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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 through Thursday, April 9 through 15. Screenings are at Facets Cinematheque; Northwestern Univ. Thorne Auditorium, 375 E. Chicago; and the Society for Arts, 1112 N. Milwaukee. Unless otherwise noted, tickets are $8.50, $7 for seniors and students, and $6.50 for shows before noon or after 10:00 PM. Passes are available for $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 an * are highly recommended.

FRIDAY, APRIL 9

Sunny Intervals and Showers

Jonathan Goodman Levitt puts a human face on bipolar disorder by documenting its effects on heart researcher Dr. Allan Levi and his family. After a long manic episode Levi is pressured to resign from his university job; he subsequently throws himself into launching a small business retailing model airplanes by mail. Because we get only a glimpse of Levi's manic self, he generally comes across as a rational and loving father and husband, which makes his wife's anger at him seem disproportionate. But there are little details to this slice of life (2003) that will reward patience--like the drawing by one of Levi's children expressing love for "my mad dad." 89 min. (FC) (Society for Arts, 7:00)

Casting

Serbian director Goran Radovanovic put out a fake casting call for a panty-hose commercial and used the taped "auditions" as material for this documentary about the exploitation of young women in eastern Europe. Most of the women who strip down to their underwear for him are in dire financial straits, and he follows them into their personal lives to discover how easily pretty girls in a crumbling economy can be sucked into careers as hookers, strippers, or porn actresses. The latter half of this 2003 video features auditions for young men that lead to similar sociological detours, but the most interesting part of the story--the filmmaker's bad faith toward his subjects--is never addressed. In Serbian with subtitles. 52 min. (JJ) Radovanovic will attend the screening. Also on the program: short works by David Ellsworth and Roz Mortimer. (Society for Arts, 9:00)

The Real Dirk Diggler and Bedroom Radio

Directors Glenn Barden and Dave Hills take a lighthearted look at the sad life of John Holmes, wielder of "porn's most famous 14 inches," in The Real Dirk Diggler (2003). A crack addict, police snitch, and multiple murder suspect, Holmes at least went out with a touch of class: before dying of AIDS in 1988 he asked to be cremated so that no part of him would end up "floating in a jar." Doug Aubrey's Bedroom Radio (2003) is a lively portrait of an obsessive Scottish DJ who runs a pirate radio station from his apartment, at times to the dismay of his girlfriend, who complains that "he eats, sleeps, and dreams transmitters." 98 min. (FC) (Society for Arts, 10:45)

SATURDAY, APRIL 10

* The Cartel and Tlatelolco: Keys to the Massacre

A German TV documentary by Helmut Grosse, The Cartel (2002, in English and subtitled German) offers a concise and lucid account of the multiple ties between the second Bush administration and the oil and energy industries, many of which date back to the president's membership in the secret Skull and Bones Society at Yale. Some of the material is familiar and obvious, but Grosse makes a strong case for the disproportionate influence of Texas on the national agenda, and defuses likely charges of Eurocentric bias by limiting his interviews to American experts. Carlos Mendoza's Tlatelolco: Keys to the Massacre (2002, in Spanish with subtitles) is an investigative report on the October 1968 shooting of well over 150 student demonstrators, and the wounding or arrest of hundreds more, by soldiers in Mexico City. Aptly described as Mexico's Tiananmen Square, the massacre may have been the worst human catastrophe to befall the international student left during that era, and Mendoza walks us through the known facts, drawing on archival footage, eyewitness reports, and recently declassified documents from the U.S. Defense Department that suggest possible CIA involvement. The subtitling's occasionally awkward, but the story is chilling nonetheless. 143 min. (JR) (Society for Arts, 1:00)

Journey Into Exile

Tanja Hamilton's 2003 video about Antonio Coloma, a Chilean communist forced into exile by the 1973 coup, begins and ends with an eloquent and prophetic final speech from president Salvador Allende on the day he was ousted. The rest is of middling interest: revisiting Chile, Coloma locates the house where he hid in a cellar, encounters resentment from leftists who stayed behind, and meets with a former comrade who spied for the right wing but spared his life by not reporting him. Coloma's assertion that he never betrayed his principles cannot be evaluated, because we learn nothing of his three decades in Germany. In subtitled Spanish and German. 89 min. (FC) (Society for Arts, 3:00)

Playing House

Jane Gray spent nine months eavesdropping on a seventh-and-eighth-grade dormitory at the tony Fay School in Southborough, Massachusetts, and comes away with shocking evidence that wealthy 12-year-old girls gossip, cry, squeal, and indulge in silly dramatics. Over the academic year a catty conflict develops between Amanda, a large, sharp-tongued child from Saint Paul, and Joanna, a cheerful little goody-goody from Florida. Gray, an alumna of the school and an associate at the Film Study Center at Harvard, has positioned her 2003 video as a study in gender psychology, but the fact that she considers this a story worth telling indicates that she might want to get out of the house a little herself. 75 min. (JJ) Gray will attend the screening. (Facets Cinematheque, 3:00)

