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    Scene from We Have Decided Not to Die. in Brooklyn International Film Festival
    Scene from "We Have Decided Not to Die."

    Break on through

    The 7th annual Brooklyn International Film Festival features a group of striking independent documentaries, features and shorts that seem to have the common theme of people pushing through borders — political, social and personal.


    Every year's Brooklyn Film Festival has a name, and the seventh year is being dubbed the Stretch Edition. What that means is not always certain, but I think I have discovered the hidden theme that links many of this year's films — the idea of crossing borders. (Do you stretch across a border?) This year we see people breaking through frontiers on the map, boundaries of the mind, religious barriers, the dividing line between the living and the dead, and as common but profound a borderline as the ladies' room door.

    Seventh annual festival features 15 full-length features, 23 documentaries, with shorts and two children's programs. All films at the Brooklyn Museum.

    Related links: Official site
    Brooklyn International Film Festival 2004
  • Overview
  • A Certain Kind of Death
  • Down to the Bone
  • Ferry Tales
  • Mother's Crossing
  • Official site
  • "The idea [of the Stretch Edition] is this," explains executive director Marco Ursino. "This is a very dark moment in history, and we feel that this year we wanted to give room to the imagination."

    "So the festival takes the responsibility simply to have 10 days of fun — intelligent fun," Ursino says. "Sure, the films are about something serious, but they are meant to cheer."

    My favorite films in this year's lineup are two documentaries that fit the "border" theme precisely — one with life-and-death seriousness and one that's pure fun. "Mother's Crossing" follows an Iranian mother and two daughters as they're smuggled across the Turkish-Greek border, and features footage shot by the smugglers themselves. While conveying a sense of the desperation that led the women to flee Iran, also gives one of the smugglers a surprising chance to defend his profession. In a lighter vein, the Oscar-nominated documentary "Ferry Tales" reveals the hidden world that lies behind the closed door of the ladies' room on the Staten Island ferry. Every morning, the restroom's large makeup mirror is the gathering spot where a group of working women do more than put their faces on. Part Oprah episode, part junior-high lunch table, it's a very funny floating kaffeeklatsch, only with mascara instead of mocha.

    Ja Nice Richardson in Anne B. Real. in Brooklyn International Film Festival  
    Ja Nice Richardson in "Anne B. Real."
    Continuing the theme, "Behind Enemy Lines" reunites two former friends — a Jewish policeman and a Palestinian journalist — who escort each other on a tour of sites that symbolize the Mideast conflict. And "A Certain Kind of Death" is a just-the-facts answer to an unexpected question — what they do with you when the county finds your body and there's nobody to claim it.

    Dramatic features include "Anne B. Real" (pictured here), about an uptown high school girl who's one of the minds behind the latest rhymes on the street but can't get taken seriously as a rapper because "no one wants to see a girl on the mike." In "Mendy," an orthodox Jew flirts with the secular world around him and the people in it. "A Silent Love" looks at the complications that ensue when a French-Canadian man marries a Mexican woman and she brings her mother along to the new country. "Down to the Bone," the clear standout among the dramas, is a hyperrealistic portrait of a woman fighting drug addiction while holding down a job and keeping her family intact. And a German film, "Learning to Lie," is a lighthearted but earnest romantic comedy about a long-term bachelor's struggle to overcome his own commitment-phobia — another border, of sorts.

    Ursino cites a trio of short films as examples of the mind-stretching use of cinema that this year's festival celebrates. Two are hard-hitting animations that pack a political punch into a brisk two minutes apiece. "What Barry Says" is a British-produced monologue critical of the Bush foreign policy and set to fast-paced motion graphics in classic Soviet red-black-gray. (A Quicktime version can be seen at "Bid 'Em In" shows a man selling black people. "It's very raw. It's very disturbing," Ursino says. "It's two minutes long but it keeps people glued to their seats. People will either love it or hate it."

    The third is in the festival's "experimental" category — a 10-minute feature called "We Decided Not To Die." (Pictured at top. A preview is online at Three people on the verge of catastrophic death lift themselves miraculously to safety. Breaking through the ultimate border, the film draws symbols of hope and human potential from scenes of seeming doom. As Ursino says, in a summary of the kind of film that seems to appeal to the Brooklyn organizers each year: "It's difficult to explain, but it takes you to another planet."

    Festival articles



    A Certain Kind of Death

    "A Certain Kind of Death" gives us a patient, detail-rich look into what the authorities do with you when you die alone and unclaimed.


    Down to the Bone

    A moving, hyperrealist portrait of a woman's struggle to balance her work, kids, marriage and cocaine habit.


    Ferry Tales

    Who knew there was so much going on behind the closed doors of the ladies room in the Staten Island ferry?


    Mother's Crossing

    One Iranian family's clandestine border crossing, as they flee to Europe by way of Turkey, is the subject of a basic but meaningful documentary.

    JUNE 4, 2004

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