Archive for the ‘movies’ Category

Ellis Island hospital documentary

Thursday, January 29th, 2009


Highly recommended!

At 10 pm Monday, Feb. 2, PBS will air Forgotten Ellis Island, a documentary narrated by Elliott Gould about the Ellis Island hospital. All steerage passengers who wished to enter the United States through Ellis Island had to undergo a brief health inspection. Those who failed got a further inspection. Immigrants who couldn’t pass the followup were almost all checked into the Ellis Island hospital (about 1% were deported), where their stays might be brief or might go on for several weeks.

Some sick patients died; some babies were born; and many families were frightened by a separation they didn’t understand. Their stories are fascinating, and you can hear about them and see their faces in this documentary by Lorie Conway. The film also looks at those who were diagnosed as “feebleminded,” which sometimes seems to have amounted to not much more than disagreeable.

A Laotian story

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008
Photo: Pandinlao Productions

The Betrayal (Nerakhoon), a documentary by Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath now playing at the IFC Center, is an absorbing and beautiful film about a family of Laotian refugees whose new life in gangland Brooklyn is not the heaven their mother dreamed of.

The film briefly covers the U.S. involvement in Laos during the Vietnam War. The family’s father was a Laotian soldier who worked for the CIA. When the Communists took over Laos, they took him away, and the family’s lives were threatened, so they fled to Thailand and then New York.

The mother and eight kids, suffering the loss of the father and the way of life they’d always known, were dumped in a shared apartment next to a crack house somewhere in the vicinity of Bushwick. I would have liked to know more about how they were able to adjust; how did they get from this situation, with nothing and no command of English, to the New Jersey house where some of the later interviews take place?

This is what immigrant aid societies are for, but they didn’t have one. (Instead, they had to deal with Asian gangs.) The kids go to school and learn English, and footage from 1985 shows them as pure Brooklyn teens. The mother’s struggle to keep her family together, and that of her son Thavisouk (co-director) to help her while he was still a child himself, is the heart of the story. There is more than one betrayal, but they survive.

Jewish basketball stars from the LES

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

Opening today at the Village East in Manhattan is a documentary by David Vyorst called The First Basket, about basketball’s popularity among inner-city European Jewish immigrant boys from the 1920s to the early 1950s. Read the brief Times review here. One of the topics discussed is “the role of basketball as a middle ground for second-generation Eastern European immigrants as they established their own American identities, and the corresponding conflicts between old world tradition and American culture.”

Film: Somali refugees in America

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

Rain in a Dry Land is a documentary about the first 18 months in the American lives of two Somali Bantu families escaping a refugee camp for resettlement in the United States. See it at 6:30 pm Thursday, Oct. 2, at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. Co-sponsored by POV Films.


Saturday, September 20th, 2008

The title of Amexicano, now showing at the Quad Cinema, refers to Bruno, a down-and-out Italian-American from Queens who becomes so brotherly with a Mexican construction worker, Ignacio, that Ignacio considers him an honorary Mexican.

Ignacio can put up a perfectly straight fence; the film is not an example of one. The plot is a bit uneven, with some unnecessary melodrama—it feels like someone from outside kept suggesting things to shoehorn into it. But the characters are believable and the acting is solid; Carmine Famiglietti does a particularly good job as Bruno. I like movies shot in Queens because I feel like I could open the door and walk into them, and this one is equivalent to spending the day in Corona and meeting some real people whom you’ll remember for awhile. Its heart is in the right place, and I recommend it.

Mexican Independence Day

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

Mexican parade, 2003

Sept. 16, 1810, was the day Father Miguel Hidalgo gave the Grito de Dolores, ringing the church bells and delivering an electrifying speech that launched the struggle for independence. You don’t notice a lot of celebration on this day in New York, but it’s a big deal in the Bajío of central Mexico.

The Mexican Day Parade starts at 11 am Sunday, Sept. 21, on Madison Avenue at 41st St, proceeding down to 27th.

Meanwhile, opening Friday at the Quad Cinema is Matthew Bonifacio’s Amexicano, a story about the surprising bond between a Mexican immigrant and an Italian-American from Queens. It’s set to show for one week only, so run right out there this weekend and support independent film. Review to come.

Also Sunday, although not Mexican, José Alberto will appear in the Pathmark Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration from noon to 5 pm at Pier 17, South Street Seaport. There will be a salsa competition in memory of David Melendez and dozens of folkloric performers celebrating the Latino heritage. And, reportedly, some mariachi.

Taste of Jackson Heights

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

Now this is a neighborhood with some tastes to offer. The Jackson Heights Film & Food Festival starts with the food part from noon to 4 pm Saturday, Sept. 13, in the courtyard of the Garden School, 33-16 79th Street, near Northern Boulevard. Admission is free; dishes are $1 to $3.

The film festival, which is in its third year, runs Sept. 18–20, featuring work from Burundi, France, and Queens, as well as the U.S. premiere of Sylvie Michel’s A Day in the Country (Germany, 2007) and the world premiere of Juan Mejia’s Uprooted (US/Colombia, 2008). There’s also a kids’ film festival at 10:30 am Sunday, Sept. 21.

There’s a lot going on next weekend, but this is definitely worth making some time for. Friday’s program is a collection of short films, a great opportunity to see a variety of work.

Year of the Fish: irresistible

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

I don’t like fairy tales; they tend to be told in broad strokes, and I like details & complexity. But Year of the Fish, a film by David Kaplan now showing in Manhattan, completely won me over. It’s a Cinderella story set in Chinatown and done in Rotoscope animation, where the movie is shot with actors and then traced frame by frame.

The layer of animation is crucial, because otherwise you’d be looking at the reality and alert to any break in plausibility. But the animation (and the narration by the fish) allows the story not only to indulge in supernatural elements but to make use of many details of the here and now.

What really makes it work for me are the faces of the people—they all look like people I know or I’ve seen. I see that some reviewers feel there’s too much of a conflict between gritty modern detail and fairy tale sentimentality. As far as I’m concerned, that’s what’s great about it. And, in the end, it shows a moving generosity to all its main characters, even the rotten ones.

Plus, it’s persistently beautiful.