Up the Yangtze

Posted in Uncategorized on December 5, 2008 by foggyfirstframes

I have been waiting to see the film Up the Yangtze (2007) since January when I heard about it at the Sundance Film Festival. My family went to China in 2003 and on a brief tour of the Yangtze we had seen markers for where the water would rise to and everything it would be covering up in the spirit of progress and the Three Gorges Dam.  I was excited to see a movie which would discuss more behind the issue of the Yangtze River and the Dam. Unfortunately though, I missed my second opportunity to see the movie in May at the Seattle International Film Festival.  I simply refused to miss it yet again when it screened at the Red Vic this week, so come Tuesday night I found myself walking up Haight Street for an eye-opening and sobering movie.

Yung Chang, the director of Up the Yangtze, was inspired to make the movie after going to China with his father, who had a version of old-China in his mind, and who saw a very different China in the cities as well as along the already quickly transforming Yangtze.  Almost everyone in the film that Chang asks about the Dam and the flooding, especially those that have been or will be most affected by it, say that the project is for China and so also for them; “As one struggling merchant forced to move from his riverside home explains before breaking down in tears, the Chinese people are expected to ‘sacrifice the little family for the big family’” (Holden).  This particular scene, when the merchant started crying was especially affecting because the merchant was trying to keep his composure and giving the standard, propaganda answers to questions about the Three Gorges Dam until suddenly he simply broke and could barely speak he was sobbing so hard.  Chang shows the audience a very different story than diplomats and tour guides about “the incalculable human impact of the giant Three Gorges Dam project on the Yangtze, China’s longest river. When completed, the 600-foot-high dam will be the largest hydroelectric project in the world. As we watch the steadily rising water swallow more and more of the landscape, the film conveys an ominous sense of a society changing too fast in its stampede into an unknown future” (Holden).  Speaking of tour guides, in another scene, there is a guide who shows a bunch of American tourists, houses that will be given to some of the relocated people.  One woman mentions that there are some who are probably not being relocated to anything quite as nice, which the tour guide laughs awkwardly at and then, struggling to find appropriate words responds, “We are all happy.”

The most powerful aspect of the movie is the family that Chang followed, that still lived on the banks of the Yangtze, until the water finally flooded their home.  Both parents cannot read or write and although their sixteen-year-old daughter Yu Shui wants to go to a university, they clearly do not have the money and she leaves to work on a “farewell cruise” along the Yangtze.  These cruises are for American and European tourists to say good-bye to old China, but it is hard to find much presence of old China now.  The tourists also do not think about the impact the river they are traveling on may be having on the very people serving their food and washing their dishes.  Yu Shui’s family especially was a prime example of how families were being so negatively affected by the flooding; they lived off of vegetables that they farmed and fish from the river so where their food came from was not as much of a concern but after their house was swallowed, they were forced to find a new way to provide for four mouths. Chang obviously followed this specific family for a reason and they show very clearly how the affects of globalization are speeding up China’s “progress” at an alarming rate and “a family, a peasant family who are living in abject poverty, who didn’t receive compensation, who are not relocated… [is] very, very revealing…that the social damage, the ecological damage far outweighed the benefits of what one may say can be incurred through a megadam project” (Chang).  Although there is not much that can be done now about the alarming transformation of the Yangtze, being aware of this distressing example of the toll modernization is having on our world is very important.


Chang, Yung. Interview. Democracy Now! 24 Apr. 2008. <http://www.democracynow.org/2008/4/24/up_the_yangtze_documentary_takes_on&gt;.

Holden, Stephen. “A Visit to Old China Before It Drowns.” Rev. of Up the Yangtze, by Yung Chang. New York Times 25 Apr. 2008. <http://movies.nytimes.com/2008/04/25/movies/25yang.html>.


– Caroline 

“White Light, Black Rain” (2007) Film Review

Posted in Film Reviews with tags , , , , on December 1, 2008 by foggyfirstframes

Boy carrying baby after hiroshima attack.

