It’s at Sundance that independent queer cinema was launched in the US media. Since Todd Haynes’ Poison (1991) (1) and Gregg Araki’s The Living End (1992), the notion of queer cinema has evolved, but Araki is still active, and still welcome on the snowy slopes of Park City. His first two films, Three Bewildered People in the Night (1987) and The Long Week-end (O’ Despair) (1989) were underground productions, shot in b&w for less than US$5,000 each, and shown mostly in Asian American film festivals. This was paradoxical, for, in spite of his Japanese American ethnicity, Araki does not deal with Asian issues in his work. Queerness involves the decision (or the need) to chose one’s communities, one’s “families”, through lines of identification that differ from what was given to you by race, ethnicity, gender and blood relations. Araki is a quintessential queer filmmaker, infused with a punk sensibility (version SoCal), fascinated by teen bodies and the rebellion of those who are too young to know better, playing with the fluidity of sexual identifications and cinematic genres. After the pleasant-but-slight interval of Smiley Face (2007), Kaboom reconnects with the world created in Araki’s “Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy” (Totally F***ed Up/1993, The Doom Generation/1995 and Nowhere/1997): disturbed but highly seductive youths, in an anxious quest for sex, love and/or a fix, garish, expressionist colours and unexpected camera angles, an outlandish sense of fashion, an outrageous plot. Even James Duval, the star of the Trilogy, reappears as a slightly older man called “The Messiah” who seems to be perpetually on drugs – one of the few adults to enter the teenage bubble (patterned after UC Santa Barbara, where Araki was an undergraduate), where Smith (Thomas Dekker) pines for his hunky roommate Thor (Chris Zylka); comforts his best friend Stella (Haley Bennett) in the midst of a torrid affair with the obsessive Lorelei (Roxane Mesquida); falls into the arms of London (Juno Temple), a girl with style, wits and poise, not no mention a healthy sex drive; follows the tracks of a girl with red hair (Nicole LaLiberté) who or may not be wasted, or dead, or have an identical twin; and, on his 19th birthday, stumbles onto a wet dream of apocalyptic conspiracy theory too good – or too baaaaad – to be true. Araki has a lot of fun with his talented performers and, exhilarated at all the possibilities offered by the RED camera, plays with colour, lights, framing, contrast, mismatched shots and chaotic panning.

Bridges to cross

Fluidity, hedonism, the refusal of patriarchal structures and heteronormalcy – Araki has pursued this utopia in the Californian multi-culti melting pot, and with more than a twist of comic book-inspired sci-fi tropes. Others have chosen to confront their queerness to the “biological” community in which they were born. Identity politics centred around the notion of race or ethnicity have tended to make homosexuality less acceptable in some milieus competing for their “place the sun”, their share of the American dream. Gun Hill Road, the first feature of Rashaad Ernesto Green (named as one of “Ten Exciting New Voices in Black Cinema” by indieWIRE in 2009) takes place in the Bronx’s Latino community. Paroled after three years in prison, Enrique (Esai Morales) returns home. While he was away, his wife, Angela (Judy Reyes) had a lover and is now struggling with divided loyalties – nothing, though, that couldn’t be worked out. Yet Angela has also developed a special bond with her teenage son, Michael, and is ready to protect his budding identity against Enrique’s machismo outbursts. Soulfully played by trans-gender performer Harmony Santana, Michael is your usual sullen schoolboy during the day (maybe his hair is a bit too long, too fluffy) and at night an exquisite diva. The trunk in is bedroom is filled with bras, sequins, tight hot pants, custom jewellery, high heels, nail polish. Michael has found his tribe, his rituals, even his own heartbreaks (a finely drawn sub-plot shows him getting it all wrong with his first boyfriend). At a diegetic level, Gun Hill Road is about a father trying to come to terms with his son’s transgressive sexuality. Cinematically, the real event of the film is Santana’s casting. In the ladies room after the screening, I was talking to a spectacular transgender woman, the actress/activist Laverne Cox (she was talking the next day in a panel organised by GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), who was elated to see the progress made in showcasing a real transgender performer. Gone are the days when Michael Same broke lovely Candy Darling’s heart by casting Raquel Welsh in Myra Breckinridge (1970). Yet this blackface of gender identity is still the norm in mainstream media where sexual outlaws continue to be marginalised, or staged for their camp entertainment value. Camp became political, because that was a way of forcing one’s existence in front of the camera. Harmony Santana’s breakthrough performance in Gun Hill Road proves that another way is possible – and that independent cinema offers the hope, if ever so slight, of implementing change.

Queer kids are often forced to lead a double life – such is the plight of 17 year-old Alike (Adepero Oduye) in Pariah, African American director Dee Rees’ debut feature. She lives in a black section of Brooklyn, and takes long bus rides to gay clubs with her best buddy, super-butch Laura. On the way back, she has to shed her baby dyke clothing (pants-and-polo, baseball cap) and become a nice neighbourhood girl, a model student. Maybe Alike is too good at school, she’s a fine writer, with ambition to go the college. The first rift with her well-meaning working-class family may have started there. She’s out of sync with them, her desires at odd with the world, her aspirations exceeding what society is offering her.

Pariah follows some of the conventions of the US coming-of-age story, which ends up with the protagonist leaving the old neighbourhood behind, lock, stock and barrel – uncomprehending parents and first heartbreak. This convention works with particular acuity for queer cinema that draws a series of concentric circles that its subjects have to cross in their search for the ideal community. For Alike (or Araki’s anti-heroes), it will be college; for others, the displacement will involve moving out of the stifling family circle, leaving one’s bigoted little town for the big city, confronting or avoiding the homophobia lurking in your own ethnic community. In Gun Hill Road, Michael stays – his father returns to jail; in Pariah, Alike leaves not only the family that misunderstands and violently criticises her but the smallness of high school hormonal overdrive and silly rivalry, as well as the local dyke scene. The topography of the US – it’s always possible to leave everything behind when you take the A train, cross Delancey, or the Hudson River, or the state line, or the Golden Gate (2) – somewhat sheds a light on the genesis of queer cinema: it partakes, in its own way, of the ideology of the frontier.

