Friday, May 29, 2009

ONE-EYED MONSTER: Good, dirty fun in which Ron Jeremy & Veronica Hart go legit

The last time TrustMovies saw Ron Jeremy (shown, right) in a film was maybe 10-15 years back and he was surprised by what he encountered. Never being one who watched much hard-core, he found this chubby and hairy little guy with the very large member rather endearing: relaxed (except below the belt, of course), funny and evident-
ly, via the evidence of what was on-screen, able to give numerous pretty girls a very good time. Ron is back this

month in a straight-to-video movie titled ONE-EYED MONSTER that earlier this year appeared at film fests in Glasgow, Scotland, and Brussels, Belgium. The biggest difference I could ascertain between Jeremy then and Jeremy now is that his mat of chest hair has gone gray. Oh -- and this time the movie is not even soft-core, let alone hard.

The credits inform us that the film "introduces" Ron Jeremy, which usually means that this is the performer's first film outing. Perhaps the joke here is that this is Mr. Jeremy's first non-porno outing, since the fellow boasts perhaps the longest (no, not that) list of credits on the entire IMDB site. Click on his name above and be utterly amazed at his 1,156 acting appearances. (Editor's note: In the nearly five years since this article was posted, the number has reached 1,391!) This man has directed more films -- 181 of them -- than most actors have appeared in. He's even written 38 movies. Granted these are mostly porn, but still: The fact that Mr. Jeremy remains alive and kicking (and screwing) -- not to mention acting, directing and writing -- is testament to some kind of heavy-duty endurance.

In One-Eyed Monster, Jeremy co-stars with another aging porn star, Veronica Hart (left), and both of them do a bang-up job, so to speak, as does the rest of the ensemble cast. Performances are vitally important here because the movie is a spoof -- played straight -- of thriller and sci-fi flicks. This is not an easy task, in the writing, directing or acting department (for a recent failed example, see Alien Trespass), so the fact that One-Eyed Monster works well is probably the most shocking thing about it. Certainly, it's tame so far as its visuals are concerned: the Wayans Brothers' movies offer more sexual gross-outs and shocks.

What this movie is after is fun and frolic regarding the porn industry, moviemaking, sex, aliens trespassing and the male/directorial prerogative -- among other topics. Amazingly, it achieves much of these aims via its direction and performances (the screenplay is serviceable and occasionally clever). Adam Fields is credited as director, co-writer (with his twin brother Jordan and another Fields -- first name, Scott -- who is the third brother), producer and composer. That's a lot to take on, but damned if the Fields don't pull it off (so to speak).

The director manages a consistently breezy, charming and slightly fizzy -- maybe dizzy -- tone, which he and his cast hold to throughout the entire film. This merging of porno, space alien, comedy-played-straight and the occasional bits of gore makes for an unusually chipper and oddly sweet concoction, one that doesn't compare to much of anything else out there. Other than the porn vets, the cast is made up of mostly unknowns -- except for Charles Napier (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls) and Amber Benson (of TV's "Buffy"). To a man (and woman) they rise to the challenge and keep things humming along. I'd single out the younger cast members if any rose above the others, but, no -- they're all quite good. They "get" what's going on here and are talented and intelligent enough to guide us into getting it, too.

For an "alien" movie, One-Eyed Monster is short of sci-fi special effects. There are really only two -- besides the gross-out prosthetics -- and both are as cheesy and delightful as you could want. Mostly, it'll be the consistent grin on your face, not to mention the laugh-out-loud moments, that will keep you pleasantly glued to the DVD on screen. Good going, Fields and gang! More, please.

Update, as of August 2012: the movie is available 
on Netflix -- via DVD or streaming -- where it is 
bound to find its true and loyal audience.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Mark Tonderai's HUSH: a nifty little On-Demand must-see from IFC

Having now sampled a dozen or so On-Demand films from IFC's Festival Direct, In-Theater and Midnight Movies categories, I've finally seen one that I can recommend without a single reservation: HUSH, written and directed by actor-turned-writer-and-now-director Mark Tonderai -- who, with this first film, manages to do just about everything right.

