The Seattle International Film Festival started this weekend and Nicole and I were scheduled to see four films. Yesterday we saw Gitmo: the New Rules of War, a Swedish documentary, and a Prairie Home Companion, the new Robert Altman flick. The doc was so-so. The film makers are young and earnest and I certainly agree with the basic premise that Gitmo as it has been used by the current administration is a shameful betrayal of America’s founding ideals, but it didn’t shed any new light on the subject. It did provide a Swedish perspective, which unfortunately meant several scenes in which a former Gitmo inmate and his father spoke at length in Swedish without being subtitled. This was doubly strange as most of the film was in English. Prairie Home Companion was very good, however, and ended the day on the high note. It had many funny scenes, some very good performances, and a truly Minnesota feel.
Today our first film was the Proposition, an Australian western written by Nick Cave of all people and starring Guy Pearce. I was really looking forward to seeing this movie. Too bad SIFF screwed us. Now we had seen the signs that said there was no late seating, but the previous night we had seen ushers with flashlights seating people as late as 15 minutes into the movie, one right next to us. So when our bus was running late and Nicole started to worry, I told her I was sure it would be fine. We and about 8 other people showed up no more than 5 minutes late. Not only would they not let us in, they wouldn’t refund our money or let us trade in our tickets for another festival film. The guy at the door said, “I’m afraid your tickets are now worthless.” Well thank you very fucking much. Way to treat your paying patrons.
Tonight we saw King Leopold’s Ghost, a documentary about the horrible exploitation the Congo has suffered since the 19th century. This was a truly great film, powerful and haunting. I knew some of the history of how King Leopold of Belgium had taken over the Congo, but the full story is far worse than I remembered. The really amazing thing about it is that he didn’t take the Congo as a Belgium’s colony but his own. He literally owned it himself and after decades of raping the country and killing millions for rubber, ivory, and other natural resources, he then sold it to Belgium for a further staggering sum. Unbelievable. Now the film could have ended with the death of King Leopold but to its credit it continued to the story to the present day. Just when you thought the tale couldn’t be any more of a stain on the oversoul of humanity, it would hit you with something else. Like how the US conspired to have the only democratically elected leader of the Congo assassinated so an anti-communist military strongman more aligned with US interests could take over. The US government gave him huge sums of money while he murdered millions of his own people. Today the exploitation continues, this time at the hands of multinationals and warlords. The story is very well told, totally relevant, and thoroughly nauseating. See King Leopold’s Ghost if you have a chance.