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Thread: The 2007 Miami International Film Festival

  1. #16
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    I've been thinking about distribution matters but strictly from the perspective of a film lover who believes an audience for art and foreign-language films can and should be nurtured. Of the festival films I've liked, the two starring Damian Alcazar (Satanas and A Wonderful World) are the most likely to do well if distributed and released commercially. I have yet to review A Wonderful World.

    This is the biographical information about Baiz I received from the Fest's Press Department:

    "Colombian. Graduated from NYU’s Film Program. Directed “JIM”, a doc on Jim Adams, a man with an extraordinary illustrator ability and cartoonist for children’s books, who is currently sentenced to death for the tragic events that took place in one day. Mr. Baiz was Production Assistant on: Scorcese’s “Bringing Out the Dead”, Matthew Barney’s “Cremaster 2”, Ben Stiller’s “Zoolander”, and Associate Producer on Josh and Jeffrey Crook’s “The Fittest”. Mr. Baiz was accepted in the Narrative Unit of the Spring 2004 session of IFP/New York’s Project Involve program, where he developed his directorial film debut Satanás "

  2. #17
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    SOMEONE TO RUN WITH (Israel)

    This adaptation of David Grossman's bestselling novel juggles two timelines that are kept separate for most of the film. Tamar, a 16 year-old girl, gets her head shaved in preparation to go "underground". She joins the homeless teens of downtown Jerusalem accompanied by Dinka, her Labrador retriever. Tamar makes a living by singing and playing songs on her acoustic guitar while looking for a boy whose connection to Tamar is kept secret. Her months-long street adventure alternates with the story of Assaf. He is a gangly teenage boy who takes a summer job at the city's dog pound. His first assignment is to track down the owner of a Labrador retriever that has been picked up on the street. Dinka leads him to what turn out to be Tamar's usual haunts. Among them, a convent and a home for wayward youth run by a villanous, Fagin-like drug dealer. Assaf, partly functioning as audience surrogate, pieces together the details of the girl's situation over the course of two eventful days. Then they finally meet.

    Someone to Run With is the sophomore effort of director Oded Davidoff, whose familiarity with his native Jerusalem pays dividends. Neophytes Bar Belfer and Yonathan Bar Or were cast in the lead roles. Their performances speak well of Davidoff's skill as a director of actors. The film is stylishly shot on HD video (transferred to 35 mm) by Yaron Scharf (who photographed last year's fest hit Close To Home). Just about everything else is a mess. Foggy behavioral motivations, continuity problems, poorly developed characters,and inexplicable plot twists abound. I was about to place most of the blame on first-time scriptwriter Noah Stollman when I learned that the 2-hour theatrical cut is an hour shorter than a version intended to be shown only as a miniseries on Israeli TV. Anyway, I can only judge this theatrical version and it's not very good. The fact that Someone to Run With was nominated for 9 Israeli Academy Awards is perhaps indicative of the poor state of Israeli cinema at this juncture.

  3. #18
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    ALATRISTE (Spain)

    Diego Alatriste is a courageous soldier who's the protagonist of a popular series of novels written by Arturo Perez-Reverte. They are set in the first half of the 17th century, when the power of the mighty Spanish empire began to decline. Alatriste (Viggo Mortesen) is a common soldier, but he is nicknamed "Captain" by his buddies because of his skill and leadership qualities. Alatriste opens at dawn as a group of soldiers silently wade through waist-deep water to ambush a Dutch contingent during the War of Flandes. Alatriste becomes entrusted with the care of Inigo, the son of a soldier who dies in his arms, and gains notoriety when he saves the life of a duke. He returns to Madrid wounded. Once recovered, he is commisioned by the Grand Inquisitor (Blanca Portillo) to intercept two "heretic" foreigners at the city's entrace and kill them. Alatriste accepts then decides not to obey orders, as one of the foreigners turns out to be the Prince of Wales, visiting to forge an alliance with the Spanish Crown. Meanwhile, Alatriste reignites an on-going affair with Maria de Castro (Ariadna Gil), a famous and married actress. The film jumps 10 years when Inigo, now in his 20s, becomes Alatriste's squire and falls in love with the aristocratic and conniving Angelica (Elena Anaya). Alatriste proceeds to depict conspiracies, court intrigue, and war battles, as Spain strives to maintain its hegemony. Throughout, Alatriste and Inigo struggle to maintain relationships with the compromised women they love.

