Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Trials of Darryl Hunt

I've seen Leonardo DiCaprio walking in SoHo, and have watched several friends, expecting it or sometimes not, projected on screen or beamed through the tube. It's fun, and I'm always impressed when I forget everything I know about them and just watch the movie. But what really makes me "star-struck" is when I've just seen an intimate, intense documentary film, and next thing I know I am shaking hands with or listening to the subject, en vivo. This is neither a famous person, nor an actor, and I will most likely never see him or her on screen again, but I know more personal details about someone than he or she will ever know about me. I may even have seen the person naked.

THE TRIALS OF DARRYL HUNT, a doc by Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern, was more than intimate or personal. It was infuriating (against the system!) and intense beyond any real level of comprehension. Until the man whose story it recounts is standing on stage, right in front of you.

In the film...In real historical life, A twenty-year-old black man is wrongly convicted of raping and murdering a white woman, and an army of social activists, religious leaders, and magnanimous lawyers spends twenty years battling the inadequacies, corruption and racism that, as Darryl himself implied, is institutionalized in the US (North Carolina) justice system. "And no one will believe me when I say this," he said after tonight's screening, "but there is a school where prosecutors go to learn this stuff." Hunt has started a mentoring program for individuals coming out of prison, and individuals who have been falsely convicted, and he says the strategies employed by the D.A. and prosecutors in forcing convictions are cookie-cutter in almost every case he comes across.

While sipping coffee and eating tea cakes (after the sponsored screening at HBO, who recently bought the film) a woman commented that this film was "amazing" because "you just can't imagine that this stuff goes on, right under everyone's noses!" Well, it is going on. It's been going on. It will continue going on. But as Darryl himself insisted during the Q and A, the most important thing to do is "don't let the case die." Seeing Darryl in person was like finding out that Santa Claus is real.

Yes, this is an attempt by HBO to jump on the social-issue-doc-bandwagon. And what a good choice of a film to do it with. The film was made over a 10 year period (Darryl was imprisoned for 19 1/2 years), and while the film was obviously edited with attention to aesthetique detail, it does prove that even HBO can hold the quality of the story over the quality of the equipment that was available to the filmmakers. Shiela Nevins and representatives from IFP and other sponsors were there in full force, and Nevins acknowledged that the real honor was to have Darryl present. I think most of us were star struck. The only criticism is that the CourtTV-like style did drag on a bit in the middle, but the suspense of the story itself truly carries the film.

the film:

Atlantic Monthly article on the Prison-Industrial Complex:

Vanessa Huang, a woman I was in a class with at Brown Universty who is a fellow at Justice Now, a human rights organization that works with women in prison to build a world without prisons, wrote this article about getting involved in the anti-prison movement:

An upcomming doc about the journies of imprisoned youth back into the community, co-directed by a fellow Independent Film and Video Monthly writer, ISLAND TO ISLAND:

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Beauty Academy of Kabul

A parade of American stylists and hairdressers waltzes through what seems to be the only 4-walled building complete with fresh paint, large windows, and mannequin heads in all of Kabul. Two by two, with their more intense Afghan teaching partners who are women returning to the battered country more than 20 years after fleeing, the teachers orchestrate a three-month beauty school training program for Afghan hairdressers and make-up artists.

A friend was angered after the Q/A with Liz Mermin last night at the Angelika. He complained about the insensitivity of the audiences' questions about, well, cultural insensitivity. Several people asked Mermin if the American stylists transplanted to Afghanistan to teach perming, hair cutting and how to use dangerous chemicals to make women beautiful were given cultural sensitivity training before they started

The film is a technical and storytelling coup. Even the cultural insensitivity that raised questions and the audience insensitivity ("people in Q and As always end up telling the filmmaker the film they should have made" was more or less his complaint) becomes endearing and quirky. In fact, apparently Debbie (a heavy-set neon red-haired stylist from indiana who on her first day chastizes the afghan women for not wearing make-up) is alive and well in Afghanistan - three years later - and married to an Afghan.

This film is a special window onto kabul, complete with the odd war-atrocities story in addition to the shiny-happy-people who are finding their salvation (emotional, intellectual, and even economic) in a perming rod.