Raindance & BFI film festivals 2017

Posted on October 19, 2017 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

anoushka Shankar

Anoushka Shankar performing live for the 1928 Indian silent film – Shiraz: A romance of Indian at the Barbican


I saw 8 engrossing films and documentaries in total at the Raindance and BFI film festivals this year, and I feel that the overall standard of the films I saw this year is exceptionally high. Although I chose mostly documentaries, the few feature films I saw also deal with social and political issues that are important today. These are not big budget films, but they reflect more of what is happening in the world today than the big budget and rather unrealistic Hollywood films. Some of these films are grim and disturbing like "Venerable W", but they are pertinent and they reveal in-depth stories that are often omitted from the news.


"The receptionist" is a low-budget drama based on a true event and it is directed by London-based Taiwanese director Jenny Lu. The film was shot mostly indoor – an illegal massage parlour where young Asian women work as prostitutes to support themselves and their families. It is depressing and realistic, but slightly too long. The acting from the almost-all-female cast is strong, except for the lead, whose face is not very expressive, and her inconsistent performance is a let down compare to the rest of the cast.

The film addresses issues of sex trafficking, exploitation, immigration, loss of innocence, and loneliness. Even though we might be aware of these issues, yet few of us are powerless to stop it, which makes it more saddening and bleak.


"The Receptionist" directed by Jenny Lu


Renown celebrity photographer Michael O’Neill started practising yoga after being told by doctors that he could never use his arm again. Not only did he managed to use yoga to fix his arm, he also became fascinated by this ancient practice. He spent 10 years photographing yoga masters and gurus for his book "On Yoga: The Architecture of Peace". This documentary is based on the book, with Michael interviewing yogis, yoga practitioners, and spiritual teachers on life and death. I found some of the contents of these interviews very profound and inspiring. Perhaps it is time for people in the West to understand that there is no separation between the mind and the body – both are the same thing. And the practice of yoga is one of the many methods that can help us to reach our full potential and develop higher consciousness. This is a beautiful and poignant film.


"ON YOGA The Architecture of Peace" directed by Heitor Dhalia


What would you do if you discovered that your favourite aunt used to work as a secret agent for a dictator? Worse still, an agent who tortured innocent people and ultimately caused their deaths. "Adriana's Pact" is a Chilean documentary made by Lissette Orozco, who initially embarked on this project hoping to prove her aunt's innocence. After years of investigating, interviewing and filming, Lissette had to confront her worst fears – that her aunt might not be innocent after all. This first documentary by the young film maker is courageous and powerful. Sometimes life can be incredibly cruel, but it is also through the tough times that we find our true selves, even though we have to pay a high price for it.


"Adriana´s Pact" a documentary by Lissette Orozco


I have been practicing mediation and studying Buddhism (Soto zen for the last few years) for almost a decade now, yet sometimes I still feel reluctant to call myself a 'Buddhist'. I felt quite disillusioned after spending 6 months going to a 'cult-like' Buddhist group, but meeting my current teacher changed everything. Buddhism is not a dogma, yet it hasn't stopped different groups or leaders from turning it into a dogmatic practice. As in all religions, problems arise when people misinterpret the teachings and twist the meanings to suit their hidden agendas. And now, Buddhism's non-violent reputation has been tainted by what is happening in Myanmar thanks to the Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu.

This timely and disturbing documentary by Barbet Schroeder is the last of his "Trilogy of Evil" series. It is shocking to see how one monk could incite some much racial hatred towards the Muslims in his country. It also shows that Buddhism is not exempt from violence, brainwashing, and the craving and abuse of power.

Unfortunately, the West had projected too much of their hopes onto Aung San Suu Kyi (who has little real political power) and now they are bitterly disappointed and are lining up to condemn her. I think the political situation is more complex than we could comprehend, and I don't think she has the power to end this horrific atrocity.

Myanmar is a beautiful country and yet it has endured so much political unrest throughout its history. Is this its fate? Suddenly, I remember our friendly vegetarian young Buddhist driver from Mandalay telling us in broken English that he dislikes Muslims because they are not like Buddhists. Watching the film gave me the chills, while the words of the driver echoed quietly in my mind.


"Venerable W" – a documentary directed by Barbet Schroeder


I have always been fascinated by Iranian films, especially films by the late Abbas Kiarostami, Jafar Panahi, Mohsen Makhmalbaaf, and Asghar Farhadi. And I would love to watch some oldies from the pre-revolutionary period.

"Israfil" is the third feature by the female writer and director Ida Panahandeh. It focuses on the lives of two women and how they are intertwined through a man they are/were involved with. The film revolves around grief, loneliness, family responsibilities, loss, and love. It is particularly interesting to see an Iranian film directed by a female director as it is not very common in Iran. Without consciously aware of it, 50% of the films I picked were written and directed by female directors. I didn't choose them for this reason, but it appears that women are quietly making their footprints in the global film-making world, which I think is very encouraging.


“Israfil” – a film directed by Ida Panahandeh

Chinese cinema has evolved a lot over the last few decades, and this subdued, understated and eloquent film is quite distinct from other contemporary Chinese films. It is the second feature by female writer/director/producer Vivian Qu, and it focuses on two teenage protagonists, who both delivered convincing performances.

I saw the powerful Chinese documentary last year – "Hooligan Sparrow" (I then wrote a blog entry here) – and this film address the same issue: government officials sexually assaulting children and using bribery to cover their crimes. The timing of the film is apt, as it was shown during the week when Harvey Weinstein's sex scandal broke out. It turns out that Hollywood is not so different from the Chinese officials depicted in this film.

I think the laidback and dreamy seaside setting works well in this film, as it acts as a sharp contrast to the dark subject matter. Yet the most devastating aspect is that the film is based on true events, and there are countless of child victims and voiceless families in China that would never see justice being served. Whether you live in a capitalist or communist society, it is money and power that talk. End of story.


"Angels wear white" – a film directed by Vivian Qu


"Becoming who I was" is my favourite film at the two festivals. It is a simple story/ documentary of a young Buddhist boy (who claims to be a reincarnated rinpoche from Tibet in his previous life) and his relationship with his godfather/teacher/guardian. It took South Korean directors/producer/cinematographer, Chang-Yong Moon and Jin Jeon, 8 years to shoot the film. The result is a stunning, touching and authentic film. The love between the boy and his teacher is palpable and moving, and I could see both men and women next to and in front of me wiping off their tears at the end. The ending is heart-breaking and yet very positive. Since there is no 'acting' involved, it makes the film more endearing. The young rinpoche is cute, smart, playful, and a delight to watch. While I watched the children playing in the snow, I realised that these children are more innocent and happier than the ones living in the wealthy first world countries who are surrounded by materialistic things. If you don't believe the saying: "money can't buy you happiness", then I urge you to watch this film.


"Becoming Who I Was" – a documentary directed by Chang-Yong Moon and Jin Jeon


Last but not least was the special archive gala screening of the Indian silent film "Shiraz: A romance of India" (1928) at the Barbican, with live film score by Anoushka Shankar and her team of musicians. The film was painstakingly restored to its full glory by the BFI restoration team, and I think the set designs and cinematography are exquisite. The Anglo/German/Indian production is unlike the Bollywood films we see today, and it was further elevated by the mesmerising East-meets-West music.


This post was posted in London, Films & documentaries, Music & Sound, Social issues and was tagged with London, documentaries, films, Film festival, music, concert