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Standard Bearers: An image of protest at Tiananmen Square from the documentary "Gate of Heavenly Peace."



Pacific Rim Film Festival showcases new flix made in Japan, Hawaii, China and Mongolia

By Richard von Busack

THE THEME FOR THIS year's Pacific Rim Film Festival is "When Strangers Meet." From April 25 to 28, at a variety of theaters, seven films from China, Mongolia, Hawaii and Japan will be shown, free of charge, in an effort to broaden the West's narrow understanding of the East.

The program, heavily weighted toward documentaries, includes the Santa Cruz premiere of The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On (Room 105, Oakes College, UCSC, April 26 at 5pm), a story of an ex-Japanese soldier's frenzied attempts to expose an atrocity: an outbreak of cannibalism amid the starving troops during WWII. (A similar horror story was made into fiction and filmed in Kon Ichikawa's unforgettable Fire on the Plains.)

Beyond Barbed Wire (Fox Theater, Watsonville, April 28 at 7pm) remembers the soldiers of the most decorated unit of WWII: the Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The Oscar-winning short Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision (Room 105, Oakes College, UCSC, April 26 at 8pm) profiles the young female Asian-American architect's extraordinary Vietnam Memorial. Lin's inspired monument to the Vietnam War--a stone chasm into which one descends one foot in front of the other--is a grim metaphor for how America became slowly enmeshed in folly. Lin's is maybe the most impressive monument in a city of full of them, a reminder of one terrible clash between the West and the East.

Most impressive of the offerings at the festival is the dramatic three-hour epic The Gate of Heavenly Peace (UA Riverfront, April 27 at 12:30 and 6:30pm). The documentary focuses on the Tiananmen Square demonstration in Beijing in 1989. The protests began as a sort of wildcat strike in honor of Hu Yaobang, the late general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, a progressive among government reactionaries.

Students threw up a tent city in the midst of the world's largest public square to show their support for human rights. Weeks later, the demonstration was violently put down.

Directors Richard Gordon and Carma Hinton's extraordinarily detailed study of the doomed uprising shows Tiananmen as a different sort of rebellion than the one that was broadcast by CNN. Through interviews with the protesters, Gordon and Hinton suggest how spontaneous, emotional and inchoate Tiananmen Square was, and how the lack of leaders among the students hampered the effect of the protest.

The Chinese government over- eacted following weeks of inaction--the art of stalling-out, as practiced by textbook Confucians. But Chairman Deng and his assistants had reason for their panic. The West may have forgotten the unbelievable havoc wreaked by students in the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, but the old-line leadership of China remembered it all too well and feared that the mass demonstration at Tiananmen would become its terrible sequel.

Hinton and Gordon's earlier documentary, 1985's Small Happiness (Room 105, Oakes College, UCSC, April 26 at 1pm), visits the small Chinese town of Long Bow (population 2,000). Hinton knows Long Bow well--her father studied land reform after the revolution in Long Bow in 1948. Here, the team observes not just the quiet side of rural life but also the unpleasant aspects, especially the persistent everyday sexism that the revolution was unable to change.

Also scheduled: Close to Eden, a cheerful, crowd-pleasing tale of Mongolian life (Room 450, Cabrillo College, April 25 at 7:30pm), and Shadow Over Tibet: Stories in Exile (Room 105, Oakes College, UCSC, April 26 at 3pm), a one-hour documentary about the religious persecution in Tibet instigated by the Chinese government, which has destroyed 6,000 temples and monasteries since 1950.

Also of interest is Troubled Paradise (Room 105, Oakes College, UCSC, April 26 at 11pm), a tale of the struggling native Hawaiian populace, who have the dubious distinction of the highest infant mortality rate in the U.S. The Hawaiians are trying to slow the process of more and more sacred sites falling under the bulldozers. (Fun fact: Did you know that golf courses are taxed as agricultural land in Hawaii?)


The Pacific Rim Film Festival runs April 25­28 at various locations. Call 423-4338 for more info and schedule details.

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From the April 24-30, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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