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Lions Roar : May 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2007 95 THE GIANT BUDDHAS, 2005, Switzerland 95 min.; director: Christian Frei (subtitles) A sprawling documentary that focuses on the Giant Buddhas of the Bamiyan Valley in Afghanistan. The narration starts with the thoughts and insights of Toronto-based Afghani writer and actress Nelofer Pazira (Kandahar) and then opens into a wide- ranging journey, loosely structured around the book Journey to the Western Regions by the Chinese monk Xuanzang, who trav- eled along the Silk Road in the seventh century in search of Bud- dhist teachings and texts. The stories and the stunning scenery are further enhanced by a wonderful score from Philip Glass, Jan Garbarek, and Steven Kuhn. Why It Matters: This film will give you an idea of the currents, both past and present, that swirl around the fabled statues. There is the French archaeologist who continues to look for the third “sleeping” Giant Buddha, described by Xuanzang as 300 meters long and re- ported by local farmers to lie under one of the valley’s fields. There are interviews with the Al-Jazeera reporter who covered the statues’ demolition, and a visit to a lab in Strasbourg, France, that is digi- tizing fifty-year-old photos to build an accurate three-dimensional model. Most touching is the tale of a local family relocated from the cliff caves behind the statues to a grim concrete block on a windy plateau, where they are far from water and always cold. For the plot-driven, this is a rambling documentary with in- teresting tidbits, but if you can relax into the currents of change and impermanence, you will learn some interesting things about history and fixation. The Giant Buddhas are gone, and no re- constructions—from the simple to the sophisticated—can bring them back. Nonetheless, societies fixate and cling, producing a wide variety of responses and anomalies—from the Western up- roar to the sad statement of the former cave dweller that “the Taliban couldn’t comprehend how he could be Muslim and still be proud of the works of the Buddhist ancestors.” HELEN’S WAR: PORTRAIT OF A DISSIDENT, 2004, Australia/Canada 58 min.; director: Anna Broinowski An up-close and personal look at Australian physician and author Helen Caldicott, a globally recognized firebrand in the anti-nuclear movement who left her high-profile medical career in 1980 to focus international attention on “the insanity of the world’s in- creasing supply of nuclear weapons and national stockpiling.” THE CHALLENGE OF CHANGE MOVIES THAT MATTER: Why It Matters: In 2003, Caldicott’s skeptical and inquisitive filmmaker niece, Anna Broinowski, asked her aunt if she would be willing to be the subject of a documentary. Broinowski’s start- ing point was wondering just how much of a difference one dis- sident can actually make. To find out, she followed Caldicott on a roller-coaster tour from Baghdad to Washington, via Kabul. In the course of the journey, we discover a humorous, passionate, sometimes vulnerable woman, and learn something of what it costs, in human and emotional terms, to fight for peace. A SIMPLE CURVE, 2005, Canada 94 min.; director: Aubrey Nealon Caleb is the son of hippie, draft-dodger parents who left the U.S. to go back to the land in British Columbia’s Slocan Valley. His mother has recently died, and he and his father, “Hash Oil” Jim, run a cabinetry business, which is failing because Jim is far better at working with wood than people. Caleb is finding the ever- shrinking parameters of small-town life and the pressures of try- ing to keep the business afloat a bit more than he signed on for, and he wonders if he should step out on his own. Into this sce- nario comes Matthew, an old friend and rival of his father’s who returned to the U.S. as soon as the draft dodgers were pardoned and has become rich through eco-tourism. Matt makes Caleb an offer that will save the business, but a small deception changes everything and forces Caleb to finally chart his own path. Why It Matters: Who will reach maturity first, Caleb or his father? Told with wit and warmth, this film is as meticulously crafted as the chairs Jim labors over in his woodworking shop. (The “simple curve” of the title refers to the lines of a chair Jim is perfecting.) The first- time director admits the film is largely autobiographical, and the wit- ty script has the outrageous edge that comes from the authenticity of firsthand experience. Note how well Nealon captures the blurring of the traditional parent–child relationship that seems to occur when everyone lives as equals. For everyone who remembers the sixties— whether they were there or not—this is a smart, funny, and genuine film that is a personal favorite and deserves a wider audience. Availability: www.filmmovement.com in the U.S.; www.asimplcurve.com in Canada. ➢ BY ANGELA PRESSBURGER ANGELA PRESSBURGER is a program consultant with the Vancouver International Film Festival and founder of MoonriseMovies.com.