Space, John F. Kennedy said famously, is the new frontier, and queer artists have loved to subvert the codes of science fiction (a genre otherwise often noted for its social and sexual conservatism, Samuel Delany being a brilliant exception). In the Park City at Midnight section, Co-dependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same by Madeleine Olnek was an endearing spin-off from “bad” sci-fi movies of the 1950s: grainy black-and-white, low production value, hysterically phoney spaceships, improbable plots. On the distant planet Zots, the ozone layer is threatened by the destructive vibes caused by a surplus of sexual emotion. And who are the horniest, the most volatile, obsessive, needy? Lesbians of course. So three hyperactive femmes, donning cute little costumes that could pass for a fashion statement in some clubs, are sent to New York City to have their hearts broken by earthlings who, as we know, are prone to messing up. Two secret agents (one of them probably an alien in disguise) are trying to identify them and track them down. Here you’d expect an acerbic comedy à la Lettres persanes (3) the alien commenting on the ridicule of the mores she uncovers. Not so fast – Obanek simply coins a double love story transcending the boundaries of space. One of the aliens, Zoinx (Susan Ziegler), meets Jane (Lisa Haas), a lovable but shy and overweight stationery store clerk, who has been single as long as she can remember. Feeling happy and loved, plain Jane really does not mind that her g.f. is an alien, and that she may have to leave the planet earth to continue the relationship. Meanwhile, in their own displacement, the two other space travellers find out what they really want. Turned off by earth women, they fall into each other’s arms. Who has not dreamt of a planet for lovers? Obanek certainly did and offers us this delightful fantasy. Yet, even on boring planet earth (and courtesy of Stormy Brandenberger’s witty choreography) alien lesbians prove to be the best dancers…

The dilemma between staying and leaving, inside and outside is what fuels Maryam Keshavarz’s Circumstance and Amor Hakkar’s Quelques jours de répit (A Few Days of Respite). The two films couldn’t be more different in style, but they have in common the choice of Iran as a metaphor for a closed society in which homosexuality is suppressed. Keshavarz’s connection to Iran is more direct – born and raised in New York, the Iranian American director (4) has spent time in the Middle East – but the film was shot in Beirut and co-produced by New York-based Chinese American Karin Chien and Hong Kong-born independent producer Melissa Lee, who commutes between Hong Kong, Beijing and Los Angeles. Circumstance, which won the audience award at Sundance, heralds a new form of multicultural American indie. Keshavarz went to the Sundance Lab where she has honed her skills to reach a broader audience. The lush cinematography, the beauty of the young actresses, in particular, made certain male spectators suspicious or uncomfortable – which attests to a cultural uneasiness when stories of teenage lesbian love are brought to the screen; pornography has appropriated them so now, when the women are “too beautiful”, they seem to be designed for the male gaze. Keshavarz rides a fine line, but from her first scene, in which a belly dancer performs for an all-women audience, it is the female gaze that is foregrounded. These women are beautiful, yes, but to each other. This does not exclude – and this is even the core of the drama – that this gaze is bracketed, contained, dominated by the double bind of family love and patriarchy, made more complex and powerful by the rise of fundamentalist Islam. Superseding a woman’s desire for another woman, a man can look, be turned on, and become the predator that his position of power allows him. Circumstance suggests an answer to the questions pondered by feminist historians – how could relationships among women develop within a patriarchal family or tribal structure? how has lesbianism been so invisible and unrecorded for centuries? and then, is it possible to break the circle?

Atafeh (Nikohl Boosheri), who has grown in a well-to-do liberal family, and Shireen (Sarah Kazemi), the daughter of dissidents who were either killed or committed suicide, are in love. They go to clubs and dance parties, drive their cars too fast, dub forbidden foreign movies with their buddies, or wear too much make-up, and this puts them in trouble with the police. Atafeh’s brother, Mehran (Reza Sixo Safai), a former musician involved in the underground and drug scene, comes back from rehab a changed man. He’s become a fundamentalist, obsessively intent at putting his family in the right path (which involves putting surveillance cameras all over the house and convincing his father to do the ritual prayers with him). He also starts collaborating with the moral police. When the two girls get arrested, Atafeh is bailed out by her influential father; Mehran, who’s had his eyes on Shareen, blackmailing her into accepting to marry him. Waiting for their new house to be constructed, the newly wed couple lives in the family house, where Atafeh and Shareen only manage to speak to each other when doing chores in the kitchen. Circumstance hints that, in the past, many such situations may have taken place, unfolding in fear and secrecy, invisible and denied – just as Jane Austen was hiding her writing under her needlework in the family parlour. (5) Yet technology that has increased the power of the patriarchal gaze (and fed Mehran’s masochism) has also given women mobility. It’s possible, with the right amount of bribe money (making this option unavailable to the lower classes), to hop on a plane. It comes with a sacrifice – there are those who are tangled in an emotionally complex situation (Shareen comforting Mehran as he cries), those that you have to leave behind. It’s not exactly a happy ending.

The lovers of A Few Days of Respite, Mohsen (played by the director himself) and the younger Hassan (seasoned beur actor Samir Guesmi (6)), have managed to depart together from Iran, where les pédés comme nous, on les pend (“they hang faggots like us”), says Mohsen. Iran is mentioned twice in the film, in this remark at the beginning, and then in a title at the end; for the Algerian-born, French-raised Hakkar, it functions as a vanishing point, a signifier of the repression that threatens homosexuals in so many non-Western countries (Uganda being the latest example). A Few Days of Respite unfolds entirely in the south eastern French province of Franche-Comté, where Hakkar himself lived most of his life. Smuggled there after a long journey, the protagonists start walking along rail tracks. They find a man lying there, with the obvious intention of committing suicide. They pull him off before the train arrives. Furious at first, the man nevertheless invites them for coffee in his shack. After a convivial conversation, they leave. As they are walking, a shot is heard. “There was nothing we could have done for him”, comments Mohsen.

Born in Kenchela, in the Aures mountains of north eastern Algeria, Hakkar moved with his family to Besançon in France as a baby, and didn’t return to the Aures until he went there to bury his father in 1998. It inspired him to shoot a documentary, Timgad, la vie au cœur des Aurés (Timgad, Life in the Aures Mountains, 2002) and, in 2006, the award-winning feature, La Maison Jaune (The Yellow House) – in which he developed a distinctive signature of slow tempo, sparse dialogue with understated humour, a keen attention to the rhythm and body language of his performers and a poetic gift to delineate the interaction between characters and landscape. In The Yellow House, a man drives miles on a broken down tricycle to pick up the body of his son killed in a car accident during his military duty, and then has to comfort his wife, plunged in a deep depression. (7) A Few Days of Respite is a collection of small moments, caught in the fragility of a borrowed time that could brutally come to an end. Mohsen and Hassan plan to take a train to Paris, but there is no direct connection, so they must stop in a sleepy little town. To avoid attracting attention, they decide to travel in separate cars. A man of the world, elegant, affable, Mohsen helps carry the luggage of a woman, Yolande (Marina Vlady, still charismatic and lovely, still haloed by the grace of her earlier work with Godard and other ground-breaking directors), while Hassan watches from a distance. She talks to him, offers him a small job to repaint her house, spends time with him. Sensing that her new friend is in an irregular situation, she even proposes marriage. “We wouldn’t even have to sleep together”, she says sweetly. Yet Mohsen is chivalrous, gallant, sensitive – feeling Yolande’s loneliness and being fond of her, he pays her kindness back by spending the night with her. Meanwhile, he had hidden Hassan, who was starving, in Yolande’s attic, so he could bring him food.

