June 21st, 2012 — 6:30am
The Invisible War- sp Usually by the time we see a documentary film on a particular subject , we already have a pretty good idea of the nature of the issue being covered and the film provides some interesting documentation. In the case of this film, most of the audience had no idea of the great travesty of justice that has been taking place where there are violent sexual assaults against women serving in our military services by fellow soldiers, the vast majority of whom are not punished. Female soldiers in combat zones are more likely to be raped by fellow soldiers than killed by the enemy. In 2010 there were 19,000 sex crimes committed in the military. Because of the much larger number of men in the military many of these were directed towards men but percentage wise the women have suffered the brunt of this terrible injustice In fact, 20 % of women serving in the military will experience some kind of a sexual assault .
This movie is not just about statistics. Rather it is a very painful series of personal stories told mostly by dedicated women who entered various services, intent on being the best they could be in the service of their country. Not only were they assaulted and raped by fellow soldiers, even more outrageous, if that is possible, when they complained to their superiors in the overwhelming number of cases they were brushed off and not taken seriously. Heading up the team that put this film together are Kirby Dick ( nominated for an Oscar for Twist of Faith ) who directed it and Amy Ziering who was one of the producers and sensitively did most of the interviews with the several women and two men who were featured in this movie. Each personal story almost seems worse than the one before it. The traumatic impact of these assaults and in some cases the violence of them crushes these victims physically and emotionally. They go through stages where it seems there is no way out for them and therefore it is not surprising that some of them contemplate suicide. The attempts by the military to raise consciousness of the troops to this problem are almost laughable as well as deeply insulting to women. For example one such campaign exhorts soldiers to “ wait until she is sober before you ask her”
A well thought out coalition of victims attempted to sue the government but their suit failed to gain traction as the first response of a federal court in West Virginia is to turn it down and state that this is an ”occupational hazard.”
The movie offers a glimmer of hope as one week prior to the opening of this movie, it was seen by the Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who takes the gigantic step forward by ruling that these assault complaints will no longer handled by the unit commander but rather will go up the ladder to higher ranking officer, presumably with less prejudice. Most probably there will not be justice until these complaints can be fairly dealt with by civilian police and courts. The film does something that many investigative documentaries don’t do well, in that it clearly provides a website (http://invisiblewarmovie.com/) and an opportunity to get involved in this cause by signing petitions and doing other things. This is the power of a documentary film and there is no better cause than the one put up the screen by this movie.(2012)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Crime, Documentary, History, Uncategorized, War
April 16th, 2012 — 5:52am
Monsieur Lazhar- sp (French with English subtitles) This film was the Canadian nomination for the best foreign film in the 2011 Oscar race. The opening scene takes place in a middle school that is the setting for most of the movie. We see a young student peeking into an empty classroom where he sees his teaching dangling from a rope where she has hanged herself. Starting with this violent event the movie progresses with an examination of the emotional meaning to the young students and to the replacement teacher Monsieur Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag ) an immigrant from Algiers, where he had his own secret tragedies. The movie is a remarkable accomplishment in that it is mostly these children who are expressing in a subtle manner what this experience has meant to them as well as the nuances of the storyline (which one must follow carefully through the subtitles). Fellag was imported from France for this role, which he handles with great sensitivity and believability. He is able to synchronize the working of his own emotions with those of the children. Much of the credit belongs to writer and director Phillipe Falardeau who adapted this story which he originally saw as a one person play. He concludes the film with the antithesis of how he began it. (2012)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Foreign
March 23rd, 2012 — 4:21pm
Bully- sp The film makers Lee Hirsch and Cynthia Lowen have tackled a very difficult and important subject as they take on bullying in schools and its consequences. The value of this documentary and its message actually supercedes the quality of the production, which at times is uneven, drawn out, and does not always paint a clear story of each of its subjects. The movie does tell the story of several cases of bullying in school, which in some instances has led to tragic suicides. The movie shows children being bullied at school and on school buses. It captures some of the discussions at home between parents and children who are being bullied. The viewer follows some particular parents as they visit the school officials and in some cases sees them being told, “Children will be children etc.” The filmmakers have recorded an intimate portrait of families who have lost a child to suicide after being bullied. It shows their grief and how it is being transformed into a nationwide movement to address this issue. We are inspired as we see their determination to make a difference and save children so they don’t end up with such tragic consequences. We were quite touched, as was the audience with whom we screened this film. Much of the thrust of the film, which was restated by a family that was in the film and spoke at our screening, was that school authorities are not doing enough to stop and prevent bullying. Discussion from our audience brought out an example from India where school athletes are given the responsibility to speak out whenever they see bullying occurring in their school and another example from a local California school where every freshman in high school is given a big buddy or mentor of a senior who looks out for them. Part of the great value of this movie would be if it could be shown to the high school kids themselves who would see and appreciate the destructive nature of bullying. However, it is ironic that the movie is given an R rating because of a few “f words” heard in the background” which means that it can only be seen by those 18 years and older. There is a campaign to get the Rating Board to change the rating. This movement is getting the film quite a bit of publicity, which may be why the producers have not chosen to edit out those few words. (2012)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary
September 9th, 2011 — 7:16am
Don’t Change the Subject- sp
This is a documentary about suicide, by a film maker who lost his mother to suicide when he was a young teenager. It seems to be his attempt to understand that tragic event in his life at the same time he is making film that he hopes will save some lives. Usually we don’t review films before they are ready to be released. In fact, the final edit on this movie has just been tweaked. It hasn’t hit the film festivals yet and a distribution deal has yet to be made. We hope in a small way, the availability of this review will help the process along as well as encouraging folks in the mental health community to consider using this film as a discussion tool at professional meetings and most of all to be used for educating the public. According to the National Institute of Mental Health suicide is 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. and the 3rd leading cause in the age group 15-24. There are 11.3 suicides deaths per 100,000 people in this country. An estimated 11 attempted suicides occur per every suicide.
