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LA Film Festival day 6: Talking about 'Revolucion' and education revolution

LA Film Festival day 6: Talking about 'Revolucion' ... and the education revolution brought to you by Superman
Yes everyone, it´s only one day till the world premiere of Twilight. All those happy campers in the square are about to get very excited. But more on that tomorrow...

People are not only talking about vampires, but about Superman (the LAFF premiere of 'Waiting for Superman', the new doc on the US public education system)- So I want to share with you something SHOCKING. All those Americans reading this article, you'd better take a seat.

Did you know one high ranking student from a private school actually chose to change over to a PUBLIC SCHOOL to complete her college education (and it never affected her marks)? Yes. From private into Public. Yes you read right.

How do I know? Because that student was - wait for it... drumroll... me.

WHAT? WHY? HOW can it be, you ask? Because I am Australian, and was educated in Canberra, the Australian National Capital, where (thanks to government funding and good teachers) actually the public colleges have the best academic records in the country.

So you can imagine that for me, seeing 'Waiting for Superman', the new doc by Davis Guggenheim (Academy Award winning director of An Inconvenient Truth), was a shocking experience. It looked like these kids would be better educated by watching Sesame Street than being at a public school. Thank god that nowadays people are watching documentaries then, huh, because it looks like the only way Americans are being educated about important public issues?

I was also stunned to see the "pledge" message in the film's advertising and closing credits (pledge to make a difference by pledging to watch the film, text this number... THEN WHAT?!) so openly turning documentary into a lobbying tool. Sure this has been done before. Films have been used before as propaganda by more powerful people than even Al Gore... and the political essay as documentary style is now so firmly entrenched due to the Michael Mooreification of the genre that I don't think many people question it any more.

It's a worthy film that is much more sophisticated than director Davis Guggenheim's previous Academy Award winning doc An Inconvenient Truth (Al Gore doing slide shows?). But at the end, I felt confused: so caught up in the importance of saving the children that I wanted to ´pledge´ too, whilst at the same time a little disturbed that I was watching ending credits turned into an ad. And an ad for the film itself, as a powerful means for change? Yes, watch out for the education system revolution, brought to you by 'Superman'...

Talking about ´revolution´, the LA premiere of 'Revolucion' unfortunately failed to ignite the audience in the same way.

It promised a subversive look at Mexico by 10 cutting edge Mexican directors, with 10 short films, on the eve of the centenary celebration of the Mexican revolution -Cinema as an 'anti-celebration´, ironically (or naively) funded by the Mexican government itself. Good to know that censorship is not an issue for these artists, as one director in the Q&A attested, but the audience seemed to be left wondering what in fact was. 'What exactly is the problem...?' an audience member asked. And after a few of the shorts, quite a few of the audience members were asking 'what exactly was that all about?´

Some of the images were haunting, beautiful, evocative, scary, but several of the shorts lead us down a dramatic road then left us stranded at the corner, where the film just fell off the map without actually leading anywhere. Only one did the audience consistently agree translated beyond the borders of Mexico - the comedy, of course.

It's certainly worth seeing, and with the revolution theme stirring underneath it all the film certainly gives plenty of food for thought as well as holding their own as intruiging short films in themselves.

But the film would be a better experience after hearing the Q&A, where the filmmakers enlightened us a little more on the analogies they were playing with, and the statements about their home country which, whether implied or imagined, formed a nebulous tension which ran like a sinister subtext through the film. Perhaps the problem was, as one audience member surmised, these filmmakers are simply from the rich elite and don't really know or care about their history - as one director in the Q&A quite directly intoned. Or a few of them, without the whip of a demanding producer, were just too spoilt, given too much freedom that they weren't pushed to the creative edges to make something powerful. They revelled in the project's artistic liberation - whilst the film was to be an anticelebration, they were celebrating the producer had simply said (as they quoted) "The film is revolution. Here is the money. Goodbye".

My comments may ignite a revolution in Mexican cinema, but I have to say show me the indie filmmakers who have risen from the dust of their homeland, making films with absolutely no money, so passionate to show their country and change it through the power of cinema, that nothing could stop them making films.

I felt the will for that cinematic revolution in the theatre last night. The audience had risen to the call to arms, the cinema was packed for the premiere... but I have to say, compared to the education revolution the audience of 'Waiting for Superman' were gunning for by the end of the film, the Mexican 'Revolucion´ fell just a little flat.

Wendy Dent
Los Angeles Film Festival dailies

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