“Still Tomorrow” Movie Reflections by Chinese Class

This year, some students from Chinese class went to Full Frame and watched the 2016 documentary Still Tomorrow, which has not been shown in China yet. We were 5 minutes late because we went to American Tobacco campus initially. Below are the reflections written by some students who went to the movie screening with me:

Ryan Morgan (’20): This movie was very well put together, and I very much enjoyed the people that starred in it. The documentary style has always been an interesting one in my opinion, but I think that it worked out well for this one. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I was walking in (late) because I only saw a group of people eating. It ended up being a story of loneliness and depression, and I feel like it captured the essence of those things very well. In conclusion, this movie was pretty great, and it allowed me to learn about an extremely interesting person.

Andy Wang (’20): I think the portrayal of Yu Xiu Hua’s journey in this documentary was a wholly authentic message that reveals feelings that are a central part of the shared human journey. The memory that this film left with me is still felt, with memorable scenes returning and bringing the emotions with. Each obstacle and each triumph was truly shown by the intimate closeness the camera had, filming Yu Xiu Hua’s personal life at these times. The quality of the movie as a genuine film as opposed to an amateur documentary shocked me. Each piece of the film fit together, each choice was expertly crafted. One scene that exemplified the unity of the film was toward the end. Yu Xiu Hua sat in her chair, typing on a precariously tilting table. It was a perfect ending, calling back to a mirrored scene in the beginning of the film.

Batu Palanduz (’19): This movie was well made and i think that if we had seen the opening 5 minutes, then the documentary would have carried more importance. Either way, it was interesting seeing all the media asking questions about Yu Xiuhua’s opinions about herself. They all seemed to be asking her the same things; “Do you fear your poems are perceived as crude” and “have you accepted yourself”. Also, her husband’s interactions with her were shocking in my opinion. I was surprised that almost all her poems had to do with love and sex. The fact that she was able to get her book published was impressive to me because i know that some of the older nations have very strict cultures. I was surprised that no one called her works disgusting or revolting. This shows that the world is slowly moving in the right direction.

Davi Sapiro-Gheiler (’19): I think that the movie addressed many important points about physical disability and gender. It was interesting to see how physical disability is treated in China. If she wasn’t famous, would she be treated the same way or would she be looked down upon as an inferior citizen? Seeing her relationship with her husband play out and how she took control of the situation was truly inspiring. The fact that her mother was so appalled by the situation shed light on gender roles in Chinese society. I liked how the movie was very non-traditional. A lot of movies about China focus on things that the media and the general public would like, not on deeper issues (like this movie focused on). It was interesting to see a Chinese movie that was not about food, martial arts, or pollution.

Kaynaz Soheili (’19): I think it would have been better to see the first few minutes, but overall, I thought it was a good documentary. It was very interesting to see this woman poet, Yu Xiuhua, who had cerebral palsy, put her emotion into her work and write such good poetry. I loved the genuineness she put into her poems and the relationships she had with her family members before and after she got famous. Once she had achieved fame, when she would have interviews, she wasn’t at all self-conscious about her appearance and would freely talk about her condition’s effects. People just loved her, and she was made China’s Emily Dickinson.

It was very interesting to see how her life at home played out after she reached fame. Particularly, her determination in her divorce was very interesting to watch. She would not stop at anything until she was free of her husband and at first was reluctant to get divorced because the stories that might’ve been written about her, now that she was famous. At the same time, she had to carry along with her the tough issue of her mother having cancer. This was especially crucial during her divorce because her sick mother did not think it was the right decision to make. But, before the credits rolled, there was a picture of her mother at the end of the documentary and the text at the bottom dedicated it to her. I thought it was a nice ending.

 

