Tuesday, December 25, 2012

TV’s most Islamophobic show - Salon.com

Almost  everyone I know (including myself) says HOMELAND  was  their favorite must watch TV show this season ( It's on cable which means it is ok for smart  "I don't watch TV except for news programs" folk to 'fess up. even  though the producers brought to public acclaim and ratings rule the pro-torture "24", the TV  favorite of those forgotten villains  Dick Chaney and Donald Rumsfeld   Or should I say this show bleeds into creating a film  audience for Zero Dark Thirty?  Or should I ask is it a good thing that smart little girls have a new alternative to SUPER MODEL as a choice of  what they want to be when they grow up? Is it really true that that best CIA/NSA agents are women ?  Will only a radical feminist who thinks there is no essential difference between men and women except for acculturation be jumping up and down with joy as Claire Danes character and Kathryn Bigelow direction exposes the stupidity of men as they use their female brains to  'save the world? Well here is a "she said , he said in print/online reactions " .. Where do you stand?

Laila Al-Arian is a journalist based in Washington D.C. critiques HOMELAN

Yair Rosenberg suppots HOMELAND, He s a writer for the NYC based Zionist publication T

Hey I didn't miss a single chapter but had this uneasy feeling from day one. Only asking but I will duck just in case !

Thursday, December 13, 2012

5 BROKEN CAMERAS Directors: Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi Countries: Palestine/Israel/France Sundance award winner 2012 5 BROKEN CAMERAS made by a Palestinian and Israeli tells the story of how an amateur photographer bought a video camera to document his family and over the course of five years records the plight of Palestinians as the Israeli government moves settlers on to the land held traditionally by Palestinians. He has to use five different video cameras each subsequently damaged by bullets or rocks. One ordinary family and their friends in a small village are the subject of this deeply moving documentary. When the Sundance award was announced both filmmakers took the stage and between them held the coveted award. Together they give visual hope for the future. When the politics of the grand fathers on both sides looses it sway, hope surfaces !

Directors talk One a Palestinian One an Israeli

Trailer Five Broken Cameras


Two recent documentaries focus on erased or repressed memory on different generations of Germans and Jews who lived through or were born after World War II.

THE FLAT directed Arnon Goldfinger

First seen at Sundance 2012

Arnon Goldfinger's Grandmother dies and her apartment in Israel is being cleaned out by her daughter and her grandson. The mother wants  to throw everything away. She loved her parents but has no desire to be reminded of this sophisticated, educated couple and their history. 

Her grandson (Armon) on the other hand is very curious to know more about the lives of his Grandfather who was a Judge in Germany and his wife.

Both were Zionist in the '30's and had emigrated to what was Palestine to begin the building of a Jewish State . Neither ever lost their identification with Germany as their homeland.

At the death of the grandmother her daughter and her son go to empty her flat in downtown Tel Avie The mother throws out and the stuff and the son retrieves. It is a generational story, One wants not to know what went on during the holocaust the other is curious  about his family history, a template of human coping skills with pain and emotional devastation. He discovers pictures and a news story of his grandparents in taking a high Nazi Party official on a tour of what would become Israel .

Two couples with a common goal: The Germans wanted the Jews to leave voluntarily  and the Jews wanted then to come to Israel. 

What unfolds is that this friendship is renewed after the war. The Israeli couple visits with the Nazi couple and the grandson is profoundly disturbed because he can not understand why, The mother does not want to know any of this. 

The son goes to Germany and is welcomed by the daughter of the Nazi couple. She believes her father, who after the war and vetted by DER SPEIGEL had became an executive for Coke Cola, had left the Nazi party in 1937 and spoke fondly of her father and mother's  friendship for the Israeli couple and remembers their visiting after the war. Continuing to not understand how his grand parents could have maintained this friendly relationship, the Jewish grandson uncovers with the fall of the Berlin wall and access to East German archives newly made available documents that reveal not only did their German friend not leave the Party but he hired Eichmann and worked as a high ranked officer in Goering's office. When confronted with this fact the German daughter can not believe it. 

The Jewish mother wants her son to stop asking questions. That;s the sequence of events in the documentary .But the feelings it raises and the way humans cope when confronted with truth as well as what is the meaning of friendship boundaries of loyalty are but some of the deeply moving and disruptive questions raised .

