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Posts Tagged ‘Cinema Libre’

The Price of Pleasure (2008)

In Uncategorized on December 7, 2010 at 6:21 pm

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“The Price of Pleasure” (2008) is a documentary all about porn.  Specifically, it seeks to expose this massively profitable segment of the entertainment industry for what it truly is: profit-driven and utterly misogynist.  If you didn’t already know that about porn—or the fact that many major TV networks produce and profit from it—this film might come as a revelation.  But to anyone even vaguely aware of our culture’s gender-equality status quo, it isn’t terribly enlightening—it’s just a recapitulation of everything terrible about being a woman in America today.  But even so, it’s both compelling and repellent, and definitely worth seeing.

The film’s writer/director, Dr. Chyng Sun, is a professor of Media Studies at NYU with a specific interest in how the act of watching porn seeps into people’s everyday actions and relationships.  After introducing the viewer to the basics of the porn industry—the too-young women, the sleazabag producers, the feeding-frenzy conventions—Sun begins to ask what happens to regular people after they’ve been inundated with porn.  Essentially, the film’s thesis is that it’s impossible to watch contemporary porn without internalizing its attitude towards sex in general and women in particular.  Some of the male interviewees talk about how difficult it is to interact with women in real life when, through porn, they’ve been taught that all women want sex all the time, even when they say they don’t.  Sun also interviews workers at a battered women’s shelter, who provide more supporting evidence of the fact that men watching porn often ends up having a detrimental effect on their real-life female partners.

While Sun’s interviews and clips from actual porn films (most of which are beyond nauseating) form a coherent argument, she neglects to examine porn at large from any other point of view.  All of it seems equally evil and repugnant, enough to make you want to burn your bra, paint a placard and protest in favor of censorship.  However, Sun spends relatively little time on the more nuanced aspects of her research: her analyses of racial representation and the increasing role of extreme violence and torture in contemporary porn.  Had she spent less time introducing the audience to her subject and more of her 56-minute runtime deconstructing these less obvious phenomena—and perhaps connecting them to mainstream movies, television, and advertising—the film would be far more thought-provoking.

Sun also doesn’t address the issue of so-called “feminist pornography,” the existence of which would seem to go against her argument.  Instead, she posits that any gain women get out of being involved in the production of porn is inherently problematic, since women are always subjugated in the porn industry, both physically and economically. (Indeed, she’s authored a scholarly paper about how women-directed porn isn’t really any better than regular porn, but this doesn’t get discussed in the film).  It’s not that I disagree with her; it would just make the film stronger if these issues were explored in more depth in the actual film rather than being relegated to the “bonus feature” section.

Despite these issues, “The Price of Pleasure” is great in at least one way: it takes the most coveted of all images and deconstructs them in a way that’s impossible to argue with.  As soon as the illusion of pleasure is lifted, all that’s left is horror and pain.

“The Price of Pleasure” is available on DVD at

2 new docs by Cinema Libre

In Film Reviews on October 20, 2010 at 8:48 pm

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“For My Wife…” and “Water Wars”

Cinema Libre Studios specializes in consciousness-raising documentaries about a variety of left-leaning subjects—some of its most well-known releases include Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War On Journalism (2004) and Angels in the Dust (2007).  The studio is currently preparing to release Oliver Stone’s controversial new documentary South of the Border (2009), which features, among others, Raul Castro and Hugo Chavez.

On August 31st, Cinema Libre is releasing two new documentaries on DVD: For My Wife…, the story of Charlene Strong, an LGBT rights activist, and Water Wars, a look at the ongoing water crisis in Bangladesh and its implications for the rest of the world.

For My Wife… is an intense, deeply felt film.  At barely an hour’s running time, it packs in more sadness, outrage and redemption that you’d think possible.  Ms. Strong’s story is both heartbreaking and deeply inspiring: after her partner of 9 years was killed in a freak flash flood, she had to battle hospital policies (which did not recognize her as her partner’s next of kin) and a funeral director’s prejudice in order to lay her partner to rest.  Outraged, Ms. Strong took her story to the Washington state legislature, where her testimony helped to pass a bill that protects the rights of same-sex couples in life-and-death situations.

