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Chicago International Documentary Festival

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The Chicago International Documentary Festival (which debuted last year as the Chicago International Doc Film Festival) continues Friday, April 2, through Sunday, April 11. Screenings are at the Beverly Arts Center; the Copernicus Center; Facets Cinematheque; Northwestern Univ. Thorne Auditorium; the Society for Arts, 1112 N. Milwaukee; and Univ. of Chicago Doc Films. Tickets are $8.50, $7 for seniors and students, and $6.50 for shows before noon or after 10 pm. Passes are available for $250 (all screenings), $125 (20 screenings), and $70 (10 screenings), but only the first includes admission to the closing-night gala; for more information call 773-486-9612. Films marked with a check (*) are highly recommended.

Following is the schedule through April 18; a complete schedule is available online at www.chicagoreader.com.

FRIDAY, APRIL 2

Films about Hector Berlioz

Carlos Rodriguez directed these Spanish films about the classical composer. A Symphony in Images (2003, 57 min.) uses footage from classic silent movies to bring Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique to the screen, and in Berlioz's Trip (55 min.), Rodriguez documents the creation of the earlier film. (Copernicus Center, 6:30)

Galoot

The title of this earnest, meandering home video is the Hebrew word for exile, but the English meaning works pretty well too. An Israeli living in London, filmmaker Asher de Bentolila Tlalim pities the Palestinians, never stops saying so, and apparently never shuts off his camera either; his unedited conversations with his children, wife, and sundry expatriates (Israeli and Palestinian) reflect good intentions but little more. At his most fatuous he asks a molecular biologist whether cell science might yield the secret of peaceful coexistence, given that politics have failed. The answer: no. In English and subtitled Hebrew and Arabic. 100 min. (Cliff Doerksen) (Society for Arts, 7:00)

Films from the Saint Petersburg Documentary Film Studios, program one

This year's festival highlights work from the historic Saint Petersburg studios, including these three works. Anthology (2001) collects archival footage of Russian and Soviet composers, and Pavel Medvedev's The Very Best Day (2002) looks at an organ maker in a small Russian village. Sonata for Hitler (1989), a ten-minute "parable about dictatorship," was directed by Alexander Sokurov (Russian Ark). (Facets Cinematheque, 7:00)

Gulag

An innocent scene of boys diving into the Moscow-Volga canal near the beginning of Angus Macqueen's staggering three-hour study (1999) of Stalin's great terror turns sinister with the revelation that laborers' corpses are buried along its banks. Interspersing testimony of survivors of the Soviet prison camp system with the evasions and prevarications of their former captors, this BBC production demonstrates that the supposed triumph of Soviet industrialism depended on slave labor that caused the death of millions. Chilling footage of toasts made to the former prison commander of Norilsk (a Siberian city "built on bones") at his 90th birthday party hints that some Russians would do it all over again. In English and subtitled Russian. (FC) (Society for Arts, 8:30)

Metallica: Some Kind of Monster

Since the early 80s, the heavy metal band Metallica has sold 90 million records, but I imagine that after this documentary comes out 89.5 million of them will end up in landfills. Directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky (Brother's Keeper), it chronicles the two-year genesis of the band's St. Anger album, during which drummer Lars Ulrich and guitarists James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett paid a therapist $40,000 a month to help them express their feelings and finesse the fact that they hate each other but are too lazy, greedy, and frightened to break up. Snippets of their brutally percussive music punctuate the endless encounter sessions, which expose the band members as self-absorbed idiots and--worst of all for their fans--hopeless wimps. 130 min. (JJ) (Copernicus Center, 9:00)

Yank Tanks

The clash between American consumer culture and Cuban revolutionary fervor plays out in a fascinating, unpredictable manner in this colorful 2002 feature by David Schendel, about an offbeat collection of Havana painters, auto mechanics, and former racers who are slavishly devoted to their vintage American cars. Schendel introduces his subjects consecutively rather than interweaving them, and his episodic structure results in a fair amount of rambling. But he also uses the voluptuous shape and movement of the cars to create a jagged and mysterious Cuban landscape. In English and subtitled Spanish. 70 min. (Patrick Z. McGavin) (Facets Cinematheque, 9:00)

