Black Sheep (Ed Perkins)

A true/falsey one, with interviews and re-enactments shot in the neighborhood where the story takes place. A British kid is moved into the countryside by his African-born parents where he encounters life-threatening racism and adapts by bleaching his skin, making friends with his tormentors and becoming one of them.

End Game (Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman)

The best of the bunch, focused on patients in varying states of mobility with varying family situations, all with terminal illnesses and only weeks or months to live. This is San Francisco, and the terminal patients are given palliative care (treating only the pain, since the symptoms are determined to be incurable) and told to make their peace. It’s a movie, so you know one of them is gonna beat the odds – they don’t. The directors are old-school – Epstein made The Times of Harvey Milk, and Friedman collaborated with him on The Celluloid Closet, Paragraph 175, and a Linda Lovelace biopic starring Amanda Seyfried.

A Night at the Garden (Marshall Curry)

Stock footage of a well-attended 1939 pro-nazi rally at Madison Square Garden. The movie gives little context, just plays around with slow-motion, inviting us to research the rest, so here goes. As I’m writing this, yesterday was the event’s 80th anniversary, and a few days ago the film was projected onto the side of MSG. The man rushing the stage was a Jewish plumber named Isadore Greenbaum, and the speaker was the German-born Fritz Kuhn, leader of a Hitler-worshipping group called the Bund. In the aftermath, Greenbaum was ordered to pay a $25 fine for causing a disturbance. Kuhn was investigated for stealing from his own organization, arrested at the end of ’39, and would spend the rest of his life in various prisons. Curry previously made a Cory Booker doc, a kart-racing doc, and a look inside the Earth Liberation Front.

Lifeboat (Skye Fitzgerald)

Following the (late) captain of a German rescue boat that tries to pick up Libyan refugees from their leaky lifeboats. Spends a couple minutes “putting a human face on the global refugee crisis” by interviewing rescued Libyans, the rest of the time on rescue operations with the crew, and reminds you that the world is completely horrible. Katy said it reminded her of Fire at Sea, which is not a good thing. The director works regularly on issues docs – acid attacks on women, unexploded landmines in Cambodia, the Syrian civil war, and a new one on gun violence.

Period. End of Sentence. (Rayka Zehtabchi)

After the racism, death, nazis and desperation, it was lovely to end on this story of community women outside Delhi working to manufacture and distribute sanitary pads. Much fun is had discussing the forbidden topic of menstruation, and they have dreams of conquering the country and improving women’s lives, but I became annoyed upon realizing that the movie is an advertisement. A feature came out the same year on the same topic, called Padman.

Silent newsreel footage played at a handful of frames per second, beginning with Il Duce’s death. Unfortunately I am not someone well-versed in history who says “ah it’s that famous footage I know so well of the notorious event at the end of Il Duce’s life,” but rather I am someone who has to wikipedia who Il Duce was… ah, it’s Mussolini, fascist dictator of Italy for twenty years. The movie then flashes back to footage from early in his reign and carries on forward.

It’s silent for the first ten minutes, then gentle glimmering drone music kicks in as Duce stands at some kind of parade or rally, looking like the fourth Stooge. Closeups of the Great Man get intensely slowed down, while crowd shots of darker-skinned people run at almost full speed.

Segment 3 in Tripoli features a Florence Foster Jenkins song about modern Europe letting refugees die. 100,000 Libyans were shot in the 1920’s? Italy carried out a North African genocide by raining poison gas from planes? Someone needs to look into this. The movie is doing some sort of Ken Jacobs thing, hypnotizing the viewer with archive footage (I fell asleep at least once and had to rewind). “Barbaric Land” was a phrase used about Ethiopia when Italy was colonizing.

The evil dictator… the fascist system… the normal people who carried out orders to exterminate thousands, photos of them smiling casually next to their planes loaded with poison gas, and period pictures of Africans representing the victims… a photo slideshow, the pictures handheld by gloved fingers, trembling in front of the camera.

Another magical drama about a refugee in hiding with a carefully balanced comic tone, this was inevitably going to be compared to Le Havre, my favorite movie of a few years back, and fall slightly short. But it’s nice to have more of refugee Khaled’s story in this one, as opposed to near-mute Idrissa in Le Havre, and the acknowledgement of the racism and xenophobia within the country’s citizens fueling the policies that are making it so difficult for him to gain asylum in Finland.

Syrian Khaled has bounced through ten countries on his way to Finland and is desperate to locate his one surviving relative, his sister Miriam, and bring her to a safer place. His Iraqi friend Mazdak offers communications help to look for the girl while Khaled finds work with Wikström (Leningrad Cowboy Sakari Kuosmanen), who has left his wife for reasons unknown and purchased a dumpy restaurant. Wikström and Khaled are given too little shared screen time for us to watch them bond (alongside a cute dog and three bedraggled employees who came with the building), but Wikström proves to be big-hearted, protecting his newest employee from the elements and the authorities.

Kaurismäki won best director in Berlin (A Fantastic Woman, Félicité, On the Beach at Night Alone). My moviegoing companions were surprised and appalled that Finland would not offer Khaled asylum and try to have him deported, but now that I’ve seen Stranger in Paradise, nothing is surprising. Others were dismayed by all the screen time given to amateur performances of rockabilly songs, but I preferred those to the half hour of backstory showing how Wikström came to run a restaurant. I recognized Kati Outinen (the wife in Le Havre) in one scene, and restaurant doorman Ilkka Koivula (probably also from Le Havre), but that apparently was not Carel Struycken as a bartender.

Sam wanders his Italian island town with his slingshot, dealing with a sight-correcting eyepatch, getting family history stories from his elders. Meanwhile, the Lampedusa coast guard detects and rescues overloaded boats full of dead and desperate refugees. We’re told these things are happening nearby each other, though they never intersect.

Rosi in Fandor:

Samuele, he’s afraid of the life coming. Everything he does is somehow creating suspense for something we don’t know how to face, with our laziness and our anxiety: the world that is coming through Lampedusa … Subconsciously the viewer identifies with Samuele, but they are not able to say that they do. So in the end they’ll say it’s a film about migrants, but it’s not. It’s really on the coming of age of a little kid who lives on an island where everything reminds him about the sea. About the harshness of the sea, about the life on the sea, about becoming a fisherman, about suffering the sea sickness. But the people are not aware of that. So at the end they come out and all they remember is a film about migration.

Of course Rosi is the guy who made the terrifying guy-in-a-room interview doc El Sicario Room 164, not the terrifying guy-in-a-room interviewing doc Collapse, which is what I told Katy.

Celluloid Liberation Front is suspicious:

Rosi’s idea of cinema remains highly questionable and Fire at Sea is ethically inadequate at best. Like virtually anything dealing with refugees these days, the film never bothers to mention the reasons why the wretched of the earth are being forced to flee their countries. This approach puts us in the very comfortable position of not being implicated, leaving us free to think about the amount of indignation and mercy we have to spare.