Thursday, November 5, 2009

Adam Hartzell on Warrior Boyz

"Film Festival Smackdown" - that's Michael Hawley's budding meme coined for the surfeit of special film screening events here on Frisco Bay in November, which he has admirably attempted to cover in this roundup. Rather than looking at this logjam of festivals as something intimidating, I hope local cinephiles feel comfortable sampling the selections like attendees at an overstuffed thanksgiving of diverse goodness. Take a healthy helping of ethnic appetizers from Latin America, Italy, indigenous North American communities, etc. Select main courses from the substantial offerings from the latest Pacific Film Archive or Stanford Theatre calendars. Wash it down with something from the Prime Pacino '71-75 series at the Castro, and enjoy some animation or "CineKink" for dessert. Or switch up the order of your cinematic meal- it all ends up in the same place, in this case not the stomach but a brain and heart well-nourished by the effects of art and culture.

One of the festivals opening tonight is the Frisco-wide favorite 3rd i International South Asian Film Festival, expanded to four days including two at the Roxie and two at the Castro. Both Hawley and Frako Loden have filed previews of the festival for The Evening Class, and now I'm proud to present Adam Hartzell's take on a 3rd i film called
Warrior Boyz, screening tomorrow at the Roxie Theatre. Be sure to check out Hartzell's sf360 preview of Taiwan Film Days, a San Francisco Film Society-sponsored festival opening opening tomorrow at the Opera Plaza Cinema. Adam:

I think it’s is fair to say that, in the mind of the average U.S. citizen, Canada is seen as a Liberal oasis (or, depending on your political predilection, ‘nightmare’). As someone more oasis-leaning, I find much to admire about Canada. But as I’ve done more and more reading of and listening to Canadian media, I’ve found much to nudge away ever so slightly whatever naïve views I previously held about our neighbors to the north.

Ali Kazimi’s documentary Continuous Journey was perhaps my first big oasis evaporator. That documentary was about the Komagata Maru, a ship of 340 Sikhs, 24 Muslims, and 12 Hindus, who as British subjects had every right to settle anywhere in the Empire, were denied entry in Canada and forced to stay in Vancouver Bay for several days while court hearings considered their plight. The film exposed me to Canada’s history of racism, a different image from the multicultural apex I was imagining Canada to be at the time. (In 2006, it was announced that Deepa Mehta was scheduled to make a fictional film about the tragedy, casting Akshay Kumar in the lead role in 2008.)

Similarly, if Bowling for Columbine had you thinking violence was only something Canadians experienced from watching U.S. television shows and movies (shows and movies filled with Canadian actors and filmed in Canadian locales hidden as U.S. cities), Warrior Boyz will have you recasting your Canadian (national) character as well. Like Continuous Journey, it’s a documentary about Sikh-Canadians that is the impetus of this adjustment of Canada as a country.

I had heard about the gang problems in the Sikh-Canadian community of Surrey, British Columbia through an interview with the director of Warrior Boyz on Q - The Podcast on the CBC and an article in The Walrus magazine. Both had me anxious to see this documentary, so I was happy that the folks at 3rd i have brought it to us. (They will also be bringing Director Baljit Sangra to discuss the film after the screening.) The film primarily follows four real-life characters, a Vice Principal and a former gang member each on personal crusades to keep kids from joining gangs or helping them find a way out, and two gang members of polar trajectories. It’s not a brilliant documentary, but it is decidedly engaging, particularly when the former gang member reveals his motivations for joining the gang. He didn’t fall into it like in so many after-school specials. He actively sought his way into gang life. Thankfully, he actively sought his way out before he died.

As powerful is the one active gang member’s inability to look into the camera throughout the documentary. When we first meet him, his accidental gaze at the lens, and by extension us, is the only time he startles, running away from the returned gaze of the camera. It is the strongest statement of all about the paradoxes of gang life. It gives him a confidence that hides the insecurity still visible in his inability to make eye contact with his imagined audience, his existential jury. Even more topical with the recent attack on Jagdish Grewal, an editor of a Punjabi newspaper in Brampton, Ontario, this documentary definitely brings a third eye to an oft-filmed topic, demonstrating the tremendous value festivals like 3rd i consistently provide.


  1. Glad to see you survived Halloween, Brian. And that Adam has been keeping HOFB afloat in recent months. Always a pleasure to read his write-ups. Though I am, of course, looking forward to whatever essay you've been working on for the mid-Winter session of the Silent Film Festival.

  2. Brian, as always, thanks for the links.

    I guess one could look at the upcoming glut of Bay Area film fests as a banquet to partake in. In which case, I'll need to take a hockey-puck sized Alka-Seltzer before I even sit down to eat Thanksgiving dinner.

    Adam, thanks for your write-up on WARRIOR BOYS. Unfortunately, it's one I'll have to miss during 3rd i. BTW, I really liked your SF360 Taiwan Film Days overview.

    Has anyone been to the VIZ Cinema in Japantown yet? I kind of put it out of my mind because it seemed a venue exclusively for digitally projected anime and Asian genre films, which I have little interest in. But now I see that starting today (and for the next 11 days) they're showing a 35mm print of Shinji Aoyama's 2007 SAD VACATION, his sort-of sequel to 2000's EUREKA, with Tadanobu Asano. I'm hoping to check it out on Monday.

  3. Michael G: Halloween was a tremendous success again. Adam has been amazingly generous with his writing for me for the past two months, though I've finally stepped back into the pool with a new piece on City of Sadness that I just put up today.

    As for the Silent Film Festival, clearly you haven't been obsessively hanging on my every tweet! I have written an essay on West of Zanzibar which tackles the film from the perspective of silent-era censorship regimes. Very excited to see the film at the Castro, and should begin revealing some of my findings on this site relatively soon...

    Michael H. I too notices the Aoyama booking, and hope to finally check out the theatre space (I've visited the storefront and cafe already) very soon. I know Adam has already been at least once or twice already.

  4. The VIZ, I've been advised (advizzed?) will be the venue for the seminars/symposiums at the next edition of the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival.

  5. Michael G - Thanks for the tidbit about the VIZ being utilized for SFIAAF. We've been twice so far. Almost did a write up for HoFB, but haven't gotten around to it because of all the other deadlines. But we've been talking about how lacklusterly VIZ is (not) promoting itself. Hopefully that will change w/ SFIAFF.

    Also, Michael G, when you post at places other than here or your blog, should I refer to you as Maya or Michael? That's why I chose Maya at sf360 because I wasn't sure on the protocol.

    And Michael H, thanks for the kind words for TFD piece and the WB piece here. And even more thanks for hipping me to that Shinji Aoyama film being at the VIZ. I think I'll have to make a trip there this week after work.