“The Skyjacker’s Tale” and left-wing terrorism

Jamie Kastner’s 76-minute documentary “The Skyjacker’s Tale”, while not exactly the Pardoner’s Tale (from Canterbury), is indeed a riveting account of the background of a political hijacking in the 1980s, New Years Eve 1984, to be precise.

Ishmael Muslim Ali aka Ishmael LaBeet got a gun onto an America Airlines flight from the Virgin Islands and demanded to be left off in Cuba.  The film has many snippets of the elder l:aBeet talking from Cuba today, saying he is respected in his neighborhood.  He sounds proud of what he did.  But as Obama normalized (somewhat) relations with Cuba in 2014, he could face extradition again to the US.

The background is that in September 1972, apparently about the time of the Munich Olympic attacks, LaBeet and a cadre of other black men stormed the Rockefeller owned Fountain Valley Golf Club in St. Croix, killing at least five white people.  The motive was at first thought to be robbery but soon began to appear to be race and class war.  There were stories that this was an armed insurrection intended to make the Virgin Islands a black country.  The film makes a lot of the rhetoric of the time;  in some circles around the Black Panthers, you could not remain moderate;  if you didn’t didn’t fight for them, you were part of the enemy.  For a time much of the Virgin Islands was shut down by the terror threat.

LaBeet and the others were eventually caught, and confessions were extracted perhaps with torture (“Extreme Rendition”).  LaBeet wound up serving about 12 years in mainland US prisons before legal tricks got him back to the Virgin Islands for retrial. When he was flown back to the states to return to prison, he pulled off his own heist.

Charlotte Amalie, wiki

Communist Party HQ in Havana, wiki

See also “American Heiress”, Jeffrey Toobin’s book. Nov. 9, 2016.

Name:  “The Skyjacker’s Tale”
Director, writer:  Jamie Kastner
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix Instant Play, 2017/11/15
Length:  76
Rating:  na
Companies:  Strand Releasing
Link:  official

(Posted: Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017 at 11:50 PM ESR)

“Jane” Goodall’s work on chimpanzees on film shot in the 1960s becomes backstory for a new documentary

Jane” (2017), a National Geographic documentary directed by Brett Morgen, tells its backstory with “animals” (quasi non-human persons – chimpanzees) set in the 1960s in Gombe, Nigeria, and then Tanzania with found (in 2014) footage of Jane Goodall’s work at the time.  The film is based on her own autobiography, “My Life with Chimpanzees”.

In modern day, Jane is often interviewed, while the backstory shows her as a young woman, who spent five months camping out alone before getting the chimps to be comfortable around her.  Very early on. she discovers that the chimps can make simple tools to get at food (especially insects).

In the meantime, she married Hugo Van Wawick from the Netherlands (after saying she didn’t need a family) and had her own son, who would grow up in camp in Tanzania but go back to England for schooling.  As a little boy, you wonder if he could play with toddler chimps as equals.

The chimps learn to use the couple’s feeding station properly, and the chimps tend to view people as chimps themselves with oddly largely hairless bodies.  A polio epidemic occurs among the chimps, and the couple considers vaccinating them. Later, a political dispute or warfare (rather prescient of humans) develops between northern and southern factions of the chimps, rather like our own Civil War.

But the saddest story concerns a young chimp who seems autistic, never stopping suckling, and losing the will to live when his mom dies. That autism would occur in other primates besides man should provide major clues to the genetics of pervasive developmental disorders.

Wikipedia images:

Gombe picture: Goodall shelter

Chimpanzee picture

Tanzania picture

genealogy of chimpanzees to humans (full bipedalism seems to be the crucial step that facilitated human cognitive development to work with language, money, abstraction, and the transmission of culture)

Name:  “Jane”
Director, writer:  Brett Morgen, Jane Goodall
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1 with a lot of 1960s footage
When and how viewed:  Landmark E-street 2017/11/3 nearly sold out
Length:  90
Rating:  G
Companies:  Abaroama, National Geographic Films, Magnolia
Link:  Natgeo

(Posted: Saturday, November 4, 2017 at 11 AM EDT)

“Human Flow”: Ai Weiwei’s panorama of the worldwide refugee crisis

Ai Weiwei is known for his work for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and then for his subsequent troubles with Chinese authorities over dissent (the subject of more than one film).

