Film: Kanchivaram (2008)
The power of cinema, especially International cinema, is that you get the opportunity to live in someone else's shoes for a couple of hours from half way across the world. In the case of the 2008 Tamil film, Kanchivaram, we get to experience the life of a silk weaver in Kanchivaram, who cannot afford the saris he makes. The film is set in 1948 and is told mostly in flashbacks of a man's journey to attempt to keep a promise to his daughter against impossible odds.
It is an unforgettable and heartbreaking film, but beautifully told. I invite you to watch the full movie provided above which I watched at the San Francisco Asian-American Film Festival. Let me know what you think.
This article was originally written on March 18, 2007.
Yesterday, I had a fabulous opportunity to get my first look at a couple of films being shown as a part of the San Francisco International Asian-American Film Festival. My friend, Geneva took me along with her to Berkeley since she was doing a film review of Made In Korea: One Way Ticket Seoul-Amsterdam. The documentary starts out as a filmmaker's attempt to reunite with the eight other Korean adoptees who flew into the Netherlands in 1980 as babies. He finds one of those adoptees, who ends up becoming his girlfriend. Her story of reuniting with her birthmother in Korea, stirs up curiosity in him, where there was none before.
To In-Soo Radstake, he was just a typical Dutchman who really didn't think of himself as Korean. With the support of his girlfriend, he embarks on visits to Korea that really open up his feelings regarding being adopted and cultural identity. This was a very well done documentary. Most adoption-related documentaries are from the view of female adoptees who have already embraced the whole search for one's roots. It was refreshing to see a male adoptee speak up from a more skeptical and pragmatic point-of-view. It was also refreshing to see a male adoptee be able to show his more emotional moments during his search that he shares with his girlfriend, who is clearly his emotional support.
As an adopted person, I felt for him when he hit "the wall of shame" in regards to his own information about the facts surrounding his birth. He declares without a hint of doubt that the information contained in the orphanage's file is his own information. Without his own birth occuring that file would never exist. The film shows that in order to get simple information about oneself, adopted persons have to get creative and trick people into releasing information. When official channels fail to locate his birth mother, he quite reluctantly goes on reunion shows he detests. It reminded me of the time before the Internet adoption search community evolved where it seemed the only way to search was to go on daytime talkshow reunion episodes. Part of what turned me off on the concept of searching is that I also detested such shows and felt if that is the only way to search it isn't worth it. I had to wait until there were more discreet ways to search.
After the screening, Geneva and I had the opportunity to meet with the In-Soo and his girlfriend, Ungila. It turns out that Insoo didn't really want to turn the camera on himself, but his producer thought it would be more compelling if it centered on his point-of-view as an adopted person. In-Soo admits now that the producer was right. In the film, there are brief profiles on a couple more of the adoptees he found that had mixed experiences when they went to Korea and found their birth family. This seemed to serve to temper his expectations are raised somewhat by Ungila's experiences.
When asked about how he feels now on the completion of the film and showing it in regards to feeling he is Dutch or Korean, he says he definately feels Korean. The film has brought out a lot of Koreans, particularly adopted Koreans. It seemed to me that the language barrier and being from a more progressive country while being confronted with a more closed Korean society does present challenges in feeling Korean.
I talked to Ungila and it turns out that it was her Dutch mother who asked her at 14 if she could search for her because if she waited until later it might be more difficult to find. In the film, Ungila's mother is clearly deep in guilt over not being able to raise who she feels is her daughter. She says through an interpretor that she feels always a sinner and doesn't see the use of digging up the past. I learned after the film that it was her birthfather's family who gave her up after a divorce without telling the mother until Ungila was in Holland. In Korea, when couples divorce, custody goes to the father. Ungila's Dutch parents and her birth mother stay in touch despite not speaking each other's language. They call each other, greet each other in each others language, giggle, and hang up.
Film: Summer Palace (2006)
This review was originally written on March 16, 2007.
After watching Made in Korea, interviewing its director, and having spicy Indian food, we went to see that last film of the night, Summer Palace. This film was supposed to have been shown at Cannes Film Festival, but it was pulled by the Chinese Government.
