Sunday, July 13, 2014
The Young And Prodigious T.S. Spivet: Intellectual Consciousness And Brutal US Capitalist Conformity
While a movie directed by an outsider delving into American life may suffer the pitfalls of idiomatic mishaps lost in translation so to speak, a detached point of view can on the other hand, shine a sharper and less hesitant, self-conscious light on the native foibles and fears at hand. Such was the case last year with British director Steve McQueen's unprecedented, uncompromising scrutiny of that shameful, brutal period of buried US history this country has always been averse to confronting, with his scathing dramatic biopic, 12 Years A Slave.
Not nearly as raw and revealing, but certainly striking a few sensitive nerves with its gently probing satirical bite, is French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet's The Young And Prodigious T.S. Spivet. Bringing his bold and cutting edge wit to this scrutiny of peculiar when not outlandish American customs and bad behavior, Jeunet's mischievously playful cinematic reputation precedes him, with raucous gems like Delicatessen and Amelie.
Derived from Reif Larsen's illustrated debut novel, The Selected Works of TS Spivet, Jeunet's adaptation is deceptively crafted as a child's adventure. But within that visually stunning, imaginative tale is an excursion through the darker heart and paradoxically damaged soul of America.
Kyle Catlett is the T.S. Spivet in question, a beyond precocious ten year old genius and rural Montana boy whose scientific knowledge and analytical powers have rendered him a local alienated outcast in a rigidly conformist culture. Where reactions to the boy tend to narrowly range from ridicule to the irritated displeasure of his baffled teacher at school.
And Spivet fares no better at home, where he's emotionally rejected by a cowboy obsessed rancher father who'd rather the boy be more like the macho males around him, and scorned by a sister aspiring to beauty pageants. And though he shares an intellectual and apparently genetic bond with his mother, played by Helena Bonham Carter - a woman who must limit her own passionate scientific inquiries into the lives of insects to her domestic downtime between household duties - she herself is dismissed as a designated eccentric as well.
Following Spivet's groundbreaking invention at home of a futuristic, power harnessing gadget, he's summoned to the Smithsonian Institute in D.C. to receive a top award, though they're unaware that he's a mere child. Concealing his age on the phone to the crafty official (Judy Davis) who invited him - and who harbors an agenda of her own to exploit the boy for her own ambitions - Spivet secretly sets off on the long journey from Montana to D.C. via boxcar. And in a tale morphing into a visually enthralling road movie, equally enchanting for children and adult audiences alike. Even when encountering a flaky truck driver war veteran offering Spivet a lift, as he explains with difficulty how he signed up to see the world which necessitated killing people in the process.
But within the colorful layers of humor and heartbreak summoned in equal measure by Jeunet's magical powers of visual storytelling, are stinging perceptions pertaining to oppressive cultural tendencies playing out in this country. Including difference intolerance, and the ostracism of knowledgeable minds and probing intellectual inquiry beyond the narrow constrictions of stunted mass conformity. And aggressive competition counting militaristic driven adventurism and unquestioning tragic gun love derived from the capitalist mentality, and even over science in the pursuit of a better world.
Sunday, July 6, 2014
The digital age has no doubt expanded access to the media universe for masses of people on the planet, both as creators and consumers. But what about the more subtle side effects on cinema itself. Not so much the more readily available tools to produce movies, but rather the influence on content of gadget culture.
And where there was at one time in the last century the existence of a collective reality of people in a human bond, gathering in front of a radio or television - or in the case of the now progressively diminishing reign of the movie theater. Yet all that changed radically, when capitalism came up with a shrewd new idea of huge profit generating individual and strictly private devices, rather than just buying simply one per residence. Whether digital rather than home phones, and single viewer movie or music gadgets.
And in turn, the effect on human interaction - or the absence of it - on screen. Ad what may be termed The New Loneliness. With a trend in movies as seen in the examples below, more often than not with everything and everyone else pushed into the background - or not there at all. And more likely than not inevitably starring a trio of notoriously narcissistic characters - Me, Myself And I.
