Wednesday, November 28, 2007

More home movies at Republican YouTube debates



The Democrats did this on July 23 (on this blog). This evening, the GOP had a debate in St. Petersburg, FL with the questions submitted from the public as "YouTube" videos. Anderson Cooper and Gov. Charlie Crist hosted. A major sponsor was Coors, which was promoting MVparents with its "asset parenting" website (claiming that every child should have at least five adult role models).

The rules included "no adult questions with children acting" and no animals talking. Most of the video clips were pretty straightforward.

The candidates were Duncan Hunter, John McCain, Ron Paul, Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Ton Tancredo.

A lot of the questions are shown on the CNN political ticker blog here.

On gun rights, Giuliani explained his personal view that the Second Amendment defined an individual right, subject to reasonable regulation that could differ among states.

One video with a little activity was by Jay Fox, who catches a gun thrown at him. He was criticized for showing unsafe gun handling.

On the support of evangelicals, Joseph Dearing asked "Do you believe every word of this Book?" and held up a Bible. Very simple filmmaking.

Leeanne Anderson included her kids (one adopted) and asked about toy safety.

Giuliani was asked if New York had become effectively a "sanctuary city" for illegal aliens. He answered that it was much better policy to educate their kids and process complaints from them legitimately.

Retired BG Keith Kerr asked if today's soldier's were professional enough to serve with openly gay soldiers. Kerr said that he had come out at retirement after 42 years in the Reserves. All of the candidates who responded (Giuliani did not) answered that they would defer to the judgment of military officers on matters of unit cohesion. At least one, however, admitted that other countries, including Israel, had been able to lift the ban. On Nov. 29, it was disclosed that Kerr had supported one of the candidates and that had CNN known, it would not have aired his video.

David Cercone asked if the candidates welcomed the support of the Log Cabin Republicans.

Friday, November 23, 2007

War Dance: refugee children in Uganda make music


War Dance, directed by Sean Fine and Andrea Nix (distributor: ThinkFilm and Sundance Channel, production companies Shine Global ) and Fine Films), is a passionate documentary about kids living in a government protection camp in northern Uganda competing in the country’s music festival in Kampala.

The film weaves chilling stories of atrocities by the rebels with a step-by-step account of their competition from their Patongo school, all the way to the finals in the cultural center in Kampala, which is shown as a mixture of clapboard poverty and high-rise opulence.

The music itself is in several categories: Western choral, instrumental composition, creative dance, and traditional dance (the Bwola). The kids from Patongo actually win the traditional dance. The music is played on homemade instruments with wood components like xylophones and various percussion and some strings. It sounds folksy with just a trace of a Bartok flavor at times.

But it is the stories of the rebel atrocities that get quick attention. Often, a child talks while the site of the atrocity is shown, such as a military barracks in which the kids hid out, or a stormy setting in rounded mountain scenery. Typically rebels would come and kidnap the parents, and kill the father, quite brutally, and abduct the kids. One kid tells of being forced to kill farmers. Another, a bit older, talks about the eugenics of the rebels policy. They target families with the most kids because in their society, having more kids confers more economic wealth and political status. Kids also talk about being the only ones left to take care of younger siblings. It’s easy to appreciate from this film how loyalty to blood and family is so critical in economically “poorer” cultures and how those value systems trickle up. There is one scene on Lake Victoria. The HIV epidemic is not mentioned here, but has been the subject of other films (like Darwin’s Nightmare (2004), from Hubert Sauper, about nearby Tanzania) about the region.

Even the trip to Kampala is bare bones. The kids are piled onto convoy trucks and travel 200 miles on dirt roads, under guards patrolling them with AK-47s. Once in town, at night they sleep, boys and girls separated and carefully chaperoned by music teachers, on the floors with just blankets.

Uganda is mixed ethnically and with respect to religion, being south of the Muslim areas. The CIA website does not fully explain the causes of the brutal activity.