    Alatriste is the most expensive production in the history of Spanish cinema, and you can see where the money went. The film looks gorgeous, a winner of Goyas for Best Costumes, Production Design, and Production Direction. The period recreation is stunning, the battle scenes imposingly realistic. The cinematography of the indoor scenes uses a color palette and lighting scheme based on epochal paintings by Velasquez and his contemporaries. Mortensen, who speaks Spanish since childhood, is perfectly cast as the sedate and noble soldier who anchors the film and gives it a sense of continuity. The decision to cast an actress in the role of the Inquisitor is the sole unconventional choice in a film that otherwise adheres to the conventions of the historical epic film. Despite excellent production values and good execution, Alatriste was doomed from the start to be average by the decision to condense material from the five novels published into a single film. A number of secondary characters are insufficiently developed, consequently their motivations are sometimes obscure. Alatriste entertains with its eventful narrative, but feels somewhat underdeveloped and rushed. Many critics who watched the film when it premiered in Venice and Toronto last September share my opinion. Consequently, director Agustin Diaz Yanes added 12 minutes of footage to the original 135-min version. Although I haven't seen the shorter version, I'm convinced the added running time improves the film, but not enough to make it memorable.
    20th Century Fox will distribute Alatriste in the US.

  4. #19
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    the War of Flandes.
    That would be Flanders (Belgium).
    The decision to cast an actress in the role of the Inquisitor is the sole unconventional choice in a film that otherwise adheres to the conventions of the historical epic film.
    Variety's Jonathan Holland I see likes the unconventional casting. Interestingly he says Spanish audiences find Mortensen's Latin American-inflected Spanish creates a "credibility problem" for the Spanish viewers for whom the film was especially made (good box office there not withstanding), so perhaps in that sense the American actor perhaps wasn't so "perfectly cast" after all and a real Spaniard might have been preferable. I know he's a handsome chap though. Otherwise you and Holland seem in agreement though Holland indicates some more reservations during his summary about the tone and effects, though you work these in at the end.

    This sounds like a terrible bore -- 135 + 12 minutes of rushed incidents, confused characters and big closeups -- but then again, one might just have to slog through it for the wonderful visuals and costumes.

    Interesting also that the French review IMDb cites says Ariadna Gil's performance of a scene from a play by Lope de Vega is so astonishing it ought to have been allowed to "play out" and might have thus become the "most poetic passage of the film." Maybe Twitch has the best comment in a forthright discussion: "Alatriste is proof yet again that even the biggest budget can't save a film if it's lacking a solid storyline and well-developed characters." And it sounds like they had serious problems in the editing department. I guess this will make dough in Latin America? And they won't mind how Mortensen's Spanish sounds.

    Allociné says it cost "20 millions d'euros", which would mean chicken feed by Hollywood standards, not enough to pay Brad Pitt. But then Brad Pitt has not spoken Spanish since earliest childhood.

    How about that Clint Eastwood! He really understands Italian -- even if it was planned out he didn't miss his cues translating Ennio Morricone's acceptance speech--and he still had forgotten his glasses.

  5. #20
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    I've spent some time lately highlighting what's wrong with Alatriste in conversation with two fans of the film, one being a charming Argentine actress-turned-programmer. She probably thinks I'm too enamored of low-key, low-budget, "alternative" cinema, as she calls it. And there seems to be a critical consensus that what's wrong is, mainly and to put it simply, too much plot/source material. Complaints about Mortensen's accent are petty. A couple of times he forgets Spaniards don't pronounce the "c" as if it is an "s". Big deal. I liked his performance. Press material I got indicates budget at 24 million Euros. It's a lot of money when you consider that The Lives of Others cost 2 miilion Euros to make. Perhaps you'd find Alatriste boring, but I didn't. I found it flawed. If you didn't like Kingdom of Heaven, you should probably avoid it.

