As regular readers know, we are family of film buffs. We keep up with current movies, and we also like to go to film festivals. For many years we have been going to the Maine International Film Festival (MIFF), held in Waterville, Maine, about twenty-five miles away from where we live. Dee, from New York, usually joins us, and we have ten days of nonstop movies. When Mike and Shannon lived in Maine, they would also join us on the weekends.
This year, MIFF had to scale way back and hold the festival at a Drive-In that was fifty miles away from our home. Much as we like movies, a 100-mile round trip was too far for us. Also, the kids were not able to join us because of the traveling hazards associated with Covid-19.
Without MIFF and visits from the kids, our summer sure felt flat. What to do to perk things up at least a little? How about a virtual film festival, via Zoom? We would follow MIFF’s lead by starting on a Friday and ending ten days later on a Sunday.
Naturally, we couldn’t pack in the movies the way MIFF does. Shannon and Mike were still working, and so was I. (Books don’t write themselves). So here’s what we did: We each picked a movie, which we would watch one night and then discuss the next.
This worked like a charm. Or, as we in Maine might say, a chahm. What a fun week we had! We each chose five thought-provoking films, beginning with greed and ending with greed. (No, we did not plan it that way.) After watching each movie, I couldn’t wait to hear what the others thought.
Here was our line-up and a brief description about each movie:
Atlantics, 2019. Country of origin: Senegal. Directed by Mati Diop. Available on Netflix. English subtitles.
Atlantics is a moody exploration of love, gender, greed, and money. A wealthy developer, who is constructing a giant, looming tower, refuses to pay his workers. This sets in motion a migration that separates two lovers, Soulieman and Ada and leads to a startling conclusion. Atlantics has a slow beginning, but it isn’t long before the story snaps into an unexpected place.
Hoop Dreams, 1994. Country of origin: USA. Directed by Steve James. Available to rent on Prime Video.
This extraordinary three-hour documentary came out in 1994 and follows two young men in inner city Chicago through four years of high school as they try to realize their dreams to play professional basketball. But Hoop Dreams goes beyond sports to cast a piercing gaze on poverty, racism, money, and the willingness of some coaches to use and then discard young men. A seminal movie even twenty-six years later.
Transit, 2018. Filmed in France. Directed by Christian Petzold. Available on Prime Video, included with Prime. English subtitles.
Transit is about persecuted minorities fleeing occupied France. I don’t want to reveal too much about this unsettling film. It is best watched without any spoilers. Transit examines the notion of Fascism and how easily societies can succumb to this terrible, repressive ideology. At the same time, it is a deeply humane film as it focuses on how the main characters grapple with the terror of fleeing capture and death and then the tedium of waiting for transport that will take them to countries not in the grip of fascism. Finally, it is a haunting, touching love story.
Silent Running, 1972. Country of origin: USA. Directed by Douglas Trumbull. Available to rent on Prime Video.
Silent Running is a 1972 science-fiction tale that takes a stern environmental stance. Earth’s green and growing spaces are gone, and the last biomes are being stored in space on huge freighters. When an order comes to destroy the biomes, Bruce Dern’s Freeman takes matters into his own hands to try to save the last forest. The special effects are astonishing, given the time and the budget. The acting is over-the-top, but the environmental story still resonates today.
Jean de Florette, 1986. Country of origin: France. Directed by Claude Berri. Available to rent on Prime Video. English subtitles.
Jean de Florette is the first movie in a two-part series that concludes with Manon of the Spring. Jean de Florette takes greed and personalizes it with the excellent Yves Montand as Cesar, who yearns to own the land that the hunchback Jean de Florette has inherited. Cesar plots and connives to get that land from the stubborn, unsuspecting Jean, and there is nothing Cesar will not do to get what he wants. All the acting is excellent, but as my son-in-law Mike pointed out, Yves Montand is outstanding, showing how evil can be both banal and ruthless.