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Silverdocs opens tonight at AFI Silver Theatre. Here’s what you should see.
Bob and the Monster
Bob Forrest is lucky he still has friends willing to be talking heads in his documentary. In the ’80s and early ’90s, Forrest led Thelonious Monster, which emerged from the same funk-meets-hard-rock Hollywood scene as Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane’s Addiction, and Fishbone. Everyone in that world was a junkie, Courtney Love tells us, and she would know. But no frontman was as plainly self-destructive as Forrest, whose drug-addled lyrics were manic and undecorated in the Kerouac vein, and who carried his shambolic personal life on stage every night. Allegedly, he once told a crowd at the old 9:30 Club to kill George H.W. Bush. He betrayed friends and bandmates for drugs and money, but he’s since atoned by becoming an addiction counselor specializing in post-rock n’ roll rehab. In some ways, Bob and the Monster is an advertisement for Forrest’s Hollywood Recovery Services, which he founded after several years directing the addiction program at an L.A. treatment center. But director Keirda Bahruth is mostly interested in Forrest’s decade of hard living, devoting too little time to the ex-rocker’s sober years. Late in the film, Forrest offers a compelling critique of the addiction-recovery industry and hints at his own unusual methods: Rather than treat patients who are on drugs like methadone and suboxone, which are used to wean addicts off of opiates, Forrest says he’d have them go back to heroin for two months and then help them get clean. We don’t hear much more about his methodology, just a sales pitch for his new company. “I got grandiose motherfucking plans for this,” Forrest says. “This is punk rock—-punk-rock recovery.” (JLF) Tuesday, June 21 at 1:15 p.m. at Discovery HD Theater; also on Saturday, June 25 at 6:15 p.m. at AFI Silver 3.
The Price of Sex
All of the former prostitutes interviewed in The Price of Sex were sold into the sex trade by a woman. That’s just one of the many astonishing facts presented by director and photojournalist Mimi Chakarova, an occasionally stupidly daring woman from Bulgaria who wonders what her fate might have been had her family not moved to the United States. Hers and other impoverished Eastern European countries are ripe fodder for sex traffickers; young women who have no prospects are offered legitimate jobs around the world (predominantly in Turkey and the United Arab Emirates), only to find themselves forced into prostitution once they’re shepherded there. Chakarova surreptitiously videotapes hookers sharing the streets with cops and even goes undercover in a Turkish sex club. (The clubs in Dubai, she notes, carry the seal of the Department of Tourism and Commerce.) The women’s stories are remarkably similar, while Chakarova’s research maddeningly proves there’s little hope for escape once they’re roped in. It’s stomach-turning and heartbreaking. (TO) Tuesday, June 21 at 1:30 p.m. at AFI Silver 2; also on Wednesday, June 22 at 6:15 p.m. Discovery HD Theater.
Love During Wartime
It’s Romeo and Juliet with a post-colonial twist. Love During Wartime (directed by Gabriella Bier) is the story of a lovestruck Israeli and Palestinian who flee their native lands to live in marital bliss. Of course, that’s a messy proposition, and the back-and-forth between their families can feel lengthy and jarring, if only because of the flurry of subtitles. The film, to its credit, is understated and propaganda-free, illuminating the devastation that xenophobia exacts on everyone. Eventually the couple settles in Germany, where they dodge several legal challenges to their residence. It’s a bit of an anticlimax, but there are plenty of touching scenes (the couple is shown spooning) juxtaposed with some deeply upsetting ones (they argue about where they should live). Spoiler alert: The final shot, an ultrasound showing a pulsing embryo, will melt your heart. Though we don’t know what becomes of the couple, the baby symbolizes a merging of their disparate worlds. It’s a hippie notion come true: Make babies, not war. (AA) Tuesday, June 21 at 3:45 p.m.; also on Sunday, June 26 at 6:45 p.m. Both showings at AFI Silver 2.