Picture: Primitive settler dwelling in St. Mary's, MD.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Price of Sugar, and Father Christopher Hartley


Another new documentary that can make American and western consumers squeamish about their karma is “The Price of Sugar” (2007, Mitropoulos Films / Uncommon Productions, directed by Bill Haney, mostly digital video, 1.85 to 1 and 1.33 to 1 in spots). Paul Newman (“Hud”) narrates. The films documents the importation of Haitian workers onto sugar cane plantations in the Dominican Republic as (essentially) slaves by the five large sugar companies. The history is significant: the Dominican Republic broke free from Haiti, and views Haiti as an “enemy”; Haiti is actually poorer. It’s interesting that, according to the film, the US had trade agreements with the Dominican Republic that result in US consumers actually paying more for sugar. The sugar barons seem to pocket the rest. Sugar cane may come into more demand as the worldwide demand for ethanol fuel increases (already big business in Brazil).

But the hero of the film is Father Christopher Hartley, who decided as a teenager in Britain (or Spain) to dedicate himself to God and become a priest. He spent some youthful years working with Mother Theresa in India, and the film shows some harrowing stills of the poverty in India. (A related film is the Italian account “Madre Theresa” (2003, Lux, dir. Fabrizio Costa). Hartley goes to bat for the Haitian workers, and eventually defends their right not only to be there but also to organize. He fends off many threats from the sugar companies and the Dominican government, both of which try to get him expelled.

At least from the material in the film, Father Hartley does seem to follow the moral teachings of the Church. He gives up the competitive world and individualized self-expression and takes a vow of poverty, and as far as known, remains abstinent. He remains indirectly supportive of the families of others and of the emotional empathy that families need and does not set himself up as competing with it. He seems his moral duties as collective in nature. He takes charge and assumes “power” only in the context of having shared the empathy and sacrifice himself first, but when he does, he is vigorous about his beliefs. For example, he fights for the rights of workers to organize. But he does so not as a pamphleteer or legal activist, but as someone who responds to others directly, with the appropriate amount of intimacy. Everything, while coming out of a heavily socialized, moral universe, responds to real needs, and that seems to be his own answer to the usual concern that Catholic authoritarianism invites corruption (and, of course, in many other parts of history, with the simony, sale of indulgences, and scandals, it has; but not here). Has he exhibited moral utopia, the kind that can generate self-righteousness? One could say that, in the teachings of the Church, freedom from sin only exists when one turns oneself over to God completely and lives only to serve others in a concrete sense. (In that sense, even procreative heterosexual marriage, for "normal" people, serves God and others through its ritualized and sacramental emotional risk, progression, and finality of commitment.) Well, sometimes you need an ego, even some self-indulgence, in order to advance things for others. Leonardo Da Vinci knew that. So did Father Mycal Judge, the so-called "Saint of 9/11" (Red Envelope Films, dir. Glenn Holsten, 2006).

Another related film is Jonathan Demme’s "The Agronomist" (2004, ThinkFilm), about Haitian radio personality and scientist Jean Dominique, who was assassinated in Haiti in April 2000.

Another comparison is "Life and Debt" (2001, New Yorker Films, dir. Stephanie Black), about the worker conditions in Jamaica under globalization.

One other thing about Father Hartley's activism here strikes me. Because he was helping specific people, his political activism was necessarily "partisan" (one-sided). As a moral matter, that's dicey with me; one wants to delve into all sides of an issue (most are not as one-sided as this one) and that's hard if you have to help specific people. Yet, intellectual honesty is what I was taught in my own academic upbringing.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Netflix, IMDB, and (Me) group movies: Netflix uses user ratings and groupings to sell


Wednesday, Nov. 14, CNN ran an AP story about the online movie rental business “Netflix Offers $1m Coding Prize”, story here.

The story involved improving Netflix ‘s campaign to increase DVD rental rates by software that associates movies into groups and recommends them to customers based on customer rental history and ratings that customers have given to movies that may be similar. Programmers will be rewarded by how well their systems perform in increasing rentals.

I use Netflix, find it convenient and find that most titles arrive in the mail the next day. Titles from other processing centers still come quickly, and often show up as returned the next day even when mailed to the West Coast. Blockbuster has a similar service, as well as retail stores, which I have not yet explored. In March 2004 I actually applied for a job with Hollywood Video but became a substitute teacher then instead.

