by Luke Safely
Cinema is a universal language for the world to share its stories with one another. It comes as no surprise that stories often address the issues that arise in our lives, creating a dialog about our experiences and questioning what it is that makes us human and what we have a right to as fellow human beings. Some of these rights may be black and white but some issues have proven to be much more complex than we would like to admit. Here is a list of a few films that take on these ideas and can all be easily accessed on the free streaming service, Tubi.
CONTENT WARNING FOR THESE FILMS: VIOLENCE, ANIMAL VIOLENCE, CHILD ABUSE/TRAUMA, SEXUAL VIOLENCE/TRAUMA, DRUG USE/ADDICTION, & NUDITY
Make sure to look up these films individually for further details if any of these items may be traumatic for you as a viewer.
Embrace of the Serpent (2015) dir. Ciro Guerra
Two timelines 30 years apart intertwine around an Amazonian Shaman, Karamakate. The first timeline involves Theo, a German ethnographer, his local guide, Manduca, and a young Karamakate. Theo is sick and recruits Karamakate to help find a sacred plant called yakruna in hopes of curing him. The later timeline we have an elder Karamakate who can’t seem to remember how to make and administer his medicine anymore due to living isolated for so long, is approached by an American, Evan, who is also looking for the yakruna plant after learning about it in Theo’s book of the Amazon. The film has a strong setting especially the colonialism of rubber barons exploiting and enslaving the Amazon and the arrival of missionaries to “protect” the locals but that isn’t the strongest concept in the film. The right to knowledge and how withholding knowledge or forcing knowledge can have a drastic effect on one’s life is what truly sings in this beautiful black and white film.
Angry Inuk (2016) dir. Alethea Arnaquq-Baril
This documentary approaches the hard topic of seal hunting by presenting the consequences on Inuit communities with the bans on seal hunting even with exceptions for traditional hunting by the Inuit. This film makes the viewer realize that some issues are much more complex than they seem. It ends up showing that it is about more than tradition but about sustainability and protection of interests for communities that may have to give in to much worse exploitation when their economic means are decimated by supposed well-meaning individuals/entities.
Mustang (2015) dir. Deniz Gamze Ergüven
Five orphaned sisters, living with their grandmother and uncle in a Turkish rural village, lives are turned upside down after an innocent afternoon with some local boys. A neighbor misinterprets this afternoon as a corruption of the girls and reports the incident to their grandmother. The girls are immediately withdrawn from school and placed into makeshift wife classes by local women and slowly married off one by one by their grandmother. There are some valid criticisms of the film being bait for western audiences by exoticizing/exaggerating Turkey’s traditions but that doesn’t stop the film from being a great examination of life about lost childhood and the crushing weight of conservatism within tradition on women in society. With the current rise of conservatism this film can’t be ignored even though it may not have the answer it does have the anger.
Wendy and Lucy (2008) dir. Kelly Reichardt
Wendy and her dog, Lucy, are somewhere in Oregon currently in the middle of a journey to Alaska for work. All it takes for everything to go wrong for Wendy is her car not being able to start. Wendy is in dire financial trouble, Lucy goes missing, her sister can’t help Wendy financially anymore, and Wendy can’t get work because she doesn’t have a phone or permanent address. This is a story of trying to find a better tomorrow, a pursuit of happiness (to be cliche), and how the inherent system and the people crushed under it can take away our humanity or even the hope of ever having a shot at obtaining it.
Chained for Life (2019) dir. Aaron Schimberg
This film is hard to describe, simply put it’s about a famous actress who is working on an independent film with a European director and seems to be having trouble connecting with her “disfigured” peers. It is told with the classic surreal meta narrative of a film-within-a-film but does an amazing job tackling the ideas of beauty, kindness as charity, and the ability to live a “normal” life. It plays with our idea of reality using the meta narrative and also approaches how we see other people who we find appear differently to our standards of “normalcy”. The classic kindness as charity through a prejudiced lens and if our false charity is questioned comes as a great offense. The opposite of that spectrum is also seen during the film not exactly being mean but something much worse being ignored. The right to being treated and respected as a human also includes not being objectified or othered through acts of inauthentic “kindness” or outright ignoring.
12 Angry Men (1957) dir. Sidney Lumet
Twelve jury members deliberate on whether a young man killed his father. Yes I know a black and white film about 12 old white dudes sitting in a room arguing with each other about someone else’s life for the entirety, what a bore for a modern audience. This film is classic for a reason though, being about how our duty to each other in society is that when we pass judgment upon one another we must take in the facts to the best of our ability and face the prejudices we may hold within ourselves. There may be problems with our judicial system but this message can move beyond our judicial system and go into our day to day lives on how we judge situations/others and how we should have a right to our innocence and guilt should only be held without any reasonable doubt.
Act of Killing (2012) dir. Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn, Anonymous
Documentarians approach a paramilitary individual who executed “communists” in Indonesia in the 1960s. Anwar Congo agreed to it, and the project has him reenact the executions through the telling of his choice. Slowly through these reenactments Anwar begins to realize that he does feel guilt for these killings and that he might have been wrong even when he started out so staunchly believing the opposite. This film is the result of the culmination of all the previous listed films, what happens when knowledge is turned to propaganda, when conservatism crushes the will of the people, when kindness is replaced with coldness, and how easily one can suspend their consciousness by the objectification of human beings. Overall it is the right that comes with absolute freedom. It is not the right we want but it comes at the cost of that liberation, the ability to make mistakes.
I won’t say that these films have the answers to these issues, hell I would say most of these films don’t even celebrate our rights but it’s these important stories that can give us insight into others’ lives outside of our own experiences and learn what is right or how it may all be so wrong.
Luke Safely is a letter carrier who has too much time on his hands (after being cleared of mail that is) and fills it with film. Holds a bachelor’s in film production with a minor in philosophy from MSUM.
read more: https://cinemedia.media/necessary-distraxion/
All images sourced from IMdB.com