Putin's Mama and Russian Witchhunt

Dutch documentarian Ineke Smits directed Putin's Mama (2003, 51 min.), about an elderly Georgian woman who claims that the Russian president is her long-lost son. Udo Lielischkies wrote and directed the German documentary Russian Witchhunt (2002, 45 min.), about a Belograd journalist who sets out to expose a show trial. Both works are subtitled. (Society for Arts, 5:00)

Wheel of Time

Narrated with gluey reverence by director Werner Herzog, this new age travelogue (2003) documents a succession of Buddhist ceremonies led by the Dalai Lama. At one point His Holiness, addressing an audience of pilgrims in Bodh Gaya, India, breaks the news that--for reasons apparently too mystical to explain--the climactic ritual they're awaiting must be postponed until the following year's jamboree in Graz, Austria. It's a horribly uncomfortable moment, but at least it's interesting. Atypically lame, this is more for spiritual tourists than admirers of Aguirre: The Wrath of God. 81 min. (Cliff Doerksen) (Facets Cinematheque, 5:00)

* Trip to Paradise and Mother/Country

Director Ben van Lieshout travels across Iran investigating the origins of a rug he purchased in Amsterdam in Trip to Paradise (2002, in subtitled Dutch and Farsi); the quest serves as a pretext for recording chance encounters that illuminate the country's many contradictions. Signs reading "Death to Israel" and "Death to America" coexist with declarations of longing for democracy and equality. The calendar brims with days of religious mourning, which is a public art form; "Wearing black causes depression, which in turn causes people to wear black," says a black-clad art student. Tina Gharavi's Mother/Country (2003, in English and subtitled Farsi) is an emotionally adolescent account of the filmmaker's return to Iran to confront the mother who sent her to England at the age of six. 70 min. (FC) (Society for Arts, 7:00)

Persons of Interest

As many as 5,000 Arab- or Muslim-Americans have been detained by the U.S. government since 9/11, some for longer than a year, without any connection to terror attacks being established. Alison Maclean and Tobias Perse interview a few of them and their family members for this 2003 documentary, shooting from a single camera position in a single, mainly empty room, though at the end the subjects all appear together and their various situations are updated. The facts of their grim treatment, often exacerbated by their estrangement from their countries of origin, sometimes recall the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, and one isn't exactly reassured by John Ashcroft's disclaimers, which are periodically intercut with the stories. 63 min. (JR) Perse and Maclean will attend the screening. (Northwestern Univ. Thorne Auditorium, 7:30)

Dancing for Dollars

These two 1997 documentaries by Angus Macqueen offer sardonic analyses of the impact of the free market on Russian art. The Bolshoi in Vegas examines the quixotic efforts of a likable American entrepreneur, Ed Martin, to present the brilliant Bolshoi Ballet to philistine Las Vegas audiences. The irony is undermined by Macqueen's withering condescension toward Martin's unlikely "angels," a group of Christian investors from Oklahoma. The Kirov in Petersburg contains some beautiful archival footage of the Kirov Ballet, but its account of the company's history and troubled finances is poorly structured. Both films in English and subtitled Russian. 110 min. (Patrick Z. McGavin) (Society for Arts, 9:00)

SUNDAY, APRIL 11

The Followers and The Opinionator

Andi Miziss directed The Followers (2003, 66 min.), about a religious cult led by a former Soviet policeman. The Opinionator (2003, 54 min.), directed by Meelis Muhu, profiles an elderly Russian woman who has become a political organizer in Estonia. Both films in Russian with subtitles. (Society for Arts, 1:00)

* Phase II

Lukas Schmid's 2002 documentary about a Swiss facility for adolescents with drug problems could have been called "Reform School Boys," except that it's not in the least exploitative. Schmid's camera patiently captures the rhythms of the boys' lives as they talk in group therapy, work at carpentry or farming, and quarrel with their supervisors. The best scene is a meeting convened when a saw blade goes missing: the whole group is threatened with punishment, and only after agonizing denials and long silences do we get the release of a confession. The film ends on a pessimistic note, as many of the boys seriously slip up when let out on vacation. In German with subtitles. 90 min. (FC) (Society for Arts, 3:15)

* Sheriff

Daniel Kraus's cinema verite study (2003) of Ronald E. Hewett, sheriff of Brunswick County, North Carolina, is like an extended episode of Cops as directed by Frederick Wiseman--and I mean that as a compliment on both counts. Earnest, dedicated, and God-fearing, Hewett deals with a variety of crises and civic duties: busting an illegal video-gambling operation, rallying churchgoers against a proposed strip club, organizing a manhunt for a homicide suspect, and exhorting an assembly of high school students to be "pretty from the inside." The detail captured by Kraus's scrupulously neutral camera adds up to a fascinating, fully realized portrait of the man and the job. 76 min. (Cliff Doerksen) Kraus will attend the screening. (Society for Arts, 5:00)