SATURDAY, APRIL 3

* From Dachau With Love

As a child growing up in the German town of Dachau, filmmaker Bernd Fischer considered it "a place like any other." It's an opinion shared by many local boosters and politicians, who want the world to stop brooding over the notorious concentration camp and focus instead on the town's architecture and annual beetroot festival. Other Dachauers, including a Carmelite nun and a holocaust survivor who's now a docent at the deserted camp, work equally hard to preserve the memory of radical evil. Moving, disturbing, and mordantly funny, this 2003 feature is a cogent brief on the state of the German soul in relation to its Nazi past. In German with subtitles. 77 min. (Cliff Doerksen) (Facets Cinematheque, 1:00)

Railroad of Hope and HK Tale

Ning Ying's interesting but disorganized documentary Railroad of Hope (2001, in Mandarin with subtitles) documents the astoundingly crowded annual train trip of thousands of migrant laborers from Sichuan to the cotton fields of the Xinjiang region in the far west of China. The fictional HK Tale (2003) is director Filippo Lilloni's attempt to capture the essence of Hong Kong, but its story, about a suicidal young woman and a Muslim man, is meandering and repetitious and reveals little about the city other than its amazingly constricted verticality. 104 min. (FC) (Society for Arts, 1:00)

Films from the Saint Petersburg Documentary Film Studios, program two

Sergej Loznitsa's Portrait (2002) is a wordless series of "static portraits of common Russian people revealing time and its passing obscurity." Sergey Vinokurov's Return (2003), also wordless, is a meditation on Rembrandt's The Return of the Prodigal Son on its 300th anniversary. Edgar Bartenev's Odya (2003, in Komi with subtitles) takes a mystical look at life in a remote Siberian village. 88 min. (Facets Cinematheque, 3:00)

Story

In addition to being a surgeon, poet, photographer, and astronaut, Story Musgrave has been on a quest to become "one with the environment" since he first saw a forest at age three. Director Dana Ranga's 2003 video consists mostly of inventively framed close-ups of Musgrave that emphasize his small body movements as he talks about leaving science for the bigger challenges of art and creativity and the "glorious, magnificent music" produced by the space shuttle's ventilation system. Reactions to this will likely vary according to one's attitude toward the free-form spirituality--I found it interesting. 87 min. (FC) (Society for Arts, 3:00)

This Ain't No Heartland

A disturbing look at how people in the rural midwest respond to the Iraq war is the main focus of this 2003 documentary by Austrian filmmaker Andreas Horvath. The unabashed ignorance and/or indifference of most of his interview subjects, combined with their overall acceptance of war and gun ownership as higher principles, registers as frighteningly typical and indicates how successful the Bush administration has been at convincing Americans that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11 and armed with weapons of mass destruction. To his credit Horvath engages with these positions and doesn't try to hide his own, but he also lingers over a hysterical evangelist, an American-flag fetishist, and a demolition derby as if they somehow explained the rest. 105 min. (JR) Horvath will attend the screening. (Society for Arts, 4:45)

* Slasher

John Landis (Animal House, The Blues Brothers) directed this spirited profile of gravel-voiced car salesman Michael Bennett, shown flying from California to Memphis to orchestrate a three-day "slasher" sale at a sleepy Toyota dealership. A hard-charging hired gun, Bennett guzzles beer and explains his strategy while auditioning hostesses ("I like the knockouts too, but sometimes if they're too pretty they offend the wives") and marking up the inventory ("People say, 'What's a good deal on this?' 'Whatever you think is a good deal!'"). The sale itself is a long hard slog, with deadbeats looking for an $88 car Bennett has advertised, but Landis keeps this cooking with relentless montage and a sound track of Memphis soul classics. 85 min. (JJ) (Facets Cinema-theque, 5:00)