Netflix has also did some theatrical distribution (with its Red Envelope brand as a distributor) of a few small independent films dealing with social issues, such as "Saint of 9/11" and "A Crude Awakening" (the latter about oil production).

The interesting concepts here are grouping and reviewing movies. Netflix groups movies into many categories and subcategories (just look at the site). IMDB (run by Amazon) classified movies by generous use of keywords which, when clicked, give all the movies in history for which that keyword applies. (The keywords for horror movies can be interesting). A movie can fit into more than one classification.

I have the three-movies-at-a-time plan with Netflix, and about 15% of the rentals come from their recommendations. The rest, I know I want to rent. There is enormous variation in how quickly movies come out on DVD. Some come out immediately (Bubble) or quickly (Pathfinder); others have never come out at all (Camp Out). Usually they appear on Tuesdays.

California teacher Rafe Esquith made some recommendations for movies (suitable for public school) for schools in his book, and I found that I had never seen almost half of them. I also found waits on Netlfix for some of them. Apparently, when a book like this comes out, it stimulates interest in specific older movies.

IMDB, Amazon, and Netflix, and many other sites allow and encourage visitors to review movies, and the reviews can be anonymous. Amazon will group reviews by reviewer screen name. IMDB also has message boards to discuss movies, actors, writers, directors, etc. and also has major news item stories. But the best message boards in the entertainment business were probably those on Project Greenlight during the first two contests, and on TheWB for each WB show (the boards for Smallville and Everwood were especially spirited). Since TheWB became CWTV I haven’t found the boards as interesting.

But on my own websites (doaskdotell.com which was preceded by hppub.com, and this blog) I have manually, and somewhat crudely, grouped movies (and television shows sometimes) into separate review pages, with referrals to other pages for movies that fit onto more than one. I set this up in 1998 manually with HTML when the technology available was much cruder. I still use it. I place movies that relate to a common social or artistic issue or vision on one page. Unclassified movies from major studios go on my “tidbits” page. I pick a few of them and regroup them for more discussion on this blog. Examples of social issues could be “mandatory family responsibility” (having to raise other people’s children), as in Raising Helen and Saving Sarah Cain, or even “the dead hand” (The Bachelor, The Ultimate Gift). An example of an artistic issue could be screenplay structure, as with Keane or Mustang Sally.

I’ve discussed the concept of expanding knowledge management (beyond Wikipedia and also beyond e-commerce sites) on my main blog, by aggressive use of databases and by combining concepts found in wiki encyclopedias and compendiums with e-commerce. Stay tuned.

Additional Note:

A WJLA story at 11 PM on Nov 15 reported on a suburban MD man Jim Judy who runs a website called Screenit (for subscription) that gives detailed breakdowns of each movie as to specific items of potentially objectionable content.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Available Men and related shorts from Wolfe


Available Men shorts collection (Wolfe)DVD (2006)

Available Men (2005, Bates, dir. David Dean Bottrell, 15 min), In a hotel bar, two pairs of similarly named men mix each other up on a meetup. There is a cab driver trying to sell a screenplay, and another man looking for love. It’s interesting to see how the metaphors actually work. Interesting two see what you can do with four actors when they are accidentally mismatched. There is something here on how hard it is to find and agent and sell a screenplay in LA. Brian Gattas, Jack Plotnick, Richard Ruccolo, Kotas Sommer.

Straight Boys (2006, USC, dir. Dave O’Brien. 14 min). A young man deals with how to “confess” his feelings to a straight roommate, and gets a not so predictable surprise. Damian Pelliccione, Nick Bartzen

Hello Thanks.(2005, Northwest, dir, Andy Blubaugh, 8 min). The slightly built but appealing director documents his looking for love in personal ads, with the ads displayed on the screen. This is a kind of writing, almost in the sense of grant writing. “Someone who will still be there in the morning.” He says he likes words more than he likes people.

Tumbleweed Town (1999, dir. Samara Halperin, 8 min) Claymation short about a simple pickup in the “Bronco Bar” in the southwest – like the Roundup in Dallas or Remington’s in Washington.

The Underminer (dir. Todd Downing, book by Mike Albo with Virginia Hufferman, 8 min). A social encounter in a bar, taxi, moving to an art gallery, has a self-indulgent “subjective feminine” prattling to a friend about being alone. I can see how this could have been an autobiographical novel in New York.

