Chef Flynn

A patron recommended the documentary Chef Flynn about Flynn McGarry, a boy who’s been creating fine dining experiences since he was in middle school. Flynn’s mom, a filmmaker who repeatedly laments putting her own career on the back burner, has supported Flynn’s cooking since he was a toddler and was probably eating organic baby food.

While watching a prodigy teach himself the fine points of gourmet cooking was interesting, I found the stage mom’s hovering hard to watch. It’s great to see a parent promote a child’s interests and talent development, but this “support” can cross a line into control and vicarious living. In Chef Flynn I saw that misstep from the mother who continues to film her kids even when they ask her to stop and when she inserts close ups of her business card into the documentary. Sometimes the mom offered solid common sense, but often she made me cringe when she asked Flynn how many “Likes” he’d received or when she got up in the middle of the night to see if The New York Times story was published online and then worried that it wasn’t online at the minute it was promised. Of course, a mom would buy the paper featuring her son, That’s normal, but getting up before the sun and refreshing a page compulsively because the article wasn’t yet posted was fanatic. And all that hovering as well as the self-imposed pressure for Flynn to make it big as a world class chef as a teen was painful to watch.

I also wish the father had been able to speak in the film. What does he think about the family, about Flynn’s talent and success? We get all our information and the analysis of her divorce from the mom. Again, painful to watch since it’s clear to the audience what’s missing.

Dark Horse

The documentary Dark Horse shows how a rag tag group of friends in Wales agree to pool their cash and breed a racehorse. Jan, a cleaner at a grocery store cum barmaid, has a fascination with breeding a thoroughbred. As a girl she learned to breed birds and whippets from there father. How much harder could it be to breed a race horse?

Jan’s friends and husband agree to contribute 10£ per week to the horse’s upkeep. The film consists of interviews on how Jan and the group made decisions and supported their horse Dream Alliance. Every step of the way, the group makes clever decisions to make the most of their money. For example, when choosing a trainer, Jan convinced the others that they had to get the best because a good trainer can do wonders with an average horse, but a mediocre trainer can ruin a good horse.

Dream Alliance surprises them all with his performance on the track and the film is a feel good movie with a healthy dose of realism. It’s fine for family viewing and I loved how these working class folks made a splash in the Sport of Kings.

Kedi

Even if you’re not a big cat person, I think you’ll find Kedi a fascinating film. A documentary set in Istanbul, where cats run free and the bipedal residents care and feed these nomads, Kedi looks at the relationship between the cats and people of the city.

I’ve never been to Istanbul and prefer dogs to cats, but I still enjoyed the mysterious, aloof felines and the people who respected them. The film consists of people’s views of the cats and their beliefs about the cats’ personalities and benefits. Many people offer very candid narratives, such as one man’s story of how he was down and out after suffering tragedy and how feeding the cats contributed to his turning his life around and becoming gainfully employed and starting a family.

The cats are beautifully photographed in all their regal grace as they move about the city, vying for dominance amongst themselves and adoration from the people. It’s an unusual film that I found curiously uplifting.

The Babushkas of Chernobyl

What a terrific film! I have to thank Sharon for recommending it to me. I learned of Babushkas of Chernobyl from the library’s Fall Film Challenge. Here’s what she wrote on the DVD’s Fall Film Challenge slip of paper:

A unique story to be sure. Quoting the co-director Holly Morris, “The dead zone, it turns out, is full of life.” That is a great hook and so true. After the Chernobyl disaster, the Babushkas refused to stay away from their homes. Decades later, they continue to live on their own terms. These women are rock-solid awesome.

Like The Wolfpack, you can put this in the “who knew” category i.e. stranger than fiction. These women find a way.

Yes, this is the story of three grandmas, or Babushkas, who retuned to their homes within the Dead Zone by Chernobyl. They farm here, forage and fish. So daily they eat what’s high in radiation. Yet, and the doctors confirm this, they outlive many of their former neighbors who evacuated. Go figure.

We learn about these tough women and their thinking about living in a ghost town. We also see the teenage boys who’ve taken to sneaking through the barbed wire. These teens play a computer game called S.T.A.L.K.E.R. which is set in the site of the nuclear disaster. They’re drawn to this eerie ghost town, where some of their relatives lived and worked. They see it as romantic.

The Babushkas are sure to warm your heart. Talk about resilient and dedicated.

South Shore, Most Violent Neighborhoods

The Seventh Most Violent Neighborhood in Chicago is my father’s old neighborhood, South Shore. All of these are tough to watch because but this is the one neighborhood I have memories of. My grandparents lived here up till the 70’s and we’d visit often. Their apartment was near Rainbow Beach.

By the way, Barak and Michelle Obama held their wedding reception at the South Shore Country Club.

China’s Toilets, An Adventure

toilet adventures from Bill Callahan on Vimeo.

It’s bad manners to discuss toilet activities. But the topic often comes up when people recount their first experiences in China. For many, confronting a squat toilet for the first time is a shock.

This fundamental encounter with the unknown can tell us about the relation of purity and danger, public and private space, and the role of the state in China’s rapidly changing society. Such abstract calculations come to life on the toilet according to five stages, starting with “shock.”

“toilet adventures” is designed to provoke discussion of such experiential, theoretical and ethical issues.

(ta14)

A social scientist put together this documentary consisting of interviews with mainly non-Chinese people regarding their attitudes towards toilets in China. Most visited before China opened up in the 1980s. The interviews reveal a lot about the individual and his or her culture as they do about China.

Chronicle of a Summer

chronicle-of-a-summer

chronicle-of-a-summer

I’d heard the term “cinema verite” and like many wrongly thought that referred to a film that’s extremely realistic. It turns out that’s not exactly right. For my classic movie resolution, I watched Chronicle of a Summer by the inventors of cinema verite, two French sociologists. Cinema verite is a sociological film that forces people to come to the truth. Released in 1961, captured on black and white film, which adds a filter of reality that color couldn’t strangely enough, Chronicle of a Summer sets out to prompt real people to come in contact with truth through interviews and discussions that begin with the simple question: Are you happy? The directors behind the film are Jean Rouch, an engineer turned ethnological filmmaker who mainly worked in Africa and Edgar Morin, a sociologist based in Paris.

With two directors, the film does have two distinct moods. Viewers can feel when the somber, analytical Morin is in charge or when the more playful Rouch has the reins. The film begins with a woman agreeing to interview people on the street asking subjects whether they’re happy. It turns out that in Paris in 1960 few were. Still the film gets under your skin. Though neither director has gone to film school, the creative shots grabbed me and did feel very real. At times the film just shows people, working in a factory, eating lunch, walking down a street. They’re shown in their individualism in a way that’s compelling and fresh. I liked some of the subjects more than others. For the most part, the subjects came off as sincere and they presented a snapshot of life in 1960. I found the ending simple and powerful. Rouch and Morin gather their subjects for a screening of the film followed by a discussion. We hear their reactions whether they thought some people were exhibitionists or authentic, whether the whole endeavor was true to life or indecent. People were honest and through this scene were elevated beyond just being “performers” or “subjects” to being co-creators. Chronicle of a Summer is a Criterion Collection film and as usual features some worthwhile bonuses. The best was an insightful interview with Faye Ginsberg, who worked with Jean Rouch after he made this film.

The Ape Who Went to College

I didn’t expect to like this and got caught up in the story despite myself. Just fascinating how much language this orangutang acquired and how he made his own words.

The Miracle of “A Charlie Brown Christmas”

This 15 minute documentary tells how the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas came to be. Each element seems so perfect. It’s hard to believe how jumbled and rushed the creation process was.