Taken from the film 'White Light, Black Rain'

White Light, Black Rain (2007)

It appears that yet again, an independent film that I’ve never heard of has struck me straight down to the heart. Through to my bones, all the way down and even enveloping my emotions, I was sucked into this film. It was heart wrenching, but yet hopeful at the same time. It is hopeful in that this won’t ever happen again; should not happen ever again. The destruction that occurred in both Nagasaki and Hiroshima has gone untold until now. I never learned about this in grade school. I never knew the magnitude in this all but too famous bomb. Its effects are far reaching, and are still being felt today by the many survivors.

The surface of this film is largely the pure, raw emotion that is delivered by these survivors and their testimonies. The use of their own art was very effective at giving us the horrible imagery that they have witnessed. Then add onto that the archival footage and you get an-all-too-clear picture at what occurred on those days. It wasn’t even in one specific section of the movie, it kept happening throughout; almost like it was reminding you over and over at what this bomb did. When I learned about this whole fiasco in school, it was taught that the bomb just vaporized people instantly. But this movie reflected clearly that the majority of people suffered in the most inhumane way possible. So many stories stand out to me; the man who killed two people by giving them water; a boy who woke up to a skew of dead bodies all around him; a girl who had to turn away from a women with a headless baby in her arms. It sounded like an obscene horror film. I will not shy away and say that this movie didn’t make me emotional. I can’t say that I cried, but I certainly felt like it. Although the movie was quite sensationalist, I really thought that it was crucial for the film.

Drawing from a survivor who witnessed the nuclear bomb.

Drawing from a survivor who witnessed the nuclear bomb.

Another part of the film that went a bit deeper was the whole argument of whether or not the bomb should have been dropped. The director Okazaki in an interview with The Japan Times said, “(I’m tired of the political debate surrounding the dropping of the atomic bombs.) It was just this one day with no connection to the rest of the war. And the Americans tell it another way, a very defensive way, and they cite their statistics about why it was necessary. But this discussion doesn’t get anywhere; neither side meets the other in any way (The Japan Times). He left this whole argument out, and just told the story. It’s quite interesting because I found myself agreeing with the Japan side of the argument naturally, even though there really was no ‘debate.’ I especially remember thinking cynical thoughts when an American man said (roughly), “I’ve never had a bad dream about this particular event; in fact I don’t think I’ve ever had a nightmare.” First off, that’s completely untrue. Every single person has bad dreams and the fact that he doesn’t feel any emotional connection to it is atrocious. I especially was offended when one of them was smiling as he was discussing his experience as if it was a cheery subject. I’m glad that I walked away from the film feeling this animosity towards the Americans who were involved with the atomic bombs. The film was obviously completely neutral, but the fact that they showed the show about the pilot and Hiroshima victim making amends. Although touching, I didn’t see that same emotion from the other Americans involved with the bomb.

There were a couple of interesting techniques used through the film that I felt were used extremely well. One that stands out immensely was the memorial performance being put on by some artists. Along with a painter who was painting a portrayal of what the bomb looked like, there was a trumpeter playing. It was described in a quote,”sad waning of trumpets [that] enlighten the souls that have passed on and memorializes what they stood for” (IMDB). Another theme that kept coming up was what Japan urban areas looked and felt like. It was a great start to the documentary to show how most young people don’t really know about the two bombs. The shots of the survivors standing in the middle of crowded areas were outstanding to me. It almost portrayed the dichotomy of their lives versus the average lives of the people their today. An amazing thing that I didn’t know until I witnessed this film was how the survivors got treated horribly. Almost like a plague victim, they were shunned away and avoided. Not only did they have to live with their grotesque scars, but they had to live with the shame of not being a part of society ever again. As mentioned before, I very much enjoyed how the use of the survivor’s art was used. It truly represented what it was like in its own way, rather than an artist’s interpretation.

