Silicon Valley Film Festivals

A multitude of movie festivals are coming to Silicon Valley
JUDGE, JURY, EXECUTIONER: This 1968 photo of the summary execution of a Viet Cong captain is the subject of one of the many documentaries showing at the United Nations Association Film Festival.

In honor of the UN's Millennium Development Goals—an ambitious slate of housecleaning projects for both the rich and poor countries of the world—the theme of the Oct. 16-26 United Nations Association Film Festival is "Running Out of Time." The UNAFF, inarguably the most eclectic documentary festival in our area, and arguably the most important, heralds a scad of film fests throughout October.

Eddie Adams: Saigon '68 concerns a famous atrocity: Nguyen Ngoc Loan's summary execution at near point blank range of a prisoner who at first glance seems to be a South Vietnamese civilian. The haunting scene, forever frozen in time by Eddie Adams' camera, is one of the most recognizable images of the Vietnam War. Seeing shouldn't have been believing: the deceased was the head of a death squad, and had been caught red-handed after murdering 30 civilians. That explains this streetside execution—does it justify it?

Another documentary at the UNAFF considers the problem of a rush to judgment. The only thing that could make you feel worse about the infamous Delhi gang-rape is seeing interviews with the parents of Jyoti Singh describing what happened to their daughter.The only thing that could make you feel a little bit better is seeing the righteous fury that erupted afterwards. The New Year's riots precipitated quick government action—swift prosecution as a way of avoiding the serious social problems revealed by the Singh case.

Leslee Udwin's excellent India's Daughter: The Story of Jyoti Singh is a thorough (if necessarily graphic) anatomy of the murder—investigated with great access to the physicians, police and lawyers who handled the case. The atrocious crime was blamed variously on 'roid rage, alcohol and the commonly held belief that any woman out walking unescorted by her father or her brother late at night (8pm, actually) is asking for it. (Defense lawyers of noteworthy—if professional—smugness give this vomit-inducing logic an airing.) Udwin takes us to the Ravidas Colony slum, and to worse places. The high and low angles on the story justify the film's title: Udwin seeks a national background for this truly national tragedy.

On a happier note, Alice Walker: Beauty in Time is a documentary on the upward and onward life of Alice Walker. One of eight children of a family in rural Georgia, she grew up to be a Pulitzer prize-winning author, who used her fame to work for social justice. "Activism is the rent we pay for living on this planet," she says.

The first weekend of the UNAFF coincides with the sixth annual Silicon Valley African Film Festival, which runs Oct. 16-19 in Mountain View. Receptions, narratives and shorts are offered up. Among the feature films from Rwanda, Burkina Faso and other nations, is Zola, which considers a Zimbabwean family broken by joblessness and AIDS; only the son is able to escape the cycle—by auditioning for a dance contest.

Ojuju from Nigeria, cleverly binds the problems of Nigeria's notoriously polluted water with the ever-popular zombie theme. Something in the river is turning a city rabid, and a group of survivors try to fight their way out.

Among the shorts, L'enigma by Fidae Sbaai of Morocco gives an Arab Spring backdrop to the famous riddle of the honest and the dishonest guard. Vasilis Biloumis' All This Dust, set on the littered seaside of Ghana, tricks us with what seems to be a love story. It is, but not with the ending we expect. The unprofessional actors and the rough-hewn angles make this especially ingenious. A little boy, who is told to go away by a girl, says, "Who, me?" "No, the person behind you!" she snaps. And the poor boy (and the camera) swivels to look for this non-existent figure.

The Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival is also underway, bringing dozens of films to local screens, including a reprise of a movie that needs more attention—Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem. It's Israeli actress and filmmaker Ronit Elkabetz's scarifying story of the labyrinthine Orthodox divorce courts, which could give Kafka a lesson or two in the Kafkaesque. Also upcoming is the local leg of the 3rd i San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival, running through Nov. 1 in Palo Alto; and the seventh annual San Jose International Short Film Festival (Oct. 22-25) featuring actress and director Jennifer Morrison as the fest's guest of honor.

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