His “Human Flow” is a monumental and lengthy (140 min) collage of refugee experiences all over the world.  The film starts with a shot over water reminding one of a similar shot in “The Master” (2012), leading to presentation of refugees on flotillas across the Mediterranean.

The film soon shows us long shots of refugee camps in Iraq, Jordan, Thailand, Bangladesh  Turkey, Kenya, Greece, and even farther north in Calais (which gets dismantled).

There’s a scene in Turkey where the people first look like ants from above until the drone camera gets closer.  There’s a scene inside a hangar in Germany where families like in cubicles.

Some of the most stunning footage occurs around Mosul, with the oil fires deliberately set (like the 1992 “The Fires of Kuwait”).

Near the end of the film the expected scenes along the US Mexico border appear.

Ai Weiwei often appears in many scenes, assisting individuals personally.

The film does not go into detail into the programs that countries have to house refugees in regular apartments and have sponsorship with regular families (as in Canada), and it doesn’t get into the difference between asylum seekers and refugees.

The film, at the end, does comment on global wealth inequality, climate change, and that people with different personal and communal cultures will have to learn to live together on one climate.

US-Mexico border Wiki picture.

Weiwei biographical history.

Review of “Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case” (2014).

Review of “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” (2012)

Name: Human Flow
Director, writer:  Ai Weiwei
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Landmark E-Street, 2017/10/14, near sellout
Length:  140
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Amazon Studios original film, Participant Media, AC Films
Link: Hollywood Reporter director QA 

(Posted: Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017 at 10 AM EDT)

“The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson”: amateur sleuths delve into a possible homicide of a gay icon from Stonewall

The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson”, by David France (“How to Survive a Plague”, 2012), is a valuable account of a citizen investigation of the 1992 death of Marsha P. Johnson, a drag queen who had been on the scene of the first night of the Stonewall rebellion in June 1969.

Marsha had drowned in the Hudson River near one of the Christopher Street piers. Had she been fleeing an attacker, then the death would be a homicide, at least manslaughter.

In modern times, Victoria Cruz tries to do a gumshoe citizen investigation of the death, with the help of local activist organizations for poor people.  She is rebuffed by retired cops who say not to call again, and that she should leave her investigations to the professionals or she could get people killed.

There are scenes in the Village, especially Julius’s on W 10th Street, one of my own favorite gay bars, known for its burgers.  The way “Mafia” bars had worked in the 1970s, at the time of Abe Beeme, comes up, but I had thought that by even 1992 the Mafia was pretty much out of the gay bar area (Stonewall had given a big push).

There is a great scene of the 1973 CLSD in New York, in which I marched;  I may have spotted my younger self for  split second.

Sylvia Rivera gives a very radical speech in Washington Square Park, blaming middle class establishment “cis male” gays as part of the privilege problem, even back in the 1970s (before AIDS).

There is a sequence where homeless tents are broken up for a new high way, and one of the volunteers offers “radical hospitality” to a homeless person, taking the risk.

The film purports to address violence against transgender people, but Marsha herself was not regarded as trangender (cross-dressing alone is not).

There has been controversy over the Stonewall Inn as a national monument with a rainbow flag in the Trump administration, Washington Post story by Juliet Eilperin and Darryl Fears.

This film is opening in Los Angeles Oct. 13.

Name:  “The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson”
Director, writer:  David France
Released:  2017
Format:  1.78:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix instant play, 2017/10/12
Length: 105
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Netflix
Link:  Facebook, Tribeca 

(Posted: Friday, October 13, 2017 at 12 noon EDT)

“Walking While Black: L.O.V.E. Is the Answer” looks at police racial profiling

Walking While Black: L. O. V. E. Is the Answer”, (2017) directed by A. J. Ali, is a documentary film intended to increase public awareness of racial profiling, especially by police. As the title suggests, many people of color have been harassed merely when walking alone as well as when driving.  The film name is based on the community organization Walking While Black, Facebook page.

The film does show footage of a number of major police incidents. It skips Ferguson, but does spend a lot of space on Baltimore Sandtown in 2015. It does cover the “police ambush” in downtown Dallas in July 2016.  It also covers Trayvon Martin’s death in Florida.

Much of the 93-minute film consists of speaking clips by community leaders and police, with relatively little direct interviewing. There is a great deal of emphasis on community solidarity, volunteering, and personal involvement, and mentoring.