Irene Williams: Queen of Lincoln Road (dir. Eric Smith, 23 min) is a video documentary of a friendship between a NYC gay man and a South Beach elderly lady, developed in the 90s on his trips to South Florida. A lot about the aesthetics of fashion, clothes, homes. Much of the video was shot in the 90s. She is a jack of all trades: notary public, resume doctor, and says she does term papers. Eventually her health and memory declined, and the friendship continued until she passed away in a nursing home.

Sissy French Fry (2005, Kiros, dir. J. C. Oliva, 28 min) Openly gay and flamboyant “Sissy French Fry” (Steven Mayhew, his hair bleached) is student class president at West Beach High (he has been so for three years). Conservative Rodey McDodey (Ross Thomas) opposed him, and sets up debates on many of the contentious issues, some revolving around immutability. There are open gays on the football team at this school. Slowly Sissy finds his place in the world challenged. Justin Dabuet is friend Dana Aquino. The new candidate talks of social Darwinism and “gender appropriate behavior.” Then a scandal erupts in a “film within a film.”

At Apex-DC club in Washington:

Out in Alaska (5 min): a video documentary of the gay scene in Anchorage, with plenty of sea planes and one dance bar.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Lions for Lambs: an essential lesson


Well, the roaring trademark MGM Lion that opens “Lions for Lambs” may indeed provide a fitting visual (and perhaps legal) irony for the message of this very political and, for some audiences, intentionally preachy film. This is Tom Cruise Mapother ‘s first film since essentially taking over MGM’s United Artists unit ("Cruise/Wagner"). (Paramount's sacking of him always seemed silly.) When you have Mr. Cruise ‘s position, you can get the money to make the movie you want, even with money in publicly traded companies. The movie's title refers to the idea that troops who bear the sacrifice are like lions, and their political bosses are the lambs. The film reminds us a couple of times that we used to have a military draft (although Cruise's character officially denies that it is necessary now) -- one can imagine the lecture the audience is going to get.

But this really is a valuable film, too. Cruise and director Robert Redford definitely have something to say, and it certainly falls on the conservative side of personal moral debate. We do need to hear about this, a style of "moral thinking" that was taken for granted a few decades ago but not very often articulated openly today. I’m not sure how that fits into the philosophy of scientology. Cruise has acted in films with important political messages before, such as “A Few Good Men” and “Minority Report.” Some people, in this film, however brief (88 minutes), will question the storytelling style. The film seems to break the "rules" (of screenwriting), at first.

Or does it? There are three segments of story that seem disconnected. TV journalist Janine Roth (Meryl Streep – she seems to have walked across the set from “Rendition”) debriefs GOP Senator Jasper Irving (Cruise) in his office. 10000 miles away, in Afghanistan, two Army rangers (played by Derek Luke and Michael Pena "(World Trade Center)" are wounded and pinned down on a mountaintop as Al Qaeda fighters close in, and their unit is hopelessly trying to find and protect them (in a chopper mission that went wrong). Then, in California (it looks like Stanford), political science professor Stephen Malley (Robert Redford) chats with and pressures likable but seemingly apathetic student Todd Hayes (Andrew Garfield).

Gradually, the threads come together a bit. Irving’s press release could jeopardize the soldiers. And the soldiers had joined the Army because of Malley’s moral idealism, and that of course makes us wonder what Hayes will do with his life (an obvious possibility for a UA sequel to this film).

Still, most of the time this seems like three separate films, and they could have been made that way. The military portion could have been a compelling film by itself.

I have, myself, considered constructing a film with my “do ask do tell” material, and the settings would probably convey substantially similar messages. And that brings us to the moral points of the film.

Redford and Cruise obviously believe that moral social justice depends on the actions of individual people, and their willingness to take responsibility for what they consume and share the burdens of others. That is, after all, how much religious moral teaching (in almost any faith) unwinds. This contrasts with the approach of the Left, which is to see social justice in terms of the actions of groups. In particular, the college students (Hayes in present day, and the two soldiers in the past flashbacks) get challenged to prove that they will take responsibility for the “privilege” that they have and the lives they want to lead.