The Flat trailer

HITLER’S CHILDREN  director Chanoch Ze'evi

Hitler's Children is not based on the best selling book about the Bader-Meinhof Red Brigade. Rather despite Hitler himself having no children Hitler’s Children is a film about the descendants of the most powerful figures in the Nazi regime including Himmler, Frank, Goering and Hoess. They had families. Israeli first time director Chanoch Ze'evi bravely has made a nuanced documentary that brings alive both the guilt and shame of the descendants and the mixed emotions of Jews confronting them. 

To his credit he neither sensationalizes nor does he manipulate the audience into an easy reaction. Complicated as the emotions may be Ze'evi through direct shooting , little editing inside an interview and direct focus on the subjects on screen allows the viewer to see and hear the adult children talk. 

A difficult movie to watch but searing in its humanity, The critical scene is when a teenage Israeli girl on an educational trip to a death camp in Germany stands up and confronts one of the relative of the Nazi leader. Heightening the encounter is the presence  and participation of holocaust survivors of the very camp the sequence is shot in. Hitler's Children raised issues of genetics and historical truth as It role models how a documentary film can facilitate the speaking out of bitter truths.

Hitlers Children trailer

GAYBY director Jonathan Lisecki

Babies, Babies, Babies OH MY!

We have been writing about how films that had been ghettoed as “gay film” have evolved into films of quality, While rooted in specifics story telling these new generation of films  have crossover appeal as their themes and execution resonate universal life situations and break out of genre specific cinematic cages e.g. Week End, Turn the Lights On. Now joining these two serious, artful films is that one hilarious comedy GAYBY. Jonathan Lisecki harkens back to the screwball comedies of the 30's.. Set in one of 8 US cities with a hip, sexually liberated, community where friendships break all the politically correct boundaries.lets say its the new Brooklyn. Jenn (Jean Harris) feels her biological clock pounding in her uterus , She thinks baby now .,. or never. But who? She is single. Well, of course she thinks her best friend since high school Matt would be perfect. Except Matt is gay and in a committed relationship with Nelson. Jenn is desperate; asks Matt. 

He gets weird out but a friend is in need and Nelson, well Nelson whose has the mashed up wit of Gore Vidal/Fran Lebowitz masquerading as 'Our Miss Brooks” s Eve Arden. Its a Richard Linklater version of slapstick comedy. What is lovely and funny and ultimately moving is  that write/ director/actor (Nelson)  Lisecki clearly believes that delicate social issue are better handled with smart hip humor than hammered home with a gross out message. Nice to see two of my favorite young character actors Sarita Choudhury and Dulé Hill in Gayby's 'hood. So stop worrying about being politically correct , just make with a home date (it is now VOD everywhere) or actually movie date and take someone sexy and with a appreciation for humor and see GAYBY

Gaby trailer

Monday, December 10, 2012

Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence In The House of God

Director Alex Gibney

After watching Kirby Dick's Academy Award nominated TWIST OF FAITH (2005) about the sexual abuse by a Roman Catholic priest and how despite his victims, now adults, speaking bitter truths publicly, he got away with it. The priest wound up in Ireland leading tourist pilgrimages. By happenstance I was sitting next to the principle accuser and his wife in a small theater at Sundance when it premiered, I did not know who this couple was but I will never forget his trembling and her comforting him during the screening.

All of the victims were adolescent boys.

Kirby used the term pedophile and I was curious to know if any distinction could be made between prepubescent and pubescent children. I remembered the book and movie Lolita, the Roman Polanski scandal and the outrage when Jerry Lee Lewis married his 13 year old cousin.

I discoverer there were other words but rarely used : hebephilia , adult sexual desire for 11-14 year olds; ephebophilia adult sexual desire for 15-19 year olds. I was convinced that both pedophilia and hebephilia were not the same as homosexual desire. I was troubled by ephebophilia given the different age of consent laws state and world-wide. Popular culture treats the sexuality of teenagers differently. What I did know is that issues of abuse and authority did not level the field when it came to coercion and seduction. Sex education is sorely lacking in public school education in almost every state. Teens are targeted by marketing campings selling life style product frequently laced with explicit erotic underpinnings.