Hush is a chase thriller that begins on one of those boring British motorways, in a car in which a young couple argues. You may be be put briefly in mind of the recent Claude Lelouch Roman de Gare, but no -- this movie is something else. Shortly after it begins, the male of the duo -- he's driving -- suddenly sees something in the back of a truck directly ahead of him. The movie takes off from there, dishing up a parade of shock, suspense and surprise until its speedy 90 minutes are beautifully played out.

Tonderai creates surprisingly full characters -- even those given the smallest roles -- and this is particularly true of his "hero," who begin the movie as anything but and by the end has earned that over-used term as well as any other hero I've seen in a this kind of genre film. (Novice movie-makers take note: creating rich characters -- often just a specific little stroke or two can do it all -- helps immensely in making a more believable film.) Tonderai keeps us viewers off balance in very smart ways: He consistently has us questioning who will help our hero and who will not, who is chasing whom and when, and best of all, he sets his entire movie at night (the fine cinematography is by Philipp Blaubach).

As in so many good thrillers, time is of the essence, so we speed along with the hero, able to keep maybe a step ahead of him -- but only that. The director gets a terrific performance from his leading actor, William Ash (above), a fellow we're sure to be seeing more of soon. Ash is pretty much the film's whole focus and he holds the screen securely, growing from a typically self-involved male to a man who must rise to a very difficult occasion. Ash is abetted by two nicely differentiated women: Christine Bottomley (below) as his blond girlfriend and Claire Keelan, a brunette who makes a startling appearance halfway along.

For a film that deals in some pretty horrible goings-on, Hush is not terribly gory. There is one shocking scene -- and it's a humdinger -- done so excruciatingly well that you'll simultaneously cringe and take delight in how Tonderai seems to know just what to show and what to leave to our imagination. His pacing is expert: No scene goes on too long and the suspense simply builds and builds. In every way, Hush is a "B" movie -- but it burnishes that often tired genre about as brightly as I've seen it shine in some time.

Nationwide, you can see view Hush now though July 7, '09 via IFC On-Demand on the following cable systems:
BrightHouse: Movies On Demand - IFC In Theaters
Cablevision: Movies On Demand - IFC In Theaters - Festival Direct
Comcast: Channel 1 - Movies & Events - IFC Festival Direct
Cox: Channel 1 - Movies On Demand - IFC In Theaters
Time Warner: Movies On Demand - IFC In Theaters

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Of Cemeteries, Gravestones & Markers: FOREVER and PROFIT MOTIVE/WIND

Two unusual films that deal with the dead (and by extension, of course, us living) recently made their DVDebuts: PROFIT MOTIVE AND THE WHISPERING WIND by John Gianvito and Heddy Honigmann's FOREVER. The former travels throughout these United States, moving in a kind of timeline of dates from, it often seems, east to

west, coming upon gravestones and markers that reflect America's progressive movement -- its signature events and people -- throughout our history. Gianvito was inspired, the end credits tell us, by Howard Zinn's popular and necessary A People's History of the United States. This is a book I know and love. In fact, I think it should be mandatory reading for all U.S. high school students -- not by itself, mind you, but in tandem with whatever other history of the US the instructor is using. This kind of "doubling" would provoke healthy argument and discussion about how and why we live the way we do and how we got here, while offering students the opportunity to learn something other than the pre-digested pablum, via which our history has often been taught.

Gianvito's movie, I think, will not produced anything close to this. More likely fidgeting, and then snores. For all its remembrances of people and events, it's a static experience, made up alternately of shots of the gravestones/markers (from afar and in close-up) and foliage often rustling via that whispering wind of the title. There is no narration, simply visuals and a quiet soundtrack. The photography is certainly good and the ambient sound -- wind, occasional traffic -- appropriate. If you are familiar with most of the characters and/or events, the film adds nothing to your knowledge except a look at the actual gravestone or marker. If you arrive at the film with no prior knowledge -- unless you're taking careful notes of names, dates and places so as to do further research -- good luck. In any case, this is definitely an instance of preaching to the already converted. There's a snippet sung of the ballad Joe Hill, and a couple of bits of needless and jarring animation, perhaps to underscore the profit motive theme. The best thing in the film it its opening quotation, attributed to Claire Spark Loeb: "The long memory is the most radical idea in America." Now, there's a truth to chew on -- and change.