There is one flashback where a mandatory national service proposal is presented (the film really gets preachy here, but it’s necessary). Give up a whole year of college (the junior year) for a year of service, and make it practically compulsory. (What’s ingenious is that the time taken is nullified by making the number of years of school one less.) The burdens of the world (the poor education, particularly the inner cities, the poverty, drugs, and international political instability) are shown – correctly – as interconnected like dots. Redford's professor character and the college student get into a discussion of how many of the people who join the military and go overseas to take all the risks are the most disaffected and marginalized at home, where as the "haves" often take their freedom for granted. He tells the boy that he is now and adult, will make decisions that define the rest of his life, and hints that the boy should taste "real life." This reminds me of a similar admonition to Richard Pimentel (Ron Livingston) in MGM's concurrent "Music Within" (dir. Steven Sawalich) in which a professor tells debater Richard to taste the world like a Don Quixote (Pimentel's book "Windmills") and Richard winds up almost deafened in Vietnam before going out to fight for the disabled. Some particular political buzzwords (“no child left behind” and “don’t ask don’t tell”) don’t get specifically enumerated, although it takes little imagination on the moviegoer to fill them in mentally.

Cruise’s character is a bit of a hawk, and articulates compelling arguments for aggressive policies from the Middle East through Iraq to Afghanistan. At one point, he says that Iran is allowing Wahhabist Sunni fighters to transit the Shiite country to join the Taliban in Afghanistan (a true “axis of evil”). He mentions the possibility of a nuclear Iran, and neglects to mention that Pakistan is already nuclear and may be unraveling as the movie premiers. He also says that Al Qaeda has blackmailed Pashtun tribal leaders and family patriarchs in Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas into offering up their male ons to become fighters. It is also known that sometimes kids of some families have been sent overseas (to Europe) to protect them from such pressure.

The movie tries to make most of the moral points it can think of, however. At one point, Janine’s boss reminds her that she is 57, and has a mother that needs 24 hour care (a reference to filial responsibility laws, that could become a hot issue soon).

Visually, the film is slick, if melodramatic. The camera focuses on details at times, such as the shorthand on Janine’s pad, and Garfield is sometimes presented with some unusual camera angles, as if to make the viewer wince at what would happen if he joins the military himself and then makes a real physical sacrifice, just as have so many troops in Iraq.

It's interesting that today, Tim Russert interviewed Tom Brokaw on MSNBC ("The Greatest Generation" and now "Boom! Voices of the Sixties") and Brokaw mentioned the growing objection to student deferments from the Vietnam draft during the 60s. He also repeated the quote, "The personal is political."

This might be a good place to mention the "Hire a Hero" website.

Pay your bills, and pay your dues.

Update: Nov 12

Rick Sincere has a writeup of the Virginia Film Festival on his blog, starting Nov. 1 and continuing for several posts; go here.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

"Mustang Sally" film illustrates an important screenwriting device (in horror, sci-fi, mystery)


The horror film “Mustang Sally’s Horror House” presents a pretty good example of how sequencing and presentation decisions in the screenwriting process can affect the way characters (or maybe even the actors who play them) are perceived, as well as the impact of the story.

The DVD (no rating but would normally correspond to “R”) offered in 2006 by American World Pictures (it did not show up on Netflix until early this year) has that title, but the original title appears to have just been “Mustang Sally,” which is how it is carried on imdb. In fact, it apparently had a “full studio theatrical release” from New Line Cinema in 2005, but it seems to have been lost. The film is directed and written by Iren Koster. There is a 1992 novel by this name by Edward Allen and I don’t know if there is any relation. It appears that American World may distribute some controversial genre releases for New Line (much as Roadside Attractions does for Lions Gate sometimes).

