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Asian Film Festival of Dallas: You Might Learn Something


by Stephen Becker 17 Jul 2009

When film festivals come to town, that’s when I get my documentary fix. The great majority of docs that play at festivals will never make it to an actual theatrical release for a variety of reasons: they aren’t feature length, the subject matter is too niche, many of them are shot on video, which theaters […]

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When film festivals come to town, that’s when I get my documentary fix.

The great majority of docs that play at festivals will never make it to an actual theatrical release for a variety of reasons: they aren’t feature length, the subject matter is too niche, many of them are shot on video, which theaters don’t seem quite ready to embrace just yet (though Public Enemies, shot in HD video, might help change that).

My point is, see ’em now, or have fun combing the Interwebs for ’em down the road.

As in years past, the Asian Film Festival of Dallas brings a strong collection of nonfiction films to the Magnolia.  The festival begins Friday, but the docs don’t unspool until Sunday with back-to-back screenings of Between the Folds and Kimjongilia. One is playful and inspiring; the other couldn’t be less so.

One of French origami master Eric Joisel's creations.

One of French origami master Eric Joisel's creations.

Between the Folds

Between the Folds digs deep into the world of origami. For those of us whose experimentation with paper folding ended while trying to make one of those cranes in middle school, this film shows we hadn’t even scratched the surface of the art form’s possibilities. It also might surprise you to learn that many of the leading edge origami practitioners these days aren’t Asian, though they all pay proper respects to Akira Yoshizawa, considered the father of the art form.

As the film will tell you, origami is one of the few “metamorphic” arts.  Most other arts involve applying paint to canvas, chipping away marble, etc. True origami begins with a single sheet of paper and allows no cutting. Creating these paper sculptures is equal parts artistry, technique, planning and math. Director Vanessa Gould excels at using video as an explanatory medium, walking the viewer through the creative process from diagram to finished piece. Her narration can be too ethereal at times, overdone at others. But this is a doc that is more about the eyes than the ears.

Kimjongilia

kim-jong-il-largeKimjongilia is the name of a flower created by North Korean botanists to celebrate the 46th birthday of the country’s head,  Kim Jong-Il. It’s also the title of a documentary that explains in vivid detail why North Korea won’t be celebrating anything while the brutal dictator is in charge.

The film, which debuted this year at Sundance, interviews a dozen or so North Koreans who defected to China or South Korea. As they recount the horrors of their homeland, we’re given a glimpse into the most isolated country in the world. A concert pianist talks of a training trip he took to Russia. It was the first time he learned that other styles of music existed. Later he would shield his hands as he was hung upside down and beaten for 14 hours. A singer tells of how her career ended when her voice was likened to a South Korean pop star and thus considered “too Capitalist.” And those are the few interviews that don’t involve the death of a loved one.

Their tales are the kind you couldn’t make up if you tried, absurd and yet true. Interspersed among the interviews are some of the propaganda images continually thrust on North Koreans. Their main function seems to be to let everyone know how lucky they are to be under the watchful eye of their “dear leader.” As one of the interviewees recalls, when others around the world prayed to God before a meal, his family prayed directly to the leader they were made to think is a deity himself.

A few other docs will also play during the festivals run. Family Inc. and Old Partner look particularly promising. Don’t let an opportunity to know just a little bit more about the world pass you by.

Between the Folds screens Sunday at 1:45 p.m. and Thursday at 5:45 p.m. Kimjongilia screens Sunday at 3: 15 and Tuesday at 9:30 p.m.

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