With Heddy Honigmann's Forever, we're in but a single cemetery, perhaps the most famous in the world: Père Lachaise, the largest burial ground in all of Paris. The famous are laid to rest here, from Chopin to Jim Morrison, but Ms. Honigmann is more interested in the relatively anonymous living who come to visit, view, and pay their respects. Her interviews with these visitors -- who have quite varied reasons for being here -- are conducted with courtesy and genuine interest and consequently provide much food for thought, as well as the occasional moving moment. I suspect the director had many more interviews which she could have shared; it must have been difficult to choose among them.

The cinematography by Robert Alazraki is crisp and clean, bright and dark, as needed -- adding consistent pleasure to Honigmann's exploration of time, death and the finiteness of our lives. Considering the place and the subject, Forever manages to be buoyant and graceful rather than sad and depressing. Upon its conclusion, you may well feel you've taken a necessary and surprisingly restful vacation. In fact, the movie cleverly contains within it some of the ideas and themes of that special book -- by Proust, Dickens, Tolstoy -- that you've always meant to bring along on your vacation but so far probably have not.

(The shots of Père Lachaise are courtesy of Wikipedia --
because I could find none from the movie itself.)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Stop Making Sense! Bruce McDonald reinvents horror via PONTYPOOL

I can't recall another critics' screening of a "scare" film from which the audience departed with a silly grin on its face. Whether this grin meant enjoyment-plus-bafflement, as in my case, or dismissal, I can't honestly say. One fellow in the men's room immedi-
ately after, still grin-
ning, shook his head and offered, "What a piece of shit."

"No," TrustMovies countered, "these guys are trying to reinvent the horror film. And I think they've done a good job of it!" These guys are Canadian director Bruce McDonald (shown right, who earlier gave us The Tracey Fragments and -- as director/co-writer -- the Canuck Indian movie Dance Me Outside: two disparate films with little more than Canada in common) and Tony Burgess, who adapted the screenplay from his novel Pontypool Changes Everything.

As someone who's been begging of late for a genuine reinvention of the zombie movie, I couldn't ask for much more than the new McDonald/Burgess collaboration, PONTYPOOL -- which adds class, wit and intelligence (semiotics anyone?) to the realm of the flesh-eating undead. (Though it's almost unfair to count this film a "zombie" movie, as its concern is more the virus than the infected.) From the credits onwards, McDonald demonstrates a love of the visual that is both beautiful and unsettling -- and very unlike the obvious, aren't-we-fragmented look of his heavy-handed Tracey Fragments). Here, his interesting, well-composed, wide-screen images are all the more surprising because most simply show us the basement of a drab church, and in particular, the even more confining space of a sound studio. This is not the usual subject of a Panavision lens, so credit must be paid to cinematographer Miroslaw Baszak for making us pay such keen attention.

Much of the movie is devoted to sound: its source, destination and raison d'etre. And you'd have to go back to maybe Klute to find another instance of an event being transmitted verbally rather than visually that proves even more horrifying. Best not to know much about the plot (don't read the usual reviews): Just go and savor. McDonald and Burgess do a fine job of ramping up suspense while dropping enough clues/evidence to keep us involved and trying to solve things, just as are the protagonists. And their cast, led by Stephen McHattie (above), handles the sometimes complicated emotional maneuvers smartly.

Toward the film's ramped-up finale, at times I wondered if the movie might be a sly Québécois separatist ploy -- or a worldwide Francophile plot to get us all speaking Français. Maybe. But it's also some talented film folk pushing the envelope and giving (well, some of) us thrills, chills, blood, guts and a thought-provoking, damn good time. The ending (the film's actual ending, rather than its climax) is so nitwit and brilliant that this, I think, is what put those silly grins on our faces at the end of the screening. During the recent Cannes fest, word arose that Pontypool is to have a sequel. Oh, my. Oh, well. Could it come up to the level of, let alone improve on, its predecessor? Which brings me to this:

Desperate to find a way out of their situation, the characters light upon a possibility that is so bizarre and abstreuse that they -- let alone we -- can barely keep up with it. So suspenseful are these moments, however, that we don't have time to do more than race along with them. It's after the fact that we may start wondering: Hmmm... This was like trying not to think of a pink elephant. Once you try not to, that's all you can do. Of course, the elephant's an image, which is not the same thing as "meaning." Or is it? An image can "mean," right? See what I mean? What do I mean? Don't be mean. Mean? Mean, mean, mean... Excuse me now, I must feast on fresh flesh.