A couple of other major cases get explored toward the end.  In Benton Harbor MI, a black man Jameel McGee was arrested by a white cop on a phony drug charge. He spent four years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.  But eventually the police officer Andrew Collins was caught and spent 18 months in jail himself.  McGee forgave him and they became friends.

Then in Garden City GA  white police officer Tim McMillan found a terrified black driver when he stopped him while texting, story.

In a number of cases, police officers accused of misconduct were “of color” (incl. Latino) themselves.

The film right now is viewable for $9.99 credit or Paypal on their site, but not on Amazon or Netflix.  This is rather unusual, but maybe an interesting idea for self-distribution.

Name:  “Walking While Black: L. O. V. E. Is the Answer
Director, writer:  A. J. Ali
Released:  2017
Format: 1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Vimeo rented $9.99 from their site
Length:  93
Rating:  NA
Companies:  totally independent, community group
Link:  official

(Posted: Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017 at 10:45 PM EDT)

“Stopping Traffic”: The emotion on the sex trafficking issue is there, but with no legal controversy details (like Backpage v. Section 230)

Stopping Traffic: The Movement to End Sex Trafficking”, directed by Sadhvi Siddali Shree (or Siddhayatan Tirth), comes across as a propaganda piece about sex trafficking, and pleas for people to join “a movement” so to speak, but it doesn’t get into the specifics very much on how really to deal with it very much,

The director says she is a female monk, from India, and I guess that’s interesting. At the end of the film there are about ten things that can be done.  One is punishing the customers (we do that with prostitution and certainly with child pornography already)m another is to “volunteer”, but what a “volunteer” would do specifically I’m not sure.

There are many personal testimonials, including a middle-aged man from Australia who says he was abused as a boy but the consequences for him personally didn’t mount up until he had grown and had to deal with why this had happened.

The film also does describe the horrors of kidnapping children abroad in various countries, including Thailand and Mexico, and raising them in the sex-slave culture where they never learn anything else.

The film presents both male and female victims. In rural Afghanistan, even under the Taliban, despite external anti-gay Muslim culture, young boys are abused in a secret culture that says “girls are for procreation, boys are for fun.”  To its credit, the film is in no way homophobic;  this is about underage exploitation, not sexual orientation (much like the NBC series “To Catch a Predator”).

The film has live shots in many places, but particularly Thailand, Mexico, and Texas.  It presents the idea that Houston particularly is a center of sex trafficking.

There would have been an opportunity to look at specific legal controversies, especially with the Backpage.com website, which never gets mentioned.   The US House and Senate have drafted bills, with the House’s more threatening, that would weaken Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act (also part of the previously named Communications Decency Act) which treats service providers as utilities rather than as publishers of user-generated content, thereby absolving service providers of any downstream liability for user-generated content.  Without such downstream exposure protections, providers presumably could not take the risk of allowing user-generated content, although a “knowlingly” standard, such as with child pornography today, could be a good compromise. There is also a difference, operationally, between, say, an ad-seeking website like Backpage or Craigslist, and a shared hosting company like Blue Host; the risks would be very different. The film never goes near this. But most issue-oriented advocacy films try to recruit public interest and stay at simpler intellectual levels.

Other coordinated posts on Backpage problem:  Mine on news blog, mine on House Bill, Senate Bill

Ashton Kutcher testimony (“Real men don’t buy girls” — why isn’t “a+k” in the film?

Thailand scene 1 (Wiki, rice paddies?)

Bangkok scene 2 (Wiki)

Name: Stopping Traffic: The Movement to End Sex Trafficking
Director, writer:  Siddhayatan Tirth
Released: 2017
Format:  1.85:1  much of film in Spanish with subtitles
When and how viewed:  AMC Hoffman Center, 2017/10/3, only person in audience
Length:  79
Rating:  NA
Companies:  independent by individual owner, Siddhayatan Tirth
Link:  official

(Posted: Wednesday, October 4, 2017 at 11 AM EDT)

“Unacknowledged: An Expose of the World’s Greatest Secret”: UFO’s, aliens, and false flags

Unacknowledged: An Expose of the World’s Greatest Secret” (2017), directed by Michael Mazzola, gives an account of the Disclosure Project which traces the evidences of UFO’s and alien visitation since Roswell in 1947.

