(BY ALI NADERZAD) The first week of pre-festival screenings, when a sampling from this year’s selection is shown to the press, began on a bittersweet note with Kassim The Dream, a doc about a Liberian child-soldier turned boxing champion. Director Kief Davidson, who previously shot The Devil’s Miner, about children miners in South America, is clearly the genre’s virtuoso. His subjects have control of their platform, there are little to no questions heard off-screen, and the cameras accompany rather than dictate the action. Kassim Ouma was kidnapped by the rebel army in Liberia and trained to be a child soldier at age six. He cuts a paradoxical figure. Forced to commit atrocities for twelve years, he found solace in the army’s boxing team. Through luck and determination he defects to America where he eventually joins a gymn. Davidson’s steady hand helps to frame a turbulent Kassim who goes from manic exuberance to somber calm in a matter of moments. Like its predecessor, this new Kief Davidson doc is eminently watchable for the timeliness of its topic as much as for its engaging subject.
Xian Gao, whose credits include Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, choreographed the martial arts scenes of Fighter, a Turkish-Danish production by director Natasha Arthy. Fighter will remind you so much of Bend it like Beckham. Change the names and the cultures and this new film is a mirror image, except that Fighter is about kung-fu. Martial arts is apparently very popular among Muslim girls and high-schooler Aicha (Semra Turan; pictured) has a propensity for randomly kicking down doors and garbage pails. She secretly enlists in a co-ed kung fu club and before long establishes herself as one of the team’s dominant fighters. But when top fighter Omar (Behruz Banissi) is introduced to the club, he refuses to fight Aicha. He threatens her and asks if her family knows that she goes to the club to train. Beautifully choreographed fight scenes, characters that jump off the screen and a haunting dream scene which is revisited at regular intervals until it reaches its own denouement makes Fighter an exciting new film to seek at Tribeca.
When it was released in 1973, Lou Reed‘s Berlin album was greeted with disapproval from the fans. Embarrassed, Reed moved on. Thirty or so years later, the album was dusted off and now enjoys newfound recognition. In 2006 artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel filmed Lou Reed’s live performance of the album at St. Ann’s warehouse in Brooklyn and this documentary called Berlin is the result. It was a magical concert and Schnabel lensed a concert movie worthy of it. He enlisted help from Emmanuelle Seigner, his Diving Bell and the Butterfly leading lady to play Berlin’s central character, Caroline. Schnabel’s daughter Lola filmed the stage projections featuring Seigner, which were then superimposed over the concert’s footage. Mostly, though, it’s Reed on stage, singing his dark, mesmeric ballads. Songs like “How do you think it feels?” and “The Kids” were performed during this concert.
Melvin Van Peebles is almost old enough to have teamed up with George Melies but his no-pretense yen for living loudly, as exemplified in his film Confessions of an Ex-Doofus-Itchy-Footed Mutha is irresistible. In this impossibly-titled farcical film, Van Peebles plays a young troubadour from Chicago perpetually in search of adventure, drink and girls. He joins the merchant marine with only a tin can filled with cash and travels around the world, meeting some unusual characters along the way. There’s a cutesey and amateurish quality to Confessions and Van Peebles, who plays someone a lot younger than him, manages to make it all believable. His soliloquies about men’s tribulations are superimposed over action scenes. He hustles whoever he encounters with gusto and his affinity for semantics and alliterations color his interior monologue, often heard in voice over. World discovery notwithstanding, ultimately a woman’s enduring love is the more important thing to a guy, as he will discover. Confessions of an Ex-Doofus-Itchy-Footed Mutha is based on Mario Van Peebles’ 1982 Broadway show Waltz of the Stork.