  6. #21
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    I liked Kingdom of Heaven. In my review of it, headed "A beautiful and misunderstood epic," you'll find signs that I might very well respond favorably to Alatriste.

    My Spanish is limited. Maybe you can help me with :

    IMDb-referenced Spanish critique 1:

    La calidad artÃ*stica del reparto es cuanto menos irregular. Sobresale Viggo Mortensen que aguanta el personaje, se muestra rocoso, pendenciero y seductor. Una pena que le quede tan "raro" el intento de acento castellano seco.

    IMDb Spanish critique 2:

    Destaca el esfuerzo de Viggo Mortensen, Aragorn en El Señor de los Anillos, por hablar un castellano adecuado a su personaje. . .
    Nol. 1 begins with, "Alatriste es un castigo de dos horas y media para las posaderas.." What's that mean? I don't get what he means by "posaderas." I thought maybe he was saying the film was hard to sit through.

    I'm puzzled that you feel you can decide so confidently how a person from Spain would react to Mortensen's accent, not being from Spain yourself.

    Press material I got indicates budget at 24 million Euros. It's a lot of money when you consider that The Lives of Others cost 2 miilion Euros to make.
    Claro que si. But in your example of The Lives of Others you're comparing apples to oranges. I was merely saying that it would barely pay Brad Pitt's salary on a Hollywood movie. I guess it's a big budget by European standards. You'd have to compare it to those rare other expensive European film productions. Apparently Bille August's Les Miserables (1998) cost $20 plus.
    [From a fairly old budget discussion re European films:]

    A simple comparison of average production costs immediately illustrates a fundamental difference: films produced by the major American companies (unfortunately our figures do not include independent producers) cost an average of USD 54.8 million in 2000, compared to an average 7.2 million for British films, 5 million for French films and 2 million for Italian films.
    That was my point. And one might progress from it to consider the possibility that "big-budget" productions aren't a very promising European prospect, since when it comes to splurge budgets the Europeans can't beat the Americans at their own game, whereas where European fiolmmakers can and do excel and arguably on average outdo the US is in small, subtle, sophisticated productions exhibiting culture rather than technology.

    I'm surprised in this response to my comment you are somewhat championing the film after your writing
    Alatriste was doomed from the start to be average by the decision to condense material from the five novels published into a single film. A number of secondary characters are insufficiently developed, consequently their motivations are sometimes obscure. Alatriste entertains with its eventful narrative, but feels somewhat underdeveloped and rushed. Many critics who watched the film when it premiered in Venice and Toronto last September share my opinion. Consequently, director Agustin Diaz Yanes added 12 minutes of footage to the original 135-min version. Although I haven't seen the shorter version, I'm convinced the added running time improves the film, but not enough to make it memorable.
    Sorry this is so long but in your short response you brought up a lot of issues.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-27-2007 at 11:53 AM.

  7. #22
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    I appreciate the reply, long or short. I have to be brief while trying to respond. I appreciate the interest.
    I had no idea whether you liked or didn't like Kingdom of Heaven.
    Of the two quotes in Spanish, one praises Mortensen's accent while the other is critical.
    "Posaderas" means "buttocks". It's a nicer term than "nalgas" but not as formal or correct as "gluteos". Guy basically says it was a pain in the ass to sit through this 2 1/2 hour film.
    I am clearly neither championing nor damning Alatriste.
    I'm definitely qualified to judge any Spanish accent for a lot of reasons I don't have time to go into.

  8. #23
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    MEANWHILE (Argentina)

    A month after her mother's death, Eva comes to Buenos Aires to work as a maid. She rents a room in the humble home of Violeta, a childhood acquaintance who is separated from her husband Mono. Violeta is considering a reconciliation with Mono, who plans to bring her and their young daughter to Ibiza. Meanwhile, she works in a restaurant where a co-worker shows romantic interest in her. Eva cleans two houses. In one she's disparaged by the employer and made to clean dog poop. In another the lady keeps warning Eva not to steal, but her son Dalmiro is very kind. Dalmiro is a lonely bachelor who has a small studio where he makes pottery to sell at the crafts market. Sergio, a friend of Mono, wants to realize his wife's dream of having a child of their own. Their doctor tells them he is "sub-fertile" and recommends adoption, because other options are beyond their means. By the conclusion, these characters make crucial decisions about the course their lives will take.

