LAFF Documentary Reviews: CIRCO, VLAST (POWER), and ONE LUCKY ELEPHANT
The 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival begun on Thursday, June 17 and already we have seen quite a few movies and documentaries. Here are some quick thoughts on the documentaries I already saw: Circo, One Lucky Elephant, and Vlast . (Note some of these movies were seen during a press-only advance screening)
Synopsis: A century-old, family-run Mexican traveling circus may be the main attraction of director-cinematographer Aaron Schock’s bittersweet documentary, but Circo has much more on its mind than just trapeze artists and tiger acts.
Tino Ponce operates Circo Mexico, which journeys across the Mexican countryside in search of paying customers. Wanting to please his father and continue the family business, Ponce has recruited his young children as performers while laboring night and day to maintain the circus’s faltering financial fortunes. But a growing resentment brewing within his wife about their hardscrabble existence suggests troubles on the horizon.
Director: Aaron Schock
Thoughts: Circo was a poignant depiction of a family struggling to make a living for themselves while at the same time pursuing their passion. These folks have incredible work ethic and stamina but they are not immune to doubt, suspicion or even resentment.
This is especially evident as Ponce’s wife who doesn’t quite feel at home at the circus and starts to question the whole dynamic, as well as demand more from her husband than just work. Their conversations are the moments where you see past the circus and notice that this is a family like any other that deals with challenges you can relate to.
The most fascinating and endearing part of the movie was following the kids around. These kids would put to shame the average kid in the US in terms of work, discipline and focus. They work so freaking hard that you almost want to pull them out from the screen and take them out for some ice cream. Nevertheless, they never seem to lose their innocence and naivete which makes them that much more endearing.
Ultimately, this is a sincere family portrait that will make you smile, tear up and ponder about the challenges of growing up and living in a circus.
Saturday, Jun 19th 4:30pm – Regal 9
Monday, Jun 21st 5:00pm – Regal 11
One Lucky Elephant
Synopsis: What happens to a circus elephant when it’s time to retire? After 16 years in the spotlight, Flora, an African elephant living in St. Louis, must find a new home, and David, the circus owner who has cared for her all these years, must say goodbye to the animal he thinks of as a “daughter.” The road to Flora’s retirement, however, is a difficult and emotional one. While David finds himself drawn into the current debate in the animal rights community over the ethical treatment of elephants, Flora must adjust to living among other elephants for the first time ever.
Director: Lisa Leeman
Thoughts: I was sort of looking forward to watching One Lucky Elephant, because it sounded like a sweet story between an elephant and its owner. Unfortunately, I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would. I found it hard to really empathize with the story and characters, mostly because they tended to apply human emotions and thought process to Flora, the elephant. Here is the thing Flora is a wild animal and so you shouldn’t be surprised when she acts like an animal. I just kept thinking “It’s an elephant, of course it’s going to do that!” I just kept thinking about the Grizzly Man documentary and how even when a bear is playing with you, it is likely to kill you, again “it’s a bear!!” Alright now that I have gotten that out, I will say that there were a few sweet moments in the film. More specifically I really enjoyed the interaction between David, the circus owner, and Flora, I wish we had seen a little more of that and honestly, by the end of the film I just wished things had turned out differently for him and Flora.
Overall, I think it’s a nice documentary to watch if the subject matter is something that appeals to you, but just be aware that most of the time is spent on finding Flora a home and the challenges that come with that.
Saturday, Jun 19th 6:30pm Regal 11
Friday, Jun 25th 5:00pm Regal 8
Saturday, Jun 26th 1:45pm Regal 8
Synopsis: The collapse of the Soviet Union led to a volatile but highly advantageous environment for young Russian businessmen eager to build the fledgling market economy by any means necessary. Striking extraordinary deals with the government to acquire newly privatized industries, a small group of men became phenomenally rich almost overnight. The most successful of these oligarchs was Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who quickly became the wealthiest man in Russia. But Khodorkovsky was invested not only in business, but also in true social reform and a new ideal of an open society, an attitude that ran afoul of the absolute rule of Vladimir Putin. Within months of announcing a deal which would have opened the formerly state-controlled Russian oil industry to investment by Western corporations, Khodorkovsky and his business partners were arrested and jailed for fraud and tax evasion.
Tracing Khodorkovsky’s dramatic, ambiguous rise to power and subsequent fall at the hands of Putin’s KGB-infested government, this probing, deeply troubling documentary reveals a nation still unsure of its commitment to economic and social liberties.
Director: Cathryn Collins
Thoughts: I had already heard of the Khodorkovsky story before going to see this documentary but I didn’t know all the details surrounding the events that lead to his imprisonment. Unfortunately, after watching this documentary, I can’t say that I am much better off.
The doc focuses on painting an honest picture of who Khodorkovsky was and how he gained his wealth only to have it stripped away by the russian government. However, it felt very superficial as the story was painted in a somewhat onesided fashion. Most of the third party accounts that provide you with the story lines seem to come from friends and colleagues of Khodorkovsky.
Not to say that it didn’t come off as truthful, but at some point, I was like “Ok we get it, Puting is mean!”. Plus Khodorkovsky didn’t really come off as a saint as much as he came off as a bit of a hypocrite who gained his fortune in a somewhat shady fashion only to turn around and criticize the government for acting shady.
Overall, VLAST is an interesting documentary if you have never heard of the Khodorkovsky story before. If you don’t mind the repetitive details on how evil the Russian government can be, then you will probably enjoy it more than I did.
Tuesday, Jun 22nd 4:45pm – Regal 8
Tuesday, Jun 22nd 10:00pm – Regal 9
Wednesday, Jun 23rd 7:45pm – Regal 9