Saturday, February 14, 2015

TBFF Film Review - Sound of Torture

Meron Esefanos sits at a sparse desk at her home in Sweden. The Eritrean ex-pat is on the air with a cell phone in hand. She is talking to a desperate woman on the other end. The woman had been kidnapped in the Sinai Desert and was being tortured as they spoke. Her Bedouin captors encourage calls to family relatives or Meron's radio program Voices of Eritreans hoping that their screams of pain will encourage ransom payments up to $25,000 dollars.

Sound of Torture is a harrowing tale of abuse, rape, burnings, beatings psychological and emotion torture placed on a people who are attempting to escape from a brutal military regime in their home land. The Eritreans that managed to escape in prior years could go to Europe to seek refuge.  But the European nations closed their borders leaving a trek across the Sinai Desert to Israel as the only way out. During the journey Eritrean men, women and children are hunted by the Bedouins captured then taken to torture houses where the atrocities are inflicted.

Director Keren Shayo trains her lens on several different Eritrean nationals but the story mainly focuses on two women. Hiryti who was just about to give birth when captured and the desperate voice on the other end of Meron's phone at the films opening and Timnit just out of her teens who disappeared 18th month prior somewhere near the Egypt Israeli border. The central figure in the story is the afore mentioned Estefanos who wandered into the desperate plight of these people almost by accident. She had a caller on her show who was talking about the situation in the terror camps. Meron questioned the validity of the callers comments. The caller gave her a legitimate number to call that put a camp prisoner on the other end of the phone.

The narrative sharpens when Meron decides that she has to see events unfold in Tel Aviv. Once on the ground she meets members of the Eritrean community including several people that she regularly talked to on the phone or over the air. Now in the area Estefanos turns to one of her main goals to venture out to the area of the torture camp disguised in traditional Muslim attire. In the area she finds discarded clothing of men, women and especially children along with torn garments stuck in the fencing separating Egypt and Israel. She is also determined to track down the missing pieces to Hiryti and Timnit's stories.

The members of the Eritrean community are happy to be in Israel. They are no longer being tortured but their fates are not settled. Meron meets several community members that show her the permanent torture scars. Even the psychological scares are evident in body language and physical reactions. They have no status in Israeli, no work permits are known as infiltrators and are subject to deportation back to Eritrea if they come into conflict with the law.

Sound of Torture is a detailed looks into a little publicized story. The documentary features real conversations and interviews with Eritrean ex-pats and recordings of conversation with victims as they are in prison. It also highlights the different fates of Eritrean's like Meron who was able to get out and go to Sweden vs those who left after Europe shut their borders and their options are persecution at home, potential kidnapping on the trip across the Sinai or at best living undocumented in Israel with the threat of deportation constantly over your head. The film is a powerful account of the fate of a people and one that I can highly recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Sound of Torture | Keren Shayo | Israel / Egypt / Sweden | 2013 | 58 Minutes.

Tags; War, Kidnapping, Eritrea, Sinai Dessert, Tel Aviv, Ransom, Torture, Disappeared, Undocumented, infiltrators.

Friday, February 13, 2015

TBFF Film Review - The Supreme Price

Hafsat Abiola is fresh off a plane returning home to Lagos Nigeria at the start of the film. Abiola has been out of the country for an extended period of time due to events that started in motion when her father M.K.O. Chief Abiola ran and won the presidency in a free election in 1993. Her dad was soon imprisoned after another in a series of military coups followed by the murder of her mother Kudirat in 1996. Her mother fought for women's rights in Nigeria and to free her husband as the rightful President of the country.  It's with this history and memories that Hafsat has returned to her homeland to take up a political post and her mother's cause.

Director Joanna Lipper's film explores the major political and social issues in the country. Lipper traces the countries' history going back to the 1960 independence from Britain followed by the 23 years of military rule spanning from 1966 until1993 when Hafsat's dad won the free election but never took office. She also looks at the social aspect starting with the Muslim tradition of a husband being allowed up to 4 wives. Hasfat's mother Kudirat was the second of her father's wives and relatively quiet until her services were called upon to campaign for her husband in her home territory during the 1993 election campaign.