Videos by Angus Macqueen, program one

The Second Russian Revolution (1991, 60 min.) examines the 1991 coup attempted by Soviet hard-liners seeking to reverse the democratic reforms instituted by Mikhail Gorbachev. Though the film features some amazing surreptitiously shot video involving key planners of the coup and dramatic footage of tanks rumbling through Moscow streets, it leans too heavily on unrevealing interviews. The End of Yugoslavia (1995, 50 min., in Serbo-Croatian with subtitles) is a straightforward overview of the ancient and enduring enmity between Serbs and Croats and how it led to the violent dissolution of Yugoslavia. (Patrick Z. McGavin) Macqueen will attend the screening. (Society for Arts, 7:00)

Sonny Boy

Before he was slowed by Alzheimer's, Virgil Frye was a violent, womanizing, drug-abusing, alcoholic bit actor--"a Renaissance man," says his daughter, Soleil Moon Frye, sans irony. An actress herself (Punky Brewster; Sabrina, the Teenage Witch), Soleil directed this 2003 feature, in which she springs the old guy from his care home and hits the road in an RV, hoping to make up for lost time. He pushes her on a swing and tells rambling war stories about hanging out with Dennis Hopper; she styles his hair and tearfully rebukes him for being a bad father. I can understand why she needed to make the trip, but not why she brought a camera crew. 89 min. (Cliff Doerksen) Soleil Moon Frye will attend the screening. (Facets Cinematheque, 7:00)

Journeys and Life in a Basket

Vinayan Kodoth's Journeys (2003, 39 min.) is a nightmarish portrait of Bombay and its overtaxed commuter rail system, which serves seven million riders a day while killing an average of ten. Disturbing and bleak, this is a must-not-see for claustrophobics; with minimal narration in subtitled Hindi. David Hogan's video Life in a Basket (2003, 33 min.) is about LA homeless people and their shopping carts. Hogan interviews his subjects in front of a white screen, which unfortunately recalls the photographs of Richard Avedon, but he largely avoids the obvious pitfalls of such a project (pious voyeurism and/or unwitting black humor). Just don't expect policy or sociology: the upshot is that street people are human beings like you and me. (Cliff Doerksen) (Facets Cinematheque, 9:00)

SUNDAY, APRIL 4

Borderline

This work in progress by Slawomir Grunberg examines the case against Eunice Baker, a borderline retarded woman in Owego, New York, who signed a questionable confession and was convicted of murder in 2000 after a malfunctioning furnace killed a three-year-old girl she was babysitting. Grunberg wants to exonerate Baker, but his agenda is almost upstaged by her mother, Debra Brown, who claims to suffer from multiple personality disorder and delivers such polished sound bites as "When people are poor they suffer, and when they suffer they look for someone to blame." In February a court reduced Baker's charge from murder to criminally negligent homicide and released her, developments that Grunberg says will be incorporated into the video when it screens here. 57 min. (Bill Stamets) Grunberg will attend the screening. (Society for Arts, 11:00 am)

Alienations

This 2003 documentary about an Algerian psychiatric ward has no overriding thesis, but the interactions between patients, doctors, and family members are often fascinating. Some situations are familiar (patients who resist taking their medication), others are not (a doctor and patient seriously consider the therapeutic benefits of an exorcism). A vignette concerning a political candidate committed on the first day of his campaign suggests that some inmates are paranoid with good reason. But the material is so undeveloped that it's hard to surmise its meaning, and director Malek Bensmail's uninspired imagery and editing never really capture the rhythms of patients' lives. In Arabic and French with subtitles. 105 min. (FC) (Society for Arts, 1:00)

* Shepherds' Journey Into the Third Millennium

As pastoral as the day is long, this 2002 documentary by Erich Langjahr takes an unhurried look at Switzerland's few remaining itinerant shepherds, whose trade has barely changed since the Middle Ages. Much of the film follows the seasonal wanderings of stolidly handsome Thomas Landis and his equally handsome flock across the breathtakingly beautiful Alpine plateaus of Lucerne. Langjahr's agenda is bluntly antimodern, though he steers clear of new age sentimentality and squarely confronts the shepherds' hardships. Worth seeing for the scenery alone, the film is nearly wordless and thus light on exposition; some background on the history and economics of this archaic business would have been welcome. In German with subtitles. 124 min. (Cliff Doerksen) (Facets Cinematheque, 1:00)

