Those with an interest in wide-ranging travelogues will probably enjoy these half-dozen essays far more than hard-nosed news hounds.
Disasters—natural and personmade permeated the narratives with four hitting their intended targets and the others failing to do much more than scratch the surface.
Unfortunately, the longest of the lot (Jason Lee’s Letters from Pyongyang, ) had the least to say.
Lee set about the difficult task of trying to reunite his South Korean-born father with two of his dad’s elder brothers who—during the upheavals of the 1940s and subsequent Korean War—chose the lessor of evils (persecution by the Japanese/geographic and political uncertainty above the 38th parallel) and fled north.
After Lee’s father-to-be made his own choice and immigrated to Canada, starting a family in the relative calm and safety of Montreal, letters from Lee’s long-silent uncles arrived regularly from 1986 until a sudden halt in 2007. As snail mail was (and still is for thousands of displaced families) the only way of communicating, Lee and his dad began the arduous challenge of making their way to North Korea in hopes of bringing the clan together again.
Sadly, once finally in the land of The Great Leader, their journey was summarily hijacked by an official minder, translator and “journalist.” (Ed. note: The filmmaker quite correctly pointed out that a reference in this review to a "side trip to an orphanage" did not appear in the film, but was from another production of the same set; JWR sincerely apologizes for this factual error and has made a donation to the Child Learning Fund of Canada as per its policy.) No spoilers here, but suffice it to say that the ability for Lee to find some way to get his story out unfettered—unlike others on similar missions, cross-reference below—never bore fruit. Still, some will enjoy learning a bit of history while others will be thankful for the portions from Debussy’s only string quartet which were included in the tracks.
Still in Asia, Vanessa Hope’s China in Three Words, , was also long on premise (noted bad boy writer Yu Hua pontificating on the deep frustration of increasingly affluent Chinese citizenry to find anything to believe in—semi-similar to the real tears shed by North Koreans with the passing of Kim Il-sung—once the overwhelming shackles of Mao vanished with his death), but short on compelling substance. Using the horrific train crash of 2011 (40 dead, 200 injured) as a symbol of the result of expedient plans being ensnarled in the quagmire of corporate/government corruption—as if this never happened on such a scale before—Hope fails to drive her points of view (perhaps too many in such a short span of 15 minutes) home with authority. Accordingly, this film merely stops, rather than concludes.
Nate DiMeo’s five-minute wonder-of-editing (Forgotten Things, ) succinctly demonstrates the veracity of the old adage, “less is more.” The world at the precipice of truly unimaginable horrors already underway or still to come (January, 1940—juxtaposing images from Shirley Temple’s classic The Little Princess with unbelievable human carnage fuelled by willful blindness from countries who ought to have known better—and some likely did, but weren’t entirely against the idea of selective ethnic cleansing) is a must-see for those in power today who are, unwittingly, positioning themselves to repeat mistakes-past (readers are invited to suggest a major power that isn’t in that predicament).
Especially troubling was Matthew VanDyke’s Not Anymore, . It’s a behind-the-lines look at the so-called rebels in Aleppo, Syria, featuring (and co-produced by) Noir Deluze who traded in her teaching chalkboard brush for a helmet and a camera: “At any cost, this story of oppression must get out.” Pulling no punches, viewers witness a sudden death in the early moments—unlike video games, points are not awarded for kills. But perhaps worse than the bloody carnage was the capacity audience’s laughter (not nearly enough of it nervous in tone) when a fellow freedom fighter suggested (while vigourously stroking some feline fur) that the U.S. was more likely to intervene in the Syrian conflict if innocent animals, rather than freedom-hungry human beings, were at risk. After countless—it seems—American interventions in other countries around the globe, it’s hard to find the humour—guess there’s not enough oil or gold at stake.
The final two offerings (Nathanael Carton’s Recollections, ; David Darg’s and Bryn Mooser’s The Rider and the Storm, ) concerned themselves with the tragic aftermath of the March, 2011 Tohoku earthquake/tsunami and October 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, respectively. Marvellously, the glue to both was the recovery of personal photographs. Describing the treasured originals as “a memory of time” succinctly summed up what really matters in the face of adversity —even in the face of such incredible, natural destruction.
Then, realizing that all movies are just compilations of thousands upon thousands of “single memories”—one frame at a time—the power of the overarching message of these lovingly crafted portraits of resilience multiplied exponentially. JWR