The following is a synopsis of the upcoming films showing with three Vineyard film series.
“Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry”: Portrait of the “Agitpropist”
It’s hard to be an artist outside the mainstream in China, and it’s hard to be a dissident there. Combine the two and you can count on the state taking a very active role in your life.
Ai Weiwei is that rare individual who’s willing to hold a mirror up to autocratic powers. As designer of the Bird’s Nest stadium for the previous Olympics, he was all the rage, in a good way, with several works in the pipeline. Then came the devastating Szechuan earthquake with manifold loss of life due to faulty — “tofu” he calls it — construction of, especially, schools.
When the government is unwilling to accurately reveal the numbers of young casualties, Ai Weiwei’s art becomes agitprop and, by simply publicizing a list of the dead using volunteers to collect data, he becomes all the rage, in a bad way, as far as officials are concerned. You can tell he’s on thin ice with this project when, in response to someone trying to collect data on the school deaths, an ordinary citizen says, “are you some kind of American spy?”
When the 5,212 names and birthdays of the students are finally put out for others to see, his blog is shut down and surveillance cameras are placed in his studio. He’s stalked by police (at one point his biographer filming him films the police filming Weiwei at point blank range — somebody phone George Orwell), beaten, and even then is later willing to confront his attacker, removing his sunglasses for him and saying, “well, I recognize you” when the policeman feigns ignorance.
There’s a lot going on in this film, including the humorous (not to the state) destruction of a Han Dynasty vase on which he has painted a Coca-Cola logo. It’s his metaphor for the destruction of the past committed under Mao’s reforms. When this artist (and others joining him) are literally willing to say “***k you, motherland,” there are going to be some fireworks. And as we know, China invented fireworks, so it’s quite a show.
“Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” will be shown by the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society on Tuesday, Aug. 14, at Union Chapel, Oak Bluffs, at 8 pm. Tickets are $10; $7 for members. For more information, visit mvfilmsociety.com or call 508-696-9369.
“Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare”: Say uh-oh
“American health care, stat! Bleeding money, throwing up its hands in surrender, and addicted to status quo!”
That’s what should be coming over the PA systems of all hospitals, according to directors Matthew Heineman and Susan Froemke in their exposé, “Escape Fire.” It’s less appropriate, insists Froemke, to even call it “health care.” It’s more like “diseasecare,” with too little emphasis on prevention.
This documentary is obviously enjoying good timing, with what has been positioned as “Obamacare” in the crosshairs as election fever mounts. And the issues are not exactly new: the United States spends about 16 percent of its gross domestic product on healthcare (highest in the world), has 16 percent of its population uninsured, and a communal life expectancy that’s ranked 50th in the world, etc. etc.
So is there any hope for this patient, or do we just shake our head and pull up the sheet? This documentary sets out to bring a new conversation to the operating table, to find ways that capitalism can coexist with health care because now there are some aberrant cost/benefit analyses at work out there, and you and I are the guinea pigs. For example, as disturbingly elucidated by Dr. Steven Nissen, a renowned cardiologist, there are instances where pharmaceutical companies have covered up adverse test data results because the bottom line was better served by selling drugs despite the expected lawsuits to come.
Glaxo Smith Kline with its Avandia and Merck with its Vioxx are two companies cited for this practice, and Dr. Nissen was able to mine the test data and convince the FDA to severely restrict these drugs, though not before a heavy death toll.
The name of the film is taken from one firefighter’s real-life survival tactic of starting a small fire to keep a big fire from reaching him; his co-workers who ignored his tactic ran away and perished. The message: we turn our back on this monster literally at our own peril, as a country and as individuals.
“Escape Fire” will be shown by the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival on Wednesday, Aug. 15, at the Chilmark Community Center and on Thursday, Aug. 16, at the Harbor View Hotel, Edgartown, both at 8 pm. Special guests will be former head of Medicare Don Berwick and director Matthew Heineman. Tickets are $15; $7 for members. Visit tmvff.org or call 508-645-9599.
“Mabul: The Flood”
Set in a seaside Israeli town, “Mabul: The Flood” is the story of Yoni (Yoav Rotman), a bright but diminutive 13-year-old who’s obsessed with getting bigger, taller, and stronger. On the eve of his Bar Mitzvah, his family’s tenuous equilibrium is upended by the unexpected return of his autistic brother, whom he hasn’t seen for almost a decade.
Writes Variety: “As the quick-witted lad forced to act more like an adult than his parents, newcomer Rotman is a rare find, delivering a performance that is completely natural and convincing.” Hailing “Mabul” as “one of the best Israeli films of the year,” Screendaily.com writes “the show is stolen by Rotman, who manages to convey in the most simple and natural way, without ever setting a foot wrong, all the yearnings and frustrations of growing up and trying to make sense of a world which doesn’t seem to make sense.”
“‘Mabul’ tells the story of four individuals who forgot what it’s like to be a family,” says director Guy Nattiv. “In more than one way, the film is about their challenging journey toward remembering what this is all about.”
“Mabul” will be shown at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center, Vineyard Haven, on Sunday, Aug. 12, at 7:30 pm, as part of the M.V. Summer Institute Series. Tickets are a suggested contribution of $10. For more information, visit mvsummerinstitute.com or call 508-693-0745.