A Hard Straight

Goro Toshima's 2004 film looks at the difficulties faced by three convicted criminals upon their release from prison. 74 min. (Society for Arts, 3:00)

Seventeen French teenager Jean-Benoit has had a rough life: First his parents abandoned him to the care of the state, then his father committed suicide. He's performing poorly in the apprenticeship program that's supposed to turn him into a mechanic. Perhaps worst of all, he's fallen into the clutches of documentarian Didier Nion, who scolds him from behind the camera and forms a conspiratorial bond with the boy's bovine passive-aggressive girlfriend. I spent most of this 2003 film hoping the poor little guy would quit the production. 83 min. In French with subtitles. (Cliff Doerksen) (Beverly Arts Center, 3:00)

* Disbelief

In September 1999 a bomb leveled a Moscow apartment, wounding Yelena Morozova and killing her mother and boyfriend. Authorities attributed the crime to Chechen rebels, but when Morozova's sister Tanya, an emigre living in Milwaukee, returned to Russia she found compelling evidence that the state police staged the bombing to justify military escalation against the Chechens and prop up the legitimacy of the Putin regime. Andrei Nekrasov's chronicle of the sisters' search for the truth lacks focus and discipline, but the raw materials he's collected are still spellbinding. In English and subtitled Russian. 105 min. (Patrick Z. McGavin) To be shown by video projection; festival organizers advise that Russian police recently confiscated the only available 35-millimeter print, forcing the cancellation of a second screening on Tuesday. Nekrasov and two of his subjects will attend. (Facets Cinematheque, 3:15)

Moscow Central and The Devil in Moscow

British director Clive Gordon takes a wonderfully acerbic look at Russia's democratic growing pains in Moscow Central (1994, 72 min.), as wacky candidates run for office in Moscow's central district. Among the wicked touches is Gordon's use of "Sympathy for the Devil" on the sound track as a corrupt pol from the last regime strides through snowy streets. In The Devil in Moscow (1991, 55 min.), Polish director Andrzej Fidyk reports on the resurgent interest in Mikhail Bulgakov (The Master and Margarita), a playwright and novelist silenced during the Stalin era. Bulgakov's feverish imagery of the devil inside the Russian soul finds contemporary expression in the popular exorcism services of a cult healer who calls himself "the sorcerer of Russia." Both films are in Russian with subtitles. (Bill Stamets) Fidyk will attend the screening. (Society for Arts, 4:45)

Yank Tanks

See listing for Friday, April 2. (Beverly Arts Center, 5:00)

* Shelter Dogs

This 2003 DV study of a euthanizing dog shelter in upstate New York put a lasting lump in my throat in about three minutes; I can only imagine how a bona fide dog person would respond to it. It tracks the progress of five "surrendered" animals, each with a distinct past and personality, none with much chance of being adopted. The burden of deciding their fate rests with shelter owner Sue Sternberg, an enormously sympathetic figure with an almost telepathic understanding of canine psychology. Director Cynthia Wade expertly balances ethical reflection and gripping storytelling; those daunted by the subject matter should take the plunge regardless. 74 min. (Cliff Doerksen) (Facets Cinematheque, 5:30)

Films from the Saint Petersburg Documentary Film Studios, program three

The Petrograd Republic is director Denis Neimand's tribute to the Saint Petersburg district of Petrogradskaya Storona (2003, in Russian with subtitles). Yury Zanin's Kursk: The Last Berth (2002, in English and subtitled Russian) documents the raising of the sunken submarine. 83 min. (Society for Arts, 7:00)

Not for Sale

Director Yael Bitton addresses the gentrification of New York's Lower East Side in this rambling documentary. The locals talk about their hood engagingly but with divided opinions: one praises it for its racial integration while others recall bygone arsons and killings. But this lively area is never brought to life visually: there are too many overhead views, and we barely see the community garden whose loss the residents bemoan. In Sandy McLeod's superior 17-minute Asylum a Ghanaian woman tells the chilling story of how her father treated her as chattel, and how she narrowly escaped genital mutilation and a forced marriage. 83 min. (FC) Bitton will attend the screening. (Facets Cinematheque, 7:00)

We Interrupt This Empire...

