The 21st International Sedona Film Festival : 1,000 Times Goodnight and The Immigration Paradox

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The 21st Sedona International Film Festival continues into Friday with a look at two very different films;   one a narrative feature, the other a documentary.  Both are powerful, though in their way, both are also flawed.

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During the chilling, opening moments of the new drama 1,000 Times Good Night, it’s difficult to tell what’s happening.  In the darkness of the widescreen, a thin shard of light pierces through a round hole.  Within that shard bounces red and brown dust indicating, what?  A dusty room?  A basement?  Maybe not.  The sound we start to hear indicates movement from outside.  Nevertheless, it remains difficult to get a handle on where we are.   Then, more thin shards of light pierce through.  Suddenly a door rises up and we realize we’re inside the back of a van.  From the look of the temporarily blinding image through that small door, we can also tell we’re somewhere in the middle of a foreign desert.

Rebecca (Juliette Binoche) is a photojournalist who continually puts herself in harm’s way in war zones around the world in order to capture those sights and images we might find published in Time Magazine or other news publications.  Here she’s hidden in the back of a rickety vehicle, taken to a secret location for her next shoot.  A young, female suicide bomber is strapped with explosives ready to detonate and Rebecca has permission to record the event.  What follows is a disastrous episode resulting with a premature explosion, several dead bodies in the street and Rebecca forcefully flung through the air, her camera bouncing on the dusty ground, its lens covered in a mixture of desert dust and blood.

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It’s rare that we ever think of the danger photojournalists put themselves through in order to get that picture or the toll it takes on their lives or the lives of loved ones back home on the other side of the world, but in 1,000 Times Good Night an all too real sense of what is required is captured.

Your mum is made of very tough stuff,” explains family friend Theresa (Maria Doyle Kennedy) to Rebecca’s two young daughters in their Dublin home.  “She always makes it through.”  But the two young girls are not entirely convinced, particularly when their mother returns home yet again looking fragile, gaunt and somewhat shell-shocked and in urgent need of rest.  “Why do you put yourself in harm’s way?” asks Rebecca’s husband, Marcus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) in a desperate attempt to understand.  “What were you doing out there?”

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The subject matter alone is enough to grab your attention, but the power behind the events is made all the more compelling by Binoche as the photojournalist whose passion for her job continually puts herself at odds with her family life.  We can understand her drive but it also comes with a feeling of annoyance that keeps Rebecca at arms-length.  Witnessing her home life and the pain her family suffer, never quite knowing if mummy will ever return makes it difficult for us to fully comprehend her compulsion.

The film is often a difficult watch, particularly when our own emotions are being continually yanked in all directions.  The film can never quite repeat the power of that opening ten minutes in the war zone when Rebecca chronicles the ritual of a suicide bomber, but it comes close, later when oldest daughter Steph (a terrific Lauren  Canny) angrily points Rebecca’s camera directly at her mother, its lens almost touching the woman’s face while the shutter repeatedly clicks, sounding like the rapid burst of enemy gunfire while Rebecca silently, slowly crumbles into tears before her daughter with each shot.

The film had a limited release late last year and can be seen in a repeat festival performance tonight (Friday) at 9pm.

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In an introductory voice-over during the pre-credit opening sequence of the new documentary The Immigration Paradox, writer/director Lourdes Lee Vasquez states, “I wanted to know how we as a society continued to allow injustices to happen time and time.”  The point she was making was in regard to injustices of the past, such as slavery, Native American slaughter, even the Holocaust.  “I often wonder what happened to past generations,” she states.  “Did they not see it as an injustice, were they not well informed, or did they just close their eyes and pretend it wasn’t happening?”

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It’s this point of being fully informed, how our opinions are shaped and how the ‘facts’ can be presented in different ways, depending on what side of the fence that factual information is coming from, that becomes the centerpiece to the explosive issue of immigration.  It was when director Vasquez encountered a desperate immigrant crossing the harsh Arizona desert in order to find a new and better life for him that the filmmaker decided to make a film exploring the question, why would anyone risk their lives under such appalling life or death conditions to come to America?

With interviews conducted on both sides of the argument, Vasquez straddles a fine line of trying to appear in the middle of the debate, not necessarily taking sides but carefully trying to understand how those often passionate opinions are formed and where the people presenting their opinions find their information.

Early in the film, it’s the media that becomes the focus of attention.  Several interviewees reflect on how many get their information from a sound-bite or a thirty second story resulting with a distorted look at things and a somewhat ill-informed opinion on what is really a severely complex issue.

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Shots of protesting crowds in the streets of Phoenix illustrate the angry divide by the signs painted on boards and placards.  Pro-immigration supporters show pictures of Governor Jan Brewer accompanied by the phrase Hitler’s Daughter painted in black letters under the image while anti-immigration supporters wave banners declaring We Support Sheriff Joe, or We Love You Joe Arpaio.  Even filmmaker Vasquez becomes a victim of verbal abuse while filming the protesters.  “Go home,” screams one woman in the crowd directly at Vasquez, “And take your camera with you!”

Technically, the film is extremely well shot , plus the interviews from both sides of the issue often sound well thought and occasionally persuasive, but whether the film is one of the most important films of the century, as the marketing hype suggests, might be embellishing things.  Nevertheless, by filming contributions from people hailing from all areas of our society, Vasquez succeeds in making us take perhaps a second look at our own thoughts on the issue and questioning what it is that shapes our opinions and where that information comes from.   As one interviewee states, “The terrorists who brought down the Twin Towers came to the country on legal visas, so the biggest threat to the country’s security came from those who entered legally.”

A repeat showing of The Immigration Paradox can be seen tomorrow, Saturday at 9am.

For a complete look at the 21st Sedona International Film Festival schedule grid, CLICK HERE

Posted in Sedona International Film Festival Reports

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