    Meanwhile is the sophomore feature by Diego Lerman, the 30 year-old who made a splash at festivals worlwide with Suddenly (2002). The new film confirms Lerman's talent for depicting the lives of working-class people in a thoroughly naturalistic manner. It takes a lot of planning and skill to give the impression a film was put together on the fly, without a blueprint. There's an organic feel to the transformations and realignments of characters in a Diego Lerman film. This is more true of Meanwhile than the highly praised debut. That film includes a scene in which a parachutist improbably lands on a road in the middle of the night, gets run over, and dies in the arms of a protagonist. There's nothing of the kind in Meanwhile (and no lesbian girls who call each other Mao and Lenin). Moreover, Meanwhile evidences a refinement of technique. For instance, in Meanwhile, Lerman and crew are more skillful at shooting using only existing sources of light (Suddenly looked murky and underlit in spots). The new film has a greater number of characters, all of which are introduced early on. This could cause the viewer to become temporarily disoriented and lose patience. Those who stick it out will be rewarded by a low-key but substantive slice-of-life.

  9. #24
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    Thanks for your reply, if brief. I figured the guy was talking about sitting for all that time on something.....and finding it a chore. The online Collins dictionary is not always complete and that word was not given.

    I was not questioning your ability to judge a Spanish accent -- you don't have to get huffy with me -- but you aren't Spanish, are you? Anyway one guy was praising his accent and the other the opposite. It would seem David Holland's statement was not completely off the wall. Some Spanish viewers are jarred by Mortensen's Latin American accent. Come on, grant that the fact you were not jarred by it doesn't mean no one is.

    If you're "clearly neither championing nor damning Alatriste," what are you saying about it?

    What I was saying was, that if you looked up on Google, you would have seen that I liked Kingdom of Heaven. I know you didn't know; but you could have. Then you would not have said what you said, would you? Google, "Chris Knipp + Kingdom of Heaven." It's easy.

  10. #25
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    Originally posted by Chris Knipp
    The online Collins dictionary is not always complete and that word was not given.
    Makes sense, term is rarely used.

    I was not questioning your ability to judge a Spanish accent -- you don't have to get huffy with me -- but you aren't Spanish, are you?
    Not "huffy". I simply don't have time to explain in detail all the personal experiences (family in Zaragoza, educated by Spanish Martist and Jesuit brothers, frequent travel to the country, friendships with Spaniards living in Miami, etc) that make me qualified to evaluate Spanish accents. I'm simply busy reviewing the three fest films I watched today.

    Come on, grant that the fact you were not jarred by it doesn't mean no one is.
    I just opined that to be jarred by it is petty within the context of the film, and because the accent is off very infrequently. I didn't say that no one finds the accent jarring.

    If you're "clearly neither championing nor damning Alatriste," what are you saying about it?
    I said a lot of things about it. It's flawed, "average" but not boring or bad, to summarize.

    What I was saying was, that if you looked up on Google, you would have seen that I liked Kingdom of Heaven.
    I wrote initially: "If you didn't like Kingdom of Heaven, you should probably avoid it." Translation: In the event that you watched Kingdom of Heaven and did not like it, then you probably shoud avoid Alatriste because both are historical epics that have, to a significant extent, similar flaws and praiseworthy aspects.

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    BACK HOME (USA)