This collectively made documentary by the Video Activist Network cuts between the early stages of the Iraq invasion in March 2003 and massive San Francisco street demonstrations protesting it, with particular emphasis on the war profiteering of companies that supported George W. Bush's presidential candidacy. This also offers glimpses of international demonstrations against the American-led invasion, the parroting of government propaganda on network newscasts, and the great battle sequence in Orson Welles's Chimes at Midnight. 52 min. (JR) Also on the program, two German videos: Michael Busse and Marie-Rosa Bobbi's Storming the Summit: The Bloody Days in Genoa (2002, 42 min.) and Lenka Clayton's Qaeda, Quality, Question, Quickly, Quiet (2003, 5 min.). (Facets Cinematheque, 9:00)

The Last Peasants

Angus Macqueen, who will attend the screening, directed this 2003 portrait of three families in a remote Romanian village. In Romanian with subtitles. 150 min. (Society for Arts, 9:00)

MONDAY, APRIL 5

Entertaining Vietnam

In the 60s, Mara Wallis left Australia to entertain U.S. troops in Vietnam as a go-go dancer; now a middle-aged filmmaker, she looks back at the experience with obvious nostalgia, as do most of the Aussie and American dancers and bar-band musicians she interviews. About half of her 53-minute documentary (2002) is stock footage of army helicopters synced to period pop songs; with a tighter edit, this could have been something. Also on the program is Eric Marin's diverting Baschet: The Transfiguration of Daily Life (2003, 31 min.), which looks at the fanciful musical instruments and "sound sculptures" created since the 50s by brothers Francois and Bernard Baschet. They're the French equivalent of Harry Partch, only more fun to listen to. In French with subtitles. (Cliff Doerksen) (Facets Cinematheque, 7:00)

Eyesong

We meet blind Europeans from Barcelona to Saint Petersburg in this 2003 documentary. British professor John Hull, who lost his sight in adulthood, makes a convincing case that his world is not worse, just different: though he says being unable to see faces is "an absolute and irretrievable loss," he also observes that "sight keeps you at a distance...you kiss when your eyes are closed." Directors Mishka Popp and Thomas Bergmann make the familiar point that blindness intensifies other sensory experiences; the pedestrian imagery of landscapes and cityscapes leaves it to the sound track to convey the message. In English and subtitled German, Spanish, Polish, and Russian. 90 min. (FC) (Society for Arts, 7:00)

* From Dachau With Love

See listing for Saturday, April 3. (Beverly Arts Center, 7:00)

Films from the Saint Petersburg Documentary Film Studios, program four Pavel Medvedev's Wedding of Silence is a wordless study of how deaf-mutes experience the world. In Real Time (2002), also wordless, is Sergey Debizhev's visual tribute to Saint Petersburg. Also showing: Sergey Lando's Genius Loci (2003, in Russian with subtitles) and Alexander Burov's On the Cold and Even Wind (2002, in Russian with subtitles). 83 min. (Society for Arts, 9:00)

Seventeen

See listing for Sunday, April 4. (Facets Cinematheque, 9:00)

Whose Is This Song?

Bulgarian director Adela Peeva undertakes a Balkan odyssey to discover the true origin of a folk melody that many ethnic groups claim as their own. She records people singing the tune from Istanbul to Sarajevo, the lyrics changing with the locale, but what begins as an amusing tale of cultural chauvinism darkens when she plays a militant Muslim version in a Serbian cafe and her outraged hosts cover the lens with their hands. The sobering finale takes place at a Bulgarian patriotic rite in the woods, where fireworks spark a brush fire that symbolizes the nationalist hatreds embedded in the seemingly innocent song (2003). In English and various subtitled European languages. 70 min. (Bill Stamets) (Univ. of Chicago Doc Films, 9:00)