Hula and Natan
It doesn’t take long for the pair of Israeli brothers in Hula and Natan to telegraph “crazy”: Just look at how many cats they feed each day at their auto-repair yard in Sderot, Israel. Their manias run much deeper than that, though: Hula and Natan berate each other, their customers, and the on-air television reporters who frequent this city in the western Negev desert because of its close proximity to Gaza. Qassam rockets, fired from Gaza, occasionally drop within earshot during this tragicomic hour-long documentary shot in 2008 and 2009, and so it’s easy to imagine the brothers’ shared insanity as a symptom of living life under siege. That’s probably not the case—they’re nuts on their own terms—but their face-offs with the local land authorities who want to evict them give the pair a unique view of the Israeli state: Hula sees their junkyard, originally purchased by their father, as a metaphor for the Palestinian condition. Late in the film, Hula and Natan watch from a hillside as Israeli Defense Forces jets bomb Gaza City while teens from Sderot cheer. Hula, crazy-eyed and crazy-thin, walks to the camera, turns toward the teens, and spits one word that isn’t crazy at all: “Disgusting.” (JLF) Tuesday, June 21 at 4:45 p.m. at AFI Silver 3; also on Friday, June 24 at 11:15 a.m. at Discovery HD Theater.
When the Drum is Beating
Haiti’s history is long, bloody, and fractured. The idea of telling it, in concert with a profile of the country’s music (notably Septentrionial, one of the western hemisphere’s oldest jazz bands), seems like a ridiculously tall order. That’s what Whitney Dow attempts in When the Drum Is Beating, with varying degrees of sucess. Certainly, it’s fascinating to watch Septentrionial’s new and old members butt heads over stylings (such scenes are spliced with one-on-one interviews). The music itself is the most captivating aspect of the film—but almost to a fault. It’s easy to get lost in Septentrionial’s drumbeats, which is a disservice to When the Drum Is Beating’s succinct but deep historical take on Haiti, which spans its French colonization, the 1804 revolution, and Papa Doc’s iron grip of misrule. (AB) Tuesday, June 21 At 5:45 p.m at Discovery HD Theater; also on Wednesday, June 22 at 3:30 p.m. at AFI Silver 3.
Meet Jeffrey, a bird-loving, trailer-inhabiting beach bum who paid his rent for eight years donating—yes, I’ll say it—jizz, man milk, funky spunk, whatever you’d like to call it. Donor Unknown is partially an exposé of the sperm-donor industry, which sells the idea that baby-desiring women will live happily ever after without the fuss of a “father” involved. The documentary follows a genetic descendent of Jeffrey who endeavors to learn about her lineage. In some ways, Donor Unknown is about semantics: Is Jeffrey a father, a donor, or both? The film makes a few jabs at answering the question without being preachy. If you’re not hip to the sperm-donor scene, director Jerry Rothwell gives a full tour. There are levels of erotic “masturbatoriums.” We go inside the lab where tubes of sperm are tested and FedExed around the world. Most affecting, we see that it’s a hard-nosed business. A donor may sign up to provide three offspring and wind up with a litter scattered across the globe. Scary, huh? In the end, the film offers a lens into the lives of innocent children who respond to their biological impulses to seek out a parent. Donor Unknown is a brilliant case study of what constitutes a family. (AA) Tuesday, June 21 at 6:45 p.m. at AFI Silver 3; also on Saturday, June 25 at 3:30 p.m. at Discovery HD Theater.
Give Up Tomorrow
“Look, I’m not scared to face my creator,” says Paco Larrañaga, “but it’s just so unfair getting that little injection without me getting a fight.” So begins an interview with the Spanish man sentenced to death for participating in a 1997 gang rape and murder on the island of Cebu in the Philippines, even though 35 witnesses say he was 350 miles away on the night of the crime. As frightening as a true-life Call Northside 777, Michael Collins’ debut feature veers into political intrigue, drugs, and corruption. The sheer scope of the continuing case is enough to boggle minds—the Filipino president himself gets involved; a re-enactment of the crime is aired during the trial—but Collins deftly leads us through multiple theories and the sad conclusion that the miscarriage of justice couldn’t have been stopped. (JL) Tuesday, June 21 at 9 p.m. at AFI Silver 3; also on Thursday, June 23 at 2:45 p.m. at Discovery HD Theater.