Through the Windows of a Spaceship

The three days spent at Full Frame are magical. It is a time where I can take on a different kind of independence and any identity: anthropologist, film critic, foodie, downtown street walker, classy festival-goer, or simply a high school senior seeing movies with friends. It’s my favorite part of the year. I meet new people, I revisit old faces. And the vastly different films I watch make it a new experience every time. I consumed a total of nine films in the short 72 hours. Every single one told a story and opened my heart.
I knew that Dina was going to be my favorite movie before I saw it. The vague description communicated a vague log line– “old people on the autism spectrum fall in love and get married” – and was enough to make me excited. The lights came down and the screen came up, and suddenly we were transported to a hazy dreamscape of pastel colors. We met Dina, more of a caricature than a tangible person. We see her interact with the world, and almost want to laugh, because this isn’t a documentary. Surely it’s a narrative film. Yet as the storyline progresses, we grow closer to two very real people who suffered through very real circumstances, from taking the wrong city bus to the beach, to domestic abuse. And it was beautiful to watch. By the end of the film, I began to question the autism spectrum, and the subconscious divisions we place in society between “us” and “them”. Because I listened to myself speak, and I sounded like Dina. Dina wasn’t separate in her experiences from anyone else. Watching the movie was refreshing in many ways, because Dina didn’t hold back in her commentary, she said what she wanted, and her fiance was able to reciprocate. They glided easily through conflict resolution. This humorous portrait of a couple’s journey made my Friday evening.
In a speakeasy I sat in, a filmmaker captured the feeling: Full Frame is like a portal to another land. It’s a place where you can peer into other galaxies and worlds through the window of your spaceship, alongside a community of caring, invested people. I couldn’t agree more. Someway, somehow, I will find my way back to Full Frame next year.

The Cult of Documentary-Goers — & Why I’m Proud To Be a Part of It

Each time I entered the Carolina Theater last weekend, I was struck by the pandemonium of the lobby. The space was consistently crowded and constantly filled with the sound of loud, upbeat voices and I felt… comfortable. It felt wonderful to be side by side with other individuals who’d chosen to spend their day– or even their weekend– devoting time to attempting to see the world through the perspective of others.
Moreover, in the theater, during each of the four documentaries I saw, the audience was focused and invigorated. The status quo was to laugh at the top of your lungs when something funny occurred and this openness– this cultural of being involved and passionate– fit me well. Full Frame made me remember how much I relish the act of learning and listening simply to gain a better understanding of the breadth of the human experience. Full Frame’s populace was intentional, accepting, and aware and I value these qualities more than I can even begin to express. The vibe of the festival overall was just the vibe I hope to exude to each person I meet and discovering this truth was priceless. Here’s to a future full of film-friends and many, many more documentaries!

Dina

Dina is the modern love story that our society needs. It shows that love comes in all shapes and sizes, Dina is a positive role model for young girls, and because it accurately portrays mental illness. This is a positive movie because it portrays two “regular” people who fall in love. This is significant because hollywood often only portrays love between incredibly wealthy, attractive, and skinny people. Dina shows that everyone deserves love, no matter what you look like, no matter what mental illness you may or may not be suffering from, and no matter what that love looks like. Secondly, Dina is the positive role model that young women need because of her perseverance and her morals. Dina is one of the most resilient women who I have heard of; her husband was killed, her boyfriend stabbed her 7-8 times, and she was still strong enough to be open for love, even after she had been hurt so many times before. She shows that the world is going to hurt you sometimes and sometimes you are not going to immediately get what you want, but that doesn’t mean that you give up, it does not mean that you stop trying, it means that you have even more reasons to try harder than you were before.

Full Frame 2017

The main theme of almost all the films I saw this year at Full Frame was the importance of the arts in our lives. This message was particularly present in the documentaries, The Original Richard Mcmahan and Heaven is a Traffic Jam, as they both documented aspects of two artists’ lives and how they went about creating their work. Although both of these artists dealt with different adverse circumstances-an extremely dysfunctional family and mental illness-they were able to overcome their situations through art. The importance of the arts in education was also illustrated with the documentaries, School Life and Purple Dreams. Both of these films followed a particular school for part of a school year. In both of the schools, the arts not only brought people together, but they also brought the students and teachers great happiness. Especially in Purple Dreams, as the Northwest School of the Arts’ production of Purple Dreams found great success on the national and international scale. This musical not only encouraged unity and happiness among the students and faculty, but it also provided lower-income teenagers with opportunities to attend college, which they may not have been able to afford otherwise. I completely agree that the arts and the act of being creative are essential for everyday life. I believe that one of the students in Purple Dreams best described why creativity is so important. It gives you the opportunity to be “free,” to forget all the stress in your life and escape into a different world.

