“Human”: People around the world tell their stories, which add up, against alien-looking scenery

Human“, the project of Yann Arthus-Bertrand, alternates interviews with ordinary people from all over the world with aerial images of people in collective actions, or sometimes scenery that is so abstract in design and non biological colors that it looks alien.

The first interview presents a convicted murderer who meditates on learning what love and forgiveness mean. In time, other interviews present what makes humans tick, and some of it is chilling. A couple young men present what makes them want to fight an enemy in a brotherhood (jihad). Others talk about being socialized to sacrifice themselves to overcome common enemies. But as the film progresses, the interviews open up. In the middle section, several gay people speak, starting with a woman who had sex with a man under family pressure and got HIV from heterosexual activity. The religious objection to homosexuality, especially within Islam, is briefly explored. So is immutability.

Then the interviews move back toward a bigger vision of social justice.  One speaker (an Aborigine) mentions that earlier cultures did not have words to indicate personal ownership of anything. There is a lot of attention to the enslavement of low-wage workers overseas in quasi-dorm life.

The intervening photography is stunning.  One of the first images is of people playing soccer on a mountain plateau.  There are mass crowds with human columns and waves.  There are odd images of gas and water that look like they come right out of Christopher Nolan (“Interstellar”).  There is a shocking scene of manual labor in a mine in Russia.  Near the end there is a shocking scene of the slums in Senegal. There are over 60 filming locations.  There is an interesting abstract of Manhattan at night with the reflected light manipulated to look like fire.

The music score, by Armand Amar, resembles the music of Philip Glass.

A possible comparison would be “Koyaanisqatsi“, by Godfrey Reggio (1982).

Senegal scene similar to film, Wiki.

Name: Human
Director, writer:  Yann Arthus-Bertrand
Released:  2015
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Filmfest DC, Landmark E St, 2017/4/24, large auditorium, full
Length:  143  (full theatrical is 190)
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Kino Lorber
Link:  official, Filmfest

(Posted: Monday, April 24, 2017 at 11 PM EDT)

“Seed: The Untold Story”: a civilization restart could depend on botanical diversity

Seed: The Untold Story”, by Jon Betz and Taggart Siegel, documents the activities of seed archivists, who aim to preserve samples of natural seed stock that is being lost by mega-agriculture.

The film starts in Maine, with an elderly man who sees himself as a kind of Noah, maintaining his own seed bank as a personal (and individually controlled) legacy for the world.  It then, with some animation, gives some history of activities by civilizations to preserve their seed genetic bases, including a “civilization restart” bank in northern Norway.  Destroying seed banks has been an aim of military campaigns, as the Soviet Union maintained one around St. Petersburg during WWII.  The film also shows major conservation activities in New Mexico and Kauai, Hawaii.

It was eye-opening for me that the loss of genetic diversity among our plant food supply could threaten civilization itself.

With Vandana Shiva, Andrew Kimbrell, Jane Goodall, Winona LaDuke, and Raj Patel.

I remember those essay botany tests in undergraduate college (around 1965) all too well.

The film (from Collective Eye) was shown on PBS Independent Cuts on April 17, 2017; the original length of 94 minutes was cut to about 53;  I would rather see PBS offer a 90-minute slot and show the entire original film.

Name: “Seed: The Untold Story”
Director, writer:  Jon Betz and Taggart Siegel
Released:  2016
Format:  HD video
When and how viewed:  PBS Independent Lens, 2017/4/17 at 10 PM
Length:  94/56
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Collective Eye, PBS Independent Cuts
Link:  official

(Posted: Monday, April 17, 2017 at 11:30 PM EDT)

“All of Me”: Women feed migrants leaning from a train in Mexico, strictly out of faith

All of Me” (“Llevate mis amores” or “Take my Love”), by Arturo Gonzales Villasenor (Mexico, 2014, in Spanish), pretty much inverts the parable of the Rich Young Ruler.