Pontypool opens its limited theatrical release on Friday, May 29, at NYC's Cinema Village. Nationwide, you can see it beginning Wednesday, May 27, at IFC On-Demand via the cable systems below in their quadrants noted:
BrightHouse: Movies On Demand - IFC In Theaters
Cablevision: Movies On Demand - IFC In Theaters - Festival Direct
Comcast: Channel 1 - Movies & Events - IFC Festival Direct
Cox: Channel 1 - Movies On Demand - IFC In Theaters
Time Warner: Movies On Demand - IFC In Theaters

Photo of director Bruce McDonald by Caitlin Cronenberg.
All photos from Pontypool by Miroslaw Baszak.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Documentary Lovers Rejoice! AFA hosts 5-day NY Doc Film Fest - Festival dei Popoli

Anthology Film Archives is the place, the New York Documentary Film Festival - Festival dei Popoli is the event, and the dates are May 27-31. Mark your calendars now because this

five-day period is prime time for folk who care about the documentary form. The second annual event features everything from rarely seen works of Albert Maysles (whom the festival is celebrating in particular this year) to films by Agnes Varda, Alan Berliner and Volker Koepp, plus award-winning documentaries from Italy and some of the best examples of the past half-century from the archives of the Festival dei Popoli. (The complete 18-film program, with days and times, is here.)

The Festival dei Popoli, based in Florence, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year and is devoted to promoting and studying social documentary cinema. In the last half-century, its collection has grown into, as the AFA calls it, "an unparalleled treasure of documentary films covering the history of non-fiction filmmaking. " If the seven examples I've been able to pre-screen are typical, there is some very fine work to be seen over these five days. Let's start with the short film that opens the program, and which the filmmaker himself will introduce: Albert Maysles (as seen several decades ago -- above left, front, with his late brother David -- and more currently, above right) and his rarely-seen, 28-minute delight, Meet Marlon Brando.

What a surprise and a pleasure it is to see Mr. Brando looking so trim and fit (not to mention alive) as he "meets the press" (the entertainment press, that is) doing his version of the PR hustle for his 1965 film Morituri (from which the still, at right, is taken). The guy is witty, gracious, graceful, charming and ultra-handsome as he glad-hands one person after another -- without ever demeaning himself or doing the fawning PR thing. In fact, he makes consistent fun of this sort of activity, and Maysles lets us see (without ever commenting on anything) how Brando's honesty so surprises and puts off a press used to playing the typical tit-for-tat routine. Marlon's having none of this, and when he tells a very cute young reporter (actually, he does this to two or three of them) how beautiful he finds her, it's clear he wants to get into her pants and is going about it quite honestly but without undue pressure.

Maysles lets us see this man in action (above), with all of his disarming humor, intelligence and charisma in full swing. His reputation for being a bad boy (well, bad man: he was already in his early 40s) seems terribly inflated now, when making fun of PR duties is second-nature to most of our "stars." Back then it was not. Studios were starting to lose their power, but irony was nowhere near the buzz-word it has become -- and rather cheaply so -- today. What the actor was telling the press shocked because it was the truth -- something foreign to them, then, as much as now. To watch Brando's behavior in Maysles' movie is to observe a lost time and to see a real star in fascinating full-bloom. They don't make 'em like that anymore and, in fact, didn't do it back then, either: Brando was one-of-a-kind. (Meet Marlon Brando screens once only, Wednesday night, May 27, at 7pm.)