After that, Ms. Strong became a celebrity championing LGBT equality; the film follows her as she begins working with national LGBT-rights organizations, chats with Gloria Steinem, and is honored at the GLAAD Media Awards.  The film is interspersed with other stories of unimaginable discrimination, and the speeches given in the Washington legislature in opposition to the same-sex rights bill are nothing short of shocking.  Through all of this, Ms. Strong remains a deeply dignified, inspiring protagonist.  To say that this film is a call to action doesn’t really do it justice: it’s a call to humanity.  Anyone who is not in support of LGBT equality has a moral obligation to watch this film.

Water Wars: When Drought, Flood and Greed Collide is a portrait of the water crisis in Bangladesh which, the filmmakers imply, could be a microcosm for the future of the entire world.  Bangladesh is surrounded on three sides by India and on the fourth side by the ocean; it relies on the Brahmaputra river, which flows from North-East India, for 65% of its fresh water.  However, with no regard for its smaller, less powerful neighbor, India has decided to divert 70% of the Brahmaputra away from Bangladesh all together in order to provide more water to Indian citizens.

Through interviews with Bangladeshi officials and residents, Oscar-nominated director Jim Burroughs chronicles the seasonal struggles that the people of Bangladesh face.  When the rainy season comes, Indian dams are opened to prevent flooding—which, of course, creates massive flooding downstream in Bangladesh.  In the drier seasons many huge rivers in Bangladesh dry up entirely, as the Indian dams hold in as much water as possible.  Burroughs explores the daily lives of this desperate population, and also widens his focus to include other stories of how water shaped human history, from the 1953 flooding of Holland through the debacle that was Hurricane Katrina to the Tsunami of 2004, which killed over 200,000 people.  Burroughs interviews Dutch water-management experts, who have been “keeping the water out since the Middle Ages,” as well as Bangladeshi activists and academics, several of whom warn that failure to distribute water rights evenly and fairly could result in the next World War.  Water Wars also comes in at a tidy running time of about an hour—this keeps it punchy and compelling, and its narration, by Martin Sheen, is a nicely authoritative touch.

Anyone with a thirst for timely, relevant documentaries should seek out Water Wars and especially For My Wife…, and should keep their eyes peeled for more releases from Cinema Libre.

Water Wars and For My Wife… are both available on DVD from beginning August 31st.  Visit for more information.

New Documentary: 2,501 Migrants: A Journey

In Film Reviews on October 9, 2010 at 2:23 pm

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In this contemplative documentary, director Yolanda Cruz follows indigenous Oaxacan artist Alejandro Santiago as he creates 2,501 life-size statues—one for every person who’s left his native town of Teococuilco in search of a better life.  Though it’s slow to get going, the film eventually becomes an inspiring story of the hope that art can instill in marginalized, disadvantaged people.

Santiago was born in Teococuilco, but his family moved to Oaxaca City when he was young.  Upon returning to his hometown, he discovered that its population had shrunk dramatically; almost all its male inhabitants who were young and strong enough to work crossed the American border to find jobs.  Many women went as well, and there are several heartbreaking scenes of a grandmother with her grandchildren in a stone and clay hovel, the young mother having died on her journey into the United States.  The town is missing an entire generation, and with only the very young and the very old left, it seems that Santiago’s birthplace could disappear entirely.

To honor the forgotten lives—and deaths—of these 2,500 migrants, Santiago decides to mount a monumental art project: he will sculpt individual statues to represent every single one of the town’s missing inhabitants.  As the process begins, Santiago is able to hire many young, indigenous Oaxacan workers to assist him—without these jobs, you can’t help but wonder, would those kids have ended up dead in the Arizona desert, too?

Though there are catastrophic setbacks (the studio floods at one point), Santiago’s young workers prove to be dedicated and courageous.  Several of them even decide they want to grow up to become “great artists” like Santiago himself.  This part of the film is particularly inspiring—not only is Santiago able to give these kids a vision of what their town used to be, and what art is, he’s able to help them see that their lives aren’t pre-ordained just because of where they come from.

Eventually, everyone involved in the project is flown to Monterrey, Mexico, to install the statues in an outdoor exhibition at a prominent museum.  The finished product produces an almost eerie cognitive dissonance; you keep expecting the figures to move, or talk, but of course they never do.  Santiago’s vision is powerful and affecting, and Cruz does a good job of carrying the viewer through the creative process.  Though the overall pace of the film is rather slow, at 57 minutes the film is a comfortable length and doesn’t try to overstretch its material.

“2,501 Migrants: A Journey” is available on DVD from Cinema Libre Studios ( and will be broadcast on PBS nationwide in October to commemorate Hispanic Heritage Month.