Taking the bratty teen genre out of the sitcom and into the South African wilds doesn't seem to do either much good in the female action hero thriller, Heatstroke. Not that Maisie Williams and Stephen Dorff don't dramatically impress as the estranged offspring and resented divorced dad respectively.
But to equalize and thereby diminish the barely touched upon, real life, breaking news back story of the alarming extinction of threatened wildlife existence in remote Africa by profiteering poachers for bickering nuclear family faceoffs, leads to a case of the narrative in need of rescuing as well, and suffering as much as the endangered creatures. Not to mention an Africa minus Africans.
Nor the fact that the main source of conflict here and Dad's new love interest, is played by Russian actress Svetlana Metkina. An odd choice considering that she's a whole lot more accomplished at the facing up to the physicality of wilderness survival and delivering the ungrateful kid to safety, than delivering her lines with any emotional depth.
And while director Evelyn Purcell may or may not have been drawn to the project as a kind of dramatic closure regarding surviving herself as stepmom to actress Josephine Demme when she was married to her famous father, Jonathan, the same is not likely to be said vicariously. That is, for audiences not sharing that particular label in the real world.
Heatstroke: A feelgood fantasy for primarily harassed stepparents everywhere.
VERY GOOD GIRLS
The emotional intricacies of female teen friendship rarely receive authentic treatment on screen, mostly about female gazing as an object of desire from the male point of view. And though Naomi Foner's Very Good Girls does just that as well, this portrait of coming of age female bonding and unbonding has much more on its mind. And in uniquely probing, sensitively evocative ways.
And though much too old for the just graduated high school girls they play - Dakota Fanning and Elizabeth Olsen are 20 and 25 years old respectively - they get a pass here for the extraordinary depth, passion and complexity they bring to their coming of age characters.
Lily (Dakota Fanning) and Gerry (Elizabeth Olsen), best friends since childhood, are about to painfully part ways one emotionally turbulent summer, following high school graduation. Raised in an affluent New York City suburb, the inseparable pair have experienced little of the world, including sex, as uptight Lily prepares to go off to college while a more free spirited Gerry sets her sights on a folk singing career.
But following an encounter while biking around Brighton Beach - with a mysterious artist (Boyd Holbrook) making ends meet as an ice cream vendor - the best friends are drawn into a mutual infatuation with the not quite displeased seductive stud. Giving rise to competitive twin infatuations which threaten the female bond between them.
This potentially trite tale written and directed by Naomi Foner (Running on Empty, Losing Isaiah), is salvaged by dramatically stirring performances from its exceedingly charismatic crew. Including Ellen Barkin as Fanning's bitter mom, along with a far too little seen and heard from Demi Moore and Richard Dreyfuss as Olsen's offbeat, social activist parents.
Though you have to more than wonder about Dreyfuss as the combo capitalist patrician dad vocially championing the workers of the world as he barbeques at his upscale abode, regarding whom exactly in his sumptuous lily white world, he might be addressing this to. Not to mention. Foner's exceedingly peculiar decision to insert an erotically charged, impulsive sex scene between a panting Fanning and her summertime employer played by Peter Sarsgaard - who just happens to be Foner's son-in-law in real life, married to her daughter, Maggie Gyllenhaal.
The less said about this Mark Jackson directed post-battlefield psychological drama, the better. Which is likely what this less is in no way more style that filmmaker Mark Jackson may have had in mind anyway. Exemplary actress Catherine Keener, through seemingly no fault of her own, is stuck in this moody, one note melodrama as Lee. She's a US photojournalist and PTSD survivor, just returned from conflict in Libya where her partner was killed by her side.
Holed up at an Italian lodge on her way home to the States, Keener is burdened with the weight of both traumatic memories and this fractured script devoid of much substance, as she wanders sulking about in a perpetually grouchy silent mood. And dividing her time between snapping abrasively at strangers or stalking them with her prying camera, for the duration. At one point, she latches on to an irritated pregnant young Libyan refugee, butting into her business until the woman almost but never quite allows herself to be befriended.
