June 8, 2003 – In January of 2002, the Birch Forum ventured into new territory, presenting a mini-film series of three internationally themed, produced and acclaimed motion pictures, which played for one night only at Market Square East.
The organization, now reconstituted as simply The Forum, is about to do the same thing for the next three Wednesdays. All three films booked for this mini-fest are based on real-life people and events, all set in the first half of the 20th century, and all are winners of major film awards.
June 11 – "Frida," about the life of Mexican surrealist painter and cultural icon Frida Kahlo, the wife of muralist Diego Rivera.
June 18 – "Rabbit-Proof Fence," the story of three Australian Aboriginal children seized by the government as national policy to be trained as domestic workers for white families, and who escape their captors and embark on a 1,200-mile walk home across the Outback.
June 25 – "Nowhere in Africa," the account of a successful Jewish lawyer and his wife and 5-year-old daughter who flee Nazi Germany in 1938 to settle on a farm in Kenya, where each deals with the harsh realities of their new life in different ways.
All three showings will begin at 8 p.m. Admission is $13 for each film. Tickets are available in advance at the Reichhold Center for the Arts box office, Modern Music in Nisky Center, Parrot Fish Music, Dockside Bookshop, Interiors, Krystal and Gifts Galore and Home Again on St. Thomas; and Connections on St. John.
For more information, call 774-2260.
These are not boffo box-office hits with bankable big-name stars. But they all have won major cinema awards. And for both reasons, The Forum is bringing them to the Virgin Islands. Here's more background on each. Visit your favorite movie Web sites to see what reviewers have to say about all three.
This 2002 release stars Mexican actress Salma Hayek as Kahlo, Alfred Molina as Rivera, Antonio Banderas as Rivera's artistic rival David Siqueiros and Ashley Judd as Italian photographer Tina Modotti.
The film focuses on Kahlo's often rocky relationship with Rivera and their place in Mexican society. A surrealist painter notorious as a bisexual and a communist, Kahlo was condemned to a life of physical pain by a trolley accident; she suffered the amputation of a leg and that killed her at the age of 47.
The couple's circle of associates ranged from Nelson Rockefeller (who contracted Rivera to paint the lobby mural of Rockefeller Center, only to renege because it included an image of Lenin) to Russian theorist Leon Trotsky to leading visual and performing artists of the day.
Annlee Ellingson, writing for the Box Office online review, says that Hayek, who also produced the film, and Julie Taymor, who directed, "have infused 'Frida' with a visual style unique and inherent to the titular character's paintings and in the process created a masterful work of art of their own."
In the film, Ellingson writes, Kahlo's paintings of herself and her family "literally come to life, brushstrokes slowly morphing into celluloid as the guests at Frida and Diego's wedding, for example, gradually move into the frame of their wedding portrait. Or when Frida undergoes painful experimental surgery, she paints a picture of her spine in the metal contraption in which her bones literally crumble and tears flow from her eyes. Through stylistic touches like these, 'Frida' is firmly rooted not only in cinema but in the art form through which Frida expressed herself."
Maggie Shiels of the BBC found it "a very entertaining, colourful and boisterous movie," allthough she felt there is "too much emphasis on Kahlo's tempestuous marriage to Rivera and not enough about the woman hailed as a feminist icon and a model of sexual freedom and unconventional lifestyles."
The trolley accident, Shiels writes, "shown in slow motion, is a mastery of film making by director Julie Taymor that allows you to experience the horror of the crash. Afterwards there is a surreal sequence that takes us inside an animated hospital where puppet skeletons try to put a damaged Frida back together again."
As for the acting, Chicago critic Roger Ebert writes that the role of Rivera was one that Molina had "trained for a lifetime to play" and that Hayek "is electric and fascinating."
"Frida" garnered six 2003 Academy Award nominations — for best actress (Hayek), art direction, costume design, score, song ("Burn It Blue") and makeup. It captured the Oscar for makeup — which included Kahlo's distinctive "unibrow" — her connecting eyebrows. The film is rated R for sexuality/nudity and language. It was filmed in English.
Also a 2002 release, this Australian film stars three untrained actors as the young Aboriginal girls who are the victims of a government policy requiring "half caste" children to be taken from their homes, trained as domestic servants and farm workers, and then placed in white homes so as to "advance" them into society.
The policy, instituted in 1900, resulted in the forcible removal of thousands of children from their Aboriginal mothers. Although the "stolen generations" became the subject of fierce debate, the policy was not lifted until 1971. Australia's very recent history from the perspective of its people of color is one of loss — of land, of culture, of pride, even of their own children..
