At American Documentary Showcase
A film series titled “American Documentary Showcase" will be presented at Chiang Mai University during December. The series, which began last night (Wednesday, December 9) is showing its second film tonight (Thursday, December 10) at 7 pm, at the CMU Media Arts and Design building, where Film Space shows its programs. This building is to the right and in the back of the CMU Art Museum, across from the ballet school. Showing will be on the roof, weather permitting, beginning at 7 pm.
FREE admission to this series! Tonight’s film has Thai subtitles.
Thursday, December 10: Miss Navajo (2007) by Billy Luther – 60 mins – US, Documentary.
Variety, John Anderson: As in most beauty pageants, contestants in the Miss Navajo Nation competition have to exhibit poise, grooming, and talent. They also have to butcher a sheep -- which is the kind of thing that makes Billy Luther's affectionate look at tribal tradition, pride and change in his documentary Miss Navajo so eye-opening. The film exhibits tenderness and frankness -- and some spectacular cinematography.
Luther structures his movie as a kind of triptych: the 50-year history of the Miss Navajo competition; the kinds of cultural abuses suffered by native peoples that prompted the creation of such a contest; and the 2005 competition, which features 21-year-old Crystal Frazier. A self-admitted introvert, Frazier enters the fray knowing she's lacking in one of the contest's chief criteria -- a fluency in the Navajo language. She perseveres, though, and she and the other entrants treat viewers to what ends up being an inspiring short story about personal achievement and the inevitable fading of a once-great culture.
News Blaze, Prairie Miller:Miss Navajo is filmmaker Billy Luther's reverential tribute to his mom, a former winner of the annual Miss Navajo beauty pageant in Table Mesa, New Mexico, and a celebration of the collective womanhood of the Navajo Nation. Don't expect the usual bosomy bathing suit runway stiletto strutting, aspiring girl goddess … because the Miss Navajo pageant is strictly about female pride, and being smart, creative and immersed in the wisdom and continuity of traditions and tribal roots.
The Navajo Nation is the largest tribe in this country, that is, of what remains of the surviving oppressed indigenous peoples subjected to historical ethnic cleansings and genocide. As one contestant describes the pageant, it's in part a proud gesture 'to tell the dominant culture that we're Native Americans, and here we are, we're alive.'
Women are traditionally respected leaders in this farming community, and so the primary values considered in the competition have nothing to do with sex appeal or conventional notions of glamor. Females of all sorts of shapes and sizes come together to impress the enthusiastic audience and judges with their creative skills in designing art projects, Native costumes, communicating in the original Navajo tongue once banned by the dominant culture, and even the killing and shearing of sheep. One contestant is understandably so overwhelmed by the latter, that she has to be taken away in an ambulance and later drops out of the contest entirely.
A welcome antidote to the dominant society's soulless spectacle of the female sex object glamor girl gladiators scrutinized so brutally in the feature film Little Miss Sunshine, Miss Navajo has much to enlighten and convey to American women about self-respect, gender consciousness, honoring historical memory, and collective unity versus ruthless competition.
FREE admission! Miss Navajo has Thai subtitles.
At Chiang Mai University’s Library Center
The series continues with four more screenings during December at “American Corner’s Mini Theatre,” 3rd floor, Chiang Mai University’s Library Center, at noon.
Monday, December 14, at 12 pm noon: Flow: for the Love of Water (2008) by Irena Salina – 93 mins – US, Documentary. An informative, disturbing, and enthralling film that highlights a criminally underreported problem. Generally favorable reviews: 67/67 out of 100.
Sundance Film Festival: Irena Salina’s cautionary documentary is determined to stir things up. Water, the quintessence of life, sustains every creature on Earth. The time has come when we can no longer take this precious resource for granted. Unless we effect global change, impoverished nations could be wiped from the planet. Roused by a thirst for survival, people around the world are fighting for their birthright. Under the cover of darkness, African plumbers secretly reconnect shantytown water pipes to ensure a community’s survival. A California scientist exposes toxic public water supplies. A “water guru” promotes community-based initiatives to provide water throughout India. The CEO of a billion-dollar water company argues for privatization as the wave of the future. A Canadian author pops the cork on bottled water, unveiling the disturbing realities that drive profits in the global water business. Flow: For Love of Water is an inspired, yet disturbingly provocative, wake-up call. The future of our planet is drying up rapidly. Focusing on pollution, human rights, politics, and corruption, filmmaker Salina constructs an exceptionally articulate profile of the precarious relationship uniting human beings and water. While each community’s challenges are unique, the message is universal--the time to turn the tide is now.
Austin Chronicle, Josh Rosenblatt: Flow is the kind of terrifying, impending-apocalypse documentary none of us wants to watch but all of us probably should; it isn’t the most enjoyable experience you’ll have at the movies this year, but I wouldn’t doubt if it’s one of the most eye-opening.
The New York Times Jeannette Catsoulis: Irena Salina's astonishingly wide-ranging film is less depressing than galvanizing, an informed and heartfelt examination of the tug of war between public health and private interests.
IMDb viewer: If you thought An Inconvenient Truth was an eye opener Flow will change forever your awareness of water issues. If the purpose of this type of documentary is to raise awareness then it succeeds. Massively.