I’m glad that I got to see this movie because of how powerful an impact it has made on me. The whole Japan side of the story has been lost in terms of formal education, and this movie makes up for it. If I wanted to teach anyone about this event, this is the movie that I would have them watch. Not only does it explain everything in a factual neutral way, but the over lying message is: Don’t let this happen again! These survivors have gone through so much pain and turmoil already, let them be the last ones of our time.


Fazio, Giovanni . “Last words on hell from the skies.” The Japan Times. 02 Aug 2007. The Japan Times Ltd. 12 Nov 2008 <http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/ff20070802r1.html&gt;.

Jamrite, “Powerful and heart wrenching documentary,.” Internet Movie Database. 08 Aug 2007. IMDb.com, Inc.. 12 Nov 2008 <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0911010/&gt;.

“The Spirit of the Marathon”

Posted in Film Reviews, Uncategorized on November 24, 2008 by foggyfirstframes

 “The Spirit of the Marathon”


            When it comes to documentaries there are those that will put you to sleep with facts and numbers and old professors and then there are those that will motivate you to go out and do something good.  Well, “The Spirit of the Marathon”(2008) was the latter.  After leaving the Roxie Theatre Monday night I wanted to run a marathon, and I hate running!  I was ready to put on my Nikes and run.

            Out of all of the movies that we have seen this year I have to say that “The Spirit of the Marathon” was by far my favorite and most motivating.  Writer Gary Goldstein said in an article in the LA Times, “Even if you’ve never run for anything but a bus, you’ll likely get swept up in this movie’s inspiring journey of physical endurance and personal achievement”(Goldstein).  This is exactly how I felt sitting in the theatre, I was anxious to leave because I wanted to go run.  There is something about watching others triumph and succeed in their own way that makes others want to do the same.  And for a documentary like this one, I think that the goal is to make the audience feel and connect with the people, in this case the runners from all backgrounds.  I may not have anything in common with any of these people, yet I saw my own struggles with running through them. 

I personally hate to run, I actually despise the sport, but I do it to stay in shape.  However, after seeing this film I got on the treadmill Tuesday morning before my 9am class and ran for 20 minutes, and it felt good.  I thought of the different struggles that each of the six runners had in the film and I thought of my own with my shin splints which has prevented me from running as much as I should.  My shins did not hurt that day, I like to think that maybe the movie did that for me, it blocked out my pain and struggle so that I could get that “runner’s high” that they spoke of in the film.

Finally, on to the actual film, I am no expert on documentaries but “The Spirit of the Marathon” was a very well put together film to me.  The way that the events unfolded was very understandable and I was never once confused.  Robert Koehler said in Variety, “Director Jon Dunham fluidly folds a mini-history of the marathon inside his multi-character portrait of a widely diverse sextet”(Koehler).  This history that Dunham added into his film was very informative and really helped his viewers that have never paid attention to marathons in the past, like me.  He did a very good job of tying in the story about women and marathons and the fear that their uterus might fall out.  This was not only informative but very amusing.  He did this several times, highlighting runners from Kenya and their dominance in the sport.

The camera work was very good as well.  There were a lot of good shots that Dunham got from networks covering the marathon which helped, but by putting those shots in the film was very brilliant.  For example one of my favorite was the overhead shot of the thousands of runners behind the starting line.  It was very astonishing to me how many athletes were running in that marathon and like one of the people said in the movie, they are all “going through the same struggle at the same time, it is not like that in any other sport”.  It was inspiring to watch so many people fight against all sanity and keep going to finish the race.  I actually had a tears in my eyes when Deena Kastor won the women’s race and when first time marathon runner Leah Caille finished despite how badly her knees hurt. 

In conclusion, I like the move, a lot!  I have never really been a big fan of documentaries, mostly because I associate them with science and boring films that I had to watch in government, but now I think I will invest a lot more time in them.  I hope to go to DocFest next year, even though I won’t have to, so that I can see what other new and exciting documentaries have been made.  And maybe someday I’ll run in a marathon too, not so likely, but I’ll start small 2 miles on the treadmill one day 26.2 miles in Chicago the next.  The sky is the limit.


