Your Mommy Kills Animals
Going in, I didn't know much about the ways in which animal rights activists and animal welfare advocates clash. I also didn't know that in 2005 the FBI had determined that animal rights activists were the number one domestic terrorist threat. There was a lot in this documentary that surprised me and pushed me to articulate my own position on complex issues. The filmmaker interviews people on many different sides of the debate and it doesn't push a clear agenda, so it's 'hard work' as viewing (as well as containing some confronting images), but ultimately very interesting.
Much of the documentary focuses on the 'SHAC 7'. SHAC (Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty) was a group that campaigned against the chemical testing carried out by UK company Huntington. They successfully deterred investors and prevented it from floating on the US stock exchange. However, their aggressive tactics (eg demonstrations at stakeholders' homes) and their inflammatory publications left them as an open target. The FBI arrested six members and they were tried and convicted for inciting domestic terrorism. They are the most unassuming 'terrorists' you could possibly imagine--they mostly seemed to be sweet, quietly spoken young men who hadn't actually participated in the most offensive demonstrations themselves. I don't condone their actions but I also don't think they deserved their prison sentences and millions of dollars in damages. It seems like the new climate in the US is allowing the government to crack down on organisations whose message it doesn't like. For instance, none of the right-to-life campaigners, who have used similarly violent measures (more violent given that people have actually died) have been convicted under these laws.
The documentary also sheds light on organisations like PETA (an animal rights organisation) and the American Humane Society, arguing both are great spin doctors. Apparently the Humane Society took much credit for rescuing pets after Katrina, but grassroots organisations and the military themselves were more effective. Meanwhile the big animal welfare groups milked many thousands of dollars in donations and have not been made accountable for this. The documentary debunks the idea that these organisations actively try to find homes for animals they 'rescue'--PETA, in particular, advocates euthanasia for animals it rescues.
A lot of the evidence in this movie made me think twice, and it's certainly not a black and white issue, especially since we all benefit from animal testing. It was also interesting to hear about the way celebrities often pick up on animal cruelty as a cause--and to hear the cynicism about this from within the rights movement. It also made me curious about those who evidently did have an informed and sympathetic view on the issue (Howard Stern supported the documentary, for instance) and about the situation in my own country, since slightly different organisations function here.
It was quite long, but as you can see gave me lots of food for thought. Definitely very intelligent film-making about a legal, ethical and moral minefield.
My best friend and his wife
Korean cinema has had a big presence at MIFF over the last five years, but the selection this year wasn't as strong. And I probably picked the wrong Korean movie with this one. Don't get me wrong--it's very well acted and directed. It's intense professional cinema, and it reminded me of French cinema from the 90s--I'm not sure why, possibly the infuriating misogyny as well as the slick professionalism. ;-)
I don't think it was intended this way, but the movie felt like an excruciating study in male stupidity to me. The two men are both inept in different ways. Jae-moon, is a young cook--he's not a big success in life but he does have an attractive young wife, pregnant with their first child. His best friend Ye-jun, on the other hand, has a successful career, but lacks social skills, especially with women. They share an intense friendship (yes, homoerotic, but SO not hot because they're both bastards) which Jae-moon's wife is openly jealous about. The worst qualities of both men combine, triggering a tragic event. In the fallout, all three spiral out of control.
Ye-Jun's wife (the fact that I can't remember her name is pretty telling) is likeable enough until the second half of the movie and I spent most of the movie in silent rage on her behalf. Then she too lost my sympathy and at one point I would have been happy if they'd all died in a fiery inferno, and I would have been much happier if the final scene had been edited out. I never want to see this movie again. But it was well made. Honest! ;-)
My Kid Could Paint That
At four years old Marla Olmstead shot to fame in the media and art world, her paintings selling for up to $25,000. This documentary takes an inside look at the Olmstead family and also explores the idea people have about modern art being 'something a kid could paint'. It provides lots of funny moments as well as being an interesting look at the art world.
While the documentary was being shot, 60 Minutes aired speculation that Marla's paintings were not all her own work, and so the documentary shifted to respond to this, as the family dealt with the fallout from the criticism. This ends up making the documentary stronger as it starts to explore issues of authenticity--according to her parents, Marla is very shy and won't paint freely if she knows a camera is watching. The media had a lot to do with Marla's sudden fame and the filmmaker interviews the first journalist who picked up on the story. She's a perceptive woman who I really warmed to--and she starts telling the filmmaker he needs to decide what he's trying to get out of the story.
The Olmsteads are not obvious manipulators--if anything they seem naive. The mother in particular is a sympathetic woman who repeatedly says she'd be happy for it to all stop. But they get caught up in the celebrity media hype and seem unable to stop. I felt particularly sorry for Marla's younger brother, left out of the spotlight. And I was reminded of an article I read recently about Bindi Irwin, Steve Irwin's celebrity daughter, where those around her insisted they were only doing it 'as long as Bindi's still enjoying it'. But I can't help thinking that kids don't know any better. She might not feel the lack of a normal childhood right now... but how will she look back on it when she's older?
A Savage Grace
Julianne Moore's performance in this movie is outstanding. It's an exceptionally well made movie, but at times very uncomfortable viewing. Julianne plays social climber Barbara Daly who married into the Baekeland family (heirs to the Bakelite plastics fortune). She and her husband Brooks live a surreal high society lifestyle and have a tempestuous relationship. The film is narrated by her son Eddie, who grows up close to his emotionally volatile mother, though his homosexuality troubles her.
All of the performances in this movie are outstanding and the score and cinematography are wonderful. The sense of claustrophobia and increasing disturbance is built up perfectly. There are some pretty confronting scenes towards the end of the movie, which I suspect it will become famous for. The strangeness and hyperreality of the world that these people lived in in the 60s and 70s meant that I didn't really relate to any of the characters. But in this movie, it didn't matter. In that way, it's a rather voyeuristic look at an incestuous world of money, lies, mindgames and self-deception on an epic scale. It tells a unique and frightening story about the price paid for these lives. The filmmaker introduced it by reminding us that truth is stranger than fiction--and this movie, based on real events, definitely proves that to be true.