Hakkar does not play the situation as a farce, or as a drama; there is no bickering between these two men who are so deeply in love with each other, just a melancholy awareness these “few days of respite” are counted. Mohsen may be tempted by the prospect of a quiet life with Yolande – or one of them could be arrested and deported back to Iran. While Hakkar is at the centre of the film’s dilemma, the character of Hassan is his most wonderful creation, expressing his desire, his pain, his commitment to his lover through an almost total absence of dialogue, through his intense gaze, his actions.

For the thousands of gay men and women who flocked to San Francisco in the early 1970s, a few days of respite would not be enough – they wanted a place where they could be themselves, love and be loved in the open, have sex with whomever they pleased without being harassed or beaten to death, have fun, be silly – a party that would last forever. And the party was going on full blast when, in the early 1980s, beautiful young men ended up in the hospital with strange sores all over their bodies, getting weaker and weaker and eventually dying. In a few months, what was known at the time as “gay cancer” took several hundreds lives, scarring the community forever.

Now AIDS is a chronic disease like diabetes, incurable but manageable. In industrialised countries it’s no longer a death sentence and those who suffer from it are no longer ostracised – but we shouldn’t forget how it was in the early days of the disease, especially since those who are affected by it in Third World countries are not as lucky as we are. David Weissman’s and Bill Weber’s We Were Here, while traditional in form (talking heads, archival footage), is insightful and correct on two fronts. It depicts the loss experienced by the community – the death of lovers, friends, companions, the end of a carefree, graceful era – as well as how this sense of loss changed, matured and became more political to address the epidemics. Gay men living in San Francisco were known to be fun-seeking, self-centred and, well, a tad narcissistic; they became caring, selfless, givers rather than takers. Gay men and women weren’t always very fond of each other; less affected by the disease, lesbians rallied, and took care of their fellow brothers. Some men who were just content to be away from a repressive environment and to live day by day, like the florist of the Castro, shared the sorrows of countless others. Loners whose shyness had alienated them from the dominant gay lifestyle found a raison d’être in caring for the terminally sick. Some accepted relationships with HIV positive men, knowing that they would probably have to witness their partners’ last hours and bury them. They had always said that, contrary to what the repressive moral majority claimed, homosexuality was neither a choice nor a curse, but a natural curve. Now, faced with a catastrophe, they discovered that they had a choice. They could cave in or be militant. Advocate for safe sex practices, for medical research, for a change in policy. And they won. It is the sober demeanour of the five survivors that are interviewed – the florist, a nurse, founders/members of HIV positive support groups or political awareness movements – that gives the film its backbone. The AIDS crisis, at least in the catastrophic form it took in the 1980s, seems to be over in industrialised countries. So the merry-go-round resumes, young people are having fun again, being careful looks passé, the powers-that-be want to forget, want us to forget. Yet the film says: do not eradicate our history. We were here. We saw brothers, comrades and lovers dying. We were here – and as long as there is a breath in our (sick or healthy) body, we’ll bear witness.

Is it because I’m black? (Syl Johnson)

Another survivor who is still with us to remember, celebrate and mourn, is the highly charismatic Harry Belafonte, 84 year-old, and the willing subject of a documentary directed by Susanne Rostock and co-produced by Gina Belafonte (the actor’s daughter with his second wife, Julie Robinson), Sing Your Song. To cinephiles, Belafonte is better known for his role as Dorothy Dandridge’s lover in Otto Preminger’s Carmen Jones (1954); for the first time the sexuality of a good-looking black couple was sizzling on the American screens. Belafonte, however, had a hard time completely imposing himself as a leading man in Hollywood at the time. In Robert Rossen’s Island in the Sun (1957), he was courting controversy with the hint of a possible relationship with the character played by Joan Fontaine; he became the first black film noir protagonist in Robert Wise’s Odds Against Tomorrow (1959).

Belafonte has more room to manoeuvre in the music world. As an acting student at the New School in New York, he had started singing in nightclubs (notably in Charlie Parker’s bands) to pay for his tuition. In 1956, his LP Calypso sold more than 1 million copies and introduced the music of Trinidad and Tobago to US audiences, and Belafonte has had a successful career as a popular singer illustrating many genres of music since. Even there, controversy was lurking. In 1968, in a performance with Petula Clark, the blonde British singer touched his arm, which triggered uneasy reactions on the part of the sponsor (neither he nor Clark backed down). Belafonte had experienced extreme forms of racism quite early in his career, particularly when touring. He recounts one day going to the bathroom while his van was parked at a rest-stop. As he was unzipping his pants, a man shouted at him “N—-r, if you let out as much as a drop, you’re a dead man.” The star zipped his pants back and returned to the bus.

Very soon, he became a left-wing political activist, not limiting himself to the Civil Rights movement (where he was a friend of Martin Luther King and a sponsor of the Freedom Rides) – which landed him in trouble during the McCarthy era. Very candidly, he attributes the failure of his first marriage (to Marguerite Byrd) to the pressure exerted by the FBI who raided his home and terrified his young wife by calling him “a communist”. If anything, Belafonte, born of immigrant Jamaican and Martiniquan parents, strove to embody the American dream as a talented black man born in New York City in 1927 could envision it. The right to have a first-class education, to perform on stage and in the movies with performers of all races, to marry whomever he pleased and have bi-racial children, to pee in non-segregated bathrooms, to support the politics and the politicians he believed in, but also to make sure that “the dream” wouldn’t be confined to US borders. Belafonte was active in the fight against famine in Ethiopia, and in raising funds in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti. A bit of a simpatico, messy patchwork (and eschewing some of Belafonte’s most infamous lines, such as his anti-Colin Powel statement) Sing Your Song transcends the limitations of the “authorised biography” through the luminous presence of its subject – still going, still smiling, still fighting.

