We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen (DVD June 27th, www.plexifilm.com)
At a time when a bunch of idiots at the Mexican border have appropriated and perverted the name of a great political band from the ‘80s (not to mention our guerrilla forefathers) I’d say it’s time to go down there with some tall stacks and blast Double Nickels on the Dime through their barbed-wire unraveling skulls. A straightforward homage to this San Pedro band, We Jam Econo made a patchy round of theatrical showings last year. It interviews many of the figures from the 1980s “alternative” scene, but the DVD is also packed with tons more performance footage and interviewsâ€”making it essential for those who knew the band or want to know them.
Brooklyn International Film Festival (June 2nd â€“ 12th at Brooklyn Museum)
This year’s programming puts forth a slew of interesting documentaries, including Shooting Under Fire, which explores lives behind some of the most shocking photos taken in the Occupied Territories; Crossing Arizona, which gives voice to all sides of border issue including those crossing; In the Shadow of the Palms: Iraq, an Australian film that follows a cross-section of Iraqis before and during the current war; and pertinent shorts like Eviction, which documents a family forcefully booted from their Harlem apartment.
A/K/A Tommy Chong (June 14th at Film Forum)
From a (probably too) young age I was a fan of the Cheech & Chong stoner movies. They represented a silly and perhaps relatively one-note routine based in the pot smoking hippie (but not too hippie) counterculture of the ‘60s and ‘70s. While telling the story of Chong and how he ended up in Federal prison a couple of years back for selling glass bongs, A/K/A Tommy Chong refreshes the memory with generous clips from Up In Smoke and other films. It makes an effective argument regarding how Ashcroft and Co. essentially set Chong up, using manpower and resources in the post-9/11 world to go after an old pothead comedian largely because they thought his Chong character glorified drug use. The film stretches for the last 20 minutes, during which his jail experience is presented in detail, but overall it’s an important document showing an absurd chapter in the “war on drugs.”
Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man (June 21st at Film Forum )
I discovered one of my dad’s Leonard Cohen records when I was 19 and mostly into punk and hardcore. Next thing you know I was learning these uber-meloncholy songs on a nylon string guitar and I still love them. My dad once said he met him at the Chelsea Hotel and the hallway smelled like “punk” (the old school word for incense I found out) because Leonard was smoking weed and trying to cover over the illegal smell. Cohen said that the deep tenor of his voice comes from thousands of gallons of whisky and a million cigarettes, or something like that. I’ve been looking forward to this one.
The Cult of the Suicide Bomber (DVD released June 20th)
The narrator/host of this film is Robert Baer, who was in the CIA in the Middle East for decades and speaks Arabic. The Cult of the Suicide Bomber is made via a heavy voiceover/B-roll formula often seen on British TV (a far superior version than any formula for similar films on US TV) but, given the expertise of Baer and the extensive access he gets into Muslim communities, this is about as close as any film I’ve seen to understanding the origins and increased phenomenon of suicide bombing. By tracing the revival in Shia tradition of the Martyr during the first years of the Ayatollah Khomeni’s Islamic revolution in Iran, when it was warring with Iraq, Baer explicitly portrays how an ideologyâ€”or even a cultâ€”formed that would creep into Lebanon and elsewhere. In the film, “suicide bombers” and “martyr” become contested terms, the latter prevalent within primarily Iranian and Palestinian communities where “martyrs” are unquestioned propagandized heroes. Such a fundamental difference in perception is only one part of a deep social and cultural rift that has allowed the act to carry on into Iraq where, in an ironic twist, most of the bombers are not Shia but the majority of victims are.
Human Rights Watch International Film Festival (June 8-22 at Walter Reade Theater).
I know many Americans want to go to the movies to space out on hi-tech special effects (I’m guilty of this), but the HRWIFF gives you the opportunity to spend 10 bucks and come away with some real insight without going through a droll experience. This year includes some necessary films about Iraq including the acclaimed Iraq in Fragments, the kind of portrait of Iraqis under extreme pressure from the war that you won’t see on TV; Shooting Dogs, a dramatic feature based on what took place at a Kigali school during the Rwandan Genocide; The Road to Guantanamo, which charts the ordeal of three British citizens held at Gitmo for more than two years; and The Camden 28, about the 1971 raid of a draft board by a group of Catholic antiwar activists among many other notables.
That’s right, I’m plugging my own film because the distributors don’t have the resources to saturate the newspapers, TV and radio with ads so I’m doing my little nepotistic part. The film is opening in Washington, DC, Boston, Chicago, LA and San Francisco this month and should be back in theaters in NYC soon. Please check www.giulianitime.com and we’ll be very grateful.