Searching for films with progressive content is always much easier with documentaries. Subjects are usually clearly defined, like global warming, racism and the like. But without knowing the politics and intent of the director and producer, narratives are often more subtle, with possible progressive content sublimated within the story, like blind guy gets his sight back, woman gives birth to child with cleft palate, dwarf brothers attempt to deliver shoes to soccer star. Let alone the political angle, the production values are also up for grabs, unless you’ve done some research and garnered some knowledge of previous works by those involved.
This is all to say that when arriving at a film festival like Tribeca, it’s pretty much a crap shoot when you scour the large catalog of films and read the brief descriptions of the films. Among the many choices, there were at least three narratives that passed the test and went on to win awards from the jury and the audience.
In The Ticket, a blind guy miraculously gets his sight back. Not many experience this condition, even if its at all possible. In this case, the film, structured almost as a parable, tells a moral tale of how people change after they win something like the Lottery ticket. It’s opening scenes are mesmerizing with blurred titles and shots that attempt to recreate what it must be like to be blind.
The young father, played faultlessly by Dan Stevens has a loving wife and son, and a decent job at a realty office alongside his best friend (Oliver Platt) who is also sightless. He and his wife attend dances for the blind regularly, and his life seems basic and on-track.
When he regains his sight, though, his hopes and desires change along with them. He gains an interest in other women, becomes aggressive against his sons schoolteachers, and starts to challenge his relationship with his best friend.
But what clearly commands the central theme of the film is his newfound desire to rise up in the ranks at work. He wins a leadership job at work by proposing new ways the company can make money on foreclosed homes. He establishes “New Day Alliance,” meetings where people facing foreclosure can come to get ideas on how to deal with the situation.
Of course, one solution is to sell their house to his real estate company. The scam is eventually exposed, his life begins unraveling, he loses friends, his wife and the trust of his son, and it soon becomes apparent that sight is not always better than blindness. The atmospheric music and camerawork set a mysterious mood, and the direction and acting is topnotch.
InEl Clasico,two Kurdish dwarf brothers attempt to deliver shoes to a soccer star in Madrid, to win the love of a woman. It’s a journey through present day war-torn Iraq that offers a powerful testament to love and the strength of people to survive in the harshest of conditions.
Alan falls in love with a beautiful woman but her father will not let her marry a small person. In his desperation and with the help of his brother Shirwan, they attempt to win the respect of her father by delivering shoes the father made to his soccer hero in Madrid, Spain.
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El Clasico refers to the classic football match between Madrid and Barcelona. They embark on a road movie to end road movies, confronting smugglers, terrorists and worst of all, bureaucrats! It was filmed mostly in the Green Zone in Baghdad, where 3 to 4 bombs explode daily, their set even being hit once.
Halkawt Mustafa, a Norwegian-Kurdish director, developed the story after discovering the two brothers in a community of small people, arguing about football in their Kurdish village. There are over 4500 small people in Iraq. Most of the cast are professionals, but the small people are all new to acting and performed extremely well.
The movie is action oriented and poignant at the same time. Funny and sad – a unique glimpse into a world seldom seen by people. Mustafa’s earlier films dealt with woman’s rights (Red Heart) and the dramatic rise of female suicides in Kurdistan, and here he continues his task of fighting ignorance and injustice in an emotional journey through a land of pain and the hearts of small people.
Winner of Best Cinematography in an International Narrative, the jury stated: “This award goes to an expansive, naturalistic photograph in serving the narrative and the emotional journey of the characters.”
InChildren of the Mountain, a woman gives birth to a child with a cleft palate. This sets off a string of tragic events in this beautiful narrative from Ghana directed by Priscilla Anany.
The child is discovered to also have Downs Syndrome and cerebral palsy, and the woman begins to think her body is poisoned. She’s attacked by the woman next door for stealing her husband, who apparently has children with many women.
She wants to get married, but no one wants to see her child or be around her. She is shunned by everyone except her family who bring love and hope to the distraught mother. Along the way she makes every attempt to help her son, shamans, religious leaders, natural cures, natural medicines, etc.
The director has experienced this situation in her own family and hopes to bring the message to all shamed mothers that “it’s not your fault for your child's disease.” The film’s realism is enhanced by employing a baby actor with a cleft palate that looks very similar to the mother.
They had trouble finding the right child but received assistance through the Graft Foundation of Ghana, an agency that performs surgery for deformed children at no cost. This was the world premiere at Tribeca, a triumph for Ghana cinema.
And the film went on to win the Award for Best New Narrative Director, with the jury stating, “So many of the films we had the pleasure of viewing were expertly directed and worthy of recognition. The winning director presents a fearless and heart wrenching tale of an embattled mother's high stakes journey to heal her sick child and ultimately herself.
The film delicately and powerfully directs us through an emotionally resonant story that is dark for truthful reasons and simultaneously hopeful.”