What attracted me to see this is the fact that it was a Chinese film dealing with students in the short period of liberation before Tiananmen Square massacre. I think I was expecting more of a political film, but it was more a story of the students sexual exploration as a metaphor for freedom in a totalitarian China.
Yu Hong is the central character is a young woman who is just starting to explore her sexuality with a young messenger in the neighborhood. She is accepted in the "Harvard of China", Beijing University in 1987. You can sense the sadness that they know things will change between them when she goes off to school.
Yu Hong lives in a crowded dorm with clothes hanging everywhere, where you go to the bathroom in a pot in the room, and there is a buzz around campus. There are young people from various communist countries all sharing ideas, stealing books, dancing, having sex, and protesting. Obscured in the film are the ideas and the politics behind the protests at the climax of the film. It is the sexual liaisons that prove emotionally dangerous in the blurred backdrop of the actually dangerous carnival-like protests. She is part of a rather incestuous group of friends and fellow students.
Yu Hong meets Zhou Wei while dancing with her friends. They are clearly drawn to each other. He fools around with other women and he gets jealous when he sees her with other men. They plead with each other to break up, but they cannot let go of each other. There is a lot of unnecessary drama with these too, which is actually consistent with young people out on their own for the first time. Friends fall into each others arms in the spirit of freedom and hormones, but they hurt each other. There is euphoria with the danger.
This film is beautifully filmed and the acting is top notch.
It isn't lost on me that I am reposting my love for Asian cinema during a time where Asian-Americans are being targeted. I am a lover of film and film festivals, and the San Francisco International Asian-American Film Festival has been consistently astonishingly good. Every movie that I have seen at their festivals remain with me for years. In the case of this film, it has been 14 years. It'is prickly relationship with the Chinese government makes it hard to watch on streaming services, but you may be able to find it on Youtube. It is worth seeking out.
I love all the stories that are coming out of the huge and diverse Asian world. Their stories speak to me and they are part of our beautiful planet and our country. They deserve safety, respect, rights, and admiration for their contributions in a variety of fields. The more you watch international film the truth of this becomes even more apparent. Many of the films I will feature on this site come from Asian countries, whether they be India, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, etc. - Ed.
A few years ago, I would get alerts from a wine broker who would post really good deals on fine wine, and I grabbed a bottle of Diebolt-Vallois which had a wine rating in the mid-90s.
I served this at Superbowl 50. Diebolt-Vallois back in February 2016 (5 years ago!). This beautiful champagne melts on your tongue with a bready toastiness and liquid sunshine. It is a champagne that is complex, sophisticated, creamy, with hints of summer fruit and features delicate and fine bubbles. I garnished with Luxardo cherry in our Mikasa Sonata Gold flutes. This perfect with cheese, crackers, shellfish, and pork,
I really wished I would have bought more of this lovely champagne at a discount. It runs about $50 per bottle.
“Established in 1959 in the village of Cramant, this family-run domaine has 22.5 acres of vines, primarily in the Côte des Blancs, where chalky soil provides the perfect home for Grand Cru Chardonnay. One of the most highly respected producers in France, Jacques Diebolt is a passionate and outgoing winemaker. Together with his wife, Nadia Vallois, daughter, Isabelle, and son, Arnaud, he produces magnificent Blanc de Blancs Champagnes.”
Originally written on May 17, 2009
Going through the San Francisco International Film Festival catalog is a daunting task when you have to choose only two films. Nomad's Land or Sur les Trace de Nicolas Bouvier (In the Footsteps of Nicolas Bouvier) stood out as one of the films that stood out to me with its evocative quote from author Nicolas Bouvier, "One thinks that one is going to make a journey, yet soon it is the journey that makes or unmakes you."
This beautiful documentary is in first person as Swiss filmmaker Gaël Métroz goes alone without a camera crew to capture the danger and beauty of landscapes and people on his journey. His goal is to trace the footsteps of the author of "The Way of the World" by Nicolas Bouvier. Bouvier was another Swiss man who traveled in a Fiat Topolino from Geneva, Yugoslavia, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Sri Lanka, and over to Japan in the Fifties.