Goldstein, Gary. “Featured Press Articles.” Spirit of the Marathon. 24 Jan. 2008. 28 Oct. 2008 <http://www.marathonmovie.com/pr_latimes.html&gt;.

Koehler, Robert. “Featured Press Articles.” Spirit of the Marathon. 1 Sept. 2008. 28 Oct. 2008 <http://www.marathonmovie.com/pr_variety.html&gt;.




Dimensional Bodies

Posted in Uncategorized on November 20, 2008 by foggyfirstframes

Dimensional Bodies

            This week’s film was more like a narrated 3D slide show than an actual movie.  But in a sense it can be called a film, because film was used to capture the interesting images that Johunna Grayson and Greta Snider presented.  This film was completely different from anything I have ever seen before, and I really enjoyed the photography.  With the 3D glasses I really felt like I was in there and the people were talking to me.

            Going into the presentation I did not know what to expect, especially when I was handed 3D glasses.  But once the film started rolling I realized that the pictures and the voices of those in the photos would be telling their life story, or at least a major part of it.  I thought the idea of using 3D was pretty creative, however I got a headache because it was not always in focus, and I had a really hard time seeing the images.  This of course is all a part of the experimental process, as Snider and Grayson would say after the film.  I thought the photography was very good, I just had a hard time seeing it, partly because the gentlemen in front of me was blocking the screen, and also the blurriness of them made me go cross-eyed which made the screening a lot less enjoyable.  However, the idea of going 3D was brilliant.  For example, one of the stories was a man who had a broken back.  The pictures of him were all in a forest-like backdrop and with the 3D I felt like I could reach out and touch the leaves.  It made the stories much more personal, as though they were right behind me talking to me.

            This screening was defined by the photography in a sense.  The angles and the technique made it very unique. Snider said, “The stereoscopic aspect of the projection puts additional emphasis on the physical experience of viewing, accentuating the physiology of image processing and creating a sense of physical self-consciousness in the viewer and thus the perfect environment for experiencing the portraits” (Dimensional Bodies).  As an audience member I think she portrayed that very well.  There was a nice flow of movement that I could see, even if it was hard at times to see it clearly. 

            Also, their experimentation was evident throughout the slides.  Some slides would have a different exposure, some darker and some would just be objects.  In the program that we got that night it said, “We are particularly interested in the ‘motion’ aspect of the hand-processed texture (which create slight textural differences between the two stereo images, and create a feeling of movement as a viewers eyes balance them).”  I could absolutely see that and as stated above there was a nice fluidity to the slides.  The blurriness came from this experimentation with the stereos and the overlapping of two different images.  I don’t really know much about making a 3D image, but I was really amazed when Snider said after the film that they had to focus the photos live to create the 3D affect, which explains why they were sometimes blurred in and out of focus.

            Overall this was a very unique experience.  Something I would have probably never seen otherwise, but I am glad I did.  I now know that a film doesn’t have to be a movie.  After this film I was really confused and did not really get it, but after reflecting for a few days, I began to see and understand the art behind it and was really glad I saw it.  Who knows, maybe I’ll go see another Snider and Grayso screening.


“Dimensional Bodies.” SFSataion. 6 Nov. 2008 <http://www.sfstation.com/dimensional-bodies-e430221&gt;.

Docfest: Chasing The Devil Review

Posted in Film Reviews with tags , , , , on November 20, 2008 by foggyfirstframes


The film Chasing The Devil (2008), chronicles the “ex-gay” movement, which claims that people can change their sexual orientation through counseling and faith. While the documentary attempts to claim that it is only attempting to present the facts, “We’ve done our best to honestly present the stories we found during the course of or filming” (Hussung), the facts generally tend to lean in the direction of the left. That is to say I went into the film with notion that the entire movement was ridiculous, and left with my views more or less reaffirmed.