Memory is encoded in the body – those who fought AIDS, those who fought racism – and through cinema these bodies have been replicated, carried in different locations, their lives extended to that of the medium. A few years ago, cans of 16mm footage were discovered in the basement of a Swedish television station. They contained material shot in the US by Swedish journalists who were reporting on the Black Liberation Movement – especially the Black Panthers. Never revisited since that time, the footage was re-edited by Göran Hugo Olsson and Hanna Lejonqvist into a 96-minute feature, The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (the film is co-produced by Annika Rogell in Sweden, and Joslyn Barnes and Danny Glover’s Louverture films (8) in the US). To those familiar with the history of the Panthers, the film may not have broken new ground, but it does contain rare footage and a singular point of view. Like most Europeans at the time, the Swedish journalists were fascinated by the US, but even more fascinated by the rebels against the system. (During Huey P. Newton’s trial in 1968, a number of solidarity committees were created throughout Western Europe, those in Sweden being the most active and well-organised.) They recorded their own wonderment when discovering the American continent, and were also able to film prominent figures of the Black movement in Sweden – such as a dashing Stokely Carmichael, explaining the source of his disagreement with Martin Luther King: “in order for nonviolence to work, your opponent must have a conscience. The United States has none.” However, as filmmaker Billy Woodberry noted at a recent screening of the film, success and failure are relative in the wake of history. The Black Power Movement did win victory in the long term (just by increasing the number of elected black officials in the US) while newly formed African countries have encountered many harrowing difficulties in the post-colonisation decades.

They were not afraid of their foreignness, their status as outsiders, their mistakes. From her cell in San Francisco State Prison, Angela Davis, elegantly, passionately, deconstructs the position of her interviewer: “when someone asks me about violence, I just find it incredible – what it means is that the person who’s asking that question has absolutely no idea what black people have gone through, what black people have experienced in this country, since the time the first black person was kidnapped from the shores of Africa.” They followed Stokely Carmichael’s inspired offer to interview his own mother about the hard life she had raising him. As Europeans, they followed the thread of their investigation of the Panthers to discover black life in US cities and explore African American culture; they arranged to meet and record poets, such as Abiodun Oyewole, community organisers/intellectual mentors like Lewis H. Michaux, the owner of National Memorial African Bookstore in Harlem, or asking a maverick filmmaker like Melvin van Peebles to comment on some of the images. The remix is both fresh and ambiguous, exhilarating and sad, vivid snippets of a time gone by, of one of the great liberation movements of modern times that failed – proving that US capitalism had better repressive muscle than the colonial powers that had been falling apart a few years previously.

Coming from a very different aesthetic tradition (cinema vérité through patient immersion in a community) Steve James’ The Interrupters is another black-and-white dialogue, as the director of Hoop Dreams (1994) and Stevie (2002) meticulously follows the lives of former gang members who have joined forces to interrupt violence in their community before it erupts. In the snow-bound streets of Chicago’s South Side, unemployment, misery and hopelessness are rampant. Is it even worth thinking of interrupting violence before solving the socio-economical conditions that caused it? On the porch of his house, when an interrupter, Rodney “Hot Rod” Phillips, tries to talk to him into not starting another territorial bloody feud, “Flamo” states his case: “I’m 32 years old. I’ve been locked up 15 years of my life. What the f…k does that mean? That’s what I grew up in, goddammit!” In a meeting of elder men from the community, the organisers notice that between all of them, there are several hundreds years of jail term… And the cycle goes on and on. Flamo “claims” four kids, and believes that if he goes to jail again, God will take care of them. As early as junior high, kids get shot – dead or paralysed for life. We witness funerals of young men, we see mournful high-school girls who have witnessed senseless shooting. To Amina Matthews, the daughter of a famous gangbanger, who lived the life before converting to Islam, getting married and becoming a very charismatic interrupter, it is “transmitted like a disease from father to son.”

Yet, in the war zone, in this game of survival, the question is no longer whether it is worthy, or possible, so stop the violence. It has to be stopped, by all means necessary. The killings are mostly black-on-black – the African American community destroying itself – so the rescue, the solution has to be black-on-black. The interrupters are no angels. They are former gang members, some of them, like Eddie Bocanegra, who in 2007 started the class of social worker policy at Northwestern Illinois University, have extensive prison records, and may have committed heinous crimes themselves. They come from the ‘hood, they talk the talk, they walk the walk – they’re not intimidated by the bravado, the recriminations, the menaces of a Flamo. They’re not afraid of being shot during an intervention like Joel Sanchez – interviewed on his hospital bed – was. In their previous lives, they could have been shot, in broad daylight, for no other reasons than they belonged to one particular gang…

James is his own cinematographer and works only with his sound recordist (who is also the co-producer of the film), Zak Piper. He uses the camera as a mode of conversation with his subjects, always at eye level with them, never belittling or judging them. Nobody knows if the program of “violence interrupters” will be effective in the long term – but it deserves respect. From the heart of the black community in Chicago, men and women are risking their lives everyday to stop their brothers and sisters from killing each other – and, without James’ film, we wouldn’t know about it.

Lost in Africa

Eric Strauss and Daniele Anastasion, the co-directors of The Redemption of General Butt Naked also spent years tracking their (fascinating) subject, but their background as hired hands for National Geographic, the History Channel, the Discovery Channel and A & E (Art and Entertainment Channel) is obvious in their treatment. Fixated on the idea of making a “universal” story of cruelty and true or false redemption, they do not provide their audience with the historical and cultural context necessary to decipher it. During the Liberian civil war, that lasted from 1999 to 2003 and cost an estimated 200,000 lives, Butt Naked was the fierce head of a militia whose members thought they increased their lethal power by fighting naked (hence his moniker). Once peace restored, he found God and became Father Joshua Milton Blahyi, preaching around in and out of Liberia (out when it seems that too many people want to kill him) and meeting his former victims to ask for their forgiveness.