TUESDAY, APRIL 6

Ballroom Dancing and Moscow Siege

English director Pamela Gordon's Moscow Siege (2003, in Russian with subtitles) is a riveting look at the military standoff between Russian special forces and Chechen rebels who seized a Moscow theater and held the audience of 900 hostage in 2002. Incorporating interviews with survivors, news footage, and eerie material shot by the rebels, the film conveys a harrowing sense of breakdown. Livia Gyarmathy's slight but affectionate Ballroom Dancing (2003, in Hungarian with subtitles) uses a dance recital in a Hungarian hamlet as a window onto the lives of the villagers. 90 min. (Patrick Z. McGavin) (Society for Arts, 7:00)

The Decomposition of the Soul

Nina Toussaint and Massimo Iannetta show Berlin-Hohenschonhausen prison, formerly operated by East Germany's secret police, through the eyes of two ex-prisoners in this darkly poetic study of psychological brutality. Captured Stasi documents outline an applied science of breaking dissidents down mentally through sleep deprivation and marathon interrogations, driving the subject to "decomposition" in order to effect his "political-ideological recuperation." The monstrous nature of the enterprise is well conveyed by lugubrious pans of the prison's cells and corridors. In German with subtitles. 2003, 82 min. (FC) (Facets Cinematheque, 7:00)

Journeys and Life in a Basket

See listing for Saturday, April 3. (Beverly Arts Center, 7:00)

Videos by Angus Macqueen, program two

In Cry for Argentina (2002, 57 min., in Spanish with subtitles), the British documentarian locates the bleak humor and bitter sadness of Argentina's recent fiscal crisis and social tumult, as two young women appearing on a reality program called Human Resources compete for a job as an assistant sales clerk. Unfortunately it lacks any wider historical analysis or social context. More successful is What She Wants (2003, 50 min., in Mandarin with subtitles), which considers the shifting gender roles and social independence of contemporary Chinese women. Macqueen alternates between a financially successful divorced woman, a bride who's about to participate in a mass wedding ceremony, and a beautiful, sexually independent young woman, showing great directness and maturity. (Patrick Z. McGavin) (Society for Arts, 9:00)

Films from the Saint Petersburg Documentary Film Studios, program one See listing for Friday, April 2. (Univ. of Chicago Doc Films, 9:00)

H.H. Holmes: America's First Serial Killer

Readers of Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City already know about Holmes, the "Monster of 63rd Street" whose Englewood mansion concealed numerous torture chambers and who murdered countless people before he was discovered and hanged in 1896. This ghoulish 2003 video by writer-director John Borowski recounts Holmes's early years as a medical student, the construction of his house of evil, the insurance scam that resulted in his arrest, and the circus surrounding his trial and execution. Serial-killer fans should eat it up, though the few available photos are reused to the point of tedium and Tony Jay's sonorous, British-accented narration ("It is here that Holmes will make his horrific dreams come true") kept making me laugh when I was supposed to shudder. 65 min. (JJ) Also on the program: Gulseli-Bille Baur's nine-minute Omnipotent (2003). Borowski will attend the screening. (Facets Cinematheque, 9:00)

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 7

The Private Archives of Pablo Escobar

The title of this 2003 video is misleading: though it profiles the slain drug lord who founded the Medellin cartel, the only "private archival" materials are a handful of family photos and home movies, none of them terribly interesting. Drawing heavily on video interviews with Escobar's mother, siblings, and former lieutenants, director Marc de Beaufort paints an unconvincing portrait of a philanthropist and political reformer with a regrettable sideline in cocaine smuggling; the sanitized content clashes with the narrative style, which mimics true-crime TV like American Justice. 70 min. (Cliff Doerksen) (Society for Arts, 7:00)

* Slasher

See listing for Saturday, April 3. (Beverly Arts Center, 7:00)