As Métroz traces Bouvier's trip to Iranian and Pakistan cities it is clear that much of the charm and romance recounted in Bovier's book have morphed into a violent locales unwelcoming to Métroz. Behind a gauzy curtain up in his hotel room Gaël hears endless gunshots and waits for the next jeep out.
By taking the opportunity to follow the Nomads out, Métroz veers off the path of Bouvier letting the trip take him rather than taking a trip. He takes many leaps of faith in the generosity and hospitality of the regions many tribes of nomads.
The first person point of view is extremely powerful and has the effect of immersing you in the highs and lows of his journey. You feel the exhaustion, elation, sense of awe of the enormous landscapes, and the heart-stopping remoteness.
I felt sadness at times when he would capture places like an Iranian marketplace that retains the exotic beauty, but where women are conspicuously absent. A young European treads lightly through these cities, how could I, an American Woman, ever hope to follow his footsteps? So, I am grateful that he makes this trip and captures the beauty as well as the precarious nature of the modern Middle East. In the same breath, I despair that much of the planet's exquisiteness remain elusive to me because I am a woman. As a mother of a son, I hope that my son has the opportunity when he is older to embark on such a journey even though worry would be my companion.
This film works on so many levels. Technically the photography captured the colors and the features of the locals and its people with incredible sharpness and intimacy. It is possible to see and hear, but you almost could feel, taste, and smell through his lens. Competing with the incredible visuals was the poetry of Métroz's narration and Bouvier's words. I wished that I could understand French, so my eyes would not have to choose whether to watch the action on screen or read the subtitles.
Nomad's Land is also a meditation on the nature and philosophy of travel. It retains the nostalgic notion of travel where the journey tells you when it will end, instead of having an itinerary of what you will see determined by what little time we get off from work. Instead of rushing through a destination so one can say they climbed the Eiffel Tower or walked the Great Wall of China, travel can be a slow, patient surrender to the part of the world unfamiliar to you. In a time where we have Google Earth and can see almost every inch of the planet, there are opportunities to be kindred to explorers from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but without the Western ethnocentric point of view of the quaintness of natives. One can explore untouched areas of the world and view its inhabitants as wise teachers, protectors, and spirit guides on your journey. It is a journey that respects the rhythms and traditions of others who follow the rhythms of the earth.
Métroz embraced and was embraced back by a part of the world where they are supposed to hate freedom. What you learn from Métroz's lens is that these people are happiest when they are free to roam away from the cities and into open landscapes and crevices of hills. The urbanized and modern parts of that world drive some to smoke hash, and feel the great anxieties in cities that imprison. It is violent and breeds extremism. It is when you are with the nomads and visit the tribes that the extremism softens, the people blossom into generous people at peace enough not only allow a westerner in their midst, but a westerner with a camera.
Métroz says, "These temptations not to return too often plagued me, convincing me to make a film which, as the writings of Nicolas Bouvier, especially recalls that "travel is not an innocent activity… it is an experience of which one never heals." When one comes back, one is never the same."
As Métroz allowed his journey to change him, the film has the ability to change you. According to this film's website, this film will be pressed to DVD. I am hoping to add it to our collection of films and recommend that you do too. The film is also a great inspiration to read "The Way of the World" by Nicolas Bouvier.
Celebrating Harry & Meghan
Prince Harry and Princess Meghan's wedding fell on my Birthday Weekend and so I made it a Royal Wedding Birthday. I decorated with British bunting, made a Elderflower and Lemon cake, served tea, champaign, tea party food, and gin, lemon, and elderflower cocktails, and watched the wedding multiple times as waves of guests came (it was hard to convince many people to come to the house in the middle of the night!).
I loved everything about their wedding. I loved the speakers, the choir, and the beautiful cellist. It was filled with meaning and emotion. This wedding blew away all other weddings - even the Diana & Charles wedding that I watched in the middle of the night as a 14 year old.
