Category Archives: Film Festivals

Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming (2016)

When we first meet Rosie Ming, a tiny stick figure in Ann Marie Fleming’s animated feature Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming, she is a beret-wearing twenty-something Francophile who still lives with her overprotective Chinese grandparents. But as any youngster at her age, she is getting restless and tired of her quiet and uneventful Vancouver life. As an aspiring artist, it comes as no surprise that her severe case of wanderlust is predominantly directed towards Paris, a city of artists and poets she romanticizes in her poems. She eventually decides to self-publish her ambitious effort at poetry in a smartly titled book “My Eye Full – Poems of a Person Who Has Never Been to France”, and soon enough, she receives an invitation to present her work at an international poetry festival. Only it isn’t an invitation to the country she worships and idolizes, but to someplace least expected: Shiraz, Iran. Much to her grandparent’s disapprovement, she packs her black chador, learns some basic Persian and boards the plane – and what follows is a lovely and charming animated story about expanding one’s worldview, discovering one’s identity and finding one’s artistic voice.

We don’t know much about Rosie’s heritage as we tag along for the drive towards Iran – except her being half-Chinese, something her small slants of eyes immediately suggest. Yet her eyes are not the only thing about Rosie that is drawn with astonishing simplicity, since her whole body is nothing more than a stick. Compared to the other characters, drawn in a lively, full-bodied, Cubistic design, she is still a naïve, not yet a fully formed girl, who has much to learn about world’s history, her heritage, her poetic origins and herself.

The way her grand-parents react to her announcement about going to Iran, resonates perfectly with current state of xenophobia and islamophobia that reigns over contemporary Western society. And yet, as the film’s narrative slowly unfolds before our eyes, we get to discover a much more complex story that is hidden in the background. What is perhaps this film’s greatest attribute is how it manages to tell a beautiful personal story about Iranian revolution, war, dissidence, political imprisonment and Iranian diaspora, through which it makes us understand Iranian cultural and political history. And with that, it manages to vanquish all prejudices against this rich and exquisite ancient culture.

The animation is vibrant and visually rich, as the director Ann Marie Fleming hosted a whole palette of fellow animators who helped her create a dynamic tapestry of different styles and visual approaches, each of them creating a different tale about history, myths and poetic language of this magical, yet strangely unknown Persian culture. Her minimalistic figure is absorbing these otherworldly and mythical lessons about history, art and life throughout the entire film, and even if she doesn’t get visually fuller or bigger, she still experiences a personal and artistic growth, as she transforms herself and her art through a trip of self-discovery.

However, there is also a deeper message in this animated feature than a simple nod to the idea of how meeting and absorbing new and different cultures makes as better people. Underneath it all there is also a simple, yet most essential message for these divisive, alienating times: no matter where we are coming from, what is our background, culture or nationality, we are all human and therefore more or less the same. We may speak different languages, but poetry simply transcends those linguistic differences; just as basic human connections should transcend our differences in race, nationality, religion, gender, sexuality. Through poetry we get to feel another person’s love, sorrow, hope for a better future. Let it be English, German, Chinese or Persian, the meaning and emotions are the same, even if the sounds differ. We are more alike than we are (or ever were) different, and we should therefore strive towards learning about and accepting different cultures, myths, arts and traditions, as we may learn a great deal about ourselves in the process.

Perhaps the reason Rosie stays a stick is because there is still so much more to learn and understand about the world. Since there are still continents, people and cultures that are waiting to be discovered, embraced and appreciated in all its uniqueness; waiting to be liberated, once and for all, of all the stereotypes, preconceptions and prejudices that form our current eurocentric views.

window-horses-2016-001-rosie-and-map-of-iran

Reviewed at International Festival of Animated Film “Animateka” in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

 

Eye On Film 2016: International Film Festival for Children and Youth

We all too often forget what an important educational role films can have, how much we can learn from them, how they can shape our opinions and how they can sometimes even shatter the existing social, national and religious barriers, giving us a better and more emphatic understanding of the world outside of the cultural bubble we were born into. Of course films can also do the opposite: reinforce the Eurocentric world-views, stereotypes about marginalized groups, problematic ideologies and socially constructed gender roles. It is  precisely because of that that it is so wrong to view films as a simple form of entertainment; something that helps us to shut down our brain while watching meaningless action-infused CGI. Films always, even when we do not necessarily realize it, carry important social, cultural and/or political subtexts that often have an influence on our perception of the world. This why it is crucial to expose children and teenagers to good, informative, thought-provoking, although maybe not always easy to process cinematic experiences. And not only that: to also teach them of how to watch films, how to read cinematic codes, how to interpret the story and how to reflectively and critically discuss about the film medium. There is undoubtedly still a long and challenging journey ahead of us before we will succeed at making film studies a respected part of a school curriculum, but Eye On Film is indeed one of the first and very much important steps into the right direction.

This year’s, although even second edition of the festival has screened an impressive number of 43 films from 28 different countries; 15 feature length, 4 medium length and 24 short films, most of which also made their way to elementary and high school screenings, accompanied by short and educational film lectures.

The opening night began on a quite lighter note than the rest of the festival’s programme, with a somewhat romanticized portrayal of the Jasmine revolution and French immigrant youth in Ma révolution. More light-hearted coming-of-age films followed, such as the portrayal of difficult and emotionally charged high school years in contemporary Russia in 14+, a charming Norwegian documentary about three boys overcoming social stigma by relentlessly following their dreams in Ballet Boys and Venezuelan absurdist dark comedy 3 Beauties that in a funny and effective way addressed and criticized country’s obsession with beauty pageants, their constant objectification of women and ever-present patriarchal culture in which men shamelessly dictate how women should look and where women are only worth something as long as they are considered beautiful. But the film digs even deeper as it also shows a devastating effect that such a deep-rooted patriarchy has on women who, instead of joining powers in an attempt to overturn the system, ruthlessly compete among each other. It also quite playfully approaches the binary oppositions in which women are typically portrayed in literature and films, where they are seen as either innocent virgins or sinister whores; righteous, quiet and uptight or selfish, shameless and easy. The film is far from being perfect, but it is admiringly daring and not at all afraid of going to the most bizarre extremes, which ultimately makes up for all the film’s shortcomings.

Whereas every minute spent at this year’s festival was thoroughly enjoyable, I did have some reservations about 14+, a film that quite realistically captures the life of male teenagers in post-communist Russia, but fails to produce a good or at least somewhat interesting  female character. Most of the film is indeed filmed from a boy’s perspective and there are some elements of the girl’s mostly non-speaking role that could potentially work, as it is quite clear from the film’s narrative that Russia is, to this day, a very traditional and patriarchal country. Her non-speaking could therefore easily be interpreted as her not having a voice to express anything, for it is the men in her life (either her patriarch of a father or thugs from the neighbourhood, relentlessly harassing and terrorizing her), but that still cannot serve as an excuse for the voyeuristic way in which the camera moves around her throughout the film. The voyeuristic way in which she and her girlfriends are filmed and the fact that they barely pass as having speaking parts make it quite clear that they were never intended to be much more than objects to look at, for there is absolutely no subversive meaning in their passive and quiet presence. Ultimately this film fails at offering any critique of the patriarchal and misogynistic Russian society where a woman is constantly and mercilessly objectified and prayed upon – but even though these films fell somewhat short at times, they provided a much welcomed balance to the darker and heavier half of the festival’s programme that dealt with some of the most important social issues currently taking place around the world.

A more in-depth review of the second half of the festival, covering Latvian Mellow Mud, Canadian-Afghan Walking Mina and Kurdish documentary Life on the Border, is coming soon. Stay tuned.