Tuesday, November 10, 2015

SNOW MONKEY proves one of the best from Australian Middle-Easterner, George Gittoes

To my knowledge there is nobody currently doing anything like what fine artist and documentarian-cum-narrative filmmaker, George Gittoes (shown at left and elsewhere below), is up to, rescuing/educating one by one citizens of lands like Pakistan and Afghanistan, teaching and helping them to understand, appreciate and even make and star in their own movies as a pathway toward bridging certain gaps -- west and east, class and religion and who knows, maybe even a few others in the process.

If you were lucky enough to see his The Miscreants of Taliwood, which gave us the kind of education into provincial Pakistan that few had seen up to then (2009), or others of his films since, you'll know you're in for an original combination of documentary about filmmaking in the middle east in which middle easterners take part in the film, learning the art and craft of the process of movie-making, even as the audience learns about them and their society.

Gittoes' work is like nothing I've seen before or since, and I believe it reaches and teaches both east and west in ways that are strange, yes, but remarkable, too. His latest film, SNOW MONKEY, is a case in point. Using a combina-tion of documen-tary and narra-tive techniques so that, finally, the viewer can't really differentiate (or maybe even care to), Gittoes documents groups of youth "gangs" in present-day Jalalabad.

His "star" is a terrifying young kid, self-christened as "Steel," the actions of whom will have you wanting to deck him, and permanently, within the first few minutes of the film. But he's the star, as well as the kind of kid that Gittoes apparently most wants to reach. That is exactly what the filmmaker does, slowly and in fits and starts, as the movie proceeds. We see how, from an early age, Steel has seen and fully digested the ways in which strength and power count for all, and any glimmer of kindness is seen as weakness. As has happened in other of his films, Gittoes reaches the boy by giving him the opportunity to act in a film.

As Steel and his gang members, as well as members of other gangs, come into focus, we learn of their lives, hopes and losses. Steel acquires a "girlfriend" (above, center) along the way, even as another boy loses his father, a police inspector, to a sudden explosion. We meet a high-level member of the Taliban who, surprisingly, allows Gittoes and his significant other, Hellen, to continue teaching and performing in the town. (Even within the Taliban, it seems, there are better and worse examples, which, by the conclusion of the movie, we will have witnessed).

Another gang sells ice cream -- which has never looked quite so tasty and wonderful as here (it's like a sudden dish of hope)  -- to support its families, The life that pulsates from this film is extraordinary, and Gittoes' command of fimmaking is such that we experience that life with increasing wonder, surprise, fear and expectation. As in other of his films, Gittoes attracts his "actors" by giving them the opportunity to fight and appear super macho on film. While this might seem to go against the wanted outcome, it also may be the only way to initially coax the would-be performers into action, as the territory here is patriarchal and fundamentalist in the extreme.

After appearing at the Melbourne International Film Festival, Snow Monkey premieres on November 20 at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA).  Click here for more information.

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