Odessa (above), by Leonardo Di Costanzo and Bruno Oliviero (both of whom will be present for the screening), is a 67-minute co-production of Italy and France from 2006. It tells what seems to me an extraordinarily nasty chapter of Soviet history via a group of sailors literally abandoned by their country on the ship Odessa, which was evidently stuck in the port of Naples for years. The crew members have witnessed the deaths of their comrades and gone into debt from which they will probably never recover, but due to the kindness and solidarity of the harbor/port crew and government workers, they soldier on. I admit to not fully understanding all that transpired here (the sub-titles try; what's missing may be my historical/cultural perspective), but what I did get was riverting and profoundly sad. (Odessa screens Thursday, May 28, at 7pm -- along with The Seasons by Artavazd Pelechian.)

Napoli piazza Municipio (above, Italy/France, 2008, 55 minutes), also by Bruno Oliviero, who will appear in person, takes us on a leisurely trip around Municipal Plaza in Naples, where we see museum-goers, workers on the job, even the staff -- and the tourists they serve-- on a cruise ship (I'm not sure why the cruise ship, but whatever). This is a film of bits and pieces, some much more interesting than others: a gorgeous old Wurlitzer in a bar, a stomach ache, a Happy New Year celebration, immigration and more. There's a lot going on in the Naples areas -- from the Camorrah to trash scandals and illegal dumping -- but you'd never know it from this film. Unless, of course, it was offered too subtly for me to assess. Mostly we get just plain folk and the unexceptional moment, but these are enough to make a relatively interesting hour. (This film will screen Thursday, May 28, at 9 pm, along with Audrius Stonys' Uku Ukai.)

Is there anything more special than the face of a child? 10 Minutes Older, by Herz Frank (Latvia, from 1978, 10 minutes) explores children's faces on a street in Riga as they watch the performance of a puppet theater. Although the music will tend to enchant or distract you, the sumptuous black-and-white photography is phenomenal. The reactions of joy, surprise, fear, shock and all the rest are captured as I've rarely seen them, and the dead-on close-ups make the cheekbones, noses, lips and eyes look like pieces of fine sculpture. 10 Minutes Older screens Friday, May 29, at 7 pm -- with For One More Hour With You by Alina Marazzi (see just below).

We've lived through the rise of and consciousness-raising from feminism here in the USA, but imagine, if you can, what it must have been like for Italian women during this same period? In just 81 minutes, Alina Marazzi (who will appear in person) shows us these women of the 1960s and 70s, as they try to come to terms with some very new ideas. We Want Roses, Too (above, from Italy, 2007, 85’) begins with a young woman wandering into a shop called Curiosity, where she encounters her future in a crystal ball: nudity and sex like she's never seen nor experienced them. She's appalled, we're involved, and the film is off and running. Via animation, pop-ups, interviews, statistics, news footage and imagination, we enter the world of the Italian woman -- her hopes, fears and desires regarding sex, love and her own body. (One woman talks of her dream of caressing a man's back: that was all she'd ever seen a woman do in the movies!) Ms. Marazzi is full of irony, and why not? She's in Italy -- where, until nearly the 70s, divorce did not exist, and only men could -- legally -- commit adultery without consequences. No wonder one woman describes her emotional life as that of a "rock." I find it funny, now, that back in the 60s, sophisticated Americans looked to Italian films for a more grown-up approach to sex. Sure: if you were a man. Much of the latter part of the movie involves abortion and its consequences, and of course The Church. Marazzi even manages to cull a delightful groups of idiotic quotes about women from the likes of Baudelaire, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and -- Abbie Hoffman. This one's a must-see; it's as good -- funny, pointed, smart -- as anything I've seen from America about women. We Want Roses, Too plays at 9 pm on Friday, May 29.

The high-point of what I viewed at this festival arrived with the film that plays Saturday, May 30, at 8:30 (along with A Scuola another documentary from Leonardo Di Costanzo). Titled A Necessary Music (shown above) by Beatrice Gibson, it's pure poetry, visual and verbal: a kind of ghost story set in a beautiful and quiet tomb called Roosevelt Island. This half-hour piece offers New Yorkers the Island as I wager they'll not have seen it. Nor will they easily forget this particular vision of it. The film begins in silence as the camera moves over a Manhattan cityscape and the East River to the island. Once we arrive, we're in for not just beautiful photography (it is!) but a vision that is pointed, strange, sad and alluring -- often at the same time. History, art, imagination and speculation combine in the narration (from some of Roosevelt's residents) and visuals that give an idea of the island very different from anything we've seen. The place is like "a time close to our time, but somehow considered no longer part of our time," one person tells us. Another calls it "nowhere." But it's somewhere, all right. And this is one piece of rich, quiet, dazzling and thoughtful filmmaking.

