscape then frenetic, if didn’t have ponderous VO would be much better,  poetic; instead voice over rams home the “point” N
archival footage, dog head, bombastic sound track                          N
ANOUK DE CLERCQ – space ship animation, pompous VO, music N
SARAH – drawing bad careless filmmaking leaning on Auschwitz, Derrida to support with intellectual twaddle                               N
HALFCUT train, tedious “intellectual” joke/jerking off not funny/not interesting     N
CONTINUOUS LINES – competent but uninspired portrait of Hungarian train line. Goes nowhere, generates no energy, nor a critique of the dullness of its subject                                         N
BINARIO doc of trains, industrial port – nicely shot, informative but overly long, N
long tedious boring minimalist/conceptual steadicam tour of emptied post-modern world, sterile, intended surely to be a critique but too tiresome and obvious to hold attention.                                        N
KILLING TIME Slick Israeli near sit-com                                   N
I DANCE WITH GOD – cinematically conventional if competently done, carried only by virtue of the charming blind old man clearly acting for the camera N
BARCA Portuguese, ferry doc so-so tacked on portentous VO to give middling images heft                                                                   N
EL CORRAL Y EL VENTO – doc bolivia alto plano – often interesting images but no film                          N
DARK MATTER Inept conjunction of 100 yrs of avantgarde tricks technically superimposing and processed 16mm films with electronic digital thematically overlapping series hint of nazi history over experimental junk, trying like other films here to invest seriousness in footage which can not support it. N
talking head doc old italian anti-fascist intercut with cute cloying animation. N
Complex, flawed, overly gimmicky portrait of the artist’s mother – despite all its problems it is an effective portrait – compelling, emotionally striking (though with an interesting life to portray culminating in death that is relatively easy.) Still, despite its numerous errors in sensibility.
GRACE PERIOD – Korean doc on prostitution in Seoul – demos cross cut with abstracted shots of cribs etc. almost OK but.. repetitive, too much abstraction of cribs, like an evasion                              N
Messy media reflective Chinese quasi-reality TV, culturally interesting. Cinematically a mess.                     NO
Stupid self-reflexive academic exercise. Poorly done.          NO
Badly made film. Boring. Trying to hide itself by showing why it was bad. Bad direction. Bad treating of actors. Leaning on exotic settin of Syrian refugee camp. Morally terrible. NO
STATE THEATER #5 BEIRUT long single shot tour de force which neither visually or “content” wise sustains itself; ends up boring.          N
Terrible mess. Baneful example of terrible effect, of ‘5os and ’60s experimental – Brakhage/Mekas. NO
Dishonest with computer “old film effect” of some (perhaps) old footage (train, seaside) slowed down, child in crib (vid?), moon – interspersed with pretentious texts of famed intellectual blah blah in presumed support of the imagery. stupid pretentious twaddle. The electronic optical printing was done (analog) in the 60’s Ken Jakobson. Academic “avant garde” – shit. (squandered some nice imagery along the way.)
ENDLESS NAMELESS – old footage looking but home processed new gay soldier guys messing with rifles and…. – rough crude shooting, 3 guys. Baneful effect of Apichatpong, who was among listed producer people….        N
Hand held rural family Portugal. Wobbly, searching for image – all stuff I’d tell students to learn how to use their camera, get off eye level, zooming in/out. Home-movie student level.            NO
THE NATION long Armenian(?) landscapes, girls VO interesting, misguided NO


I suppose a young filmmaker looking at these comments would hope I wasn’t on a jury looking at their work.  I confess I am a hard critic, but then I take “art” seriously.  In my life I’ve been around a lot of artists, of all kinds, and I suppose the combination of “ego” (sort of a requisite matter for being an “artist”) and a certain kind of clubiness among friends tends to make for an absence of serious criticism, and so a lot of real crap flies around with no one willing to mention the Emperor’s new clothes.   I don’t think good art comes out of such things, so when (seldom) offered the opportunity, I don’t hesitate to call a spade a spade.  How not to make friends and influence people…




Now Sept 10, still wrestling with the damn piriformis.  Off tomorrow to Vancouver BC where there’s a Saturday evening screening of They Had It Coming and Coming to Terms at the Vancity Theatre.  I’ll be there, hobbling or not!


A big thanks to everyone in Jakarta who we met, who helped – thanks for the invitation!  Despite the piriformis, we had a great time!



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