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September 17, 2001

Documentary Film & Video Festival starts Sept. 25

By Jennifer McNulty

A provocative documentary about efforts to unionize dancers at a San Francisco strip club is among the films being shown at the third annual Santa Cruz Documentary Film & Video Festival, which takes place September 25-28.

'The Laughing Club of India' tells of converts who embrace the healing powers of laughter.
All screenings start at 7 p.m. at the Louden Nelson Community Center, 301 Center Street, in Santa Cruz. Admission is $3, and advance tickets will be available at the Civic Auditorium. The festival is cosponsored by the UC Santa Cruz Anthropology Department, the UCSC Division of Social Sciences, KUSP Radio, and Sasquatch Computer.

Live Nude Girls Unite! is a first-person documentary by Julia Query, a lesbian stand-up comedian and peep-show stripper who documents her efforts to organize the only union of "exotic dancers" in the United States.

The 70-minute film weaves together backstage and dancing footage with labor organizing, street protests, stand-up comedy, and comic-book style animation. Query, the daughter of a '70s feminist activist, also captures the painful confrontations she has with her mother over her work. "The film focuses on conflict between different generations of feminists," said festival organizer Hugh Raffles, an assistant professor of anthropology at UCSC. "Query's mother has dedicated her life to fighting sexual exploitation, while Query herself sees stripping as a radical political act."

Live Nude Girls Unite! is not the only film that addresses adult themes. India Cabaret is a classic documentary about sex workers in a very different cultural context. It was made in 1985 by Mira Nair, who has gone on to direct such feature films as Mississippi Masala, Salaam Bombay, and the recent Kama Sutra. On a lighter note, Nair's film The Laughing Club of India shares the enthusiasm of converts who believe in the healing powers of laughter.

The most zany and outrageous film in the lineup, according to Raffles, is The Great Mojado Invasion (The Second US-Mexico War), a 26-minute fantasy in which Mexican bandits conquer the United States and reverse the fortunes of Anglos and Mexicans. "It's wild, bawdy, maybe shocking to some people, but definitely funny," said Raffles. The complete festival schedule follows. Please note: Because of content, some festival films may be unsuitable for underage children.

Including selections from the Margaret Mead Traveling Film & Video Festival

Tuesday, September 25: SEX/WORK

India Cabaret
(dir. Mira Nair. 1985. 59 mins. India)
Filmmaker Mira Nair looks beyond the traditional Indian ideal of woman as "virtuous virgin," faithful to her husband and bound to his home. This classic documentary from 1985 focuses on women who have chosen a very different way of life, that of the cabaret stripper, and records their own ideas about women's roles in Indian society. In candid interviews, the women challenge standard notions of respectability and reveal the hypocrisy of men who enjoy the services of strip dancers at night and curse them the next day.

Live Nude Girls Unite! (dir. Julia Query and Vicky Funari. 2000. 70 mins. United States.)
This first-person documentary follows Julia Query on her raucous journey to help organize the only union of "exotic dancers" in the United States. Shot in a variety of formats.

Wednesday, September 26: BRASIL! BRASIL!

Santo Forte
(dir. Eduardo Coutinho. 1999. 80 mins. Brazil)
This award-winning film is set in the "favelas" of Rio de Janeiro, where Catholicism mingles with spiritist beliefs from native and African religious traditions to form hybrid religious practices that combine Christ, the Pope, and Catholic saints with ancestral spirits. Spiritist Catholics, as well as Protestants who have rejected what they believe to be negative and demonic elements of Catholicism, speak frankly and directly about their beliefs.

Saudade do Futuro (dir. César Paes. 2000. 94 mins. Brazil/France)
São Paulo, the world's fifth-largest city, is a magnet for thousands of Brazilians drawn from the country's drought-stricken Northeast. Saudade do Futuro records the sights and sounds of the many extraordinary "Nordestino" street musicians who tell the stories of their lives through their music and lyrics with humor, drama, and passion. The film is kaleidoscopic in form, swooping down into one neighborhood after another, enjoying the infectious rhythms and dazzling ingenuity of these street troubadours.

Thursday, September 27: COMING TO TERMS

Seven Hours to Burn
(dir. Shanti Thakur. 1999. 9 mins. India/Denmark/United States)
In this beautifully crafted work, the filmmaker explores her mixed Indian and European heritage through a moving narrative that begins with the experiences of her mother and father as adolescents in two war-torn countries. While Thakur's mother lives under the Nazis in Denmark during World War II, her father is confronted with the religious riots that accompanied Indian independence. Thakur follows their lives through a mixture of archival footage, body imagery, and her own narrative to present a story of two refugees from intolerance.

Liebe Perla (dir. Shahar Rozen. 1999. 53 minutes. Israel/Germany)
During the Nazi regime, Dr. Josef Mengele conducted "scientific" experiments on and shot "research" footage of a Jewish family of dwarfs. Fifty years later, Hannelore, a short-statured woman born in postwar Germany, set out on a quest to locate the films. During the process, she befriended the only surviving family member, Perla, an actress now living in Israel. This astounding, intimate film tells us as much about the present moment as it does about the fate of disabled people in Nazi Germany.

Sadness (dir. Tony Ayres. 2000. 52 mins. Australia)
William Yang, an Australian of Chinese descent, presents a stunning multimedia performance-based monologue about the experience of loss within his family and among the Australian gay community. Combining his work as a photographer with playful cinematic reenactments, he revives memory with harrowing intensity and brings back the dead, at least momentarily.

Friday, September 28: LAUGHING MATTERS

The Laughing Club of India
(dir. Mira Nair. 1999. 35 mins. India)
Join the enthusiastic converts to a new alternative health trend that recognizes and embraces the healing powers of laughter. People from all walks of life are engaging in spontaneous, uninhibited laughter as a means of reducing stress and warding off depression. While the movement's founders claim that their practices derive from the venerable art of yoga, India's laughing clubs reflect an unmistakably contemporary need to bond with one's fellows in an otherwise impersonal society.

The Great Mojado Invasion (The Second US-Mexico War) (dir. Gustavo Vasquez and Guillermo Gomez-Peña. 1999. 26 mins. United States)
This iconoclastic "mockumentary" creates an uproarious historical reversal by setting the stage for an invasion of the United States by Mexico. Using a vast number of "donated" Hollywood film clips, Vasquez and Gomez-Peña fantasize dastardly mustachioed bandits conquering the United States and imposing their own language and culture on Anglo-Americans.

On and Off the Res' w/ Charlie Hill (dir. Sandy Osawa. 2000. 57 mins. United States)
This film is a portrait of Charlie Hill, North America's foremost Native American comedian. Since his rise to prominence in the 1970s, Hill, an Oneida from Wisconsin, has used his piercing satirical humor to debunk stereotypes of Native Americans and offer wry and insightful commentary on America's history of racism and oppression of minorities. Drawing on a range of influences, from Sioux author and scholar Vine Deloria Jr. to Will Rogers and Richard Pryor, Hill's art is a testament to the power of humor to inspire thought as well as laughter.

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