The 27th Hong Kong International Film Festival

At the end of every Hong Kong Film Festival I always ask, ‘Why couldn’t it last for another week….or two?”! Surely everyone else does as well…and there’s never an answer. Definitely one of the best events that takes place in Hong Kong, this year was no exception.

According to festival organizers off the record, SARS was certainly a factor this year(no surprise there). But by the end, even a life threatening virus couldn’t keep people away from seeing some cool films(close to 300 of them). Three screenings didn’t seem to be enough for “City Of God”, which will hopefully get distributed here soon(please, please, please!). Other audience favorites included “Clown In Kabul”(which was as ironic, comedic and heartbreaking as the name suggests), “War Photographer”(a documentary about photographer James Nachtwey, who hasn’t missed a war in the past twenty years but feels appalled by it all the same), and “Morning Sun”(Carma Hinton’s look at the Cultural Revolution in China).

Films like “Far From Heaven”(director Todd Haynes was due to come this year but pulled out citing SARS concerns) and “Adaptation” are guaranteed local release dates. But what makes the festival so consistently intriguing are the films that you’d probably never get the chance to see unless you attended the festival(For example, this year the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was exposed through films like “A Wedding In Ramallah”). And, as ever, the perverts were out in full force, as you can always count on the Category III films being complete sell-outs(“Ken Park” was a hot ticket).

With newcomers like the Bangkok Film Festival aiming to become THE premiere Asian Film Festival, the organizers certainly pulled out all the stops to make this year one of its finest ever(most notably seen by the sponsors attached). All they need is some more star power and the Hong Kong International Film Festival could be a player.

Here’s a closer look at a cross-section of films at this year’s festival:

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Sex addiction. Is it truly an addiction or just another convenient title Americans have dreamed up? Well, in this more or less true dramatized story about Hogan’s Hero star Bob Crane, it was definitely an addiction. And it definitely took it’s toll.

Greg Kinnear stars as Crane. Willem Dafoe plays his “best friend” who introduces him to the early joys of videotaping his nighttime, daytime, all the time, anytime exploits. We get to see a no-holds barred look at how a promising actor can destroy two marriages and ruin his career due to an endless series of what he feels are harmless escapades. What begins as an often comic look at the hows and wheres of female companionship eventually becomes a much darker, tragic affair. That tragedy concludes with a surprisingly anti-climactic scene in which Dafoe’s character murders Crane(That’s not a spoiler here as the journey is the point, not the destination).
This one is well worth checking out as Kinnear and Dafoe have a playful yet sinister energy together. Dafoe also provides one of the cinema’s all-time classic one liners(hint, it involves his watch). In retrospect, one can see why it was too dark to be nominated at this year’s Academy Awards(which some critics were predicting) but even those who are completely unfamiliar with Crane’s acting will get a full understanding of it in this film.

Divine Intervention

This Palestinian black comedy by Israeli director Elia Suleiman is by no means a great film, but some of its scenes are still with me a week after the screening. I suspect they’ll be there a lot longer as well.

This loose story is about a mostly silent Palestinian man who observes all that goes on around him in the occupied territories. Those observations include his ailing father, and the passion he has for his startingly attractive girlfriend. But if you’re watching the film for some kind of pat resolve, you’re wasting your time with this one.

In “Divine Intervention”, one really got the sense that Suleiman wanted to show all the absurdities around him in every day life. So we get to see his girlfriend as a Palestinian ninja soldier getting shot at during target practice(a funny and absurd scene…but you had to be there…), the harmlessly tossed peach pit which blows up a tank, the bored Israelis at checkpoints making drivers switch cars for fun, and the smiling Yassar Arafat balloon drifting across a Jerusalem sky. At times hilarious, at times shocking, this was a great chance to see close-up what we often only get exposed to during emotionless newsbites. But overall, this was a film of moments…and there weren’t enough of them.

The Trials Of Henry Kissenger

In the US, the name Henry Kissenger has always had a kind of sexy political allure. As Secretary Of State and right hand man to President Richard Nixon, Kissenger was always portrayed as a diplomatic master. This documentary takes a completely different view.

Based on released files and interviews, director Eugene Jarecki makes the case that Kissenger’s accolades(including a Nobel Peace Prize) are in fact a complete farce(journalist and Vanity Fair writer Christopher Hitchens is among the notable detractors). Kissenger, they claim, was a complete warmonger. In fact, they contend that he was responsible for secret bombing raids in Cambodia, massacres in East Timor, and political coups in Chile(the case is made that he helped put Pinochet in power). Plus, Kissenger could have ended the Vietnam War years earlier, which would have saved tens of thousands of lives on both sides).

While this documentary is completely anti-Kissenger, it’s hard to dispute the overwhelming amount of evidence that is presented(especially when Kissenger himself won’t allow government papers pertaining to him released until five years after his death). So much so, in fact, that this chilling documentary leaves one thinking about what governments are really doing…when they tell us what they are doing. This is a must see and a definite conversation starter for anyone with a remote interest in what’s happening politically behind the scenes(especially in these uncertain times).

The Kid Stays In The Picture

There are documentaries which are snooze inducing. Then there are documentaries which are in a class of their own. This one is definitely in the latter category. And Robert Evans, the kid staying in the picture for over seventy years now, wouldn’t have it any other way.

Taken directly from the pages of his cult best selling memoirs, producer Evans also narrates the film, with a unforgettable gravelly voice that even made his audio tape a big hit. .This is a frank look at a man who produced dozens of films during his storied years at Paramount Pictures. Those storied years included anecdotes about his seventies films like The Godfather, Love Story and Chinatown. They were the mostly good years.

Yet we also get to see the downside. This included a divorce from dream woman Ali McGraw and a damaging * link with fellow producers. Through it all, Evan’s zest for Hollywood and the good life make us want to root for him. Short on actual footage but brilliantly edited, “The Kid” is required viewing for anyone who wants frank talk about Hollywood in all its excess as spoken by a master.
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