    Autobiographical documentary directed by J.B. Rutagarama, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide. He relates how, as a 17 year-old, he managed to escape across the border to a refugee camp when the violence reached his town. News footage provides historical background. Evidence that occupying Belgian forces manufactured hostility and segregation between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes is particularly convincing. They planted the seeds to a civil conflict that erupted in most brutal carnage during the 1990s. Some scenes recreate J.B.'s perilous escape. Upon reaching the camp, he befriended two London-based ABC News correspondents. The women practically adopted him, helping him move to Britain where he earned a college degree. J.B. got a job as a cameraman for Fox News in New York. A month later, the Twin Towers were attacked. It had a profound effect on J.B., opening old wounds. He decides to reconnect with his homeland, search more diligently for his lost mother and brother, and make a film of the experience. Back Home details with great care J.B.'s ambivalent feelings about returning to Rwanda and the painful confrontation with its violent legacy.The search and reunion with his mother is quite moving, particularly when he learns of the courageous Hutu man who risked his life to bring his mom and nearly 200 other Tutsis to the Hotel Milles Collines (the one in the fiction feature Hotel Rwanda). The most interesting aspect of the film is the depiction of the "gacaca", the traditional Rwandan approach to justice. It consists of open-air town meetings in which the guilty confess, seek forgiveness, and agree to perform work for the benefit of the comunity. J.B. and his mother visit a work camp and interview several Hutus involved in the massacre. It's a decidedly difficult emotional experience for both sides, and compelling to witness. Rutagarama comments that "Reconciliation is awkward, imperfect, and slow, but it is possible".

    Rutagarama chooses not to deal with the issue of his Hutu father, who was poisoned by tribal propaganda and reported his wife to the militia that perpetrated most of the acts of genocide. The director reveals this during the opening minutes, and never mentions his father again. It would also be of great interest to explore why it took him two years to get a visa to visit the country, and why representatives of the current administration seized his equipment and footage he had shot. This information about government interference is contained in the production notes made available to the press, but Back Home ignores it completely. It's seemingly relevant to the future prospects of the country. Addressing these topics would make the film more thorough and satisfying.

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    A TON OF LUCK (Colombia)

    Hollywood films invariably top the Colombian box office year after year. In 2006, this local, populist entertainment was the country's highest grossing film. It's based on a real event that took place in 2003, when a battalion of 147 soldiers found $46 million hidden deep in the jungle by narco-guerrillas and decided to divvy up the untraceable loot. Rodrigo Triana's sophomore effort reduces the number of soldiers involved to a manageable 30 and focuses on four of them who are close friends.

    At the opening, the wife of Porras (Manuel Jose Chavez) travels with their small daughter as she reads a letter sent by her husband. It instructs her to travel to a remote town at the edge of the Amazon forest. A Ton of Luck flashes back to the foursome at a strip joint prior to going on a mission. The scene establishes Perlaza's dream of marrying exotic dancer Dayana and Porras as devoted married man. Suprisingly, the sequence culminates with an inconsequential melee that is poorly staged. The mise-en-scene improves once the troops enter the jungle and the adventure begins. After a few skirmishes and long days battling the elements with inadequate resources, they discover piles of cash buried inside plastic containers. Porras is the only one who takes the moral high ground. The soldiers are ill-equipped to handle their sudden riches. After barely missing being caught at the military base, they get a day off and go to the city. These poor, uneducated, young soldiers can't help but flaunt and squander the money with obvious consequences. A Ton of Luck returns to Porras' wife for the surprising finale. The film often assumes a light tone, with attempts at humor achieving mixed results and performances that never rise above merely competent. A Ton of Luck is worth watching but unremarkable. It received a nomination for "Best Spanish-language Foreign Film" at the Spanish Academy Awards. It's Colombia's submission to the Oscars yet simply not good enough to have a chance at getting a nomination.

  13. #28
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    I wrote initially: "If you didn't like Kingdom of Heaven, you should probably avoid it." Translation: In the event that you watched Kingdom of Heaven and did not like it, then you probably shoud avoid Alatriste because both are historical epics that have, to a significant extent, similar flaws and praiseworthy aspects.
    My English is fine. You didn't have to translate your simple statement. But you were directly addressing the statement to me, and it was pointless, since the fact that I liked Kingdom of Heaven was available to you on the web. If I'd been writing to you and thinking of making this statement, I'd have thought first, "I wonder if Oscar liked or disliked Kingdom of Heaven"? Let's see if he commented on it on the Web? If our online commitments of opinion are dispensable, then why should we bother? And if you aren't following what I write online about movies, who is?

    "A TON OF LUCK (Colombia)"

    You didn't mention the original language title which is nice to have when it's a language we tend to know a bit. So I looked it up and it's Soñar no cuesta nada, It Costs Nothing to Dream (don't expect my translations to be catchy). I have a young email penpal in BobotÃ* so I've emailed him asking if he's seen it and what he thinks. Predictatably he has a low opinion of local filmmaking and probably avoided it.