Acceptance

In this Full Frame Seminar, I saw five films. All of them seemed to have a connecting theme of acceptance. The first film I saw, Still Tomorrow, captures a Chinese female poet with cerebral palsy. The movie follows the journey of the acceptance of her poetry, her disability and her own self-acceptance. A female poet writing truthfully about her own sexuality is not common in China, or most places for that matter, so the acceptance of her poetry at all is interesting. Secondly, she is invited as a guest speaker to events and seen as a role model despite her disability, showing acceptance as well. Finally, by freeing herself from her marriage in order to find true happiness, she comes to the realization that she is bigger than her disability or her marriage, gaining self-acceptance. The next film I saw was Zaatari Djinn, a film following four different children’s lives in a refugee camp. One of the female children is acting in a play and playing on a soccer team. However, her father forbids her from continuing these activities when he finds out. He cannot accept his daughter for what she wants to do because of her gender. In addition, one of the male children’s father remarried and the boy has to learn to accept this new woman, which proves extremely difficult. In the same day, I saw another film about children, School Life (In Loco Parentis). This film followed an elderly couple who were two teachers at an odd middle school in Ireland. In this film, there are many instances where the children seek acceptance, both from each other and the teachers. Specifically, when a transfer student comes in mid-way through the year, she is incredibly self-conscious as she is a young model. Because of this, when she tries to join the school’s band and isn’t instantly given praise for her drumming, she has a break down. This youthful need for acceptance was very present in School Life. The fourth film I saw was Purple Dreams. This film was about a Charlotte High School for the arts putting on a production of The Color Purple. High school is one of the times where people seek acceptance most, so the themes in each students’ lives relate to how they’re accepted. For example, Javontre is amazing in his ballet skills and overall grace in dance, but is not always accepted by his family and friends for pursuing dance so seriously instead of a different sport. The biggest theme of acceptance in this film however, is through the audition process. A large part of the film is the drama before, during and after auditions. Auditions, and acting in general are all about being accepted and craving that acceptance. The final film I saw was This Is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous. This film was about a transgender youtuber name Gigi who basically discovered herself and made her transition through youtube. This film was all about acceptance because Gigi grew up in a conservative family and it took a while to get her brothers, father and friends to accept her. And, her life as a youtuber, and having her main income come from that means that she is constantly seeking and needing acceptance from the world to be successful. All of the films I saw in this seminar were absolutely incredible and I think it’s very cool to find a parallel that is very clearly seen in each one. I think the only explanation I have is that all people seek acceptance of some kind and therefore it is a theme all viewers can relate to. Thank you so much Ms. Bessias and Mr. Haynes for making this happen!

In Loco Parentis

One of the films I saw during the Full Frame Film Festival was called In Loco Parentis (also known as School Life.) The movie embraces tradition and modernity. The film is focused on an unconventional (and the only) primary-age boarding school in the village of Kells, Ireland. The story follows a year in the lives of an inspirational teaching couple who’s long careers are drawing closer to a close, Amanda and John Leyden. The duo teach latin, english, instrumentals, and work to encourage creativity amongst their students at the at a stately home-turned-school. They are legends with a mantra: “Reading. ‘Rithmetic. Rock ‘n’ roll!” The film does a great job encompassing the students under their charge, focusing centrally on their progressive methods of elementary education, and the impacts they form and leave on the lives of the kids. For John, rock music is a lifestyle, and a subject the same alongside maths, scripture and latin. The movie works to capture his teachings in a collaborative and quite hilarious fashion. Contrary to her husband however, Amanda seeks her literature as the key to connecting with children, and she uses all means to engage the minds of her young ones. For nearly half a century this dynamic duo have shaped thousands of minds, however the film captures another aspect of their story- must they start making preparations for their retirement? What will keep them young if they leave? In Loco Parentis brilliantly expresses the joys of childhood, impacts teachers and adults have on students, and the loving relationships and bonds created by people close to one another. However, at some point in time all good things must come to an end, and without a doubt in this movie leaving is the hardest lesson. The final scene pictures the closing day of the school year. All the parents come to greet their children hello, and all the children go to greet their friends and school life family goodbye. The emotion and pain of moving on is extraordinarily expressed and filmed, in a way that makes the viewers themselves mourn the loss of such a well brought together community. Overall I would highly recommend this film to any and all people, and would most definitely see it again.