I knew it was a very difficult subject to get people to discuss So when I went to see Maxima I thought I would be in for more tragic abuse stories.

But Gibney had another agenda. It was dangerous.

He wanted to expose the institution and its leaders who protected the perpetrators and had little concern for the victims. He exposes systemic cover up of priests from the Bishop level and exposes the Pope Benedict XVI , the current Pope, as being the person, in his previous Vatican position, who oversaw all cases of sexual molestation of children world-wide. We learn of how Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) and head of the Propagation of the Faith , put avoiding scandal over dealing directly with the abuse of power and the lasting damage done to the victims We lean of the failed programs to treat Priests .. not through mental health treatment but through prayer and meditation. Ratzinger thought he could solve the problem by declaring homosexuals unfit for priesthood. He instituted a homo-hunt in seminaries around the world Using stereotype criteria to identify homosexual to boot out. His assumption that all religious who were homosexual could not honor a vow of celebarcy, unlike heterosexual men defied factual statistic. The perpetration of girls was not addressed directly.

It is shocking to see! Protecting the priest and the institution took precedent over protecting the perpetrated and truth and fairness. His principal subjects are two very different priest one Father John C. Lawrence

  who ran a Catholic boarding school for deaf children, and the second the head of a Mexican Religious order which also ran schools for the deaf. The four abused deaf people now adults and their 20 year long fight to be heard .When charges of sexual abuse, their prodigious fund rising abilities made them protected at the highest levels of the Vatican.

Gibney has always been interested in showing the relationship between abuse of power and the protection money buys. Gibney's documentaries at their core deal with the abuse of power,coercion and the power of money. Enron (The Smartest Men in the Room), the Washington DC Lobbyist Jack Abramoff (Casino Jack and the United States of Money) and Elliot Spitzer (Client 9 The Rise and Fall of Elliot Spritzer ) all centered on the abuse of money lubricated power. In Client 9, Gibney showed how Wall Street power and money was behind the fall of Elliot Spritzer. How Wall Street operatives exploited his consenting adult indiscretions to stop his investigations of financial irregularities that had become normal every day practice on Wall Street.

Shockingly he also makes the link between than Bishop Timothy Dolan now Cardinal Dolan of NYC in his own cover up of sexual abuse and the attempt to stifle charges. We learn of the Servants of the Paraclete, who treat wayward priests and whose founder once declared "there is no cure for pedophilia."

To his credit Gibney does have an adult Catholic priest in a committed homosexual relationship talk of the power of coming out to enrich his spirituality and sense of purpose. Roman Catholics will be disturbed by what is revealed. But I was reminded of the Pharisees who turned against Jesus to protect their own wealth and political relationships with the powers that be. Jesus the story goes sweep them out of the Temple. Like wall street in its undoing of Spitzer, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence In The House of God points the Catholic Church as a human, not spiritually run institution .. and it seems to be­ calling for a broom brigade to help DEAF POWER clean house.

Mea Maxima Culpa : Silence in teh House of God trailer 

                      (cc) jim fouratt 10.22.12
a version of this review appeared in WestView News

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Reality Check of How To Survive a Plague, a dishonest documentary!

A Reality  Check of How To Survive A Plague ...or why its director David France does not deserve to be nominated for anything except a dishonest achievement award for skillfully constructing  a dishonest  documentary and manipulating  people with a distortion of the actual history.

Over the last few months many people have responded positively to the documentary How to Survive a Plague directed by David France and produced with funding from the Ford Foundation and HBO. An aggressive campaign during awards season mounted by  both the film's producers and HBO has used manipulative tools to mine the emotional response of  people impacted by the AIDS pandemic either because they  knew someone who had died or know someone who is living with AIDS/HIV. They have  targeted the desire  of a younger generation to understand just what happened during the AIDS pandemic. Memory, repressed or confabulated,  is a dangerous thing. To create a false memory or a fictive documentary dishonors history and those who made it. I write below about How to Survive a Plague directed by David France and two other AIDS documentaries..  I believe PLAGUE  to be  a dishonest documentary despite its skillful use of archival footage. As someone who was a founding member of ACT UP and served on it's media and it's treatment and data committee and who was active in AIDS activism five years prior to the founding of ACT UP, I believe I have the knowledge and experience to be able to separate fact from fiction. When a director knowingly constructs a false truth in a documentary he or she must be called to task. This is difficult when one is dealing with collective grief and what I suggest is untreated post-traumatic stress in a portion of the film's viewing audience. France could have made a narrative film where he would have had the creative freedom to construct his story. Rather he choose to make a documentary. Please consider what I have written when making a judgement call on the value of each AIDS documentary.  I strongly suggest that viewing both Jim Hubbard's UNITED IN ANGER and David Weissman's WE WERE HERE is necessary to understand what is wrong with France's construction and the uncritical embrace of it by the both the unaware public and most importantly the media without questioning  HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE's authenticity.

