Daughter From Danang --
A mix of epic history and intimate family portrait, the reunion of a Tennessee woman, Heidi, with her Vietnamese mother and siblings after 22 years. Shipped to the U.S. in the waning days of the Vietnam war, Heidi--formerly Mai Thi Hiep--was the daughter of a white American soldier and a Danang woman abandoned by her Viet Cong husband. Fearing reprisals against Amerasian children, Hiep's mother, despite unbearable pain, gave Hiep to an adoption agency. Raised by an abusive woman in Pulaski (birthplace of the KKK), Hiep/Heidi kept her full heritage secret. This episode of PBS's American Experience follows Heidi's journey home: There is sorrow, joy, and relief, of course, but also a slow-brewing uneasiness as cultures collide. As raw expectations of her impoverished, Third World family begin to grate on Heidi, the burden of carrying two national destinies becomes comically and tragically oversized in the poor woman's shoes.
The Human Stain
Given the formidable challenge of adapting Philip Roth's acclaimed novel to the screen, it's a wonder that The Human Stain retains so much of what makes Roth's novel a masterpiece. As adapted by Nicholas Meyer, Robert Benton's film is inevitably a different animal altogether, and it's wide open to charges of miscasting and thematic diffusion. But at its core, this delicate drama succeeds in exposing the sins that stain all of humanity, forcing men like former welterweight boxer and esteemed professor Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins) to forsake family and career to conceal his African American heritage. Light-skinned and passing as a Jewish professor of classics in a tony East Coast college, 71-year-old Silk sinks into scandal when an innocent remark is misinterpreted as a racist slur, and this--along with his affair with an illiterate 34-year-old janitor (Nicole Kidman), and friendship with a reclusive novelist (Gary Sinise)--forms the crux of Benton's multilayered inquiry into the oppressive aftershocks of guilt, shame, and mourning, and the effects of judgment (internal and external) on our ability to connect. Roth's novel was one thing, Benton's film is another. Despite differing degrees of success, both are worthy of praise. --Jeff Shannon
My Family - Mi Familia
Francis Ford Coppola's three-generational immigrant saga of the Sanchez family. During the 1920's a young Hispanic man, Jimmy Sanchez (Edward James Olmos), walks from revolutionary Mexico to America back when the the border was just a line in the dirt. His journey on foot took an entire year. He joined an elder relative who had lived in East Los Angeles, CA since it was part of Mexico and it was in this home the family was raised. This movie spans the life of the patriarch who walked to America, through the depression and a wars raising three generations of Mexican Americans.
Get ready to dive into one of the most violent, drug-infested neighborhoods only to see it transform into the trendy, residential enclave it has become. Many of the old timers figured out how to survive the area when it was a ghetto - now the challenge for them is to see if they can survive gentrification. 7TH STREET draws the viewer into a neighborhood that most people were once too afraid to enter. An area that most people only heard rumors about: Alphabet City in NYC's East Village, once known as the drug capital of the East Coast. The movie explores change in one of the most vital areas of NYC and the complexity of gentrification. Not only is this movie about one block in Manhattan - it's about neighborhoods and communities all over the world where progress sometimes comes at the expense of richness of character and diversity. Viewers join in Pais' struggle as he sees his block transform and become a safe place for his newborn son and a trendy neighborhood for the new inhabitants at the expense of his street family. The people who were his role models as a child he now sees homeless in Tompkins Square Park or discovers them dead.
The Education of Little Tree
In 1935, an 8-year-old orphaned boy is sent to live in the Tennessee mountains with his grandparents. He doesn't yet know that he is half Cherokee, on his grandmother's side. As he learns about life and the Cherokee "way" from his grandparents, Little Tree's sensitivity to nature and to others grows. Little Tree becomes close to a Cherokee who tells him about the Trail of Tears. When the government places Little Tree in an Indian school, he is abused physically and psychologically, the issue of the forced assimilation of Native Americans isn't glossed over. Excellent performances make this well worth watching with children ages 8 and up. Forrest Carter, who wrote the book the movie is based on, was a one-time KKK member and speechwriter for George Wallace. It's hard to imagine how a former white supremacist could write such a moving tale about racism. --Elisabeth Keating
Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored
Tim Reid's wonderful film about life in the black neighborhood of Glen Allan, Mississippi, from the mid-'40s to the dawn of the civil rights movement, is thick with terrific, inspired actors and possessed of a mature, limpid visual style. The story is told from the point of view of a young boy raised by his stalwart grandfather and his kind aunt. But the collective tale of a community coming to terms with the risks it must take to fight racism and achieve political rights is equally important and compelling. Beautifully written (based on the autobiographical novel by Clifton Taubert), Reid's vision is rich in scenes of ritual and community that have rarely, if ever, been revealed on film. This is more than just a good movie; it's a watershed event in this nation's cultural history. --Tom Keogh
In America --
Samantha Morton and Paddy Considine as two young Irish parents who have lost their only son. Trying to run away from their grief, they move (illegally) to a junkie-infested apartment building in New York City with their two daughters, Christy (Sarah Bolger) and Ariel (Emma Bolger). Though they struggle with meager jobs and suffocatingly hot weather, a friendship with an artist in an apartment below them (Djimon Hounsou, Gladiator ) becomes a catalyst that allows them to rebuild their family. In America is splendidly acted throughout--of particular note are the two girls, real-life sisters whose on-screen charisma is clearly a family trait. But it's Morton who anchors the movie; her every emotion seems to glow from her skin. The commitment of the actors keeps the movie compelling, despite some dangerously sentimental patches. --Bret Fetzer
Daniel Deronda is a sensitive, intelligent young man, the illegitimate son of an aristocrat, haunted by the secrets that shroud his birth. Beautiful, vivacious Gwendolen Harleth is a gambler and short on cash. When they meet at the roulette table, sparks fly. But Gwendolen needs money more than passion, and the self-centered aristocrat Henleigh Grandcourt is happy to provide. As her situation becomes more and more oppressive, she turns to Daniel for help, only to discover his involvement with the young Jewish singer Mirah Lapidoth.Torn between his devotion to Gwendolen and his passion for Mirah and the plight of her people, Daniel is forced to look at his own mysterious past and find out who he really is...and who he wants to be.
The Joy Luck Club
The 1993 film adaptation of Amy Tan's bestselling novel is an anthology of stories wrapped in one Chinese-American woman's journey to understand her roots through eight tales of the lives of Chinese women, most of them set in the past. The script is a delicate balance of emotions that brings a personal feel of daily life in the Chinese-American community.
"Everything you thought you knew about slavery is about to be challenged." Africans in America, interviews with historians and luminaries such as General Colin Powell, re-creations, and beautiful photography create a vivid and compelling story of over 400 years of tragedy. Ten million Africans died on the journey to America alone; they and the countless numbers whose lives were wasted in servitude find a voice in Angela Bassett's outstanding narration. --Rob Lightner
A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony tells the story of protest music in South Africa--but as it does so, it tells the story of the struggle against apartheid itself, for the music and the revolution are inseparable. Through archival footage and interviews with musicians, freedom fighters, and even members of the former government police, Amandla! creates a vivid and powerful portrait of how music was crucial not only to communicating a political message beyond words, but also to the resistance itself--how songs bonded communities, buoyed resistance in the face of bullets and tear gas, and sowed fear in the ruling elite. Part history, part musical exploration, part sheer force of life, Amandla! captures both the sorrow and the triumph of life in South Africa from the 1950s to 1990, when Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress came into power. --Bret Fetzer Named for the Xhosa word for "power," Amandla! lives up to its title, telling an uplifting story of human courage, resolve, and triumph.
May 31, 2004