This was one of my favorite Birthdays because it was so festive and yummy. We had raspberry scones and clotted cream! I had a full fledged afternoon tea with sandwiches, pastries, and tea that reminded me when we visited The Empress Hotel in Victoria BC to have a fancy afternoon tea. I love afternoon tea, British TV, and cottage gardens. I do have a few word -- a rant, though.
There has been a lot of attention this morning in regards to Prince Harry & Princess Meghan after last night's interview with Oprah. There is a lot to process about what was said last night, but I just wanted to post my absolute support for Prince Harry & Princess Meghan. Before anyone tells me that, "Meghan is a Duchess of Sussex, and NOT A PRINCESS!", I am going to tell them to sit down and instruct them that I said what I said. They are the only royals I am acknowledging. If Harry is a Prince, Meghan can be a princess. It is also HRH Prince Archie Windsor to you all as well. His sister, who is on the way, will be HRH Princess as well. They are the only royals who matter in my mind and this is non-negotiable.
I feel strongly about this couple as they were the only couple that made the royal family relevant and reflective of the multiracial commonwealth that the royal family claims to represent. I was naively hoping that the Royal Family or Britain would embrace multiculturalism and multi-racial society.
I had hoped that Harry and Meghan would have been allowed to live in peace being envoys to the Commonwealth. I loved that her wedding dress featured flora from all of the Commonwealth. They could have travelled with their children and become part of the antidote for the white nationalism that is infecting the West. Instead, it seems the Windsors and Brits decided to resent their popularity and let the racism fester against them and forced them out.
The Windsors sided with the anti-immigrant Brexit crowd instead of providing leadership that serves all of its people and the notion of progress. I say this knowing that my country has deep problems with race and is not immune from the growing white nativism and white nationalism. The UK, the US, and Europe has a growing white extremist problem that is attacking democracy and pluralism.
The rest of the Windsor family failed to protect Prince Harry & Princess Meghan against lies and racist attacks. They have done everything to protect Prince Andrew's connections to a nefarious person, but they have done nothing to protect the mother of HRH Prince Archie, the Queen's grandson from real threats. Watching that family or The Firm let British tabloids and social media whip up unfounded hatred and racism towards Meghan was proof that no progress was or is possible. It was all set up to do Meghan for a Diana-like fall. It was almost like they wanted an extremist to do harm to her. I am convinced that Prince Harry feared for her life, because I feared for her life from this far distance.
I am also side-eying the British public, who supports these toxic tabloids and gave no comfort or support to Prince Harry, Princess Meghan, or even Prince Archie.
I am happy that this family have decided to become Californians and I look forward to seeing their children grow up and have their family thrive here.
2014 had been a difficult year for me and when 2015 rolled around, I wanted to do something completely different for my birthday which comes close enough to Mother's Day, that I can make a week or so of celebrations. In 2015, I decided to create for myself a writers retreat in a cabin somewhere. My son, who was in elementary school had a school camping trip on the week of Mother's Day and my birthday.
The requirements were that the place needed to be reasonably priced, have a desk with electricity where I can plug in my laptop, and be out-of-the-way. I needed a place where I could focus on writing and be by myself with my thoughts. I found such a place in Little River, California on AirBNB called Pegasus Farm. Pegasis Farm is located just 20 minutes south of Mendocino. Looking at the property on Airbnb now, it seems they have made it a bit less rustic than it was when I was there almost six years ago. It still seems to have the same rustic charm though. The cost was $76 a night which let me to be able to afford to stay the week.
The host was excellent and had a main house where you can heat up food. I brought soup to heat up. The main house had a bathroom that had an outdoor entrance so I wouldn't have to bother the host. The trick is that you had to bring a lantern to get to the bathroom at night. They had empty glass bottles that you can fill up with water. I was on my own in terms of coffee as the host had decided to quit drinking coffee. So I bought a cheap coffee maker to heat up water for my french press. So, every morning, I had fresh dark roast french pressed coffee to fuel my writing.
