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Stateside With Rosalea: Screenings

Stateside With Rosalea Barker


::Are noses psychic?::

Just asking cos yesterday when I was over in San Francisco watching some movies in the International Film Festival I could smell a burning smell, like the one that sometimes wafts my way down here in Oakland when there’s an oil refinery fire at the neighbouring Richmond tank farm.

When I turned on the telly this Sunday morning, I discovered that at 3 in the morning—hours after I smelled the burning smell--someone crashed a petrol tanker into a vital Bay Area overpass and thousands of gallons of burning fuel melted steel and collapsed a concrete overpass. Take that you Bay Area weirdoes who are the backbone of the movement that avows the Twin Towers could not possibly have collapsed just by being hit by jetliners!

I see that AP Video has put a good spin on it saying the efficient BART transit system will ease the problem, and local TV station KRON4 reports that BART is putting on extra trains and carriages for the routes that go between San Francisco and the East Bay. But where will they be taking those carriages from? Oh, let me guess, please! It’ll be from the route I travel on, which travels only on the eastern side of the bay and is already way too overcrowded at peak times.

(Hey, of course I was kidding about psychic noses.)


The first movie I saw at the festival was introduced by Danny Glover, who was the executive producer. There was a pre-screening press conference and a post-screening Q&A session afterwards about the issues raised in the film, which is set in the capital of Mali, Bamako.

Glover, who lives in the Bay Area and went to university here, also has a tiny role in the film in the mock western set in Timbuktu where some cowboys from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund ride into town and shoot it up: “Two teachers? Those kids only need one.”

Bamako is a fascinating movie, but you have to allow its pace to take you over. The centrepiece is a trial in which the plaintiff “African society” argues against exploitation by the defendants, the World Bank and the IMF. When Glover asked in his introduction for people to be aware of the complexity of the issues that the film addresses, he was in effect saying to the liberal Bay Area audience, “Don’t be so smug.”

There is a clear connection between the arguments given in the film and the ideals of the World Social Forum, which held one of its three concurrent meetings in Bamako in January, 2006. According to its website, the World Social Forum is “an open meeting place where social movements, networks, NGOs and other civil society organizations opposed to neo-liberalism and to a world dominated by capital or by any form of imperialism.”

All the while, as the trial takes place in the courtyard of a family home, the comings and goings of the family weave into the action, and you are shown how African society has become one where small cottage industries run by women have become the only support for families as the privatisation of what were formerly public-owned utilities—the railroad, telecommunications—has gutted the job market. And despite Mali being rich in gold, what little benefit it gets from its natural resources goes to paying off debt.

Directed by the African director Abderrahmane Sissako, it is a Mali/France/USA co-production. Bamako is mostly in French with some local languages, so has subtitles. But the one scene that is not subtitled, in a dialect that probably only a few people in Mali understand, was so powerfully moving it needed no translation.

::The Old Weird America::

I am ever-fascinated by what it is that I misunderstood about U.S. culture when I was growing up in a suburb of Hollywood so far out that it was a rural town in another country thousands of miles away. Of course, the U.S. has always succeeded in having not only people in foreign countries misunderstand the culture, but its own citizens as well.

Back in 1952, a young man who had grown up among the Native American communities in the Pacific Northwest, where his mother taught, persuaded a record producer to put out a three-part anthology of material previously recorded by country balladeers and blues singers.

Falling into the gap between the academic discipline of ethnomusicology and Tin Pan Alley’s commercial creation of the popular music industry, Harry E. Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, on the Folkways label, was an act of subversion like no other. Suddenly young people realised that their culture was stranger and weirder and much less homogenous than they had been led to believe.

Watching “The Old, Weird America: Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music” is like being tipped through the transom above the door that Smith opened so that the vastness of the American experience could enter what was becoming a Madison Avenue cookie-cutter society.

Although it’s not a documentary about Smith—the producer is still trying to raise enough money to make that—there are a couple of clips of Smith, including one where he says that, “Of course perfection is perfect, but to hell with it!” There is an interview with Allen Ginsberg, taken from a documentary about the Grateful Dead, in which the beat generation’s poet laureate breaks down and cries when speaking of the circumstances of Smith’s death alone and ill in a residence hotel in New York.

But most of the film consists of musicians, like Elvis Costello, speaking about the effect that the Anthology of American Folk Music had on the music scene of the Fifties and Sixties, and performances of songs from the anthology at three concerts that were held in the late 90’s through 2001 in recognition of the album’s re-release on the Smithsonian Folkways label.

The documentary is available as a DVD and 2 CD set. See the link below for a review of that offering:

For information about the SFIFF, go to:
(I transcribed a few of the oral histories at that website, and the one I’d recommend if you’re into scuttlebutt is the one with the two Jeannettes. Careful though--clicking on the link dumps a 100-plus page pdf on your hard drive.)

And a shameless plug for a movie website run by another East Bay resident who reviews films and chanced to fill the last empty seat in the row next to me at Bamako:



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