Best in show

BIFF brings another great year of films

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Courtesy of Ofmenandwar.com

The Boulder International Film Festival is the cherry on top for a town with an already-impressive film scene. Throw in some big stars, up-and-coming filmmakers, foreign favorites and fascinating documentaries and you’ve got the perfect weekend for a cinephile. Here’s a look at a handful of stand-out films visiting this year.

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‘Of Men And War’

Hundreds of billions of dollars have been dumped into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a massive, mind-boggling and still ongoing expenditure that seems to have accomplished little and may even have made our lives more at risk. Yet that amount seems paltry when compared to the personal cost to the soldiers who the politicians marched off to the Middle East with scant regard for truth or consequences.

Directed by Laurent Bécue- Renard, Of Men And War is a haunting examination of these wounds: damage not of the physical kind but of the mental and emotional trauma of war and the collateral impacts to family, friends and colleagues of those who suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Raw and unfiltered, the documentary was created over the course of five years, the majority of which were filmed at The Pathway Home, a specialized treatment center for PTSD in California. Troubling to watch, it is a slow unwrapping of the shells that these former warriors have encased themselves in as they attempt to come to grips with what they have seen and what they have done. Some will never escape their personal demons, but glimmers of hope do emerge: solitary fireflies on spring evenings, hinting at the salvation of summer.

At the end, the viewer is left with more questions than answers. In hindsight it’s easy to see the lies and the madness that perpetuated the political decisions that led to the disorder in these victims’ psyches. But what of the civilians and others in the war zones where these men fought and killed? If these soldiers — trained professionals with access to help and therapy at home — are so damaged, what deeply profound emotional scars do those who have been left to live in the wreckage that remains of their countries and civilizations carry? We can only guess at the answers.

— Tom Winter

‘The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution’

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution starts with Panther member Ericka Huggins telling the story of three blind men describing an elephant. Each man feels a different section — the side, the snout, the tusk — therefore each has a different image of the animal.

“We know the party we were in, not the entire thing. … It was complex,” Huggins says. Since its start in 1966, the Black Panthers Party has had a split reputation between being protectors of peace and violent radicals. The truth is more complicated than that. Vanguard of the Revolution aims to clear up the muddled legacy with an honest look into the group’s history.

The film follows the party through their initial goal of stopping police brutality toward African Americans to constant battles with the government, the incarceration of their members and the party’s eventual demise. The viewer gets a bevy of perspectives from former members, white police officers, FBI informants and sympathizers of the group. Through archival footage and beautiful photographs, the film captures the Panthers’ iconic image. It also sheds light on lesser-known facets of the group, such as providing a free breakfast program for those in need, and doesn’t shy away from touchier subjects, including the party’s mistreatment of female members. Vanguard of the Revolution is a look at what all documentaries should be — well researched, thought-provoking and balanced. Documentarian Stanley Nelson masterfully hits on many of the moving parts and works to define the Black Panthers’ legacy, without seeming to make judgments of the group or put it in a box.

In the current white-washed state of the movie industry, films like Vanguard of the Revolution are essential to show how far our country has come and how far it still needs to go.

— Amanda Moutinho

‘Song of the Sea’

Set on an island off the Irish Coast, Song of the Sea follows Saoirse (voiced by Lucy O’Connell), a young girl whose mother disappeared under mysterious circumstances when she was born. The loss has caused Saoirse’s older brother, Ben (David Rawle), to resent her presence while dad (Brendan Gleeson) drowns his loss at the local pub.

Grandma (Fionnula Flanagan) decides to take the two children to the city to raise them, but when Saoirse is removed from the sea, she grows deathly ill, and Ben executes a rescue mission to return Saoirse to the water. The two undertake a long journey that not only binds them together, but also uncovers the mystery of their mother and the enchanted island their family inhabits.

Based on Irish folklore and soaked with mythic iconography, Song of the Sea confronts loss and sorrow head on. Hand-drawn with beautiful watercolor imagery, Song of the Sea is buoyed with childlike wonder as Ben and Saoirse encounter magical creatures — and a slew of adorable seals that will delight many viewers — but it is how writer and director Tomm Moore addresses loss directly that makes Song of the Sea worthwhile for children and adults alike. The loss of a loved one is devastating, but that loss can be confronted with understanding and acceptance, easing the process of moving on.

— Michael J. Casey

‘Stream of Love’

Documenting a small Romanian town, Stream of Love interviews the two dozen widows and three widowers, their ages ranging from 75-90, that make up this tiny agrarian town. What do they talk about? Sex, naturally.

Ferenc, one of the few men in the town, cruises the streets in a horse-drawn carriage, calling to the ladies, “Hello, my lovelies!” The women watch and wave to Ferenc, giggling like a bunch of teenagers. Ferenc wonders to the camera, “Why is there desire, if the ability is lost?” 

Ferenc and the women of the village discuss the many aspects of love, both their fond memories of romantic love and the not-so-fond memories of maritial duties that were often forced upon them. For some, sex is strictly a duty, while others find a great deal of excitement and wonder in it.

What led director Ágnes Sós to this village to ask these questions is never addressed, but what is remarkable is how easily and candidly these octogenarians talk in front of a camera. One tells the story of a difficult childbirth, another recounts her moment of sexual discovery (long after her husband passed on) and Fernec gives out seriously considered ideas on the social ramification of sexual positions.

At 70 minutes, Stream of Love is short and sweet with the lush Romanian countryside providing the best possible backdrop for an easygoing discussion of love.

— Michael J. Casey