As for the conflict in Libya, forget about it. The movie could have just as well been about clinical depression brought on by a bad hair day. End of story.
And regarding what all these recent hermetically internalized female bonding films may have in common, let's just say it's all about what you don't see. Namely, the world around them in this age of digital narcissism, that is best described here as Africa without Africans, the Libyan conflict without Libya, and a racially, ethnically and economically diverse New York City without a multi-cultural or economically deprived demographic presence in sight.
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Also...Shark Sense: A Conversation with author Charlene Zartman, who wants you all to get in touch with your inner shark.
And...Toronto Film Festival Report. Women at the Toronto Film Festival: Director Zaida Bergroth phones into the show from Finland, as she prepares to take her dramatic feature The Good Son, to the Toronto Film Festival which begins this weekend. Bergroth describes what it's like for a young woman to receive such recognition, and making very personal movies about men.
Listen in at WBAI in NY, 99.5 FM. Or online at: http://archive.wbai.org.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
For nearly 30 long, tortuous years, Marilyn Buck was a political prisoner of the state, a captive in the federal prison system for her role in the liberation of former Black Panther, Assata Shakur.
She wrote gripping lines of radical poetry, often about the lives and plights of her fellow imprisoned women, as well as of prisoners who were active in the Black Freedom and Nationalist movements.
For example, back in 2000 she wrote "Black August", an excerpt of which follows:
Would you hang on a cliff's edge
Sword-sharp, slashing fingers
While jackboot screws stomp heels
on flesh peeled bones
"Let go! die, damn you,die!"
could you hold on 20 years, 30 years?
20 years, 30 years and more
brave Black brothers buried
in US concentration camps
they hang on
Black light shining in torture
Ruchell, Yogi, Sundiata, Sekou
Warren, Chip, Seth, Herman, Jalil
and more and more they resist:
Marilyn wrote that poem in 2000.
She was released in July 2010, and recently passed away from the ravages of cancer.
Marilyn Buck was imprisoned so long because of her support of the Black Liberation Movement, which made her a traitor, of sorts, to the White Nation. Like John Brown, she fought to free the unfree.
Her spirit of resistance never left her.
Marilyn was 62.
--(c) '10 maj
The Power of Truth is Final -- Free Mumia!
Audio of most of Mumia's essays are at: http://www.prisonradio.org
Mumia's got a podcast! Mumia Abu-Jamal's Radio Essays - Subscribe at the website or on iTunes and get Mumia's radio commentaries online.
Mumia Abu-Jamal's new book -- JAILHOUSE LAWYERS: PRISONERS DEFENDING PRISONERS V. THE USA, featuring an introduction by Angela Y. Davis -- has been released! It is available from City Lights Books: http://www.citylights.com/book/?GCOI=87286100448090
Please make a contribution to help free Mumia. Donations to the grassroots work will go to both INTERNATIONAL CONCERNED FAMILY AND FRIENDS OF MUMIA ABU-JAMAL and the FREE MUMIA ABU-JAMAL COALITION (NYC).
Please mail donations/ checks to:
FREE MUMIA ABU JAMAL COALITION
PO BOX 16, NEW YORK,
(CHECKS FOR BOTH ORGANIZATIONS PAYABLE TO: FMAJC/IFCO)
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:
Send our brotha some LOVE and LIGHT at:
175 Progress Drive
Waynesburg, PA 15370
WE WHO BELIEVE IN FREEDOM CAN *NOT* REST!!
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Saturday, August 14, 2010
Revolutionary Women's Militias Of The Socialist Republic Of Afghanistan, 1979
A Rambo knockoff in more ways than one, Russian director Fyodor Bondarchuk's 9th Company not only rehashes the Hollywood war movie fantasy genre concocted famously by Sylvester Stallone, but similarly rewrites history for cash and careerist convenience as well. In the case of 9th Company, Russian music video director turned filmmaker Bondarchuk scripts history his way, related to the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and preceding and perhaps also prophesying the US imperialist fiasco in the region today.
