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Posts Tagged ‘movies’

NFB Film – Finding Farley

Last night we watched a delightful NFB film called Finding Farley. It follows as couple, their toddler, and dog as they wend their way across the country, mostly by canoe, visiting sites featured in the books of Farley Mowat. Besides the interesting premise, and many segments with Mowat himself, the film stands up on the strength of the quality of the filming. Besides the plotline, the movie is gorgeous, with amazing shots of the landscape and of the flora and fauna. The filmmakers are obviously well experienced in nature photography and manage to get impressive shots of horned owls, whales, wolves, bugs, caribou, etc.

Stream it for free here: Finding Farley

Avatar

I saw Avatar a few days ago and I want to write a few comments about it while it is relatively fresh.

The basic plot of the movie is that in 2150 a mining company from Earth is exploiting the natural resources of a planet called Pandora, which has an indigenous population called the Na’vi. Cameron I think makes more than a token effort to understand and portray the worldview of the Na’vi (i.e. ‘indigenous’ (North American) worldviews in general),  including the significance and meaningfulness of ceremonies, a holistic view of relations with other animals (i.e. the idea of all our relations), etc.  I suppose what I mean is that Cameron seems to have at least tried (and I don’t know if he succeeds) to show how ways of being typically associated with ‘primitiveness’ are actually commensurate with and not inferior to the way of being that has developed out of Western-Europe (capitalism, separation of human and nature, ‘rationality’, ‘modernism’, etc.).

My first criticism is an obvious one, which is to ask why the Na’vi in the end need a white foreigner to lead them to victory. This white man is somehow able, in the space of three months, to absorb all of the Na’vi’s cultural values and knowledge, and to have a special connection with their planet/deity which allows him to call it to their aid where the spiritual leader of the Na’vi failed.

Also suspect I think is the way that Cameron explains the Na’vi’s special connection with their planet and the other lifeforms on it. The Na’vi have can make literal, physical, synaptic connections with other beings via some sort of nerve endings mixed in with their hair. The human scientists discover that not only can this direct synaptic connection be made between the Na’vi and other beings, but in fact a giant network of synapse-like fibres covers the planet, making it essentially a giant brain–in other words the planet it self is literally conscious. As cool as this is, my issue is that Cameron makes the deep mental/spiritual connection between Pandorians empirically verifiable in a way that gives it credence with the human scientists, and also, importantly, with the human audience in the movie theatre. I suppose my concern is that the mental/spiritual connection would be less believable or palatable to ‘movie audiences’ if it weren’t made explicitly empirically verifiable. While I do like things to be empirically verifiable, or at least I find them easier to believe if they are, I don’t believe that empiricism is necessarily the be all and end all. In terms of the Na’vi, I don’t believe that their connection with other Pandorans and Pandora itself would be any less significant or any less ‘real’ if it was not as empirically verifiable as Cameron makes it in the film. And, since the film is a thinly veiled parable for the conquest and misunderstanding (or non-understanding) of Native Americans by Europeans, my concern is that by making the spirituality of the Na’vi so empirically verifiable it undermines any possibility that the film would help viewers to understand Indigenous spirituality. From my limited experience with and understanding of indigenous ’spirituality’, its believers/followers/practitioners believe (or, indeed, know) that their connections to other beings and forces (including causal connections, e.g. influencing weather through ceremonies) are very much ‘real’, just as the Na’vi know this, but, unlike with the Na’vi, their connections cannot be simplified or distilled into a narrow empirical western-scientific explanation of the world and of events.

Capital by Michael Moore

Last night I saw Capital, Michael Moore’s new film. Like his other films, this one jumped around frequently, I assume as a tactic to keep viewers’ interest. Moore’s basic thesis is “Capitalism is bad,” not a very refined thesis, but he doesn’t present a very refined argument. While he does spend some time presenting the basic tenants of Capitalism (free enterprise, free market, etc), Moore’s main focus throughout is really on the deregulation of the financial system since Reagan. (There is an article/book by Thomas Frank on this very topic in an issue of Harper’s magazine.) As such, he spends lots of time connecting the dots between the bad mortgage crisis last fall and the politicians and lobbyists in Washington who made literally millions and millions of dollars off of it and then bailed themselves out with public money when it went sour. He makes his argument not so much through stats, reason, or logic (though there is some of this), but through a series of anecdotal stories of the struggles of real people (family in Peoria, MI who lost their home to rising mortgage payments, workers in a window and door factory who after the factory closes stage a prolonged sit down until their back wages are paid, etc.). I don’t at all mean to sound derisive of this approach. I think it is valuable not only for its effectiveness, but also for its refusal to play by the established (or establishment) rules of how you are supposed to present an argument and to whom you are supposed to go to for evidence (surely, not the people themselves). In this way it reminds me of Zinn’s approach to “the people’s history.”

Moore also, as in other films of his, makes some sweeping comparisons between the USA (failing, foolish) and the EU and Japan (utopian, enlightened), and eventually eases his audience towards the use and possible understanding of the dreaded “S word”. The film culminates in a Moore’s plea to his fellow Americans to join him in the struggle for…Democracy! But for those of us disappointed with his last-second lack of courage to proclaim what he really wants us to struggle for, the closing music takes the form of a bizarre, big band version of the Internationale, further evidence of what Moore really meant to say.

Snowcake, a movie

I watched this move, Snowcake, last night and i found it inspiring. Technically i guess it is about autism, but i think it is more about how to live one’s life in a world filled with other people. The character with autism, Linda, played by Sigourney Weaver, because (not in spite) of her autism is able to remind Alex (Alan Rickman) that life is beautiful, especially in the form of snowflakes, flashing balls, and trampolines.

Prairie Giant: The Tommy Douglas Story

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Recently Laura and I watched Prarie Giant: The Tommy Douglas Story, which I must say is a rather inspiring film for a lefty. The film is 3 hours long, and obviously quite low-budget, but the acting is good and the story is excellent and important. It is worth the 3 hour committment to get to know what made canada’s greatest citizen ever (according to CBCers…) tick. I was also amazed to learn of the other progressive and foresighted policies and programs that the TD government brought in besides public healthcare. For example:

  • a bill of rights (preceding the Canadian Charter of rights and freedoms by 35 years, and the UN Charter by 18 months)
  • public automobile insurance
  • rural electricity
  • public energy corporation

the list goes on and on these are just a few….a full list is here.

I was also struck by a quote of his, near the end of his life:

The only test of our character that matters is how we look after each other, not how we look after ourselves.

Seems obvious, but well-put.