The descriptions of the crashed saucers and of the aliens is rather explicit:  three feet tall, wearing tight fitting skin suits, egg-shaped craft without mechanical parts inside.

The film moves on to showing many presidents (Bill Clinton, Gerald Ford) and candidates (Hillary) on talk shows admitting their interest in aliens.

But the film also presents a major industrial conspiracy to hide information about UFO’s even from the government, in order to protect their market for a fossil fuels industry.  Nick Tesla is depicted as having wanted to move beyond AC current to energy in space-time already in possession of aliens.  There are claims that the government knows of at least two or three other advanced civilizations within a reasonable distance (maybe 100 light years) in the Milky Way (let alone the Dyson’s Sphere that might live around Tabby’s Star 1400  light years away). The setup sounds like Clive Barker’s “Imajica“.

The film goes into the subject of psychological warfare and particularly “false flag” attacks.  In this kind of operation a government creates an incident in order to blame an unpopular enemy, like the Nazi Broken Glass operation. The film claims that a false flag operation was set up in 1980 to blame Cuban refugees from the Mariel Boatlift in order to justify Guantanamo later. The film present George W. Bush’s war in Iraq as a false flag by claiming that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. It also says that Werner von Brahn supported a false flag operation to protect the world from aliens.

No question, the day that alien contact was proven would indeed be “The Event” (like the NBC series).  Then you have the “Smallville-Clark Kent” problem.  If someone somehow arrived from another planet and developed like Clark, what would his legal rights be?  That would engulf the debate on immigration (or race) if it happened. We may be approaching a world where we need to consider the legal rights of “non-human persons”, like individual orcas (killer whales) and other dolphins. Cetaceans may be the closest thing we have experienced to alien intelligence on our level. The possibility of cross-mating (DNA compatibility) would no longer define “personhood” legally.

Downtown Roswell NM, Wiki. I visited it in April 1998.

Area 51, Nevada, Wiki. I was near there in May 2000.

Name: Unacknowledged: An Expose of the World’s Greatest Secret
Director, writer:  Michael Mazzola
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix instant play  2017/9/8
Length: 107
Rating:  NA
Companies:  The Orchard
Link:  Facebook

(Posted: Friday, September 8, 2017 at 7:15 PM EDT)

CNN’s “The Reagan Show” looks like an oldie

CNN Films offered the collage “The Reagan Show” on Labor Day evening, directed by Sierra Pettengill and Pacho Velez.

The film, running 74 minutes (allowing commercials to fit into a 90 minute format), written with Francisco Bello and Josh Alexander) is placed in the old 4:3 aspect ratio of television in the 1980s, and comprises many of Reagan’s speeches and appearances, particularly in relation to relations with the Soviet Union.

A highlight is Reagan’s 1983 Star Wars speech, which attracted some degree of ridicule;  nevertheless, that idea (34 years later) seems to be the buttress strategy for handling North Korea’s grandiose and acceleration of development of missiles and now thermonuclear weapons.   You would think that in this many decades, NORAD ought to be good at this.  Yet, I recall the film “War Games” (1982) and the two “Red Dawn” films.  We all know about the exchanges with Gorbachev, leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall after Reagan left office, and eventually the collapse of the Soviet Union as we knew it.

There’s one spot where Reagan says “Make America Great Again”.

There’s also some footage from all of his old black and white movies from the 1940s…

There is some coverage of the Iran contra with Oliver North (who would later have his own radio talk show in the 1990s).  But there is no mention of the AIDS crisis, or even of the 1981 assassination attempt.

Name:  “The Reagan Show
Director, writer:  Sierra Pettengill, Pacho Velez, Francisco Bello Josh Alexander
Released:  2017
Format:  1.37:1 TV
When and how viewed:  2017/9/4 CNN
Length:  74
Rating: NA
Companies: Gravitas Venturas, CNN
Link:  official

(Posted: Tuesday, September 5, 2017 at 2 PM EDT)

“Icarus”: an amateur cyclist and filmmaker exposes Russia’s Olympic doping scandals, and gives “asylum” to a doctor running from Putin

A documentary purporting to expose cheating in sports turns out to be an international thriller. So it is with “Icarus” (2017), the film named after a Greek mythological character who failed because of his own virtues (the Icarus Paradox).