The bed was surprisingly comfortable for this rustic cabin. It had a tin corrugated roof and so when there was an afternoon spring squall you could hear the raindrops while you write. The cabin was right in the middle of a vegetable garden and my alarm clock was a rooster. This place is an excellent place to unplug from the world as you have to go to the main house to get cell and wifi service, which is non-existent in the cabin. It kept me focused on writing for most of the day and night. If I wanted to check in with my husband, I would walk to the main house until I got service. The place got me reconnected to circadian rhythm of sleeping when it is dark and waking when the rooster crows.
I brought some whiskey and wine just in case I needed a break, although I limited those times because I wanted to be focused on writing. There were two cabins on the property and the other cabin had two women guests, who were Brits who just got out of medical school and were traveling the world and ended up here. So I shared a bottle of wine with them on my porch one night and it was fantastic.
The drive up to this place is quite a trek. It is a two and half hour drive up North 101 to 128 West through Anderson Valley wine country. It is a beautiful drive and it dumps you on the coast near Albion, CA. Then finding Pegasus Farm in Little River was little tricky, but completely worth it. My husband took the day off to come visit me and he found the place too rustic for his tastes. After hanging out for the day and visiting Mendocino, and then had quite an adventure when he decided to take the rural Comptche Ukiah Road back to 101 instead of taking 128 East the way he came out.
I had very little interaction with the hosts, but they were very nice. I even got to meet their baby raccoon and got along with their dog. I discovered some great music during my stay as they would play music in the house. The major find was Patrick Watson and his music has the ability to take me back to this magical place.
This trip planted a seed in my head for the need for a space to create with a door that can close and offer privacy and quiet in the middle of a garden. It would take four years to have my own little cottage with a desk(s) and a day bed.
When we can travel again, I highly recommend traveling up to Little River and stay at this rustic spot. Take some journals up with some art supplies or bring books to read. It is a perfect way to unplug and reconnect to rural beauty.
On November 9th, 2014 I visited the Mark Herold Wine room in Napa with my friend, Heather. At the time, I had become a member of this winery and spent a great deal of time there. The staff were really great and wine nerds in the best possible way. To thank them, I decided to share a bottle of 1964 Chateav Smith Havt Lafitte Martillac with them. I also called my friend and local Napa resident, David. We went to middle school together a long time ago and he was the person who turned me onto Mark Herold.
This bottle along with another bottle of 1964, a bottle of 1962 Chapoutier & Cie Hermitage Rhone Red, a magnums of 1999 and 2000 Dunn Vineyard Cabernet was my inheritance from my birth dad, who passed away that September. 2014 had been a big blow to me as I had lost both birth parents after being reunited for 20 years. I opened a Dunn Vineyard magnum for my birth dad's wake at Carmel Country Club and after a time airing out, it went well with the chef's menu plates with three of my birth dad's five wives and their adult kids. My inheritance from my birth dad was a bunch of slides and photos and wine. That was just fine.
So, back to Mark Herold and this tasting of 1964 Chateav Smith Havt Lafitte Martillac with the staff and my friends. Vintage wine this old is tricky. It is difficult making the decision to open a bottle this old because you need to find people who are interested in wine enough to have an adventure sipping a wine older than them and may not taste like wine they are used to. Also, my dad didn't have a proper cellar so I had no idea how it would survive all these years. Mark Herold lent us a decanter to let the wine breathe.
Lively ruby-brick colour;clean aromas, brown sugar, light sweet cherry, sous-bois, bark, wet leaves,"old & beautiful", wet hay, under growth, compost bin, wood chips black mushrooms, pot-pouri; light sweet impression of small forest berries in the mouth, no more tannins to speak of, smooth, balanced, tangy, good tart medium finish. This was quite awesome and in amazingly good shape.
Château Smith Haut Lafitte is a Bordeaux wine from the Pessac-Léognan appellation, ranked among the Crus Classés for red wine in the Classification of Graves wine of 1953 and 1959. The winery and vineyards are located south of the city of Bordeaux, in the commune of Martillac.
When we finally got down to tasting, we found that this was very different than the California wines we were used to. My friends were not into it. It smelled like an old port and tasted like spiced berries. It was an earthy, fruity French wine. The Peter Nelson review hit it on the head.
