North Korean film festival has begun!

If you just happen to be in Pyongyang for the next week, check out the city’s film festival. It opened yesterday at the People’s Palace of Culture, with the opening ceremony followed by a screening of “The Great Devotion (2009, the year of dramatic changes).” The festival’s fare is predictable in subject matter, but it will give you a leg up on the film junkies who brag about
Sundance and Cannes.

The festival, which begins on February 16, 2010, is set to last 10 days. According to a report by the Korea Central News Agency, North Korea’s official news outlet, those attending the film festival “will watch documentaries showing the undying feats of General Secretary Kim Jong Il making an endless forced march for field guidance, regarding President Kim Il Sung’s idea of believing in people as in Heaven as a maxim at cinemas and halls of culture in Pyongyang and various local areas.”

Some of the films being screened are “A White Gem,” “The Country I Saw” and “White Birch of Paektu,” as well as “other feature films dealing with mental power of the servicepersons and people of the DPRK creating a history of new great surge under the uplifted banner of devotedly defending the leader.”


Big Earth Productions launches travel website

Big Earth Productions, responsible for gripping travel documentaries such as Long Way Around and Long Way Down, have just launched a new travel website.

It’s designed to be a one-stop experience for finding information on adventure travel all over the world, providing tips on permits, visas, shipping, and transport. But they’ve gone beyond that to create an online community where people can share advice photos, and video.

BEP has filmed epic journeys starring Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor riding around the world on motorcycles, rickshaws, boats, and everything else imaginable, but especially motorcycles, which are the perfect vehicles for just about any terrain. Not surprisingly, there’s a lot of emphasis on motorcycles here, with an entire section dedicated to Two Wheel Adventure, so if you want to do your own international Easy Rider epic, you’ll be set for information. The Cargo section will tell you what permits you need to get your bike to, say, Senegal. They’ll tell you all about pet visas too.

A lot of their pages rely on public participation, so at this early stage some elements are a bit spotty. A video page encourages people to upload shots from their trip and offers advice from documentary filmmakers on how to get the most out of any video camera in adverse conditions. The TV section includes clips from Big Earth Production’s documentaries. My favorite is series of crashes from the Dakar Rally. Did that guy really think he’d save his burning bike by throwing sand on it? Feel free to upload more of those, guys.

One page that holds a lot of promise is a clickable map of the world that aspires to have travel anecdotes and information for every country. Some countries don’t have much yet, but they will fill in with time. Since membership is free, you might want to head on over there and add your own content, but be sure to come right back to Gadling because, in the words of my three-year-old son, “we’re pretty cool.”


Human Rights International Film Festival

A few years ago, in the audience of the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center watching A Closer Walk, a wonderful documentary about the global struggle caused by AIDS, I felt tuned into something bigger than myself. Reading New York Times film critic Steven Holden’s article about the Human Rights International Film Festival going on at the Walter Reade Theater through June 25, reminded me about that night, as well as, my day at the Cleveland International Film Festival this past March.

A film festival is an opportunity to view the world through a variety of lenses. In a summer of blockbusters where the popular theme seems to be horror and sci-fi—again, breaking up the fiction action with action that is real may give you that bigger than yourself feeling. If nothing else, seeing such films is an opportunity to see the work of passionate people who are like dogs with bones when it comes to getting a movie made about a cause they care about.

Besides, for people who are world travelers, heading to a film may shed light on some of the issues of the countries where one visits. Although one may visit a country, there may not be the opportunity to really find out what goes on behind closed doors, literally and figuratively.

Holden gave an overview of some of the films in his articlem and indicates that there is much worthwhile to see. You may have heard of some of the offerings. They are a mix of films that are new and others have been previously viewed elsewhere.

Because the films take in a range of slices of life in Afganistan, Ecuador, Pakistan, India and more–and often are about subjects that are not what one would think they might be about, they hold details well outside the sound bite version of the nightly news.

Here is a link to the films that will be featured and a link to the calendar to see when each will be screened.

Since I’m going to be in New York City next Wednesday, I have my eye on Regret to Inform, the award-winning documentary by Barbara Sonneborn. The film, nominated for an Academy Award in 1998 is about Sonneborn’s journey to Vietnam twenty years after her husband was killed there during the war. She set out to see where he was killed and along the way developed relationships with Vietnam war widows from the other side. Sonneborn will be at the showing and will give a talk as part of the venue.

If you do have a chance to head to the Walter Reade Theatre, take time to stop in the adjacent Furman Gallery to see the exhibit “Long Story Bit By Bit: Liberia Retold” by Tim Hetherington. Through photographs and writing, Hetherington has aimed to make sense of Liberia’s complicated past and present. The exhibit is another avenue to experience another person’s passion.

