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05.13.09

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Phaedra

Raucous Rollins: Outspoken punk rock icon Henry Rollins rails against biofuels, obesity and aid organizations in 'H is for Hunger.'

The Art of Persuasion

The yin and yang of calls to action close the Santa Cruz Film Festival

By Molly Zapp


IT'S HARD to just let life happen," Bhagavan Das philosophizes in What About Me?, a stunning documentary conceived and directed by concept band 1 Giant Leap members Duncan Bridgeman and Jamie Catto. The two artists lay the foundation for the ambitious film by composing studio beats that dozens of musicians from around the world expand upon--everyone from Michael Stipe to Beijing MCs Young Kin and MC Weber to k.d. lang and a cadre of joyful people informally making song around the globe. In conjunction with the visual and aural pleasures are unscripted insights into the film's central focus: How can one be a better human? The plethora of thoughts and answers all have a central common thread: embrace the silly painful madness of simply living joyfully.

Without being preachy, draining or rushed, the film features dozens of philosophers, spiritual and religious leaders and artists--famed and otherwise--who weigh in on an impressive array of interconnected aspects of the "madness" of life. "Part of the madness is to live as if the future were more important than the present moment, which is how most people live," says spiritual teacher and writer Eckhart Tolle. "lt's completely insane, so you miss the aliveness of life for some projected future aliveness or fulfillment. There is no future, there is only this: the present moment." Tim Robbins ruminates on the necessity of each person figuring out how to deal with ugly emotions without the use of drugs: "When you medicate a kid for all those years, that kid's not learning how to deal with depression or anger," Robbins said.

The documentary is strengthened by showing both the diversity and the undeniable overlap among spiritual leaders who shun organized religion and religious leaders who have found their joy in churches, temples and mosques. There is an extended take of a exuberant Gabonese Pygmy ritual, spliced with a few Pygmies calling out the history of Western documentary filmmakers' tendency to exploit indigenous people by rolling the camera for a few hours, using the footage and never giving money back.

Also examining global implications of a culture of consumption is H for Hunger, a film that features Henry Rollins, pissed off and raving as usual, this time about global starvation. There is no debate on whether the world can produce enough food to feed every single person--absolutely, unequivocally, yes. So why, as H for Hunger claims, do one out of every seven people in the world go hungry?

If "greed" and "f--ed up corporate interests" are sufficient answers, the film says "enough." H for Hunger blames the rise of corn-based ethanol for taking "food, life-giving food, and (using) it to replace gasoline"--a claim that is not entirely accurate. The variety of corn that is used to produce ethanol is primarily fed to livestock or turned into corn syrup, not usually directly consumed by humans. To make an "ethanol equals no food for Darfur" equation is oversimplistic and ignores the reality that starvation has been killing humans long before biofuels existed.

The film is highly critical of the aid organization Feed the Children and cites an American Institute of Philanthropy report that only 18 cents out of every dollar donated to Feed the Children is actually spent on food, while the bulk of the funds go to advertising and administrative costs.

Along with competitive eaters and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, overweight people are also on Rollins' shit list. "There are now more fat people on the planet than hungry people," Rollins barks, referring to obese humans as "millions who have spooned out too much from the common cup."

Director Neil Hollander's decision to have the film consist overwhelmingly of Rollins ranting against a background of thousands of starving people from some African and Asian countries dehumanizes the very malnourished humans Rollins purports to speak for. H is for Hunger gives not a single hungry person an actual voice: only the angry white American male gets to speak. For hard-core Rollins fans, this format makes for 90 minutes of heaven. For those who want the actual thoughts and experiences of people in poverty to be heard and ideas for enacting economic and food system changes discussed, the film will disappoint. As Noam Chomsky says in What About Me?, "It's only in the wealthy privileged sectors that people have no idea what to do. Elsewhere, they do things."


Movie Times 1 GIANT LEAP: WHAT ABOUT ME? screens Thursday, May 14, at 7:30pm at the Vets Hall, 809 Front St., Santa Cruz. H FOR HUNGER screens Friday, May 15, at 3pm at the same venue. Tickets are $9 general/$7 seniors and students. Visit www.santacruzfilmfestival.com for more info.


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