The movie was directed by Philip Noyce, an Australian film maker whose Hollywood successes ("Patriot Games," "The Bone Collector" and, most recently "The Quiet American") had long since landed him in Los Angeles. The film is based on a book, "Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence," by Doris Pilkington and Nugi Garimara. Pilkington is the daughter of Molly Craig, the oldest of the three girls.
Told from Molly's point of view, the film contrasts her spiritual and intuitive relationship to the people and places she encounters on the journey with the coldly calculated determination of the legal guardian of the country's indigenous people to "breed out" the Aboriginal blood of the half-castes.
Molly, 14, was taken from her mother in Jigalong, a depot on one of the fences that were being constructed across the continent in an attempt to keep marauding rabbits from destroying the western farmlands. She, her half-sister Daisy, 8, and their cousin Gracie Fields, were taken to a "native settlement" in Western Australia.
After their escape, the girls walk for nine weeks and 1,200 miles across the Outback, using the long stretches of fencing to guide them back home — and their wits and inner strength to elude capture, starvation and exhaustion along the way. The ending is not altogether happy, a blending of tragedy and triumph.
Molly is played by Everlyn Sampi, who is of mixed Aborigine and Scottish ancestry; her own mother was a victim of forced placement. Everlyn did not adapt readily to the demands of filmmaking, Noyce said in an interview, trying to run away and driving him to despair.
"We tried desperately to recast," he said, "but we just couldn't find anyone who was nearly as charismatic and talented … The more she rejected us, the more convinced I was that she was another version of the real Molly — her disdain for authority, her skepticism that she had to do what the white man told her because it was good for her … She is Molly."
The real Molly and Daisy appear briefly at the emotional end of the film, old women now. Molly married and had two daughters, Doris and Annabelle. She was returned to the settlement with them, escaped and walked back to Jigalong again, carrying the infant Annabelle; the authorities caught her and took the baby and Molly never saw her again. Even sadder, years later, when Doris tri
ed to contact her sister, the light-skinned Annabelle, who was raised as a Caucasian, rebuffed her, saying "I don't want to know anything about my history."
The film is rated PG. It was named Best Film and collected a host of other honors at the 2002 Australian Film Industry Awards.
"Nowhere in Africa"
Abandoning their once-comfortable existence in Germany as the Nazi regime gains power in 1938, Jewish lawyer Walter Redlich, his wife, Jettel, and their young daughter Regina move to a remote farm in Kenya, where he has gotten work as caretaker.
Walter (Merab Ninidze) is resigned to his self-exile. Jettel (Julianne Köhler), accustomed to a pampered life, has attitude adjustment problems from the get-go. (Before leaving Germany to join her husband, she ships the family china instead of the refrigerator he asked for.) Regina (played first by Lea Kurka and then, aging a few years, by Karoline Kckertz) adapts as only children can — embracing her new homeland, learning the language and customs of the Pokot tribe and finding a friend in Owuor (Sidede Onyulo), the farm cook.
After Britain declares war on Germany, Jettel has an affair with a British soldier and, as a result, her family, although German, receives preferential treatment. Regina is allowed to attend school and Walter is given a good job. Besides infidelity, the couple agonizes over the realization that they may never see their families in Germany again.
As the war rages, Walter grows increasingly haunted by the life they left behind, and when it ends, he contemplates a return to Germany — unlike his wife and daughter.
Described by one reviewer as part wartime drama, part storybook for children, the film was written and directed by Caroline Link (whose "Beyond Silence" was nominated for an Oscar in 1997) and is based on a best-selling autobiographical novel by Stefanie Zweig.
Reviewer Amit Asaravala, writing for filmcritic.com, says that "Far from being yet another war epic," the movie "deals primarily with the trials and triumphs of starting a new life in a foreign land … Kurka and Eckertz both give skillful performances as Regina … The character comes off as being not only blissfully innocent but fiercely intelligent. When the Pokot children teach her how to warm her feet in cow dung, or when she gathers everyone around for a story about angels, you can't help but wonder whether the tribe still talks about Stefanie Zweig so many years later."
Alex Pigman, writing for Show Business online, makes the inevitable comparisons to the 1980s film "Out of Africa" but says that "the World War II premise is fresh, and the plight of sun-drenched refugees hearing about the horror back home through an unreliable radio is powerful stuff." He, like many critics, however, faults the film for its focus on "a world where the life of the native exists primarily as a backdrop for the adventures of colonial new arrivals."
"Nowhere in Africa" was the winner of the 2002 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film and of five Golden Lola German film awards, including for Best Film and Best Director. It's in German, English and Swahili with English subtitles. The film is not rated but is described as including "adult situations" and "some nudity."
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