So is Bondarchuk's beef with the barefoot belligerent fundamentalist Afghans or the beefy bungling brass of the Soviet Union? Less likely any of the above, than a battle of the blockbusters showdown with Hollywood, as to whose got the bigger bullets.
The story like the Red Army platoon in question, is stretched to the limits, taking its time with grueling boot camp, boozing and balling a seemingly brain impaired bimbo, while taking its time on the way to the Afghan combat zone. We've seen this all before, even those among us who've never served in an army. For there is as usual among the essentially indistinguishable rowdies the bully, the artist and the madman.
And all of them are fond of referring to the enemy with derogatory zeal as the 'Muj', when not stashing away that local female civilian dubbed Snow White because of the color of her hair, then taking turns having sex with her in a barn. And while audiences may recoil at the loathsome misogynistic dehumanization of what appears to be a gullible mentally challenged young woman, the filmmaker aspires to his most elevated romantic moment in the film as the the sweaty sexists out of uniform screw her in succession, to the tune of sentimental flourishes on the soundtrack. While indeed the only potentially significant white metaphor that may be at work here, is the army brass as collective Ahab, pursuing the elusive and dangerous whale.
Getting back to the narrative, such as it is, the soldiers set up an encampment on a cliff, where they're surrounded by armed Muslim peasants vastly outnumbering them, and leaving only a single Russian still standing. Blame for the defeat is heaped upon the Soviet Union - a very trendy fall guy these days - for failing to provide reinforcements in a hurry, and then abruptly retreating altogether.
Meanwhile, there is a not single past or present history at hand to provide context or meaning to it all. Aside from the falsification of what actually took place on that mountain. Which was the victory of the Red Army against the 'Muj' there, and the death of six of the thirty-nine soldiers.
So is this a case of creative expediency, denial or political opportunism? As the saying goes, we report, you decide. Though with the dismal state of historical truth in movies, the function of a film critic is seeming increasingly these days, as that of a teacher relegated to correcting bad homework.
What really transpired in Afghanistan? Marxist theorist Michael Parenti delivers more of the substance and scope of that history in his brief article, AFGHANISTAN, ANOTHER UNTOLD STORY, than the film's entire bloated, extravagant and meaningless big screen tall tale:
'....In 1973, the king was deposed, but the government that replaced him proved to be autocratic, corrupt, and unpopular. It in turn was forced out in 1978 after a massive demonstration in front of the presidential palace, and after the army intervened on the side of the demonstrators.
The military officers who took charge invited the PDP to form a new government under the leadership of Noor Mohammed Taraki, a poet and novelist. This is how a Marxist-led coalition of national democratic forces came into office. “It was a totally indigenous happening. Not even the CIA blamed the USSR for it,” writes John Ryan, a retired professor at the University of Winnipeg, who was conducting an agricultural research project in Afghanistan at about that time.
The Taraki government proceeded to legalize labor unions, and set up a minimum wage, a progressive income tax, a literacy campaign, and programs that gave ordinary people greater access to health care, housing, and public sanitation. Fledgling peasant cooperatives were started and price reductions on some key foods were imposed.
The government also continued a campaign begun by the king to emancipate women from their age-old tribal bondage. It provided public education for girls and for the children of various tribes. A report in the San Francisco Chronicle (17 November 2001) noted that under the Taraki regime Kabul had been “a cosmopolitan city. Artists and hippies flocked to the capital. Women studied agriculture, engineering and business at the city’s university. Afghan women held government jobs—-in the 1980s, there were seven female members of parliament. Women drove cars, traveled and went on dates. Fifty percent of university students were women.”
The Taraki government moved to eradicate the cultivation of opium poppy. Until then Afghanistan had been producing more than 70 percent of the opium needed for the world’s heroin supply. The government also abolished all debts owed by farmers, and began developing a major land reform program. Ryan believes that it was a “genuinely popular government and people looked forward to the future with great hope.”
But serious opposition arose from several quarters. The feudal landlords opposed the land reform program that infringed on their holdings. And tribesmen and fundamentalist mullahs vehemently opposed the government’s dedication to gender equality and the education of women and children.