We toasted my birth dad who would approve of opening up a bottle of old wine in his honor.
Film: Kabul Transit
KABUL TRANSIT from gregory whitmore on Vimeo.
Below is a review I wrote on March 22, 2007 about the documentary, Kabul Transit. Above you can see the entire film. - Ed.
Last night, I returned to the San Francisco International Asian-American Film Festival to see two more films. The first film I watched was Kabul Transit, a documentary filmed in the Fall 2003 in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Directors Dave Edwards (an anthropologist) and Maliha Zulfacar (sociologist), with photographer Gregory Whitmore sought to create a documentary that allows the viewer to go on a journey in Kabul without a strong narrative or narration. Dave Edwards had lived in Kabul before the fall of Afghanistan to the Russians. The directors speak the languages of Kabul and have connections that allowed them access to the Canadian UN Peacekeepers, Afghani Ministry of Interior, police stations, and Kabul's TV mountain.
The film is very visual and uses regional music and in one part, Russian music to great effect. There are times where the effect is hypnotic. It opens with boys and young men kite fighting on a hill with the kites reaching far out over the city. Then there is TV mountain broadcasting a translated version of George Bush talking about how our nation was harmed and that this will be a long, difficult mission. His image crackles on a small black & white television.
According to Dave Edwards, who stayed over after the film to take questions, they had problems getting access to the American operation in Afghanistan and had to follow the Canadians who were far more at ease at being filmed. The Canadians come off trying to do their best as professional and experienced peacekeepers, who are fighting the red tape to get stuff done. One Canadian officer expresses disappointment at the entire operations lack of concerted effort to change things -- its all piecemeal and very frustrating to him. Canadians take surveys of the Afghanis so they can report back to their own government as to their progress.
When the filmmaker talks to Afghanis they express frustration at the American forces who's paranoia and aggressiveness puts them off and may be partially responsible for Afghanis themselves to lash out.
Director Edwards was asked about why there wasn't more women in the movie. He admitted that out of 150 hours of film, they only got 3 hours with women. They have a scene where women are talking about how the American and UN coalition talks about and tries to do things for women, but their efforts don't really address their real needs and are not lasting or sustainable. They scratch their heads at a program to get them in the pickle industry. There are a couple of other scenes where women were still wearing burkas two years after the fall of the Taliban, and there are areas in Kabul and in the outskirts where women are kept almost exclusively in their homes to prevent being attacked. Edwards says that not having an all female crew kept them from filming more women. Throughout the film though the absence of women is noticeable and counter to all we heard back home that we were making a difference in Women's lives in Afghanistan.
One of the most remarkable parts of this film was when they visited the Soviet Cultural Center built in the 1980s to be a huge complex with a large theater and where over 600 Afghanis live in its rubble. Scattered throughout the rubble there are discarded and damaged filmstrips from the Soviet era that these refugees would collect. The directors intercut footage of performances at the theater of Russian dancers and of the Soviet parade heading out of Afghanistan with a Russian song about the Black Tulip (which was the name of the airlift that took dead soviet soldiers back home during the conflict with the mujahideen). You would have footage of a performance at the theater and then to the complex that is just a shell that is barely standing. The transformation of the building is staggering and it makes one gasp.
Another thing they saw is a police station that cannot work their police radios during the day because there is no power and they have no money to keep their generators on. It is clear that what passes for police in Kabul is very unsatisfactory. They are all volunteers and they show up when they want to. Then the film shows where a coalition soldier able to play video games during the day -- so someone is getting power.
The director told us that the are planning to put this out on DVD and they hope to have an additional disk that would be an interactive map of Kabul so you can click on a neighborhood and experience what they caught on film.
I recommend this film as a snapshot of a capital city caught in the middle of an epic drama existing in rubble with this long rich history. I hope that they can go back and make a sequel of this film to see if anything has been accomplished and if we have learned anything by being there for 5 years.
When we threw parties in the before times, we set up a separate whiskey station to invite people to sample our whiskeys. It is pretty simple to do. position your whiskeys and make sure you have whiskey sipping glasses ready. It is an invitation to sample what you have in an elegant way,