Thursday, December 17, at 12 pm noon: Miss Navajo (2007) by Billy Luther – 60 mins – US, Documentary. See description above.
Monday, December 21, at 12 pm noon: A Man Named Pearl (2006) by Scott Galloway and Brent Pierson – 78 mins – US, Documentary. Tells the inspiring story of self-taught topiary artist Pearl Fryar. It is a subtle and intriguing film that is certain to open hearts and minds. It offers an upbeat message that speaks to respect for both self and others, and shows what one person can achieve when he allows himself to share the full expression of his humanity. Generally favorable reviews: 63/67 out of 100.
TV Guide's Movie Guide, Maitland McDonagh: [This] irresistible documentary about self-taught topiary artist Pearl Fryar is a portrait of a polite, church-going, thoroughly decent man who found his bliss training and trimming discarded plants into fantastical things of beauty.
Salon, Andrew O'Hehir: Motivated by a racist comment that African-Americans don't maintain their yards, Fryar set out to win "Yard of the Month" from Bishopville, S.C.'s leading garden club. He became the first black person to do so, and along the way conceived a passion for abstract topiary, a craft in which he had no formal training. In fact, Fryar is a self-taught abstract sculptor whose medium is discarded boxwoods and other hedge shrubbery, trained lovingly into microbial blobs, galactic swirls, soaring fishbone structures and other organic forms. His three-acre yard is pretty much the only reason anybody ever visits Bishopville, and much of the fascination in Scott Galloway and Brent Pierson's documentary emerges from how this still-segregated Southern town is dealing with (and endeavoring to exploit) its homegrown genius.
NY Times, Jeannette Catsoulis: With no training other than a three-minute demonstration from a local hardware store, Mr. Fryar rescued discarded plants from the town nursery and painstakingly molded them into mind-boggling configurations. Neighbors doubted his sanity and nicknamed him Edward Scissorhands, but this modest and supremely patient son of a sharecropper persisted with his fantastical sculptures. Nowadays his work draws thousands of visitors a year and he even has a day named after him: quite a step up from his original goal to win Yard of the Month.
Assembled without frills or fuss, A Man Named Pearl is as much a portrait of a small Southern town as of an unassuming black folk artist. Aided by Fred Story’s jazzy score, the directors, Scott Galloway and Brent Pierson, keep things moving with appreciative comments from the financial and spiritual beneficiaries of Mr. Fryar’s talents (and from the female admirers who find his lithe, 68-year-old body every bit as interesting as his foliage). Those white families who, decades ago, rejected him as a neighbor because “black people don’t keep up their yards” must be weeping into their seed catalogs.
Thursday, December 24, at 12 pm noon: Made in L.A. (2007) by Almudena Carracedo – 70 mins – US, Documentary. Made in L.A. follows the remarkable story of three Latina immigrants working in Los Angeles garment sweatshops as they embark on a three-year odyssey to win basic labor protections from a mega-trendy clothing retailer. In intimate verité style, Made in L.A. reveals the impact of the struggle on each woman's life as they are gradually transformed by the experience. Compelling, humorous, deeply human, Made in L.A. is a story about immigration, the power of unity, and the courage it takes to find your voice.
Variety, Ronnie Scheib: AlmudenaCarracedo's debut documentary relates a rousing true story of solidarity, perseverance, and triumph, following garment workers over a four-year period as they unite to demand minimum wage and decent working conditions in L.A. sweat-shops. Deftly interweaving legal battles, national boycotts, group dynamics and individual empowerment, the film offers a personalized history lesson in class struggle.
The women gather at L.A.'sGarmentWorker Center, where they air their grievances and receive a rundown of their rights, supplied in Spanish by the largely Asian-American staff. This pooling of experience also leads to the discovery that the worst sweatshops mass-produce clothing for nationwide retailer Forever 21.
While lawyers pursue a precedent-setting suit that would hold retailers responsible for the conditions under which their product was manufactured, the GWC's organizers help the garment workers mount a boycott against Forever 21, picketing and chanting slogans outside stores.
Chicago Reader, Andrea Gronvall: Undocumented garment workers in Los Angeles made international news with their 2001 boycott against Korean fashion retailer Don Chang and his highly profitable chain Forever 21, which sells knockoffs of designer apparel. Seamstresses from Mexico and El Salvador, who were putting in 12-hour days for $200 a week, picketed malls and took their case to court over a period of three years, advised by a legal team of mostly Asian-American attorneys. In finding their voice, some workers also mustered up the courage to change their lives: one left her alcoholic husband and another became a globe-trotting labor activist.
There is FREE admission to all showings. Thai subtitles: Flow and Miss Navajo.
About American Documentary Showcase
The American Documentary Showcase is an opportunity to watch contemporary documentaries, rare documentaries, documentaries for social change, and documentaries from various film festivals. It’s a chance to see America from different (camera) angles. These films are not Hollywood!
Showcase is a curated program of contemporary documentaries that is offered to US Embassies for screening worldwide. The American Documentary Showcase aims to offer a broad, diversified look at life in the US and the values of a democratic society as seen by American documentary filmmakers. The Showcase is intended to demonstrate the role documentary plays in fostering understanding and cooperation.