The final piece I was able to view is yet another by Leonardo Di Costanzo, who, along with Mr. Maysles, may be the darling of the festival. His nearly hour-long documentary from 1998 screens Sunday, May 31, at 4.30 pm and Mr. Di Costanzo will appear in person to introduce his film. Prove di Stato is a co-production of France and Italy from 1998 that deals with the time period after the 1996 election of Luisa Bossa (above) as Mayor of Ercolano, a small town near Naples. Although Luisa's first action is to hang an Italian flag on her office wall to remind herself (and, I suspect, others) that "Everyone is Equal Under the Law," the lady has one hell of time trying to demonstrate this. How do you make things work -- not just legally and humanely, but at all -- in Italy? The movie seems to ask this question over and over but an answer is not forthcoming. Bossa struggles with problems of housing and jobs, primarily, but she is also dealing with the Camorra (under the surface, of course) and the recent past, still somewhat in place via nepotism inherited from the center-right Democrazia Cristiana party. The films ends in media res, so if any of my more intrepid readers should attend the screening, please ask Signore Di Costanzo what happened to Mayor Bossa -- and report back to me with your findings!

Above, from A Necessary Music

What I was able to view constitutes but one-third of what's available in this festival, which was organized and produced by Fitzgerald Foundation of Florence and the Festival dei Popoli - International Documentary Film Festival, Florence -- in collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute, Mediateca Regionale Toscana Film Commission, Regione Toscana, Toscana Promozione and Anthology Film Archives. In addition, it is being presented with the help of the Tribeca Film Institute-Reframe Collection and New York Women in Film & Television (NYWIFT).

Above, from A Necessary Music

Special thanks are due Stefania Ippoliti, Mediateca Regionale Toscana Film Commission, Tanja Meding, Terry Lawler and Paula Heredia for NYWIFT, Laura Coxson (Maysles Films), Kristen Fitzpatrick (Women Make Movies), Kelly DeVine (Tribeca Film Institute-Reframe Content and Partnerships), Renato Miracco and Simonetta Magnani (Italian Cultural Institute), John Mhiripiri and Stephanie Gray (Anthology Film Archives), Raffaella Conti (Mediateca Regionale Toscana Film Commission), Federico Siniscalco (Festival dei Popoli), Simona Errico, Eva Mosconi, Gaia Somasca, and Stefano Romagnoli (Toscana Promozione).

Tickets for New York Documentary Film Festival - Festival dei Popoli 2009 are available at the Anthology Film Archives box office only: $9; $6 for AFA members and for NYWIFT members.
Location: 32 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10003
Subway directions: F or V to 2 Avenue-Lower East Side; B or D to Broadway–Lafayette; 6 to Bleecker Street.

Photo of the Maysles brothers, top, courtesy of Wikipedia.
The photo of Albert Maysles and that from Meet Marlon Brando,
courtesy of
Maysles Films, Inc.
Remaining photos (except that from
Morituri) courtesy of NYDFF-Festival dei Popoli.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

MUNYURANGABO gets a week run at AFA; quick chat with filmmaker Lee Isaac Chung

Open your movie with a Hutu, a Tutsi and a machete and most informed viewers may well expect a bloodbath. That director/co-writer (with Sam Anderson) Lee Isaac Chung begins MUNYURANGABO, his first full-length film, in this manner might indicate that the filmmaker possesses whatever is the Rwandan word for balls. Or chutzpah.

But wait: Mr. Chung is the offspring of Korean immigrants who settled in Arkansas, which puts a different spin on things, as does the fact that, instead of a bloodbath, he has provided us with a sermon -- about family, responsibility and moving on.