Bryan Fogel, who wrote and directed the film, is an energetic amateur cyclist looking in his early 40s perhaps. Most of the time, his bod is shaved, and he lives in a world where masculinity is more a matter of performance than trappings (I’ll get ahead of myself and add that the Russian sports circle insists its athletes be married).

He decides to do a citizen investigation of doping as he plans to ride the Haute Route in France and Switzerland. The film introduces the topic with a couple clips of Lance Armstrong, before getting to Fogel’s own story. First Fogel contacts Don Catlin about his experiment, who backs out due to the obvious risks. Fogel then makes the fateful turn to the Russians, contacting the doping doctor Grigory Rodchenkov.

The result is a huge expose of the entire Russian staging of the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014. I’ll add that the politics of the 2013 anti-gay propaganda law fed into this (not mentioned in the film), as did Putin’s aggression in Ukraine and Crimea (covered). Putin starts appearing more often in the film, which turns into a stinging indictment of Russian kleptocracy, obviously politically important now given all the investigations of Putin’s alleged collusion with Donald Trump. We get to see a lot of Moscow in some episodes. This turns out to be compelling “conservative film” that the mainstream GOP would like but that The Donald would not.

As Grigory gets in trouble, he calls Fogel back home in Utah. Fogel arranges Grigory’s trip to the United States, apparently for the sake of Grigory’s security from the Russians, a kind of unofficial asylum seeking. But then the FBI and US attorney in New York City get involved. Grigory winds up living incognito in a secret location (which the film implies is on the California coast in the last scene).  The film manages to show in detail how the Russians covered up their falsification of urine tests.  It’s pretty elaborate but all real-world spy stuff.

What seems intriguing is that a filmmaker and “amateur” sports enthusiast (reminding me of Minnesota filmmaker Shane Nelson and his “A Film in Three Parts” (2002) about amateur extreme sports) puts his own skin in the game of international political activism. He could have filmed a similar native about Central American or perhaps LGBT asylum seekers if he wanted to.

The film ends as Grigory admits “Slavery was my freedom”. We do get a glimpse of Rio in 2016, as a kind of redemption. The film’s tagline is “Truth is a banned substance”.

The music score contains excerpts from Alexandrov’s Russian National Anthem, as well as from Shostakovich Symphony #8.

The film was revised (from Sundance) somewhat when Netlfix acquired it, but the online version looks like a full director’s cut at 121 minutes.

Picture from Haute Route, France (wiki).

Picture from Moscow (wiki).

Name:  “Icarus”
Director, writer:  Bryan Fogel
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix instant play
Length:  121
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Diamond, Sundance Selects, Netflix
Link:  official

(Posted: Wednesday, August 30, 2017 at 6:45 PM EDT)

“Raising Bertie” examines education of three underprivileged African-American teens in coastal North Carolina

On Monday, August 28, 2017. PBS POV aired “Raising Bertie” (2016), a documentary by Margaret Byrne, about three underprivileged African American boys being educated in an alternative school called the Hive House, in Bertie County, North Carolina, near the Tarboro and the area that was flooded by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.

The three young men include “Junior” Askew, whose father and brother are incarcerated, Dada Harrell, the quiet teen, and Bud, who is on parole.  The boys are raised by single moms.

When the Hive House closes (or is threatened with shutdown), the boys face going back to inferior public schools, with perhaps limited prospects of getting the attention they would need to succeed.  Junior has to repeat his junior year, which (according to the show “Everwood”) is the toughest year. But the seems to be developing the possibility of becoming a landscape architect.

Junior finally gets a regimented factory job, Bud graduates from high school before “aging out”, and Dada prepares to become a barber.

The film includes a speech to youth by Barack Obama.

There’s a great line, “You can’t live with mama all your life.”  A fight breaks out near the end of the film.

Finally the Hive House gets reborn.

The film was produced by the National Black Programming Consortium )NBPC).

There is a brief interview with the filmmaker, who is white. She says she was asked why she didn’t film “role model” star people in high school instead.  She says people need to think others matter besides the obvious achievers. But she really didn’t use race in her answer.

Name:  “Raising Bertie”
Director, writer:  Margaret Byrne
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  PBS POV 2017/8/28
Length:  84
Rating:  NA
Companies:  PBS POV, Filmbuff, Kartemquin Films
Link:  PBS

(Posted: Monday, Aug. 28, 2017 at 11:45 PM EDT)