Drowned Out

English director Franny Armstrong surveys India's misguided dam-building agenda (rooted in Nehru's conviction that "dams are the temples of modern India") and investigates a grassroots movement that used nonviolent tactics to save the Narmada River. "We will drown but we will not move," promises Luhariya Sonkariya, an herbalist turned activist who has rejected resettlement offers from the government and symbolically drowns a colorful statue, the "demon of the dam," in the sacred waters. The video suffers from lapses in chronology but offers powerful images of farmers standing chest deep in swirling waters as they're clubbed by police. 75 min. (Bill Stamets) (Facets Cinematheque, 7:00)

Shalom Ireland

This cursory treatment (2003, 59 min.) of Jews of the Emerald Isle proudly profiles Robert Briscoe, who was elected lord mayor of Dublin in 1956, and Isaac Herzog, Ireland's chief rabbi, who later emigrated to Israel and whose son, Chaim, was elected president in 1983. I was more interested in the Irish government's refusal to harbor Jews fleeing the holocaust and in the IRA's training of Zionist guerrillas, but director Valerie Lapin Ganley skips lightly past these upsetting topics. Also on the program: Luigi Scarcelli's Landsdowne Street (2002, 8 min.), an unenlightening black-and-white video of a plastic-bucket drummer performing for spare change on a crowded Cambridge street. (Bill Stamets) Scarcelli will attend the screening. (Society for Arts, 7:00)

Secrets for Sale and A Certain Liberation

Elodie Pong's Secrets for Sale (2003, 64 min., in French with subtitles) documents her installation at a Zurich art museum, in which visitors to a sterile white room are offered the chance to disguise themselves and disclose a secret to a video camera. In A Certain Liberation (2003, 37 min., in English and subtitled Bengali), Bangladeshi filmmaker Yasmine Kabir hurries through a bazaar, chasing a limber widow who swats passersby with a stick and yanks cash from their pockets. As Kabir fills in her traumatic past during the 1971 war of liberation from Pakistan, she seems less a nuisance than a mascot for her community. (Bill Stamets) (Society for Arts, 9:00)

The Thunderbird Woman

Native American activist Winona LaDuke, a member of the Anishinabe tribe and Ralph Nader's former running mate, is a bundle of energy. She wore tribal garb even as a young child, and today travels the country raising money to buy back land unjustly annexed from the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota. Claus Biegert and Bertram Verhaag's 73-minute documentary (2002) shows her in constant motion, paddling a canoe through a stand of wild rice while explaining the crop's importance to her people, addressing a Hopi protest rally against polluting mines, and making pesto at home. Mark Freeman's 13-minute Edmund's Island (2002) is an inspiring look at an optimistic homeless man who sells or gives away newspapers, imparting a bit of his joy to his customers. (FC) (Facets Cinematheque, 9:00)

MONDAY, APRIL 12

Works by Andreas Horvath, program one

Two works by the Austrian documentarian: Poroerotus (1999, 45 min.) looks at an annual roundup of reindeer in Finland, and The Silence of Green (2002, 48 min.) reports on hoof-and-mouth disease in Yorkshire, England. (Society for Arts, 7:00)

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 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) (Society for Arts, 9:00)

TUESDAY, APRIL 13

Short documentaries, program one

Two works: Cold-Blooded and The Bandits. 77 min. (Society for Arts, 7:00)

Short documentaries, program two

Two works: The Kramer Impact and Patriots' Day. 80 min. (Society for Arts, 9:00)

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 14

Works by Andreas Horvath, program two

Two works by the Austrian documentarian: Clearance (1998, 20 min.), which is a parody of violent video games, and The Silence of Green (see description in Horvath program for Monday, April 12). (Society for Arts, 7:00)

This Ain't No Heartland

See listing for Monday, April 12. (Society for Arts, 9:00)

THURSDAY, APRIL 15

Conakry Lives

Manthia Diawara, professor of film and African studies at New York University, directed this documentary about Guinea's cultural revolution. 65 min. (Society for Arts, 7:00)

Moscow Siege

English director Pamela Gordon directed this riveting 2003 look at the military standoff between Russian special forces and Chechen rebels who seized a Moscow theater and held the audience of 900 hostage. Incorporating interviews with survivors, news footage, and eerie material shot by the rebels, the film conveys a harrowing sense of breakdown. In Russian with subtitles. (Patrick Z. McGavin) Also on the program: Putin's Mama (see listing for Saturday, April 10). (Society for Arts, 9:00)

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