            With the question of gay marriage forever lingering unanswered in the air, the issue of whether a person can truly change his or her sexual desires seems particularly relevant. While some ministers of the ex-gay movement claim that they have transformed their homosexual inclinations into heterosexual longings (one woman going as far as to claim that she was possessed by a demon) being “straight” still remains a life-long struggle. As producer Bill Hussung stated, “We didn’t interview people who claimed to be 100% cured of their homosexuality” (Throckmorton). These repressed desires and the self-loathing associated with being attracted to someone of the same sex, leads to further complications and issues in the lives of many who attempt to become ex-gays.

            The film also briefly addresses the issue of biology and homosexuality, or whether people are just born gay. Leaders of the ex-gay movement assert that it’s “impossible” for people to be born gay, and it is in reality just a result of environmental factors. This perception that homosexuality can be solely attributed to environmental factors is the entire basis for the ex-gay movement; biological “peculiarities” cannot be changed but environmental ones can be “fixed.”

            While I found the subject matter of the film highly relevant in today’s society, the cinematography came across as amateur at times (I’m referring to amateur in the shaky camera sense versus the ‘unspoiled’ sense we addressed in class). The cameraman also employed an odd use close ups in some of the interviews, such as zooming in on one man’s crotch when he was speaking… These attempts at artistic filmmaking techniques fell flat, and hindered the film.

            Chasing the Devil questions a disturbing movement in America, and the effects it has on the people involved. While some appear able to harness their desires and feelings, others take a different path to become “ex-gay survivors.” Ultimately compassion and acceptance emerge as the themes the filmmakers urge us to adopt, rather than hatefulness and intolerance.

– Emily Ballaine

A Look at the Red Vic

Posted in Independent Venues with tags , on October 28, 2008 by foggyfirstframes

The Red Vic

The Red Vic

Ten screen mega-movie theatres with thirty foot projection screens are what most Americans think of when they think of a movie house.  IMAX 3kD with larger than life-size action are always associated with cinema these days, and there is nothing wrong with that, in fact, that is exactly how I used to view cinema up until two months ago when I explored the world of independent film in San Francisco.  And on that exploration I found the Red Vic Movie House on the popular Haight Street between Cole and Shraeder.


In this independently owned theatre, that is run by dedicated volunteers and members.  This small movie house was first opened in 1980 on Haight and Belvedere where their one of a kind couches where introduced giving the theatre a homely feel.  Although the location is now different the couches are still the same and the genre of independent films is still a constant with an occasionally a Hollywood blockbuster will appear on the program. 

My first venture to the Red Vic was because of my Independent Cinema class and I have gone back since just to watch the wide array of movies that it plays.  Of course the venture to the Red Vic is almost as good as the movie itself, and the movies are always good!  The walk down Haight Street always leads to some excitement, one time I saw a “bum fight” on my way to the theatre, another time I signed up to help homeless women and children in the San Francisco area.  And of course getting food before going to the film is always a highlight.  With food of every kind ranging from crepes to burritos there is something for everyone along Haight Street.

Upon stepping inside the Red Vic, after being solicited for spare change by the local bums, it is like coming home.  There is always a smiling face by the small snack bar, where the popcorn is served in wooden bowls, just like home.  Also, there is complementary water, which is in regular glasses, also just like home.  After stocking up on popcorn, candy and water the small but comfortable screening room is the final stop.  Upon entering it for the first time was shocked to see couches where the chairs normally are, but I along with the other patrons at the Red Vic welcome this out of the ordinary comfort.

The Red Vic Movie House is just that, a house that people go to, to watch films.  It is a house that has opened its doors for the public and for a small fee everyone and anyone can get a peak at how movie viewing should be.