Purple Dreams

This year, I was fortunately accepted to attend the Full Frame Seminar again. It’s an amazing opportunity, and I enjoyed every moment of it. I saw five films this year, and while all are wonderful, Purple Dreams was one that stood out to me the most. Purple Dreams is about Northwest School of the Arts in Charlotte, North Carolina and how they were the first high school to receive the rights to put on the play, The Color Purple. While there was a tremendous amount of people working on this play, the film followed a handful of student-actors and the play’s director. Many of the students at this school must deal with family and financial problems. One student was forced to live in a small hotel room with her mom, her mom’s boyfriend, and her siblings. Another student and his family had to live in someone else’s garage. Theatre was their way to escape from or cope with their issues. They loved their director, Corey Mitchell, like a father, and they loved their fellow cast and crew mates like siblings. I, along with I’m sure all the other viewers, grew very fond of all the students and wanted them to succeed in the play as well as life (we liked Corey Mitchell, too). We all clapped when things worked out for the students, and we gasped and sighed with sadness when a student’s brother was killed due to gun violence. In the end, the play went very well. Judges of high school theatre attended their last performance and thought they were good enough to go to Nebraska to attend workshops and perform in front of critiques, which is a huge honor. During this trip, the students also got to audition for many colleges and universities of the arts. Many of them got accepted, and some even received scholarships, including the films’ protagonists. In addition to all of these wonderful privileges and opportunities they earned, Corey Mitchell received a Tony Award for his many years of excellent work in high school arts! After the film ended, some of the documentary’s crew, Corey Mitchell, and two of the students featured in the film came out to answer questions and engage in discussion! It was so great to see them, and to learn that they are thriving in college and making a career in the arts. Over all, this documentary was absolutely incredible, and it promoted arts programs in schools. They are underfunded and deserve to be treated as the crucial part of the school system that they are. I would definitely recommend this film to everyone! Thanks so much to Ms. Bessias, Mr. Haynes, and Durham Academy for this wonderful opportunity!!

The Last Men in Aleppo, directed by Feras Fayyad

This film is about the Syrian Civil Defense’s “White Helmet” volunteers at the frontline of the conflict in the capital city. Watching the film was the experience of viewing the obliteration of a city and its civilians at ground zero. The film opens with Khaled, a White Helmet, scanning the sky for Russian and Syrian jets and helicopters as they strafe the city. For the next 104 minutes we are dragged through a labyrinth of urban apartment buildings while Khaled and his crew alternately take cover or rush into the bomb sites to save people and recover the dead. And the bombs keep coming, and coming, and coming. And Khaled and his team keep running into the smoke to excavate, jackhammer, shovel and eventually dig by hand through the rubble in search of humans. The first time we see this process, a small child is extracted from a tiny crevice at the bottom of an impossible mountain of concrete. The camera is close enough for us to feel every abrasion, taste the chalky grit and sense the impact-induced sleepiness of the little body. I had a terrible thought: people aren’t being killed by bombs, they are being killed by buildings. They are being buried and crushed under monumental summits of cinder block, concrete, electrical wiring, rebar, tile and the choking dust produced by the pulverization of those materials. The violence in Aleppo is incessant and it feels impossible to deal with, but it is a very real thing that is happening right now. Against all odds, amidst the blinding terror, Khaled and the other people depicted in the film demonstrate and communicate unwavering love and gentleness towards each other and towards their families. There are moments of searing poignancy. Khaled is enchanted with his children. He hugs them, kisses them and showers them with love, all the while contemplating whether it is more dangerous to stay in Aleppo or flee the city. This film is brutal. Many of its images are etched in my mind, no matter how hard I try to shake them. The film is also a massively important achievement. Before risking his life to make this film, the director Feras Fayyad was imprisoned and tortured by the Syrian government for documenting the civil uprising in Syria. After his release he continued to receive death threats and was eventually forced to flee the country. The triumph of this film is not only one of human rights advocacy but also one of arts advocacy.

Sources:

http://www.dw.com/en/syrian-filmmaker-firas-fayyad-the-white-helmets-made-me-believe-in-humanity/a-37934727

Full Frame Awards List

2016 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival Award Winners

The Reva and David Logan Grand Jury Award:
Starless Dreams, dir. Mehrdad Oskouei

Full Frame Jury Award for Best Short:
Clínica de Migrantes: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, dir. Maxim Pozdorovkin

Full Frame Audience Award–Feature:
Life, Animated, dir. Roger Ross Williams

Full Frame Audience Award–Short:
Pickle, dir. Amy Nicholson

Center for Documentary Studies Filmmaker Award:
Sonita, dir. Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami

Charles E. Guggenheim Emerging Artist Award:
Call Me Marianna, dir. Karolina Bielawska

Full Frame Inspiration Award:
Starless Dreams, dir. Mehrdad Oskouei

Full Frame President’s Award:
The Mute’s House, dir. Tamar Kay

Kathleen Bryan Edwards Award for Human Rights:
Kiki, dir. Sara Jordenö