Utne Reader Film Reviews: July-August 2009


| July-August 2009


African Mother Lode
African Cinema Collection
(California Newsreel; on DVD)

California Newsreel (www.newsreel.org) has been a stalwart distributor of world cinema to American schools and nonprofits for almost 40 years, and it’s now opening its rare and essential collection of African film to the general public. The rewards are immense. New and old, fiction and nonfiction, some 70 films from 25 nations are available, including work by Senegalese master Ousmane Sembene, the revolutionary “father of African cinema” whose Faat Kiné (2000) follows a determined Dakar mother and businesswoman (Venus Seye)—the Mildred Pierce of sub-Saharan Africa. Documentaries, too, salute women’s work, including You Have Struck a Rock! (1981), Deborah May’s stirring tribute to the pioneering South African women who fought apartheid in the 1950s. —Rob Nelson 

Dolphin Drama
The Cove
(Roadside Attractions; in theaters July 31)

In this engrossing eco-activist documentary, a crack team of marine specialists, free divers, and filmmakers go undercover in the coastal village of Taiji, Japan, to expose the seasonal mass slaughter of dolphins in an inlet. Like last year’s nonfiction hit Man on Wire, the film takes on the thrilling air of a mission impossible, complete with night-vision heat-sensitive cameras, but the payoff is all environmental horror. The film climaxes with the indisputable sights and sounds of murder—of blood-red water and shrieking cetaceans. The film’s emotional core belongs to Ric O’Barry, the former lead trainer of TV’s Flipper, who laments, “I spent 10 years building up the [dolphin entertainment] industry, and the next 35 trying to tear it down.” —Anthony Kaufman

A Secret Search for Mercy
A Jihad for Love
(First Run Features, on DVD)

In many countries ruled by Islamic law, the term homosexuality is often used in close proximity to the words “punishable by death.” The handful of gay and lesbian Muslims profiled in the documentary A Jihad for Love skirt legal, social, and bodily peril by living in secrecy and often by leaving their homelands for the West. Rather than rejecting their religion, which colors every aspect of their lives, most of them struggle to reconcile it with their sexuality. “If God planted this love in my heart then it must be legitimate,” says a lesbian living in Turkey. Though they find measures of acceptance, the blurred-out faces of some subjects remind the rest of us just how dangerous it is to walk their road. —Keith Goetzman