Playacting? Cunningness? Sincerity? The film can’t provide an answer because the question is not well posed. You have to grill the filmmakers, for example, to find out on which side of the Civil War Butt Naked was posited – while they don’t flinch at including fragments of the infamous footage in which Prince Yormie Johnson tortured to death President Samuel Doe in front of a video camera in 1990. It seems to matter little to Strauss and Anastasion that Butt Naked belonged to a tribe faithful to Doe – not that it excuses any of the violence he committed (especially since Doe’s regime was particularly harsh and repressive) – but it puts it in a certain context, considering what came afterwards: after years of bloody war, Doe’s opponent, Charles Taylor became President in 1997 and instated a reign or terror. Internal resistance (in particular from the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace), more civil war and international intervention forced him into exile to Nigeria in 2003. Even though they claim to have spent five years in Nigeria, the directors show little understanding – or an unwillingness to communicate – the complex tribal politics that are at the heart of unrest in most of Africa. They don’t explore an important element in Butt Naked’s background: before creating his militia, he was a priest in his home village, invested with supernatural powers. He became a fighter to follow a higher calling. His “conversion” to a more Westernised form of religion – becoming a travelling preacher who wants to share Jesus – inscribes itself in a tortured path in which religion, god(s), spirituality, tribal allegiance all play a role – as well the realisation that the fate of Liberia is not in the hands of Liberians alone, but depends of an international community of much wealthier countries (the US Marines played a role in Taylor’s downfall, while Muammar al-Quadafi was backing him). As such, Butt Naked’s story is another tale of post-colonialism gone sour, and then surreal – but the film never reaches this level of awareness, let alone analysis.

The programming of Butt Naked and An African Election by Swiss director Jarreth Merz in the US and international documentary sections was evidence of the relatively new interest developed by Sundance for the African continent. Knyarwanda (winner, Audience Award, World Dramatic Competition), described in the catalogue as “the first feature film conceived and produced by Rwandans” (even though it is a USA/Rwanda co-production), was another example. African American director Alrick Brown worked in close collaboration with a Rwandan producer (Ishmael Nithabose), to interweave six different stories involving not only the Hutu versus Tutsi 1994 massacres, but the role played by the imans who hid Tutsis in Rwandan mosques, and the difficult reconciliation that came afterwards. As in the case of Liberia, so many people took part in genocidal activities that reconciliation became a necessity – if not a sizeable part of the population would end up in jail, which would be politically and economically impossible. Former killers were put in camps, where they could come to terms with their past actions and in some cases interact with their victims.

Knyarwanda has one of the most memorable opening sequences of late: a teenage girl who has sneaked out of the family home to attend a party and flirt with a seductive young man, walks back with him and avoids a patrol of soldiers, sneaks back home, in silence, goes to the bathroom to change into less alluring clothes – and then call her parents. There is no reverse angle – but we know they are dead. The fractured narrative structure goes back and forth between past and present, linking the different narrative strands, more or less successfully. Yet two stories stand out, as we gradually learn that the girl is the product of a Hutu/Tutsi marriage – that her father’s servant boy was sweet on her but turned his unrequited passion into hatred – that, in moments that distantly echo Bertold Brecht’s The Jewish Wife, her Hutu father tries to send his Tutsi wife away. The other story involves the family of the iman hiding Tutsis in his mosque, whose young boy, unwittingly, brings a murderous militia back home while running an errand.

Restless nights

Restless City was eagerly awaited by those who had loved Andrew Dosunmu’s earlier foray into filmmaking, the documentary Hot Iron (1999), a FESPACO winner that lovingly portrayed the minute efforts and glamorous hype involved in an African American hair-styling competition in Detroit. Born and raised in Nigeria, Dosunmu spends his time between Lagos and New York City. He started his career as a designer’s assistant for the house of Yves Saint Laurent and is well-known as a fashion, design and art photographer; he has also directed a number of music videos and designed album covers for the likes of Isaac Hayes, Angie Stone, Youssou N’Dour and Public Enemy. More than in narrative per se, in Restless City Dosunmu is interested in textures: visual (thanks to the splendid cinematography of Bradford Young, who also did the image for Pariah) and aural (through a finely crafted soundtrack that includes ambient noises, silence, foley, a sophisticated mix, music from independent Nigerian labels and Jessye Norman’s voice singing Richard Strauss); the texture of the city with her motley assortment of ethnicities, the unceasing street noises, the mixture of languages spoken (Wolof, French and English); the shimmering texture of the clothes worn in the West Indian community (courtesy of costume designer Mobolaji Dawodu); the lavish display of hairdoes on the women who come to Sisi’s salon (tresses, curls, bobs, perms, straightened logs); the supple texture, the rich, varied hues of black skin, as dark, noble and precious as ebony – a sensual mouth, a pensive forehead, an eyelid or a hand captured here and then in Young’s spectacular close-ups; the texture of human interaction in cramped buildings and crowded streets where the constant proximity of other bodies is simultaneously comforting and irritating, tantalising and frightening.

Hence the restlessness. Djibril Sy (Senegalese actor Sy Alassane) is a 21 year-old young musician from Dakar, Senegal. Dosunmu gives him the name of one of Senegal’s greatest filmmakers, Djibril Diob Mambéty (1945-98), who made the unforgettable Touki Bouki in 1973, moved to France where he plunged into alcoholism, and could only direct his second feature, Hyenas (1992) when he returned to Senegal. (9) The first images, in which Djibril effortlessly inhabits the screen, and introduces himself to the camera, seem to echo the buoyancy, hope and playful sensuality of Touki Bouki’s young protagonists. In the 1970s, it was Paris – never reached in the film, but symbolised by a looped Josephine Baker song – that encapsulated the dream. In the early 21st century, it is New York, where a sizeable West African community has developed in the last two decades. Djibril has lived in Harlem for four years in pursuit of the dream: “one day will come when my child could be president… the only path I know is music.” Instead, he zigzags through the streets of Manhattan on his little red scooter (another distant echo of Mory’s motorcycle in Touki Bouki) to sell DVDs, run errands for the loan shark/pimp Bekay and enmesh himself too deeply in his feelings for one of Bekay’s girls, Trini (Jamaican-born actress Nicole/Sky Grey)…

Megan Griffith’s second feature, The Off Hours is also high on atmosphere, also taking the spectator for an intimate journey into a little-known world: a truck stop on the outskirts of Seattle, the women who work there and the men who hang out there. Here the restlessness is muted. In the long hours of the night shift, waiting for customers, warming the coffee pot, exchanging terse remarks with your East European co-worker – nothing happens, time seems congealed, the road is open but there is no way out. In Francine (Amy Semeitz), the blonde waitress who looks around her with the eyes of a lost child, Griffith has composed a complex character, combining strength and failings, stubbornness and lack of focus, sadness and wit, poise and vulgarity, resilience and empathy. Francine has a foul mouth, likes to get drunk on beer, is sometimes unclear about her status as a sex object for the male characters (which complicates her relationship to her customers, her alcoholic boss, but also the unemployed foster brother she shacks with). One of the many working class women in the world whose life, apparently, “does not matter”, she feels her own life slowly ebbing away from her.

