Every month I'm thrilled to be writing a column for Swedish WIFT (Women in Film and Television). February covered screenings with Q&A's of the political narratives "Timbuktu" by Abderrahmane Sissako and "Last Days in Vietnam" by Rory Kennedy, as well as "The Theory of Everything", all films in the Oscar's race. I also attended a heated distribution debate between PBS and New York's local documentary and indie filmmakers.
Beautiful and thought-worthy film "Timbuktu", which scored top reviews from audiences and critics, ended with optimism and wise words. The Muslim world is trying to eradicate extremism, but because Islam is not organized in the same way as, for example, the Catholic Church, the resistance is not organized either. It is a process that is just beginning and will evolve in a positive direction, says director Abderrahmane Sissako through his interpreter.
"Last Days in Vietnam" is a piece of American history compiled out of archive material. As the daughter of Robert Kennedy, it is perhaps no coincidence that director Rory Kennedy chose to focus on the socio-political films. She has always been fascinated by Vietnam, she says, and believes her father's campaign -68 to pull out as well as her uncle John F. Kenney's involvement formed that interest. The film is an informative but somewhat one-sided narrated heroic story of American soldiers' fight to get as many South Vietnamese people out as possible, before the North Vietnamese army reached Saigon in 1975. Personally, I would have liked to hear more from the Vietnamese left behind, about the labor camps and how they actually managed to get out of the country in the end, as well as what happened to the American journalists who chose to remain. But perhaps that's another film.
Anthony McCarten spent eight years writing "The Theory of Everything". Half of the script is based on Jane Hawkins autobiography, but to include Stephen Hawkins perspective and since he's only interested in contributing his time to scientific documentaries, the rest is Anthony's own speculations. He describes how nervous he was when the professor came to London to see the movie. He could not see the reactions during the screening, but afterwards the nurse came and wiped Stephen's tears, and he described it as "a surprisingly honest portrait of my first marriage." Also Jane was happy with the result (as were we watching it - Eddie Redmayne cleaned up this year's Awards for his role as Stephen Hawkins).
PBS Listening Tour gathered the local film industry in a crowded salon to protest the possibility of POV and Independent Lens being moved from prime time Monday evenings at WNET's channel 13 to the secondary WLIW's channel 21. This has raised many protests from filmmakers who sees PBS WNET as a prestigious forum while WLIW is less well known and channel 21 doesn't reach all areas. So after having received 1200 signatures, PBS organized a tour with decision makers like WNET's chief programmer Stephen Segaller in the panel, for a direct dialogue with filmmakers and viewers. The audience criticized PBS to advertise "Downtown Abbey" on the front page instead of local productions, and that it shows too few programs reflecting the real New York population, which consists of two thirds minorities. However, the focus was on WNET versus WLIW, and the filmmakers warned the panel that they would not have let their films air on PBS if it was the secondary stations that had been offered. We keep our fingers crossed that they may remain on WNET!