While these and other statistics are important, this film is not about numbers and risk factors. It is about real people who tell little pieces of their stories. It is about people who came very close to killing themselves but for some circumstance or reason didn’t do so. It is about the film maker who comes across as a very likeable guy who is trying to figure out why is mother, who he believed loved him, would leave him by her own hand. He reads her letters, listens to tapes of her talking, looks at old film clips and ponders this issue with his older brother, aunt and step mother who married his father after his mom died. His brother never understood how she could have done this when she was in the music business and knew how important was his debut as an opera director that was happening the following week. His aunt, who was a psychiatrist, knew her sister had problems but didn’t see this coming. His stepmother only recently reveals her own special connection with suicide. While the film maker may not have ever completely understood why his mother ended her life, he did realize that more then how she ended her life, she should be remembered for how she lived her life which included much love and support to her children. This message alone gives the film great value.
The filmmaker, Michael Stutz is also the director, writer and producer. He does goes beyond just his own story and some close up vignettes of people who struggle with depression and have come close to doing this fatal deed. He follows a talented choreographer who is preparing a group of young dancers to perform a piece about autopsies. The result is as dramatic as is the meaning to young performers who had to come to grips with what their dance was about. We are introduced to a fairly successful comedian who has a team of writers help him prepare his material that daringly enough is going to be about suicide. It is always tricky business when humor is touching a potentially raw nerve. You have to understand, as a psychiatrist I usually don’t even like it when people use the word “crazy” in stories or in every day life but I appreciated the use of humor in this film. In fact the highlight was a piece by a comedian who did a monologue as a character who was leaving a video to his family prior to his suicide. He said just about everything a loved one would dread that their family member who was ending their life might say about them and how the suicidal person felt about them. It brought me to out loud laughter and will be for me one of the most unforgettable parts of this film about a very serious subject.
I said earlier that I hope professionals will view and use this film in their efforts to prevent suicide. It is not because this film will necessarily educate my profession about suicide. It didn’t really examine the difference between suicide attempts and suicide gestures nor did it attempt to show the different psychiatric diagnosis that people who attempt suicide might have. In fact there wasn’t much of a psychiatric presence in the film. However it has the potential to be very meaningful to anyone who has struggled with suicidal thoughts, had fleeting suicidal thoughts or has been close to anyone who has had these issues. Unfortunately there are a great number of people in at least one of these categories. This film can save lives so it deserves to be seen and will be a worthwhile experience for many people. I don’t know yet when and how it will be distributed but more information about it can be obtained on the following website: http://www.dontchangethesubject.org/ (2011)
1 comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary
March 8th, 2011 — 8:23pm
For My Father- nf- This Israeli-German co-produced movie in Hebrew with sub titles gives us a thought provoking storyline as we see early in the film, a young Arab (probably a Palestinian) by the name of Tarek (Shredi Dabarin) is smuggled into Tel Aviv wearing an explosive vest. on a suicide mission. He is angry at the Jews and is ready to die . There is a subplot how he can save his father’s honor by going through with this deed and his father might be killed if he doesn’t. He grits his teeth and pushes the button but there is “ wardrobe malfunction”. There is a faulty switch so he enters an electrical repair shop and orders a new part but it won’t be ready for two days (since the next day is Shabbat). He meets some nice Israelis who treat him well and have their own tales of pain and alienation including a beautiful girl Karen (Hil Yalon). There are phone calls back and forth to his parents who don’t know what he is about to do as well as calls from his handlers, who once his switch is replaced, want him to find a crowded street and get on with it. They also have the option to remotely push the button but they would rather he find the right spot to do it. What will he do? Then there is the finale. On one hand this movie is simple straightforward and predictable but on the other hand, each character and situation reflects the human tragedy of the Middle East conflict on both sides. This is not a pro-Israel movie. Rather you come away appreciating some of the motivations and angst of each of the characters whom me meet here. The film holds your attention and forces you to confront all the ambiguities. Hopefully there will be an Arab made movie that tries to do the same thing. (2008)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama