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Political Movement

And who will dig Diggers?
By GERALD PEARY  |  April 24, 2007

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MOVEMENT (R)EVOLUTION AFRICA: The body as one’s true country.

Jeff Silva and Alla Kovgan are the curators of the long-going Balagan Film Series at the Coolidge Corner, and also estimable cinéastes in their own right. Silva is the cinematographer and Kovgan the editor and the director (with Joan Frosch) of a lovely, revelatory look at African modern dance, Movement (R)evolution Africa, that’s playing at the MFA this Friday, April 27, at 8 pm, with the filmmakers present and also Nora Chipaumire, an imposing performer from Zimbabwe.

For their documentary, the filmmakers traveled to a series of American colleges — Bates, Tufts, the University of Florida — where touring African dance ensembles were showing their work and conducting workshops with university students. The film moves among performances, informal dance laboratories, and interviews with African choreographers.

The choreographers, every one of them, are passionate, cerebral, and articulate — visionaries who are, in conversation, skeptical and not always trusting. It’s explained that their parents were the true believers who came free of European oppressors and embraced the idea of negritude. This generation lives in the world of African tyrants, famine, AIDS, and holocausts. What are the dances like? I respect the warning of one choreographer who complains that Western critics write only of the exoticism, praising the dances as “very energetic, very colorful.” But what else can be said with any authority? Isn’t it folly to try to summarize dances from so many disparate countries — South Africa, the Ivory Coast, Senegal, Cape Verde, etc.?

Still, here are a couple of thoughts. Some of the dances are programmatic, overtly political, such as an ambitious memorial-in-motion commemorating the Rwanda Genocide. Others are steeped in African tribal rituals and accompanied by traditional percussive instruments, though the steps are reinterpreted and stylized. The dancing, undeniably Western-influenced, is mostly modernist, very rarely postmodernist.

The African taboo against men showing their feminine side is mentioned, and indeed there’s only one male dancer (of many in the film) who seems obviously, beautifully gay. Yet there’s lots of touching, which, it’s theorized, is so different from the way African-Americans are turned off by “white weird people rolling over one another.” And some of the dances are introspective rather than oriented toward political or geographic issues. Says one inner-directed performer, “Perhaps my only true country is my body.”

Mark Cuban has some dynamite ventures, like owning the Dallas Mavericks, and some puzzling ones, like executive-producing Diggers, an indie feature without an obvious audience. There’s nothing really wrong with the Katherine Dieckmann–directed film, which opens this Friday at the Kendall Square, but there’s nothing distinguished about it either. From Cuban’s Magnolia Films, it’s yet another regionally based, character-driven drama with a small, slightly dull story, the kind of movie that thrives, I’m afraid, at minor film festivals.

It’s September 1976, during the Carter-Ford debates, and the livelihood of a quartet of clamdigger best friends on the Long Island coast is threatened by an encroaching corporation. One digger (Paul Rudd) flirts with a bratty rich girl from the city (Lauren Ambrose) and broods because his womanizing pal (Ron Eldard) is bedding his sister (Maura Tierney). The third (Ken Marino, also the screenwriter) keeps losing his temper at and then making up with his wife and kids. The fourth (Josh Hamilton) smokes and sells too much dope. And that, folks, is the movie.

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