The movie plot, on the surface, follows the model of the famous classic “House of Wax” (which Warner Brothers and Village Roadshow remade in 2004). People go into an establishment looking for thrills and, well, they “get it,” most of them, at least. (Even the original “Halloween” fit this model.) Here, six college age young men go to a house of ill repute in the San Bernadino Mountains. (I believe that I have driven through a tunnel shown in the film once in a rental car about 25 years ago.) Now “Mustang Sally’s” house is no “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” (which was kind of fun, wasn’t it!) and Mustang Sally herself (Elizabeth Daily) is no Dolly Parton. But five of the young men act more like the braggy frat boys of freshmen dorms, the kind that brag about their heterosexual conquests, the kind that the military would depend on for unit cohesion. The ring leader, Josh Henderson (Massachusetts raised and educated Mark Parrish, very much in the shadow of Damon, Affleck (both of them) and Wahlberg (again, both) – with quite a bit of stage experience in college, too) is just a bit different, to the point of being a little more calculating, reserved, if not “different.”

So I come to the point. The movie opens with him lying apparently in a hospital bed, ready to recollect and tell the story of his misadventures in the horror house. We know right off that he survives in reasonably good shape. (In fact, according to imdb, Parrish broke is leg during filming in a minor off-set accident, and finished the shoots in a cast – much like what happened to Brad Pitt in filming Se7en (Pitt wears an arm cast in some scenes --- it was real!). The movie soon cuts to the main “story” and starts like a road movie, with a train and tunnel, etc. Soon they find the hideaway, and our morbid erotic curiosity is heightened during the “introductions.” It isn’t too long before very bad things happen to the boys – the movie is torture porn in reverse, with the men as “victims.”

Henderson, however, seems to have his partner under “control” and it seems as if there really could be a genuine (heterosexual) love relationship. The rest of the movie sets Henderson’s character apart from that of the other five boys, to the point that we really wonder why he went on such a foolish venture.

Parrish had played a somewhat charismatic character Thomas, leader of a mountain commune, in an earlier film "Jerome's Razor" discussed on this blog in April 2006. In that film he does not appear until the second half and there is genuine suspense as to what will happen until toward the end.

I wondered how the movie would have come across had the story been told in straight sequence. Screenwriting classes tend to encourage spec scripts to be straight-line, with just the story (the “beginning, middle, and end” you know, which breaks down into more parts in Hague’s guide, or the idea of point of recognition in novel writing). Then there would be genuine rooting interest in Josh, and you would not know until the end if he was going to make it.

Another curiosity about this film struck me: there are twelve “major” characters --- a lot for a low budget film that has to follow SAG per diem rules. (I’ve heard that New Line and some other companies work differently, I don’t know the details; a visitor could comment on this.).

Another moderately well known independent film with a plot sequencing controversy is "Keane" (2004, Magnolia Pictures, written and directed by Lodge Kerrigan). Here William Keane (Damian Lewis), as the movie opens, has apparently lost his young daughter in the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City. As the movie progresses, we quickly learn of his mental illness. But Steven Soderbergh (“Traffic”) edited a shorter version of the same movie (offered on the DVD) in a totally different sequence, where we do not know at first that Keane believes his daughter has been kidnapped. The story takes on a totally different meaning, much truer to “reality.”

I use the “Mustang Sally” trick in one of my own (unmade) scripts called “69 Minutes to Titan.” The title of the proposed movie is based on the length of time it would take light (and therefore an email, perhaps) to get from earth to the most interesting moon of Saturn (actually it’s a little longer, probably). I have a number of scripts on the Internet (the scrplys directory of doaskdotell.com), and this one has among the higher page request volumes.

In the opening scene, an older gentleman whom I call Clem is being visited in prison by a couple of much younger friends, and we learn that he may soon get out. The point is to make the moviegoer wonder how such a man wound up in prison and reassure the viewer that the character will reach some kind of “success” The interest in the younger characters is first born, too.

The movie then goes back about six years to tell its story. Although Clem did something foolish, it turns out that his imprisonment that then the goings-on after his release can have apocalyptic consequences indeed.

A somewhat abbreviated version of the treatment and script is available online as noted above. For certain business reasons, I do not show all of the details of the full story (as in my own private hard drive versions), a few of which can be extremely sensitive and misinterpreted if found and misconstrued online.

Update: Nov 9


I saw "Darfur Now" today but I put the review with "The Devil Came on Horseback" on the Sept. 12 issue on this blog.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains; O Jerusalem


Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains (2007, Sony Pictures Classics / Participant, dir. Jonathan Demme, 126 min, PG) and O Jerusalem (2006, Samuel Goldwyn, dir. Elie Chouraqui, 100 min, France/UK).