Because of its egalitarian and collectivist economic policies the Taraki government also incurred the opposition of the US national security state. Almost immediately after the PDP coalition came to power, the CIA, assisted by Saudi and Pakistani military, launched a large scale intervention into Afghanistan on the side of the ousted feudal lords, reactionary tribal chieftains, mullahs, and opium traffickers.
A top official within the Taraki government was Hafizulla Amin, believed by many to have been recruited by the CIA during the several years he spent in the United States as a student. In September 1979, Amin seized state power in an armed coup. He executed Taraki, halted the reforms, and murdered, jailed, or exiled thousands of Taraki supporters as he moved toward establishing a fundamentalist Islamic state. But within two months, he was overthrown by PDP remnants including elements within the military.
It should be noted that all this happened before the Soviet military intervention. National security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski publicly admitted–months before Soviet troops entered the country–that the Carter administration was providing huge sums to Muslim extremists to subvert the reformist government. Part of that effort involved brutal attacks by the CIA-backed mujahideen against schools and teachers in rural areas.
In late 1979, the seriously besieged PDP government asked Moscow to send a contingent of troops to help ward off the mujahideen (Islamic guerrilla fighters) and foreign mercenaries, all recruited, financed, and well-armed by the CIA. The Soviets already had been sending aid for projects in mining, education, agriculture, and public health. Deploying troops represented a commitment of a more serious and politically dangerous sort. It took repeated requests from Kabul before Moscow agreed to intervene militarily.
Jihad and Taliban, CIA Style
The Soviet intervention was a golden opportunity for the CIA to transform the tribal resistance into a holy war, an Islamic jihad to expel the godless communists from Afghanistan. Over the years the United States and Saudi Arabia expended about $40 billion on the war in Afghanistan. The CIA and its allies recruited, supplied, and trained almost 100,000 radical mujahideen from forty Muslim countries including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Algeria, and Afghanistan itself. Among those who answered the call was Saudi-born millionaire right-winger Osama bin Laden and his cohorts.
After a long and unsuccessful war, the Soviets evacuated the country in February 1989. It is generally thought that the PDP Marxist government collapsed immediately after the Soviet departure. Actually, it retained enough popular support to fight on for another three years, outlasting the Soviet Union itself by a year....'
CONTINUE TO READ THE MICHAEL PARENTI ARTICLE HERE.
In other words, it might be said that the Soviet Union retreated from a war being conducted, financed and armed by the CIA. And Afghanistan consequently retreated from immense socialist progress for women and the poor, with the complicity between the CIA, the ruling class and religious fundamentalists morphing into Al-Qaeda, backwards by centuries to where Afghanistan regrettably is now.
WBAI Arts Magazine
Thursday, August 12, 2010
While mental illness is looked upon with shame and denial in any culture, that taboo takes a specific form in Indian-American culture. Not the least of which is negative attitudes in this country towards immigrants that exacerbate stress-related impairments, along with more recent manifestations of racial profiling related to terrorism that has unfairly impacted the South Asian community here. Rehana Mirza is a young female director who explores some of these issues in Hiding Divya, her dramatic debut about emotional breakdown striking one Indian-American family. Here's my conversation by phone with the filmmaker.
What inspired you to make a film on the subject of mental illness in the Indian-American community?
REHANA MIRZA: Mental illness in that community is something that's not talked about, and it definitely has a lot of stigma. So I wanted to create a film that could address mental illness, and try to eradicate some of the stigma. And I feel that film is a medium to reach many people. So that's why I set about making this movie.
Why did you decide to have as the mentally ill in your movie, only females?
RM: For me, I'm drawn to female characters. I want to see strong, three-dimensional nuanced female characters on the screen. I don't get to see that enough.
And I really wanted to create something that had three generations of women dealing with this issue. So I was interested in the grandmother/mother/daughter relationships. So all those things really interested me.
Now, there's also a stigma connected to mental illness throughout US culture. So how do you see it as different, and also the same, in the Indian-American community?