Trees and Allotment Narrated by Marianne Faithfull, Trees (2002, 52 min.) is an animist paean to the title plants, its reverent compositions and score honoring the antiquity and idiosyncrasy of various baobobs, sequoias, acacias, and other specimens. French filmmakers Sophie Bruneau and Marc-Antoine Roudil nicely integrate the mystic and the naturalistic. In Allotment (2003, 24 min., in Dutch with subtitles) filmmaker Ben van Lieshout observes forlorn elderly gardeners in the tiny plots nestled alongside highways and railroads; his moody exercise in urban geography is accompanied by on-camera and voice-over readings of verse by poets Rutger Kopland, Gerrit Kouwenaar, and Adriaan Jaeggi. (Bill Stamets) (Facets Cinematheque, 7:00)

* Shepherds' Journey Into the Third Millennium

See listing for Sunday, April 4. (Univ. of Chicago Doc Films, 9:00)

* Overnight

As compelling as a car wreck, this 2003 feature by Mark Brian Smith chronicles the precipitous rise and fall of aspiring rock star and indie filmmaker Troy Duffy, a giant in his own mind who ostensibly hit the jackpot in 1997 when Miramax bought his script for a post-Tarantino shoot-'em-up called The Boondock Saints and Maverick Records signed his band, the Brood. Smith and producer Tony Montana were Duffy's partners in a nascent film-and-music company that never progressed much farther than a lot of drinking and big talk; after falling out with Duffy the two filmmakers were left with a ton of footage documenting his raging ego and bitter comeuppance as the movie and record deals fell apart. 81 min. (JJ) Montana will attend the screening. (Facets Cinematheque, 9:00)

Videos by Angus Macqueen, program three

Vodka (2000, 63 min.) uses a folktale about a golden fish that grants wishes as a frame for vignettes drawn from Russian life. The wish for happiness is illustrated by a peasant wedding; the wish for wealth and power by a profile of a would-be vodka tycoon; the wish to be able to drink and stay sober by the funeral of a man who died from drinking. The resulting impressionistic portrait of Russia has its moments but lacks cohesion. Loving Lenin (1998, 50 min.), not available for preview, is a documentary on Lenin worship. In Russian with subtitles. (FC) (Society for Arts, 9:00)

THURSDAY, APRIL 8

Death Squadrons and Inside the Mind of the Suicide Bomber

Two documentaries about mass murder. Marie-Monique Robin's Death Squadrons: The French School (2003, in English and subtitled Arabic, Spanish, and French) describes how French army officers taught torture techniques and anti-insurgent methods they developed in Algeria (which included dropping prisoners out of airplanes) to the Argentinean military from 1959 through the '70s. Tom Roberts's Inside the Mind of the Suicide Bomber (2003; in English and subtitled Arabic and Hebrew) profiles three would-be bombers, now imprisoned. Their motivations vary, but the despair of the 17-year-old who contrasts his "pointless life" with the paradise he expected to attain speaks volumes. 108 min. (FC) (Society for Arts, 7:00)

No. 17

David Ofek's 2003 video begins as a quest to put a face and a name to an unidentified victim of a suicide bombing in Israel, then becomes a cri de coeur against terrorism. He interviews surviving passengers, constructs a seating map of the bus, and, in a long and intriguing sequence, gets a talented police sketch artist to draw conjectural portraits of the deceased. The drawings yield a clue, and a DNA test establishes that he was Eliko Timsit, a small-time con artist whose family hadn't reported his absence because he frequently disappeared. His remains are disinterred and his weeping relatives give him a religious funeral. In Hebrew with subtitles. 76 min. (FC) (Facets Cinematheque, 7:00)

* Al-Jazeera, Arab Voices

The most important lesson in any education is recognizing what you don't know, and this 2003 French video by Ali Essafi, about the everyday operations of the famous Arab news service, may be an eye-opening experience even for those who consider themselves sympathetic observers of the political turmoil in the Middle East. Furthermore, getting to see an Al Jazeera producer shape a news report helped me realize how little I know about equivalent practices at CNN or NBC. Even more valuable are the glimpses of how Al Jazeera reporters view America and American activities--the perspective our own news services seem least equipped or even inclined to give us. 52 min. (JR) Also on the program: Eseban Manzanares Uyarra's British documentary War Feels Like War (2003, 59 min.). (Society for Arts, 9:00)

Whose Is This Song?

See listing for Monday, April 5. (Facets Cinematheque, 9:00)

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