jim fouratt World AIDS Day, December 1st, 2012-

Jim Fouratt’s REEL DEAL
Movies That Matter

ACT UP Documentaries : How to Survive a Plague (second look) and UNITED IN ANGER: the History of ACT UP + WE WERE HERE
Two documentaries have arrived that purport to tell the truth about ACT UP:  David France's  HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE  and Jim Hubbard's UNITED IN ANGER:THE HISTORY OF ACT UP. They are two very different approaches trying to tell the story and impact of ACT UP. One is an adult  fairy tale and the other a mostly visual timeline. Both draw upon much of the same visual documentation and focus on ACT UP-NY despite how ACT UP became an international movement.  The directors had once been roommates.Hubbard was a members of ACT UP-NY (as was I ). France, a journalist, started his career writing about AIDS . Hubbard was an experimental filmmaker who had lost to AIDS in 1985 his significant other, Roger Jacoby, a well known experimental filmmaker who dated back to the Warhol years   Both directors share an  insider point-of-view. I suggest this became both a strength and a weakness when it came to objectivity. It is also what gave me trouble in distancing myself to form a critical point of view after my first view of each. Note: after seeing the world premier of PLAGUE at Sundance I did file the next day a review published in Westview and on social media . After a few weeks and some distance from the emotional impact of seeing people alive on screen that I loved and who are now dead, I began to have second, more critical thoughts and concerns about the documentary. Hence my second look at PLAGUE and a comparison with UNITED IN ANGER. So I wrote:


HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE director David France.

After recovering from seeing people alive that I worked with in ACT UP that are now dead I began to have second thoughts about this beautifully crafted narrative-like documentary. David France is a well known magazine writer. His personal style I would suggest is high-end tabloid journalism. He picks a hot button subject and then tailors his article to make sure it sizzles. Often leaving out critical facts that would complicate his story telling. It may work for New York magazine but violates some of the basic rules as I understand them of documentary film-making. He picks and chooses facts that push his narrative but violates the search for truth and integrity that is essential to authentic documentary film-making. His subject is actually the Treatment Action Group (TAG) a break-off group from ACT UP-NYC. TAG  was emboldened by Larry Kramer's demand for fast tracking experimental drugs into bodies in trouble.  

TAG members became known as “Larry’s Storm Troopers.” They had all been active members of ACT UP. 

First most of them seceded  from the ACT UP Treatment and Data committee . Then,because of a membership meeting  floor fight led by Kramer, they failed in their attempt to appropriate ACT UP's treasury and take it with them. 

They wanted out of ACT UP leaving behind the debate raging over the lack of drug testing in women and children's bodies, clean needle distribution and direct action targets. Only men, adult white male bodies, were being tested in all but a very tiny number of clinical trials. TAG  choose rather to sit inside at the table with federal government officials and PHARMA reps while ACT UP demonstrated in the streets.. (Elinor Burkett's The Gravest Show in Town is the best examination of the pitfalls and merits of such a strategy) 
 was, with PHARMA support, successful in fundamentally changing the rules of clinical trials.  This change not only impacted on the AIDS community, but also changed the protections for any clinical trial participant including those conducted on prisoners. No longer were PHARMA or government responsible for any failures or negative side effects care. PHARMA was no longer required to provide when effectiveness had been established the drugs free of charge to any trial participant  who wanted then. Those rules had been in place to protect clinical trial participants. These were critical changes in the trial rules and relieved the sponsors of the clinical trial of almost any liability and responsibilities other than providing the product being tested and collecting the researchers data.  