RM: I did do research on that. And the reason I wrote the film, is that a South Asian family friend had actually asked us to create a film about mental illness. Because her family was struggling with the issue, and they had no outlet.
You know, nobody would talk about it, and she had absolutely no guides, and no way to deal with it. And I think particularly within the South Asian communities, there's a real issue with acknowledging any sorts of problems, whether physical or mental.
So there's just not wanting to air these problems, it's like they're meant to be hidden. And so I wanted to make these issues in a particular community more universal, even if the nuances are slightly different.
For example in my research, I learned that a lot of these families will try to use Eastern medicines. And they think those will solve the problem. They also feel that prayer is a solution.
And because marriage is so important in South Asian culture, there's also this guilt that so-called 'bad blood' can be carried on through a family. And that their children will be ostracized in the community, and will not be able to find a good mate.
So those are the issue that may have a lot of crossover into other cultures. But they're very specific in the South Asian communities.
Do the attitudes towards mental illness differ in any way between India and that community here?
RM: I think so. For me, having grown up in the United States and creating this film, I was also looking at cultural differences, and generational differences. And I think in India, there is probably even a greater sense of denial.
Is anything being done to change those attitudes?
RM: Well, I think it starts with dialogue. And for me, creating this film was a way of starting that dialogue. There are also different organizations cropping up here, as well as in India, that deal with mental illness within the community. And offer services both for the person dealing with mental illness, and supportive services for the family.
And what about the stresses that may cause mental illness related to being immigrants or outsiders in this country, especially with the misguided racial profiling now connected to terrorism, and unjustly directed at the Indian-American community as well?
RM: Yeah, that's always an aspect of my work, how others view the characters that I'm creating. And that does have a lot of impact on the immigrant community. For example, in the film the grandmother is ostracized by the other patients.
And a lot of times they don't want to go into these care centers, because they are ostracized. And there isn't that sense of community there. So they are ostracized at both ends. From their own community for having mental illness, and from the community offering services.
Because there are all these stereotypes that manifest themselves, when they see a person of South Asian descent. And that scene in the hospital actually did happen to the family for whom I created this film.
Her father had actually shot himself, and still there was this silence in the community about it. And the staff told her family, there's nothing we can do for him because he doesn't speak English, and he doesn't ask for anything.
And he actually speaks English fluently! But it was part of his withdrawal. So it was actually a symptom of his mental illness, that they were attributing to him being an immigrant.
So there's such a double edged sword, when stereotypes are being used. But there are definitely certain pressures that immigrants face, and there need to be outlets to deal with that.
Would you say there are gender differences in those communities, regarding the mentally ill?
RM: Yes, there's probably a great deal of pressure on males to be the breadwinner, and females to be the caretaker. So if there are any problems with the children, those are blamed on the mother. So that sort of issue arises.
And as for the patients themselves, I think there are stereotypes viewing the males as violent. And viewing the female as like a crazy woman. And that female stereotype of oh, it's just hormones, you know?
But those are just from my own personal observations. I can't say what's true across the board, in terms of what gender biases there are. But I think the biases towards the mentally ill are so strong in general, that the gender biases really even out.
Since we're discussing gender differences, what do you feel are the challenges you face as a female director, and a woman of color?
RM: You know, within the South Asian community, there are a lot of strong female directors that have come before me. So I'm lucky in that way, that I have role models, like Mira Nair and Deepa Mehta. But they are coming from a different perspective.
They're more international, dealing with issues within India, and within the UK. But for me, I'm embarking on a very different route. I'm sort of going for the independent, New York City, American film.
And so, it's a mix of challenges. As a woman filmmaker, you look out there, and wonder why is the number of women making movies out there so low.
And then once you go beyond that and just want to make your art and do your work, there are challenges in finding the right team. And people who will believe in your vision.
And finding those who will be inspired by a woman filmmaker. So I think that's really important, as a woman, to find people who are a hundred percent behind your vision.
What about being a daughter in a South Asian family, and how they react to your choice of a rather unconventional pursuit for a woman?
