Even as it enters its third year, the CINE Film Festival can be difficult to distinguish from its more-popular and established brethren, the International Wildlife Film Festival (IWFF), which will mark its 30th anniversary this May. Both festivals are run by the same staff and based in the Roxy Theater, but CINE (aka “Cultures and Issues of Nature and the Environment”) has one big difference—people, not wildlife, tend to be at the center of its films. There’s some overlap, but mostly CINE foregoes spectacular sequences of animals acting in their environment for people wrestling with the complexities of theirs. It’s an intriguing complement to IWFF’s springtime shindig, and based on some selected highlights from this year’s festival, one capable of rising to similarly celebrated status.
Power Trip (85 min.)
This is about as entertaining as watching angry Russians yelling at each other, which can actually be quite compelling. A documentary about the business struggles of an inept American-owned power company trying to run a business in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia may not sound riveting on the surface—and it does occasionally bog down in minutia—but the characters, chaos and all that yelling make it nearly electrifying.
The conflict at the heart of Emmy Award-winning director Paul Devlin’s documentary is that Georgians aren’t accustomed to paying for power and the Johnny-come-lately company, AES, is accustomed to cutting it off. This harsh example of supply and demand makes for some brutal and odd confrontations: an elderly man living with three handicapped senior citizens is unable to pay his bill and begs for an exception only to be denied; the airport’s electricity gets turned off due to a delinquent account while planes are landing; the rising mini-celebrity of an often-interviewed regional director gets broadly satirized on Georgian TV, with an emphasis on his wildly erratic right eyebrow; the gruesome dead body of a man who tries to break into a substation to steal power is discovered by a news crew; and about 100 angry old ladies yell at anyone or anything in order to, among other things, watch their afternoon soaps. It’s a sad, frustrating story, and a whole new perspective on why another part of the world is disgusted by our country. Showing Thursday, Oct. 5, at 7 PM.
Mountain Patrol (89 min.)
“Ever seen protesters on a pilgrimage?” asks Captain Ritai (Duo Bujie) in this Chinese film based on true events. “Their faces and hands are filthy. But their hearts are pure.” In Mountain Patrol, this is an understatement. The protesters are not only filthy, but also hungry, tired, unpaid, underappreciated and in constant danger of being shot in their effort to save the Tibetan antelope from extinction.
During the 1990s the antelope’s wool was a coveted prize for poachers and the animals were slaughtered en masse across the Tibetan plateau. In 1993, Ritai’s Wild Yak Brigade, a volunteer civilian patrol, was formed to police the poaching. It was a noble effort without much success or fanfare until 1996, when one of the patrolmen was brutally killed. That prompted Beijing journalist Ga Yu to track down Ritai’s men, and what he found was a virtual bloodbath of both man and animal; Ritai’s crew buries more than 10,000 antelope carcasses each year.
Chuan Lu’s film, which was nominated for a grand jury prize at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, follows Ritai’s struggles and passion without ever definitively defining his or his men’s motivation. Ritai wants to create a wildlife preserve, protect the land, do what’s right, but when his chase turns desperate he illegally sells the pelts he’s recovered for quick cash. Good and bad aren’t white and black, and that—plus the mesmerizing backdrop of the Tibetan terrain—makes this a compelling film. There is no happy ending here, just an honest, leveling gut punch. Showing Friday, Oct. 6, at 8:30 PM.
Binta and the Great Idea (30 min.)
This is an uncomplicated and breezy essay told through the sweetly optimistic narration of a 7-year-old Senegalese girl named Binta. The little girl is lucky enough to attend school, but her cousin is not, due to the old-school thinking of her family. Meanwhile, Binta’s smiley fisherman father has a revelation while speaking with a villager who owns a digital watch. As Binta slyly makes a case for her cousin, her father sells his big idea up the local government chain of command, and along the way they each prove the other’s cause worthy. The charm of this film is just as much in the cinematography and soundtrack—including tracks by Ali Farka Toure and The Drummers of Burundi—as in the straightforward and sanguine storylines.
Showing Thursday, Oct. 5, at 9:30 AM and 7 PM; Friday, Oct. 6, at 9:30 AM and 12:30 PM; and Saturday, Oct. 7, at 8 PM.
The Curse of Copper (34 min.)
Festival Director Janet Rose calls The Curse of Copper the quintessential CINE film. This short documentary’s scope thoroughly covers the environmental and cultural impact of copper mines in Ecuador, tracks the shady tactics companies use against citizens to maintain operations, and looks at the communities most affected. The amount of damning evidence presented here—one in-company study refers to a possible “large-scale ecological and social disaster”—is staggering, but the community’s persistently creative responses are even more so.
The CINE Film Festival runs Thursday, Oct. 5, through Sunday, Oct. 8, at the Roxy Theater. A full schedule is available at wildlifefilms.org. $6/$5 students/$3 children under 12. $12 day pass/$25 festival pass.