A group of women at Patronas, Mexico, labor on homemade woodstoves to cook meals and gather water for migrants, who reach for it from the traveling freight train called “The Beast”. They’ve done it since 1995.   Most of the migrants come all the way from Central America. Some have stopped out of fear of getting in trouble with the law, but the group still goes on, 7 days a week.

Most of the film, besides showing the harrowing food pickup, comprises interviews with the women.  At the film’s midpoint, one of them relates an incident where a boy mangled his foot falling under a wheel. Although they stopped his bleeding, the women found no one would treat him until someone paid for his care. (Sound familiar?)  Eventually, the Red Cross took him to a hospital where the foot was amputated and a prosthesis provided.

The women, and a few men, describe the limited economic opportunities of agricultural and manual labor.  One of the men got a factory job, hazardous work welding inside pipes, and was still always in debt. One of the women is shown cleaning a pig sty, in front of farm animals who (like “Babe”) don’t yet know they will be eaten.

One woman’s daughter was about to go to college and wanted to become a journalist, but had to face the idea that if the local gangs didn’t like what she wrote, they would come after her and her family.

There are some night scenes, toward the end, in stark black and white, almost recalling the Holocaust.

This is a real food bank.  I’m reminded, of course, of Community Assistance (like at Mount Olivet Methodist Church in Arlington VA or the Arlington Food Assistance Center near Shirlington).  Volunteering in these activities is safe.  Volunteering along an illegal migrant rail route is only for men and women “of faith”, which others don’t have a right to define for them.  There is no debate.

All of this, of course, Donald Trump wants to stop.  So why can’t Mexico get its own house in order?  It’s the rich and the poor, as always.

Much of the film is within sight of Mount Popocapetel, the highest volcano in the country.  A high school friend climbed it in 1962 and almost dies on it.

Name:  “All of Me
Director, writer:  Arturo Gonzales Villasenor
Released:  2014; 2016 US theatrical; DVD pre-book 2017/3/14, DVD street date 2017/4/11
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Complimentary Vimeo Screener from Strand
Length:  90
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Strand Releasing
Link:  official

(Posted: Thursday, March 23, 2017 at 10:30 PM EDT)

“Live and Let Live” presents the case for veganism


Name: Live and Let Live
Director, writer:  Marc Pierschel
Released:  2013
Format:  digital video
When and how viewed:  Netflix instant
Length 80
Rating NA
Companies: Blackrabbit
Link: VOD

Marc Pierschel’s “Live and Let Live” (2013) presents veganism , going back to the time of an essay promoting the dietary concept in “The Vegetarian Messenger” back in 1944.  Vegan diets do not allow any animal products at all (especially, no dairy).

The title of the movie reminds me of the appellation I gave my own proposal for eliminating the ban on gays in the military in my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book in 1997.  It also reminds us of a notorious James Bond movie and song, “Live and Let Die” (1973) complete with that Mississippi sheriff.

Perschell spends a lot of time interviewing a German farmer family, and also a competitive cyclist Jack Lindquist, who, handsome enough except for the shaved and partially tattooed arms and legs, shows how he can consume 5000 calories a day with plenty of variety of plant proteins.  Many others are interviewed, including Peter Singer (professor of Bioethics) and entrepreneur Aaron Adams, who went through his own epiphany and started the Portebello Trattoria in Portland, Oregon.

Other speakers talk about “carnalism”, how we rationalize our raising and slaughter of some animals for eating, while honoring others (dogs).  Animals do value their own lives (Singer talks about “sentience”), and pigs particularly are quite intelligent (as in the 1995 Australian film “Babe”).

But one speaker says that even vegan food can come with karma or ethical problems, if it is dependent on fruit grown or picked by migrant or essentially slave labor.

Is the vegan diet best for personal heart health?  Celebrities from Bill Clinton to Reid Ewing say so.  Here’s a con argument  or another piece by Chris Kesser.  The Wall Street Journal had a balanced article in 2012.

(Posted: Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016 at 11 AM EDT)