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Heartland Film Festival: Documentary feature reviews

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Light Fly, Fly High
★★★1/2 (out of five)

Light Fly, Fly High is a documentary about a female boxer in India that plays like a feature film until near the end, when the tidy resolutions we associate with fiction don't occur. Reality can be so damn fuzzy. And frustrating. And sometimes anger inducing. I won't go into details right now, but there's a thuggish authority figure in this film ... if I had the money and the athletic ability, I would fly to India, walk into the guy's office and knock him into next Tuesday.

But I digress.

In 2005, Danish filmmakers Susann Ostigaard and Beathe Hofseth were intrigued by a photo article about female boxers in India. They wanted to know more about why women were participating in a sport so strongly associated with men in a country where most females adhere to rigid social rules. In January of 2010 they traveled to India where they met a boxer named Thulasi who stood out from the crowd. Four years and six trips later, Light Fly, Fly High is on the festival circuit.

When we meet Thulasi she is 24. This is important, because age 25 is the cut-off for a government program that secures well-paid jobs for successful athletes. To qualify, she must win a big match on a state or national level. Money is a major issue. Born in southern India, Thulasi is part of a lower caste. She ran away from home at 14 (her father wanted to marry her off to a colleague from work) and ended up becoming an adopted daughter to a middle-age couple with three children. They provided the funds for Thulasi to train for 10 years at a boxing club, but it's been a long time and they're looking forward to seeing Thulasi either stand on her own or get married.

Light Fly, Fly High - Trailer from Beathe Hofseth on Vimeo.

The boxing club is run by Sir Karuna, the General Secretary of the Tumil Nadu Boxing Association. Providing a facility for the athletes is a positive thing, but there is corruption within the place. The trainers, we learn, are thieves – although the boxers' traveling expenses to tournaments are usually covered by the government, the trainers require the women to pay several hundred rupees to participate.

Even if a boxer wins at a tournament, she must get Sir Karuna's signature to get into the government job program. And what Karuna requires is revealed near the end of the film, when Thulasi publicly accuses him of being a sexual predator and files charges.

During the bulk of the film we hear voice-overs from Thulasi, but towards the end it stops and we just watch and listen as her plans take some unexpected turns. Through the ups and downs, she remains profoundly bullheaded. Thulasi doesn't get on a soapbox or wax poetic, she just says what she needs to say and takes care of business. One of the only grandiose statements you she makes is "I'm a one-woman army." Who could argue with that? —Ed Johnson-Ott


CAPSULE REVIEWS by Ed Johnson-Ott (EJO) and Scott Shoger (SS)

The Fix
★★★★
This short (71 minute) feature documentary about drug addiction in The Bronx covers new ground (at least for this viewer) by looking at the ways in which doctors and patients alike are trying to address Hepatitis C, which, since 2007, has killed more people than HIV. One methadone clinic is unique in offering a year-long treatment for the illness — and The Fix focuses in large part on one patient in that program, Jesus, who's trying to get clean and stay healthy for his wife and daughter. Doctors are collaborating with patients like Jesus on Hep C education (he didn't know what it was when he contracted it) — and in innovative ways, including bringing in reps from The Moth to help those in recovery craft stories about their lives. A fascinating, compassionate film. (SS)

Gabor
★★★★1/2
More than a well-done inspirational documentary, Gabor looks at the ethics of documentary filmmaking. Commissioned to make a documentary on a group working to prevent blindness in tiny El Alto, Bolivia, director Sebastian Alfie travels to Spain to meet Gabor Bene, a Hungarian cinematographer who lost his sight years earlier and now earns his living renting cameras and related equipment. Alfie and Bene team up, resulting in a documentary about the making of a documentary. Watching Bene work his magic without sight is fascinating. When he challenges Alfie for considering a dishonest ending for his feature, it invites us to watch the whole production with a skeptical eye. Very impressive. (EJO)

Happiness
★★★1/2
Interesting, if sometimes slow, documentary look at a group of people on the verge of change. In 1999, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck of Bhutan promised to bring television and the Internet to the country, while cautioning youth with the statement, "The TV and the Internet in its news and programs, has contents that are both harmful and useful for you and your country. For this reason, we must be careful and selective in using this new resource." The film takes place 10 years later, when the connections are about to be made in a remote part of the nation to complete the promise. We follow a nine-year-old monk as he prepares for his quiet world to expand. Glacial at times, but worth the effort. (EJO)

MARMATO Press CLIP - "Mine" from Mark Grieco on Vimeo.

Marmato
★★★
There's gold in the mountains of Columbia and the small (population 8,000) mining town of Marmato is sitting on over $20 billion of the stuff. Marmato is over 500 years old, but the citizens will be displaced if the open-mining project of a Canadian mining company prevails. The documentary does a good job presenting the point of view of both the inhabitants of the town and the mining company executives. Shot over the course of five years, the film captures the determination, or is it just bullheadedness, of all the involved parties. Maddening at points, but engaging. (EJO)

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