TAG was desperate as most of their members were either HIV+ or had full blown AIDS. It was a time when people were dropping dead daily. 

The Federal Drug Authority with the support of  Center for Disease Control head Dr. Anthony Fauci , rather than compromising, caved in  on all their legitimate safety issues in place that TAG with the support of PHARMA demanded be changed. Resulting in TAG members and their doctors having fast track access to still experimental drugs. Drugs without data on dosage and side effects documented. While this access did in fact prolong some people's lives it also caused deaths because of lack of information regarding dose levels and interactions. This was particularly true with the drug DDI.  

The Treatment and Data members who pushed hardest for the fast tracking of experimental drugs like DDI were the same members who left to form TAG Some celebrity members of ACT UP who through their TAG connections got access to the trial drugs died quickly. Eventually dosage levels were lowered and access became widespread... but not until some members of ACT UP had died from high dose DDI use. 

All of this is left out of PLAGUE, except for a vague afterthought reference to finally questioning how fast to fast track unproven drugs. As well as a throwaway line about all political organizations having at some point problems internally. This shocking lack of respect for facts and context is what ultimately makes PLAGUE a well crafted fairy tale and a dishonest documentary.

France choose two men from ACT UP to focus his story telling.

The charismatic Bob Rafsky, who came out in his early forties, responsibly left a marriage and a child and became sick with AIDS. While supportive, Rafsky was not a member of TAG. He in fact was a member of a different Act Up cell working on finding a cure for AIDS/HIV. He did not leave ACT UP. Rafsky in many ways was the public voice of anger in ACT UP. he saw himself  covered with KS lesions knowing  he was dying. Angry and articulate Bob Rafsky was fearless even when weak and wasting away. Standing up to Bill Clinton is no easy task. But Rafsky did as seen in the documentary

The other was the very photogenic ex-Wall Street wiz kid, Peter Staley.  Who after his diagnosis mid-80’s with AIDS  left  his job. It was widely  rumored within ACT UP at the time that Staley rather than suing for bias compensation choose to settle for an undisclosed amount ... rumored to be in the high six figures. As is usual in settlement, the  terms  were subject to  strict non-disclosure legal restrictions. (Note : Staley now denies this as well as ever having said he had AIDS). 

 Staley was one of the few activists with AIDS/HIV in ACT UP that had that kind of money. Staley also had been one of stars in the Gay Men’s Health Crisis safe sex , safe sex videos produced by Jean Carlomusto.  US Senator Jesse Helms had attack these educational videos on the U.S. Senate floor and managed to get all funding for safe sex education cut to any organization that used the word gay. This is how “men who have sex with men who are not gay” became language that did get funding.
inter view with-sex-in-an-epidemic-director-jean-carlomusto

He even became entrepreneurial as an activist with  a profitable mail order AIDS drug delivery service which he took over when the two founders died of AIDS .

This service provided a cover for sick people who were afraid because of potential risk to career and reputation to disclose that they had AIDS/HIV. It protected their identity.  

Staley was the activist chosen by the International AIDS Conference the year they met in San Francisco  to be the voice of AIDS activism from the podium. He hobnobbed with the likes of David Geffin, Elizabeth Taylor and Dr. Mathilde Krim

After the release of protease inhibitors,  Staley like many other HIV+ men for whom the new drugs actually worked (For about 50 % of those who had been on a series of  drug trials previously the new drugs failed to work) , was given an extension on life. Yet he  fell into the sinkhole of crystal meth addiction like so many other gay HIV + men. Staley years later finally cleaned up and to his credit devised a crystal meth educational campaign targeting gay meth addicts. This is worthy of a separate documentary

While there were many women active in Act Up, only two women were consistent insiders in TAG: Dr. Iris Long, a scientist who taught basic science to the TAG members and inspired Mark Harrington to write the TAG treatment manual  ( he was awarded a MacArthur Genius award ($250,000  not Dr. Long) )and Gurance Ruta-Frank, a 17 year old healthy teen. TAG was a white, gay male dominated group.

When Larry Kramer who had inspired the members of TAG to take action, became in TAG's eyes more a  liability than as assert when they sat down with PHARMA reps and government agency honchos, they tossed him aside.