“The Cockettes”

Posted in Film Reviews with tags , on October 28, 2008 by foggyfirstframes

 “The Cockettes”

Long hair, bright sequins, and drag queens; not what I expected when I popped in the DVD “The Cockettes”(2002).  Before the film even started there were men dressed as women and women with beards running around the screen and I wondered for a second if I had gotten the right film.  After last weeks adventure through the 1960s pornography I was prepared for anything, but drag queens? I didn’t see that one coming.  Well, even though the documentary was filled with unexpected nudity the film interested me and taught me more about San Francisco culture. 

I had never thought about where drag queens came from, or how they originated and became so popular in San Francisco, where gay pride is an important part of the city.  “The Cockettes” told the history of the dance troupe The Cockettes, and also an insight into the gay community of the 1960s and early ‘70s.  The film brought back to life a time in this city’s history that has been gone for quite some time now.  Directors Bill Weber, and David Weissman did a great job of compiling both recent footage of The Cockettes and old footage.  In a review for the Los Angeles Times, writer Kenneth Turan said, “[The directors] have used excellent interviews and remarkable vintage footage to illuminate a corner of half-forgotten countercultural history”(Turan).  I was shocked to find out that the footage they used was real vintage footage from the 1960s and ‘70s, giving the audience a chance to step back into the past to see a culture they are unfamiliar with.  And although some of the footage is very raw, it is still intriguing and has a history behind it.  The unrehearsed dialog is what came to define The Cockettes.  The long lashes and the nudity is what they did, along with many drugs that ended up killing many of the members along with the terrible AIDS epidemic.  Furthermore, it was a very nice change of pace at the end of the film when the former members took a moment to mention those that had lost their lives to either drugs or AIDS.

Also, a strong move by Weber and Weissman was getting former Cockettes to come back and tell their story.  Turan said, “[The filmmakers] have done a heroic job of getting the surviving Cockettes on film”(Turan).  By having the former Cockettes narrate the film, the documentary did not feel like a documentary, rather a few old friends getting together after ten years to tell their psychedelic story to their children.  The film became very personal because of this and a connection between audience and narrator was formed.  Also, it was very interesting to compare the older version to the younger and freer version of each of the narrators.  Reporter, A.O. Scott wrote in the New York Times, “It is touching to see them now-grayer, stouter, in sportcoats and sensible blouses-alongside their young, flamboyantly dressed (and undressed) selves.  But it was so gratifying to see them preserved in their brief, glorious prime and to experience, even at second hand, the chaotic, inspired freedom they embodied”(Scott).  Seeing the drag queen right next to the perfectly normal average American was very weird, yet insightful.  It shows the audience who they used to be and who they have become without having to use any words.  This visual said more about the time period than all of the words in the film.

In addition to strong narration and use of photos Weber and Weissman did a good job of representing time in the film.  In a lot of documentaries the audience has no idea what time it is and is forced to guess throughout the film.  However, “The Cockettes” was different and represented time through a vintage slideshow.  This added character to the already unique film and also gave it a more professional appeal rather than just all fun and games.  Through these slides, the audience was able to keep track of significant events and keep everything in chronological order, which really helps the audience. 

Over all this film was very good and unique.  I would have never seen it on my own if I did not need to get a movie on reserve in the library, but I am very glad I chose that film.  It kept me interested for almost the entire feature and I did not even fall asleep, which is saying a lot considering how a lot of documentaries make me feel.  Whether it was the flowered head peaces or the extraordinary tassels, this film kept me dialed in for the entirety. 


Scott, A.O. “The Cockettes(2002) Film Review: Where the Drag Queens Wore Beards.” The New York Times. 28 June 2002. 14 Oct. 2008 <http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9804e2df133ef93ba15755c0a9649c8b63&partner=rotten%20tomatoes&gt;.

Turan, Kenneth. “‘The Cockettes'” Los Angeles Times. 26 July 2002. 14 Oct. 2008 <http://www.calendarlive.com/movies/reviews/cl-movie000051330jul26,0,1788962.story&gt;.