    Not "huffy". I simply don't have time to explain in detail all the personal experiences (family in Zaragoza, educated by Spanish Martist and Jesuit brothers, frequent travel to the country, friendships with Spaniards living in Miami, etc) that make me qualified to evaluate Spanish accents. I'm simply busy reviewing the three fest films I watched today.
    It is odd that you consider yourself too "busy" to bother to explain in detail the nature of your Spanish language background. Since it is the main reason why you are particularly qualified to write about the Latin American and Spanish films shown at the Miami festival, it's of compelling interest, not only to me, but to anyone reading your coverage.

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    BACK HOME (USA)

    I know "directed by" is used for the makers of documentaries, not to mention in other descriptions of this film, so call me fussy, but to me it's jarring to use that term when a guy is not so much overseeing or controlling ("directing") but chronicling or documenting ("making a film about"). In otherwords since a documentary filmmaker is gathering information rather than directing actors or creating mise-en-scène, I'd prefer to say he is "making a documentary." It think that's important to specify that he isn't tampering with the facts. (Not that he often isn't.)

    This was shown at the San Jose festival, "Cinequest 2006," March 1-11, 2006, whose blurb promised that it was "likely to be one of the most powerful, disturbing, haunting and ultimately moving films you will ever see," and that it "recalls the horror that beset his country. Yet once back home, he's able to find joy, hope and reconciliation, both personal and national." I gather you don't quite agree with this enthusiasm, and your focus on external facts suggests that you don't feel the internal autobiographical aspect emerges as strongly as it might, not to mention the gaps about government meddling with Rutagarama's filmmaking project in Rwanda.. . It's not clear to me how the "gacaca "fits into the film's context, i.e. into Rutagarama's personal narrative, if it does.

    In the somewhat related context of boy soldiers in Sierra Leone's civil war, brought to public attention in Zwick's Blood Diamond, Ishmael Beah's personal account, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier (about another African who came to the US young after horrific war experiences at home and has survived to tell about those), is a book that just came out (Farrar Stauss & Giroux). An excerpt/summary appeared I think it was in the NYTimes magazine recently, and it is dumbfounding. That short piece pu by Beah published in the Times in January is here. The photo of Beah now suggests that he has emerged as a smiling, open-hearted person.

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    SEPTEMBERS (Spain)

    Director Carles Bosch was visiting a friend at a detention facility near Madrid when he stumbled on inmates singing karaoke on stage. They were practicing for a singing competition held every September within Spain's penitentiary system. Bosch decides then that the follow-up to his Oscar-nominated documentary Balseros would focus on these men and women. Septembers is less concerned with the competition than with the personal tragedies, hopes and dreams of the participants. Adalberto is wanted for theft in his native Argentina and hopes to avoid extradition so he can live with his lover in Barcelona. Rudolf is a Lithuanian accused of making counterfeit bills; he's sad because his Ukranian girlfriend has lost interest in him. Arturo is a proud gypsy with a tattoo of his wife's face on his arm who worries about his three sons growing up without a father. There's a Mexican woman who tried to enter Spain with a substantial amount of cocaine; she's won the "festival of song" the past two years. An attractive Bolivian woman feels ambivalent about a liaison with an older Spanish man. There's a woman from Valencia who bought heroin for her addicted son, and a drummer for a once-famous rock band.

    Bosch's primary focus is on the love lives of a dozen inmates and their expression through song. Bosch doesn't editorialize or make generalizations but, because of the variety of subjects from several prisons, Septembers manages to comment on the nation and its penal system. It's clear that Spain's healthy democracy and economy have attracted a high number of immigrants in the past decade, and that they often experience difficulty adjusting. I was quite impressed with the physical condition of the penitentiaries (very clean and spacious), the opportunities for rehabilitation available, and the dignity with which inmates seem to be treated. Granted, these facilities don't hold the most dangerous criminals_only one documentary subject is guilty of a violent offense, but what's on view is indicative of a humane and efficient penal system. Septembers is very coherently edited and consistently engaging. It's having its world premiere at the festival.

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