I backtrack to May, 1976 while Gerald Ford was still president and Jimmy Carter was about to be nominated (he would be put over the top at the convention by Ohio). My studio apartment in Greenwich village, renovated out of a warehouse with nooks and crannies, was crowded with about thirty strangers, and Dr. and Mrs. Florence Fry, whom I put up at the George Washington Hotel, spoke. I was in charge of the NYC unit of Understanding, a New Age group from Tonapah, Arizona, that I had already visited a couple times. The largest unit was actually in Buffalo. The underlying concept was a grassroots political process to be called The Area of Mutual Agreement, which was supposed to solve political and international issues. It was supposed to run around the world in viral fashion in those pre-Internet days.

I did not work out that well, although I visited Understanding several more times and made some good friends. There were some personal vicissitudes that would themselves make a movie in those pre-AIDS days. But in September, 1978, I did have a meeting of a reorganized unit in my apartment, and recorded it on cassette. We spent most of the evening talking about the meeting at Camp David between Jimmy Carter, Anwar Sadat, and Menachem Begin.

At the time, the meeting was still deadlocked. A few days later, it suddenly broke, and there was an accord. The two adversaries were shown hugging. There is video of this in Demme’s film, and Carter appealed to Begin’s own sense of concern for his own family, at the last minute. That memory is shown in the film.

Most of the movie shows Carter going around the country defending his book “Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid,” with the metaphor offensive to many. Carter constantly emphasizes the way rights were taken away from individual Palestinian people on the West Bank. Alan Dershowitz sees it as political: the Palestinians elected Hamas, he says, and there are consequences for electing a government that says it wants to destroy Israel.

Demme's film does show the red clay countryside around Carter's Plains, GA home, and shows in talking in church at home ("You don't have to believe that Jesus was born of a virgin. I do.") I met President Carter in 1977 when the taught Sunday School in the balcony of the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC, near the White House (the present building opened in 1955); the lesson was on the Divorce Chapter. I heard him speak about Habitat for Humanity in the Washington Cathedral in 1996. The film shows him working in New Orleans after Katrina.

It's interesting to remember the domestic politics of the time, given that now we tend to remember his international peace efforts and the Carter Center (often shown in the film), which I paid a quick visit to in 1994 in Atlanta. (Remember his failure to rescue the Iran hostages in April 1980.) In 1976 there was a PAC called "Gays for Carter" and it was somewhat naive. But, according to Randy Shilts (in "Conduct Unbecoming"), Carter's people had suggested doing something about security clearances for gay people if he got a second term (that didn't get much better until about 1990 with the Persian Gulf War) and could not consider doing anything about the military gay ban, which actually was hardened in 1981 as Reagan took office.

The Demme film shows a lot of on location shots around Washington and Arlington: the Memorial Bridge, the new Air Force memorial.

The Choraqui film came out in theaters just a little before, and it is a somewhat stagey drama of two friends, a Palestinian Arab Said Chahine (Said Taghmoui) and Jew Bobby Goldman (JJ Feild) while the state of Israel is being created in 1948, and then while Palestinian reprisals are fended off, resulting in a truce. The film shows lots of black and white historical footage of Jerusalem and of the Holocaust, and in some scenes black and white transformed into a sepia movie set.

The film documents the historical case for the Jewish state well enough (it makes a lot of the United Nations vote and the departure of the British from Jerusalem) but says little about the displacement of individual Palestinians, and tends to make the opposition appear religious in nature. Perhaps it was. But today we know that the psychological motive under the suicide bomber threat has a lot to do with the shame of being less than second class citizens personally. And Israel, as the Carter film depicts, insists that all of this is necessary simply for security.

Most of history, as we study it, is about the subjugation of one group of people of another. The same thing happened to native Americans in our country. When teaching social studies to kids, we usually don’t emphasize the loss of individual rights as part of group subjugation (we do show that this happened to the Jews in Germany under Hitler, but we don’t follow up well with how this happens to individual Palestinians). We think it is somehow justifiable, and we expect families in a subjected people to adjust with “family values.”