Elegantly shot in the blue-grey hues and frigid landscapes of the Pacific Northwest, The Off Hours is infused with the subdued melancholia of the night shift, shared by those who work, those who can’t sleep, those who drink and those who have lost hope – suggesting echoes of Edward Hopper and Robert Frank. A tightly conceived ensemble piece, it is graced by subtle performances (Tony Doupe, Ross Partridge, and, in the role of the waitress Jelena, Gergana Mellin – who may be unknown to US film audiences but has had a long theatre career both in Bulgaria and the US). The spark that lights the cold plain, however, is the luminous presence of Amy Seimetz who, after distinguishing herself in supporting parts, is now propelled to the forefront and offers a multi-layered, complex, soulful performance that could be career-making.

Latin American horizons

While The Off Hours (like Restless City) appeared in the Next section that heralds the arrival of new talents, Pedro Peirano’s and Sebastián Silva’s new film, Gatos Viejos (Old Cats) was in the Spotlight Section designed to celebrate renowned filmmakers who, for various reasons, are not featured in competition. Peirano’s and Silva’s second collaboration, La Nana (The Maid) had won Sundance’s dramatic competition in 2009. This time Peirano, while remaining a co-screenwriter with Silva, also shares directorial responsibilities. It is even more an actor-driven piece than their previous work. They collaborate again with Catalina Saavedra, incandescent as the repressed “maid” in the previous film, here barely recognisable as “Hugo”, the rather sympathetic butch lover of a temperamental coke addict, Rosario (Claudia Celedón, who played the mistress in La Nana). Starting with the grand entrance of the two old cats of the title, who force their way into their masters bedroom and into the fiction during the opening sequence, the film seems born out of a desire to create alluring parts for truly genial performers – in particular 90-something Belgica Castro and Alejandro Sieveking, national treasures of the Chilean stage who are, in real life, wife and husband. (10) The mood sometimes wavers between a documentary form of kammerspiel (most of the action takes places in the actors’ own apartment, which gives a fascinating insight on 50 years of object, book and furniture collecting in a genteel middle-class life in Chile) and the family (melo)drama when Isadora (Castro) and Enrique (Sieveking) are faced with the irrational demands and emotional blackmail of Isadora’s daughter, Rosario. After a superb introduction – Castro’s and Sieveking’s interaction between themselves and with the cats is a gem – the film plunges into the poisonous waters of an emotional tug-of-war between mother and daughter, during which Celedón overacts a bit. However, thanks to Castro’s superb performance as a woman who has to accept her past failings while fighting the onset of Alzheimers, the film achieves moments of pure cinematic grace in the last third, especially when Isadora starts descending the eight flight of stairs of her apartment building, one painful step after the next, becomes lost in the midst of a commercial shoot with bee-costumed actors in the park and smiles at the water of the fountain that drenches her.

Two of Gerardo Chijona Valdes’s previous narrative films, Un paraíso bajo las estrellas (Paradise Under the Stars, 2000) and Perfecto amor equivocado (Love by Mistake, 2004) – both of them comedies – were shown at Sundance. In Boleto al Paraiso (Ticket to Paradise) he has retained his fondness for beautiful young performers while directing a drama on a serious subject. In 1993, in the midst of a severe recession, impoverished young people and runaway girls decide to willingly contract AIDS so they can be taken care of in a government-funded hospital in La Havana. Beats being stuck in the countryside without a future; beats being molested by your father, beats being cast out in the street selling your body or starving to death. Since seeing the film, which disturbs me profoundly, I have learnt that, at about the same time in the US, young male hustlers had adopted a similar strategy to get off the streets themselves. This was before the new drug cocktail was invented, which means that, after being infected, your life expectancy was quite short. There is indeed a powerful subject of cinema there – but I am not sure that Chijona Valdes has taken the right road to approach it. I am, however, grateful to him for making me think about it.

More satisfying cinematically was José Padilha’s Tropa de Elite 2 (Elite Squad 2) the sequel to the hugely successful first film of the same title (Golden Bear in Berlin in 2008), depicting the fight of one lone hero in the special-forces military police against crime in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, corruption at all levels, and bloody feuds among interned gangs. Padilha’s documentary background serves him well – he is the author, among others, of Ônibus 174 (Bus 174, 2002) and Secrets of the Tribe (2010); he has a knack for realistically anchoring his fiction in the streets and the cityscape of Rio, of sketching an impressive assortment of characters that grab your attention. Elite Squad 2 is good entertainment, with a pacing that never lets you catch your breath, and there is a real honesty in the way Padilha handles his subject: he is fascinated by violence as the product of a troubled society, but also violence as a high. Even the anthropological Secrets of the Tribes, while unravelling the various forms of exploitation undergone by the “primitive” tribe of Yanomami Indians, gives you a sense of the perverse pleasure of the exploiters. In Bus 174, the troubled gunman who terrorised the passengers he had taken hostage and whose trajectory Padilha reconstructs, was called Sandro do Nascimento. It is no accident that the avenger of both Elite Squad films, played by Wagner Moura, is called Nascimento…

Singular paths

Sundance is also a place to let your hair down – where you can show – and watch – intensely personal films made for love and not for money. Since his first featurette, The Hours and Times (1992), that recreated a R & R weekend spent by Brian Epstein and John Lennon in Barcelona, Christopher Munch has focused on characters who wanted something they couldn’t have – a difficult stance to make, that has allowed him to explore the reality of desire, forbidden or not, repressed or not, melancholy or not. (11) Letters from the Big Man is the loveliest, the most gently surreal of these stories, reconnecting with the North American landscape Munch had so admirably portrayed in Color of a Brisk and Leaping Day (1996). After a break-up that leaves her emotionally wounded, a young female hydrologist, Sarah, leaves on a research trip in the Oregon wilderness. She gradually realises that she is not alone – and that the presence mysteriously tracking her is a Sasquatch (also called “Big Foot” in American mythology). From these extraordinary premisses, Munch has crafted a quiet, meditative tale on the nature of love and understanding, on the desire to cross boundaries (between species, but, ultimately, between beings), on the necessity to respect the vital space of the Other.

Miranda July’s second film, The Future, was probably better suited for Sundance than for Berlin audiences. It’s a small, whimsical, offbeat, eccentric, delectable. Returning to cinema after Me and You and Everyone We Know (which won a Special Jury Prize at Sundance in 2005), July is also a performance artist and a sculptor, and the film was born out of a multimedia performance she completed a couple of years ago: the pieces de résistance are the monologues of a cat (voiced by July herself), visually represented by two enormous puppet paws (one in a cast – kitty has a broken leg) that fill the screen. The talking animal tries to convey how it was, as a street cat, to “have been born outside… never been inside… never been petted”). A 30-something couple (Miranda July and Hamish Linklater) find him, all sick and broken up, name him Paw Paw, and bring him to a shelter, with the promise of adopting him when he recovers. This newfound responsibility forces them to re-examine their lives – they are only moderately interested in their jobs, they are not sure if their relationship is working. Before Paw Paw’s arrival in their Silver Lake house in Los Angeles, they have one month to turn their lives around.