RM: Oh yeah! I started off early trying to defy those conventions. So for me, it's been a long process of working out going against conventions. But it stems from the tradition of wanting a daughter to have a stable life, and be cared for.
But I think that I've shown along the way that I can take care of myself. And that this is a passion, and that it provides for me as well. And in a way that nothing else can.
What do you hope to convey with your film, especially to the culturally diverse audiences out there?
RM: I really wanted to show a regular family, just trying to make it through a normal day and trying to deal with those problems. As opposed to the tendency to romanticize mental illness, as a genius or artistic illness.
So an open attitude would really go a long way towards letting people know that they can seek treatment, and seek help. Or just even begin to talk about it. So I hope my film gives people the strength to go seek help.
And I think it resonates in the same way, for different cultures. And I hope people can recognize themselves in my movie, regardless of what culture they are.
What are you up to next?
RM: I'm working on an adaptation of Alice In Wonderland. And it's set on the Internet!
More information about the theatrical release of Hiding Divya around the country is at: HidingDivya.com and RehanaMirza.com. There is also a college tour planned for the movie with the director present, in anticipation of resonating with a younger generation.
Monday, August 2, 2010
In no way a chick flick, Woman Rebel traces the roots of radical female uprising in Nepal. Specifically, the dangerous but determined journey of one Maoist female guerrilla leader - rebel code name Silu - fueled by political consciousness and mass struggle, from her impoverished and oppressed peasant roots to parliament.
First time filmmaker Kiran Deol gained unprecedented access to the forty percent female People's Liberation Army of Nepal during their rebellion against the monarchy, as they prepare for battle and engage government soldiers in combat. Deol has commented, 'I wanted to showcase a story about women as agents of change, as opposed to victims of circumstance.' And in a country where half the population lives below the international poverty line combined with the violent repression of women, widespread uprising easily emerged as a mass movement against injustice.
A unique notion of feminism that embraces a combined resistance to 'end centuries of class and gender discrimination' the Communist Party of Nepal's armed rebellion has struggled for both 'women's right and freedom for the poor.' In the course of this exhilarating documentary, Silu and her female comrades resiliently move back and forth between everyday personas as dirt poor serfs struggling for meager subsistence, and battalions beaming with pride and political passion.
We come to understand the roots of Silu's sorrow and rage that led her to this radical destiny described as 'bittersweet, as she relates what befell her sister, a face she can't even remember from girlhood, when her sister was sold into marriage at the age of twelve. After being abused and beaten by her husband's family, one day she 'went to fetch wood in the jungle and hung herself. It was the saddest moment of my childhood, and I wanted to prevent other women from having the same fate as my sister.'
Conflict has also resided within her own family, as Silu had to make the difficult decision to fight in a war against her own brother, a government soldier, as well as facing the ambivalence of a worried and scornful mother But she never wavers from focusing on a higher purpose and the greater human family of Nepal. Like the female soldier in her battalion who took up arms to replace her husband killed in the war.
Likewise bittersweet is the eventual declaration of peace, and the emergence of Nepal as the youngest republic on the planet after the monarchy conceded. Silu is seen moving proudly from the secrecy of the jungle battlefields into the Maoist majority parliament as an elected official, and where women constitute a third of the members. And at one resonant moment she can finally reveal her identity in the Assembly chambers to her people and the world - 'My name is Uma Bhujel.'
But frustrated with the less than democratic channels for economic reforms, the Maoists have since left parliament to mobilize for change outside government. And though the future path and strategy is uncertain, Silu remains confident and filled with purpose, 'to fight in a new way. Do the Nepalese have food to eat? Do the Nepalese have clothes to wear?'
And her glowing, inspirational example is captured in a final scene, when she laughs after being asked whether she'd want a boy or girl if she eventually becomes a mother as well. Her characteristically unconventional reply: 'Women have always faced discrimination and violence. I want a daughter who will continue to fight against that.'
Woman Rebel debuts on HBO2, beginning August 18th aand 26th.
From The Women's Desk