An artist is thrilled when people heading to a movie duck into a gallery to see his or her work as part of an event. The gallery is not open at night, so if you do want to see the exhibit, stop in before 5 p.m.

Museum Junkie: Manchester exhibit on life as a POW

A fascinating exhibit on life as a POW has opened at The Imperial War Museum North in Manchester, England.

The exhibition, called “Captured: The Extraordinary Life of Prisoners of War”, combines pictures, artifacts, and real-life anecdotes to give a glimpse into the experiences of prisoners of war from all armies during the Second World War (1939-45). It also features the only known film of German POWs in Britain.

While the exhibition focuses on the daily endurance test POWs had to live through, it also examines some of the famous escapes from notorious German prisons such as Colditz. This castle near Dresden housed Allied POWs who had tried to escape from other prisons. The Nazis considered it impossible to escape from. Several POWs saw it as a challenge and proved the Nazis wrong.

This museum junkie has been to many of The Imperial War Museum’s special exhibitions and has always been impressed. They’re always easy to follow and full of surprises and leave you knowing a lot more than when you arrived. At the permanent exhibition in the museum’s London branch, there’s a recording of an interview with a British soldier who survived a Japanese POW camp. He got terrible sores on his legs and didn’t have any medicine to treat them. Knowing that tea is a disinfectant, he pressed tea bags against the sores. This bit of trivia saved his legs and probably his life.

This latest exhibition is one of a series of events marking the 70th anniversary of the start of World War Two. A list of upcoming events at the museum’s five branches is online here,

“Captured: The Extraordinary Life of Prisoners of War” runs until January 3rd, 2010.

One Day in Africa: Lives of six ordinary Africans

When I watched the trailer of One Day in Africa, the latest documentary of Brook Silva-Braga, the resonance of village and city life in most African countries was immediately evident. It’s a resonance that often doesn’t make headline news. It resides in the pattern of each day that starts before the sun comes up when Africans, in particular women, get busy.

The shot of women pounding grain comes to mind. When I lived in a Gambian village for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer, the thwack of a wooden pestle against a mortar as it removed husks from grain was like a heartbeat.

What Silva-Braga shows about African life is that it has rhythm and cadence and is not totally embroiled with AIDS and poverty. There is another theme to explore, one that involves the complex melding of African traditions with the modern world.

Sure AIDS, poverty and violence do exist, but they are not what Brook Silva-Braga set out to show in his second film project. His first film, A Map for Saturday, was a documentary about around the world travel–his and others. That film included every continent except Africa.

One Day in Africa is a companion project in a way, but the focus is different. In this latest project, Silva-Braga got up close and personal with his subjects– six Africans, both men and women, whose stories are typical of the stories of others who live in this vast continent. [For the trailer, keep reading.]

These six could be like any other six, but in their typicality, their uniqueness also comes through. Athough their lives may not look anything like ours, the essence of what they are after is recognizable. How they resonate in their own lives is an alluring tale.

  • Titus, a store owner in Kisumu, Kenya has just reopened his store after it was ransacked during the presidential election. For him, life is about moving forward.
  • Howa, a young woman in Farge-Fundu, Niger starts her household chores at dawn in a place where it’s hard to imagine that anything could grow in the dry landscape.
  • Bridgete, a pregnant woman in Lilongwe, Malawi is hoping for a son and is unsure how she will get to the hospital since her husband is a bit lackluster about the idea of driving her to the hospital in his taxi.
  • Sali, a university educated woman in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, has high expectations despite living in a mostly male dominated culture
  • Osman, a merchant in Fez, Morocco, has many “brothers” who help him sell his goods to tourists.
  • Brahim, a farmer in N-8, Mali, feeds a family of fourteen from his efforts

From the snippet I saw, part of the film’s charm and interest lies with Silva-Braga’s questioning of the subjects. As they go about their day, his voice is heard asking them questions about how they see their lives. Through the interactions, the viewer is led into the intimacy of conversations that are similar to the swirl of dialogue that happens around us every day. Conversations about life, hairstyles, work and the mundane.

Look for the film’s screening schedule on March 1 at the One Day in Africa website. It will be making the rounds at various film festivals.

Brook Silva-Braga graced Gadling with a stint as a guest blogger in 2007. His posts, grouped together as the series “Across Northern Europe,” are a thinking person’s missives about aspects of travel. Reading them is also a look into Silva-Braga’s head, not a bad place from which to view the world.