Dispatches From War-Torn Countries Abound at Nonfiction Fest

It's smart of MOMA, amid the hubbub and scrutiny surrounding its structural renovations, to offer in this year's Documentary Fortnight several films commenting on U.S. attempts at reshaping the world. One of the best is The Boy Who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan, chronicling four seasons in the life of an Afghan Hazara refugee family. Contrasted with the chastening landscape and cave-sheltered destitution, eight-year-old Mira's irreverent kiss-my-ass charisma provides a stunning jolt of joviality. His optimism—"I like the Americans," he enthuses as helicopters buzz overhead—pushes the film to the brink of propaganda, yet his story adds an undeniably willful voice to the nation-building debate.

As Bush continues touting Chile as a poster child for Social Security privatization, Battle of Chile director Patricio Guzmán delivers another dispatch from what has become a lifelong quest to make psycho-social sense of Chile's torched 1970s socialist moment. Salvador Allende makes compelling use of old footage and new interviews with the likes of former U.S. ambassador Edward Korry to examine the phenomenon of Allende along with the world-sculpting Nixonian apoplexy that disappeared him. In the spirit of the political muralists of Chile whose walls served as grassroots newspapers (Jane Crawford's biopic of surrealist Roberto Matta is also featured in the Fortnight), Democracy Now's Amy Goodman challenges the CNN version of history in Independent Media in a Time of War. Shocking & Awful: A Grassroots Response to War: The Real Face of Occupation does the same, documenting war's effects on real Iraqis, from the sniping of innocents to cluster-bombed family homes to checkpoint and gas-line hassles.

Jolt of joviality: Boy Who Plays
photo: Phil Grabsky
Jolt of joviality: Boy Who Plays

Taking on another hegemony, that of traditional narrative, Henry Corra and Charlene Rule's Frames invites us into the mind of tricksterish artist Grahame Weinbren, who analyzes his own interactive installations. One featured work, an integration of motion sensor and video technology that allowed gallery visitors to walk over video screens depicting miners working in a tunnel below, prompts a timely reflection on the nature of secondhand experience, photographic illusion, and the ways film can illuminate deep human struggles that mainstream media exist to bury.

 
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