Only the San Francisco speech is referenced in France’s PLAGUE. These are some examples of the critical information left out by France to advance his story telling.

 Seductive in craft, PLAGUE in fact is not an honest documentary. France's shocking lack of respect for facts and context is what ultimately makes PLAGUE a well crafted fairy tale and a dishonest documentary. 

 It is like an expensive, well made Madison Avenue perfume ad (think Dior/Chanel} masked in social justice costuming. France's  product skims the surface creating like the best of Hollywood action films larger than life heroes to build  to a crowd cheering anthem rather than presenting the complicated construction of the emblematic, history-changing, crucial AIDS activist group. ACT UP deserves better, as does TAG. Today Larry Kramer can be heard saying TAG 's success killed Act UP.


Experimental film maker Jim Hubbard with author/playwright, academic Sarah Schulman created the Ford Foundation funded ACT UP Oral History project and has to date filmed close to 128  oral histories of women and men active in ACT UP-NY and a few other chapters. Fortunately they were able to speak with some of the members who are now AIDS death statics like film editor/actor Jim Lyons and artist/activist Ray Navarro. Hubbard used not only his own shot film footage but also incorporates footage from a variety of sources including ACT UP-NY’s media collectives including DIVA TV.

Relying on the visual aspect of film to tell the history of ACT UP- NY, he roots UNITED IN ANGER in collectivity documenting the successful media grabbing ACT UP actions including the re-creation of the YIPPIE stock market action,  the invasion of the nightly CBS news with Dan Rather, the mammoth national action,at the FDA headquarters,  the ACT UP women led  the prime time baseball game “No glove, No love”  Shea stadium surprise,  the controversial St Patrick's Mass die in, the White House mass burial and ashes delivery protest. What one sees in this footage and the footage of actual ACT UP meetings as well as road trips to the International AIDS Conference in SF and Montreal  is the diversity of people attracted to ACT UP and the strong role of women of all ages in ACT UP that is lacking in David France's PLAGUE.  Hubbard succeeds in capturing the group dynamics of the ACT UP general membership meetings and the group dynamic of consensus building on issues and tactics and their implementation through the collectivity of affinity groups. And most importantly in the darkest moments of AIDS how direct action was both empowering and, yes, fun and oddly life reinforcing. It is exciting and empowering to watch UNITED IN ANGER. A lesson in action for today's Occupy movements. 

The weakest part of UNITED IN ANGER is the talking heads who are in most cases redundant to what we actually see visually. But certainly useful for viewers who have no knowledge of ACT UP and its history.Their introduction breaks the cinematic rhythm of image motion capturing the collective outrage and empowering response to government ignorance and denial. I suspect the rush to completion with PLAGUE already finished dictated some of these more conventional choices. Hubbard has created in tone a more authentic documentation of what ACT UP actually was and how it can be a role model for future activism than the slick and easily accessible film France has created. While each film attempts to confront the cumulative effect of the AIDS deaths of friends and lovers in ACT UP, the loss and the effects of collective grief is subtext for the most part in both their story telling of anger, fear and outrage.

David Weissman’s WE WERE HERE which documents how the San Francisco lesbian and gay community came together  to take care of their sick and dying and build an AIDS response which included ACT UP San Francisco, Act Up Golden Gate and Act Up East Bay, succeeds where both UNITED IN ANGER and HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE  fail to go by concentrating on the personal human toll and redemption rather than just collective anger or TAG-like power brokering. UNITED IN ANGER is emotionally closer and works in tandem with WE WERE HERE, while PLAGUE in France's construction despite the Bob Rafsky story builds a myth that is not authentic in the way the other two are.On the deepest level PLAGUE rings hollow.

I hope there will be more documentaries on ACT UP's impact globally and as a template for today political movements. Perhaps a less subjective reading  can come from more experienced documentary film makers like Alex Gibney. Arthur Dong or Lesli Klainberg. The full story of ACT UP and its impact on saving lives, challenging government, the greed of PHARMA and the political expediency of elected officials is still a load stone for further documentaries.  As is what happened to ACT UP members still alive and the AIDS activists community at large including those who looked to alternative explanations of the cause and treatment of bodies out of balance are still ripe for documentary discovery.
(cc) jim fouratt September 24th  2012 revision