This is when things become interesting – while the narrative keeps being interrupted by Paw Paw’s monologues (expressing his desire to be united with his new masters as soon as possible), the two protagonists involve in experiments to stop time – and July in finding cinematic equivalents to their quest. For all its playfulness, The Future, which abounds in inspired moments (such as July’s bizarre, disturbing dance with the T-shirt in the suburban home of her new lover, or the accelerated montage at the reception desk of the dance school), is an insightful reflection on our subjective representation/understanding of time, and on the foggy nature of human relationships.

The missing dialogue

I was very much looking forward to Lech Majewski’s The Mill & The Cross (shown in the New Frontier section). In spite of his reputation in art film circles, I had never seen his work; on the other hand, Pieter Brueghel is one of my passions. Through a visit to the permanent exhibition of his paintings at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, it became clear that Brueghel’s radical aesthetics had created the intellectual conditions that would allow, two centuries later, for the cinematic space to be conceptualised. His way of saturating the canvas with details, bodies, a plurality of fields and layers and a multiplicity of vanishing points, forces the viewer to carve his/her way into the painting through a reorganisation of the gaze (change in focus, change in the field of vision/the “framing” of what is seen), creating a succession of micro-scenes in a sort of pre-cinematic découpage.

Inspired by the book of the same title by art critic Michael Francis Gibson, the film is an attempt to translate Brueghel’s 1564 painting, The Procession to Calvary into cinema. In his analysis, Gibson acutely points that the apparent subject of the painting (Jesus carrying his cross) is buried among a flurry of more or less unrelated actions: peasants going to work, mothers holding their children, sellers displaying their wares, lovers quarrelling, soldiers in red uniform patrolling. There are more than 500 people populating the canvas. In the foreground, Brueghel has painted a small group composed by a distressed Virgin Mary and the friends who comfort her; interestingly, while the four people in this group are larger than the others (due to the laws of perspective), they are either closing their eyes or turning their back to us: their gaze is absent, which limits our possible identification to them. In the background, toward the left, under a stormy blue-green sky, a mill stands up on top of an extraordinarily shaped rock. Further away, on the right, little figures of men, women and horses are no more than small black dots.

The particular structure of the painting makes it non hierarchical; there is no focal point, no master gaze. What Brueghel had set out to represent was the suffering experienced by the Flemish peasants under Spanish occupation (the soldiers in red coats). He painted each character in great details, suggesting hundreds of stories through gestures, facial features, spatial positioning, costumes. In Brueghel’s world, these stories were to remain silent. Now comes cinema, and with it the desire to explore the painting, to give it sound and movement. Yet, but with cinema, at least the expensively produced European art cinema version that Lech Majewski has embraced for this film, there is a star system.

In 1564, Brueghel didn’t give star billing to Jesus Christ himself – he was lost in the crowd, you had to strain your eyes to find him. In 2011, Lech Majewski brings Rutger Hauer as Pieter Brueghel, Michael York as the art patron Nicholas Jonghelinck and Charlotte Rampling as the Virgin Mary. He also casts hundreds of extras to play the miller, his children and family, the peasants, the Spanish soldiers, and shoots spectacularly composed vistas with the clean lens of an HD camera. The first scenes are lovely – the children are waking up in the mill. Instead of dialogue you hear bits of sound, ambient noises, onomatopoeias, nothing that resemble articulated language. It could work – it could have worked if the European stars had not been given complex monologues in English that set them aside the anonymous, nameless mass of the extras. The hierarchy that Brueghel had set to eradicate is restored. The hundreds of stories the “little people” could have told remain uncollected, ignored, pushed aside in the grand design of European art cinema.

Things are more complex, of course. Questioned about this specific point in the Q & A session, Majewski explained that, to shoot The Mill & the Cross, he had discovered a small Polish village populated by the descendent of Flemish immigrants, where an antiquated form of Flemish was still spoken. So that was the origin of the noises made by the peasants in the film. It still didn’t explain why no line of dialogue was written for them. And English, the language spoken by the actors, is “the language of transparency”. And I thought – transparency – maybe that’s what’s wrong with this movie. Unwittingly, Majewski made a mistake. At the end, he shows us a reproduction of the painting. And you start to realise how fuzzy the outlines of the figures are – compared with the clean-cut lines, the luminous, translucid image of HDCAM. Brueghel was concerned with opacity, ambiguity, the weight of bodies, the zones of darkness between people. A real translation of the painting into cinema would have respected this darkness. It would also have reworked the script to turn each of the figures into characters, to give voice to the voiceless – the authentic cinematic gesture par excellence.

Multiple voices at PAFF

Programmed as a “surprise film”, The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 was the only overlap between Sundance and the PanAfrican Film and Art Festival (PAFF). The crisis has deeply affected the event – reduced this year to only 8 days (16-23 February) and a single week-end, and unable to sponsor the art market that used to attract hundreds of exhibitors from the African diaspora to Los Angeles. The selection was a mixed bag – with a predominance of small-scale African American stories, often told in the first person, or through an intimate approach; yet PAFF remains a vibrant countercultural activity, allowing the African American community to regroup and celebrate. An unexpected discovery was a genre film from Kenya, Haunted, in which Oskari Korenius intelligently reworks the conventions of the horror movie (beautiful young people trapped in a haunted house) – this could herald interesting development in the Ghanean film industry.

Directed by Nathan Collett, a US-born filmmaker who has created Hot Sun Films, a small production company in Kenya, Togetherness Supreme invests the Kibera slums of Nairobi (that constitutes Africa’s largest shantytown) to follow the effects of the post-election violence of 2008 on the lives of some young people. Kamau, a local artist, lives with his alcoholic father. He’s a Kikuyu, but his best friend Otieno enlists him in the Orange Democratic Movement, that supports political change and Raila Odinga as candidate for the Presidency. When the incumbent president, Mwai Kibaki, a Kiyuku, declared victory, the Orange Democratic Movement accused him of electoral fraud, and violence erupted, especially in the slums. Togetherness Supreme, a fictionalised version of the life of his actors/protagonists, evolves toward a love triangle between Kamau, who has to hide his Kibuyu identity, Otieno, and Alice, a nurse and preacher’s daughter. Otieno, the hustler, wants to bed her, and she falls for him; Kamau loves her. The love story remains unsolved, but Kamau and Alice are constructed as symbols of a new Kenya. The film has been a huge hit with audiences in Kibera.