This sermon is often artless, sometime affectless, generally sweet and never cloying. How you accept it may depend on your tolerance for amateur actors and the "art" of improvisation, for there are a lot of both in this 97-minute movie in which two boys on the verge of manhood make a trip to settle old scores. Ngabo (above), the taller of the two, is Tutsi, while his friend Sangwa is Hutu. When they stop for a visit with Sangwa's family, tribal prejudices come to the fore.

That's it, as far as plot is concerned, but along the way we observe some pleasant everyday moments: tilling the field, carrying water and -- most interesting -- re-enforcing the sagging wall of Sangwa's parents' home by mixing, then smacking, mud into its cracks. We watch a tribal dance (above), see superstition at work and meet a young Rwandan poet (below) who is the most alert, alive, immediate and specific thing in the movie. (When this guy recites his "poem," you may wish you had access to a rewind-and-play-again button.) Sangwa is tugged alternately by the pull of family and friendship, while Ngabo feels increasingly betrayed. Yet the relationship between the two boys is never made clear or very interesting -- though almost everything around them proves so. We get little sense of what has brought them together or what common interests, if any, they share. Everyone else in the movie seems to command more attention, if not respect, than do our two lead characters.

The film's finale, also journey's end for Ngabo, combines the otherworldly (maybe it's superstition/religion) with experience, growth and perhaps a dollop or two of wishful thinking. If the ending seems something less than earned (you may find it more so than I -- and I encourage you to see the film, as it's unlikely that you've witnessed anything similar to it), the movie still takes us to a land most of us know only from the massacres that took place 15 years ago. So it's salutary to see the country now and be reminded that machetes are used for clearing the brush, as well as for severing limbs. Swords into plowshares, anyone?

When TrustMovies was given the opportunity to do a private Q&A with the filmmaker, he quickly made a list of questions but then found that most of them were answered by the information on the excellent web site of Film Movement, the company that is distributing MUNYURANGABO. You can find out much about the fascinating history of the film -- how and why it was made -- as well as the filmmaker's bio-- here. So, in this interview we'll simply concentrate on a few of the specific questions that arose while watching the film.

TrustMovies: What was your production budget in term of dollars, and from where did the budget money come? Did the country of Rwanda pay for any of it? Or the Christian Relief Base, YWAM?

Lee Isaac Chung (shown left): The production budget was $25-30,000. I funded it myself with money I had saved from not going to an expensive film school, and savings my wife and I had. Some friends and family donated certain items we needed, including all of the 16mm film, which was a large part of the 25-30k budget. We would have loved to have had other people pay for the film. Rwanda and Christian relief bases don't have money to spare. Some production company in Europe told us they would have funded the film had they known what we were doing, but we were just three twenty-somethings with very little to our names and a ten page script, no one would give us money. Because of the success of the film at festivals, some of the Rwandan students I trained have gone on to get governmental funding for films. I'd rather the Rwandan money go to them anyhow - 100% Rwandan productions.

Did your movie change much from your original concept during the editing process? If so, how and why?

I had to edit the film in my mind while shooting because of the financial limitations and time. Knowing how the film will edit together keeps the production running faster with fewer coverage shots. We shot with a 3:1 ratio and filmed in 11 days, so it didn't leave many options for editorial choices. But much of the chaos and disorder of the film occurred on the set; Sam Anderson and I were writing scenes in the car ride to the location. We initially planned a three part story that follows three different young men living on the streets, with the first part taking place in Kigali. After the first day of shooting, it became clear that the story should focus on the last two stories, Sangwa and Ngabo, and this is why the narrative seems to make Sangwa the main character, only to subvert that when we begin to follow Ngabo. It was a happy accident in the end, but when the decision came to delete the first part of the film, I had a very sleepless night.

The relationship between the two young men appears to be one of friendship rather than a love/sexual thing. But the parents seem concerned about this -- or does that suspicious "Do you live together?" question from the mother mean something else?

I was thrown off by the question of the characters' sexuality when I first received it in a Toronto screening, but it has become quite common. Perhaps it is frustrating to anyone who asks because I am fine if the characters are gay or if they are not - it never occurred to me. I tend to like films that portray deep relationships between men, maybe they are gay, maybe they are not. Many recent films seem to be about how close, platonic male friendships can be funny because the men are close and are not gay. Is it intimacy itself that is alien for us? Sorry about this soliloquy, but I think the question points to an odd place in our culture in which we engage with categories more than the existence of the other. Perhaps it works either way for the film. The parents are suspicious of the friendship because they are obsessed with simple categories: Tutsi or Hutu, gay or straight, "friendship" or "love/sexual."

