Today the Hawk Takes One Chick (2007)
Where’s New York? Where’s LA? Nowhere for film, that’s the impression from last month’s 5th International Mexico City Festival of Contemporary Cinema (FICCO), where Boston, our Boston, totally ruled. To begin, there was an ambitious Documentary Retrospective of Cambridge’s Frederick Wiseman, 12 films in all, not just the usual screenings of Titicut Follies (1967) and High School (1968) but rare revivals of Meat (1976), Deaf (1986), and Blind (1986). Next there was a flooding of Massachusetts guests: Mexico City abuzz with Beantowners! Local curator Peter Dowd was on FICCO’s Kodak Jury, dishing out Kodak film stock to jury winners, and I was on the FIPRESCI International Critics Jury, giving a citation to the Best Latin American Documentary.
Then there were Hub-area documentarians, invited to Mexico to show their newest work: Cambridge’s Jane Gillooly with Today the Hawk Takes One Chick, her elegant, unsentimental focus on the AIDs epidemic in Swaziland, and Arlington’s John Gianvito with Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind, his road-movie meditation on lost-and-buried American history, captured through visits to obscure graveyards. Gillooly’s film is just beginning its run, starting with multiple showings back home in March at the MFA. Gianvito’s film premiered at Toronto last September, and it’s hit a chord, done stupendously well for an essay-form experimental work. Nobody is more astonished than the deeply modest filmmaker, a professor at Emerson College. “I get e-mails every day inviting me to festivals,” Gianvito told me in Mexico, and revealed his proudest moment: he’s been invited for an interview about the movie for the legendary French film periodical, Cahiers du Cinema.
Finally, Boston’s Alloy Orchestra — Ken Winokur, Roger Miller, Terry Donahue — have found a home at FICCO, making annual trips to Mexico City to play their dazzling original scores along with silent films. This year: the Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., silent classic, The Black Pirate (1926), was the selection, and the many guests of FICCO were bussed one evening to a local park where the swashbuckler would be showing. What a locale! We sat up in the bleachers looking down on a man-made lake with several mini-islands. On one was a huge screen, and the Alloy boys playing below it. Another island was a magic oasis with a surrealist woody landscape, something out of Cocteau’s The Beauty and the Beast (1946). The reality: this park features a permanent set for Swan Lake, and the ballet is performed regularly on the two islands. But this great night, it was swordsplay to Alloy percussive interplay instead of sensitive Tchaikovsky. (And it was friggin’ freezing: Mexico City at night in late winter meant lots of shivering spectators.)
Outside of the Festival, where to go in Mexico City for those who see the world through movie-eye? My producer wife, Amy Geller, and I checked out Frida Kahlo’s Blue House, recalling the movie, Frida (2002), and, down the street, the home in which Leon Trotsky was murdered by Stalin’s agents, remembering Joseph Losey’s The Assassination of Trotsky (1972). As for those high-in-the-air shoeshine stands all over town: those remind of where John Huston sat, portraying a Rich American in his down-in-Mexico masterpiece, The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948).