From the Atlas Mountains in Morocco came Itto Titrit (2008), the first film made in the Tamazight language by veteran Berber director Mohamed Oumouloud Abbazi, with an all-Berber cast and crew. In a small village, in the exciting days preceding the independence, people are feverishly hoping for change and a better future. Yet, the teenage girl Itto Titrit (Morning Star) is prevented from going to school, and soon prepared for an arranged marriage. Keeping the pace of the story slow, Oulouloud Abbazi lovingly recreates village life in the 1960s, weaving several narrative strands together with the story of the girl.

PAFF was taking place shortly after Hosni Mubarak stepped down in Egypt, so the screening of Yousry Nasrallah’s Ehky Ya Schahrazad (Sheherazade, Tell Me a Story, 2009) was an anticipated event. The film was presented in partnership with ArtMattan, a small company in Harlem (12) that distributes African, Arab and Caribbean films and organises an annual African Diaspora Film Festival. Egyptian women proved to be the spearhead of the democratic movement, and Sheherazade, which was a huge success in Egypt, was very prescient. An upper-middle class, drop-dead beautiful, ambitious young woman, Hebba (Mona Zakki), hosts a political TV show. She’s a free spirit, already involved in her second marriage with an equally ambitious journalist, Karim (Hassan El Raddad), with whom her relationship is mostly based on eroticism and desire. Afraid that her criticism of the government may damage his career, Karim convinces her to host a show about women’s stories instead. The fool wasn’t aware that the personal is political, and that, by plunging into the thousand and one stories of the Sheherazades she interviews, Hebba will touch a raw nerve in Egyptian society. Her search starts in a fashion boutique she patronises when the salesgirl admonishes her for not looking more closely at the way Egyptian women live. Hebba accepts to follow the woman in the slum she inhabits. For this, she has to take the subway, and, all decked up in her couture clothes and her expensive make-up, share a crowded car with women in headdresses – an ironical and poignant image.

Nasrallah, a former assistant to Youssef Chahine (whose company, Misr, went on to produce his films) attracted attention with Mercedes (1993), a satirical, quirky comedy about the dislocation of an upper-class Egyptian family. (13) For Sheherazade, he wanted to reconnect the long and rich history of Egyptian cinema, that once dominated the Middle East, with its “superb melodramas and gorgeous women”, (14) while ironically subverting it. Nasrallah plays with these tropes and conventions, staging here a working class drama of betrayed love (and lust), here a haute-bourgeois melodrama, there a melancholy reflection on the impossibility to combine love and independence for women of a certain generation, and finally an incident of domestic violence – as an unexpected (?) twist. Visually, the film is a poem, with the camera effortlessly gliding over beautifully designed interiors in a particularly alluring opening scene. Yet the real treat is the spectacle of these formidable women – none of them perfect, far from it – who seem, however, more powerful and more resilient than their male counterparts. This is not the last we’ve heard of Egyptian women…

Sundance Film Festival
20-30 January 2011
Festival website:


  1. Important queer works were produced in the US before Poison: Rob Epstein’s The Word Is Out (1977), Bill Sherwood’s Parting Glances (1984) or Donna Deitch’s Desert Hearts (1985), without counting the flurry of queer-inspired experimental works, from Jack Smith and Kenneth Anger to Barbara Hammer and Lizzie Borden. However, the Sundance screening of Poison is usually considered the birthdate of the indie queer movement.
  2. The A train is an express subway that connects Brooklyn to Harlem; Take the A Train, composed by Billy Strayhorn, was the most famous song of Duke Ellington’s orchestra. “Crossing Delancey” means leaving the old Jewish neighbourhood for the more modern and secular parts of Manhattan; it’s also the title of a 1988 (straight) romantic comedy by Joan Micklin Silver. The Hudson River separates the “burbs” of New Jersey from Manhattan. And the Golden Gate Bridge leads to San Francisco, the gay mecca (see below).
  3. In Montesquieu’s famous 1721 novel, Les Lettres persanes (The Persian Letters) two Persians, Usbek and Rica, write satirical, bemused or insightful letters about the French society that they discover during their travel.
  4. Filmography: Rangeh eshgh (The Color of Love, documentary, 2004, shot in Shiraz); Not for Sale, short, 2006); El día que morí (The Day I Died, short, 2006, shot in Argentina).
  5. See Virginia Woolfe, A Room of One’s Own, San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989.
  6. Beur, originally a slang inversion of Arab, designates a person born in France but of Arabic descent. Samir Guesmi has appeared in more than 40 features since 1987, as well as several TV series, shorts and plays. He was notably featured in Cyril Collard’s Les Nuits fauves (1987), Arnaud Desplechin’s Un Conte de Noël (2007), Bruno Podalydès’s Bancs Publics (2007) and Rachid Bouchared’s Hors-la loi (2010).
  7. See Senses of Cinema — Sundance/PAFF 2009
  8. An independent company founded by producer Joslyn Barnes and actor Danny Glover and named after Toussaint Louverture, who led Haitian slaves in the first successful anticolonial revolution, it has been involved in the production of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Loong Boonmee Raleuk Chat (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, 2010), Elia Suleiman’s Le Temps qu’il reste (The Time that Remains, 2009), Annemarie Jacir’s Milh Hadha Al-Bahr (Salt of the Sea, 2008), Tia Lessin & Carl Deal’s Trouble the Water (2008) and Abderrahmane Sissako’s Bamako (2007), among others. See
  9. Djibril Diop Mambéty was also the brother of musician Wasis Diop and the uncle of Mati Diop (who plays Alex Descas’s daughter in Claire Denis’ 35 Rhums and, as an art school graduate, has directed performances, sound pieces and short films; her latest work, Atlantique played in competition at the 2011 Ann Arbor Film Festival.)
  10. Like Celedón and Saavedra, Castro and Sieveking acted in Peirano’s and Silva’s first collaboration, La vida me mata (2007)
  11. Filmography: The Hours and Times (1992); Color of a Brisk and Leaping Day (1996) The Sleepy Time Gal (2001); Harry + Max (2004).
  13. Filmography: Sarikat Sayfeya (Summer Thefts, 1988); Mercedes (1993); Sobyan wa banat (On Boys, Girls and the Veil, documentary, 1995); El Medina (1999); Bab el shams (2004); Genenet al asmak (The Aquarium, 2008)