Women in Nigeria were a key demographic in change. They lead the protest movement with their actions. Kudirat lead a workers strike at the lucrative government oil fields. They shut down the markets, staging naked protests uniting Nigerians across regional and religious differences. Dealing with religious attitudes and traditions is always a delicate issue. In the Muslim tradition women are directed to pray at home or even more specific in their bedrooms. Therefore for a woman prayer in your yard is not as desirable as on your from porch which is less desirable than in your living room not to mention at a Mosque where all of the men go to pray. This reality along with the four-wife tradition made it hard for women to strive for equality. Even Hafsat's brother who is up to three wives at the time of filming does not feel that his sister should be in politics. He admits that the men that are running things are not doing a good job but thinks that Nigeria can find better ones before needing to consider women.

Lipper presents historical footage of the different dictators over the years and media reported of the 1993 election as part of her film. She shows Hafast time at school in the United States then her comfortable home life in Belgium with her Husband and two young children before she makes the decision to return to home to accept a suburban Lagos government position. Lipper uses effective graphics and timelines to show the history of military dictators and the ethnic and religious diversity  of the country.

The Supreme Price is a comprehensive account of the volatile history of a relative recently independent nation. Hafsat Abiola the daughter of the only freely elected President gives complete access to her personal and families story to the director. The story presents the social and political facts and events of the country in a gripping and compelling manner.  It is a film that I can recommend.

*** out of 4.

The Supreme Price | Joanna Lipper | U.S.A. /Nigeria | 2014 | 75 minutes.

Tags: Africa, Nigeria, Documentary, Independence, Military Coup, War, Activism, Religion, Democracy, Protest.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

TBFF Film Review - Manos Sucias

Delio (Cristian Abvincula) is 19 years old, a new dad and an out of work fisherman in Buenaventura Columbia. Delio spends his days practicing his rapping style dreaming of making it big in the music industry. Through an introduction he meets Don Valintin who sets him up with a job towing a hollowed out torpedo full of narcotics up river to a handoff point for some fast cash. Delio cohort in the venture is an older brother from town Jacobo (Jarlin Javier Martinez) who wants to get to Bogota since he sees no future in his hometown.

The story is very straightforward but takes some time to get going. Delino is happy go lucky constantly smiling and looking to give is the other guy the benefit of the doubt. The elder Jacobo having seen the criminal and violent elements in the town through the actions of both paramilitary and guerrilla forces is more stern and suspicious.

The narrative picks up well into the journey when the pair's cargo is threatened. The duo have a short time to react and recover as the transfer is set to occur at sundown that day. Writer cinematographer Alan Blanco is at his best showing life along the river. The look of the production peaks as the camera trains its lens on normal village activities along the riverbank as our protagonists motor by. Director writer Josef Wladyka excels at building tension in a scene. A strong example is a sequence where our heroes run into a guerrillas patrol while riding the rails on a Brujita. Delino and Jacobo have to move the Brujita to the side while being questioned by the guerrillas. They are particularly at risk since they are not from the area and the local with them had just put a major obstacle in their path to complete their job.

Another key element in the story is the disconnect between Afro and Latin Columbians. They argue over who is the better soccer player Pele or Zico.  The debate is emphasized in one fireside argument with Latin-Columbian Hector (Hadder Blandon) who is the link to gang that provided the job. Then again when Delio cannot understand why Jacobo wants to move to Bogota because as he states repeatedly that there are no black people in the Columbian capital unless they are doing manual labour.

The two main actors are a good fit for their roles. They spend a lot of time together on the boat, sing traditional local songs and change in their initial opinions as the story progresses. Jocobo is hard on Delio and the ways of his generation at the outset but at an early moment of truth he is there to defend his brother. Delio's trusting persona slowly drifts away leading to a critical moment when he has to make a major decision to protect the pair that is far from an act of a happy go luck individual.

Manos Sucias is a basic story with a few twist and turns. After the action picks up the film finds its rhythm and the audience becomes invested in the fate of Delio and Jacobo. Josef Wladyka presents a story seen from viewpoint of Afro-Columbian youth.  If you have an interest in the region and hang in during the slower early parts of the narrative then the film is worth a watch.

** 1/2 Out of 4.

Manos Sucias | Josef Wladyka | U.S.A. /Columbia | 2014 | 84 Minutes.

Tags: Narco torpedo, Smuggling, Crime, Buenaventura,  Fishermen, Rapping, Paramilitary, Guerrillas.