Till I looked it up, I imagined that the Rwandan massacre took place in the last 5-10 years, but no -- it's been 15 years since it happened. Do you feel your film represents with relative accuracy the point to which the healing process has grown now?

I think we tried to be realistic, but I don't want to claim that it's representative of the current situation, which is too complex and would require a great number of films and filmmakers to explore. In shaping the story and creating the characters, it was very important for the cast and crew to question constantly, "is this real, is this honest?" To that end, I believe we tried as hard as we could, and if an honest and realistic focus on these two characters provides some insight to a larger situation, we would all be happy.

But the healing process now, fifteen years after the genocide, is hard to describe accurately. Millions of genocidaires live among the victims. The government seems to be sincere in trying to facilitate reconciliation. What I can say is that my encounters in Rwanda leave me at two extremes, either amazed at the healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation that is possible for all of us, or horrified at the level of chaos and violence just below the surface. Maybe it's best if that keeps us from being complacent, knowing that reconciliation and healing is not a passive process.

It was very interesting, via your film, to visit the country now, rather than back then, as with all the other films I have seen about Rwanda. How, currently, is the "peace" kept between the Hutus and Tutsis. Are there still the occasional violent incursions by individual or group? Who rules?

There is certainly peace and very little violence, and Rwanda is one of the safest countries in Africa now. Some violence remains in the Congo border, where many of the Interahamwe fled after the genocide. Like many places where war or oppression occurred, it's the younger generation that has less at stake in holding any grudges. It's safe to say that tensions still exist, but I imagine it will pass with new generations - forgetting more so than forgiving? Reconciliation seems to be a rare phenomenon in our common history, and the poet in the film makes a compelling argument on what true reconciliation means (they were the poet's own words, not mine): he describes a man living in present poverty and injustice, which to me means that reconciliation hasn't happened until such a man is free from violence, whether it's by treating and preventing diseases, providing economic justice, or stopping war.

For me the lengthy scene toward the end with the poet was the most immediate and specific part of the movie. I read your description of the actor/poet and his background, and this made me wonder: Did Rwanda have a history of verbal poetry and did speeches by its poets prior to this post-massacre period have an important place in its culture?

From what I have encountered, speech itself is a sacred act in Rwanda. Various events and social gatherings require all participants to give a small speech, and they take this act seriously. They made me do it too. It's nice to develop more of a respect for spoken words. But sometimes I would skip a birthday party because I didn't want to come up with a speech or sit through twenty speeches. As for poets, I think there has always been a great respect for poetry in Rwanda. It's ironic that much of the genocide was exacerbated by extremists who took over radio stations to spew hate on the air. Hopefully speech can have the opposite impact through poets such as Edouard Bamporiki. When he gets in front of an audience and recites a poem - the art of the wordplay, rhythm, and themes - it goes to the soul. I'm so honored to have him in the film.

Anything else you'd like to talk about or stress. This is your chance to "soapbox" or just bring up a point that other interviews may have left out.

After thinking about these answers, I hope it doesn't seem that the only reason to watch this film is out of some sense of social responsibility; I realize that this type of feeling can be implicit, especially given what the film addresses and where it is set. I hope the film offers some of the magic and beauty of cinema, to transcend time and space and ourselves, altogether, especially where we need it: small dark confines of the city. My constant question in Rwanda was about the Rwandan audience, how to speak and create for them. The international response to the film has been overwhelming, and I hope the premiere in New York will continue to make the world seem like a smaller and more unified place to me than I originally suspected.

Munyurangabo opens Friday, May 29, at Anthology Film Archives, 32 Second Avenue (at 2nd St.), screening daily at 7 and 9pm, with additional 3 and 5 pm screenings on Saturday and Sunday. Co-writer/director Lee Isaac Chung will do a Q&A after the 7pm show and then will introduce the 9pm show at both the Friday and Saturday evening screenings.