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“My Country, My Country” and “Bloody Reunion”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “My Country, My Country,” Zeitgeist Films, 2006]

We should all be “fair and balanced” when it comes to characterizations of the current Iraq war, which would mean — you’d think — an ethical approach for documentaries that would entail prioritizing the suffering, deaths, injustice and damage as endured by invadees over that of the invaders. Right? Poles over Nazis, Afghanis over Russians? During the American-Vietnam War, the documentaries (from Emile de Antonio’s “In the Year of the Pig” to Peter Davis’s “Hearts and Minds” and beyond) guiltily mourned the bloodcurdling horror inflicted upon the Indochinese. (Only years later did Hollywood dare to portray that absurd conflict exclusively as an American trauma.) In Iraq today, there doesn’t seem to be any bones about it: we invaded and occupied the crumbling nation à propos of nothing, killed anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000 civilians (the high number is courtesy of UK medical journal The Lancet, which has little history of politically gaming stats), and argue at home about whether we’re sufficiently “supporting” the troops as they “surge,” and not about how we paid and are still paying for all of that blood and ruin with our tax dollars, and why our elected leaders shouldn’t be prosecuted as war criminals.

The documentaries we’ve gotten, however, have tended to shed sympathetic tears only for the American soldiers, compelled by who knows what propagandized baloney to sacrifice their lives and limbs (in relatively minor numbers), and to kill Arab men, women and children in their own streets. (Prime example: Deborah Scranton’s award-winning “The War Tapes,” which, being soldier-shot, weeps and shudders for the Yanks but disdainfully observes the indigenous populace from a distance as if they were hyenas on the veldt.) The best exception to this xenophobia is still Laura Poitras’ “My Country, My Country” (2006), the most sensible film yet about the occupation, and as a counterpoint against acres of corporate-spun non-news, it is indispensable. Time and again, in the months leading up to the 2005 elections, Poitras manages to be where platoons of U.S. telejournalists were afraid to go. Her hero is a Sunni activist-doctor named Riyadh, a clear-thinking, educated everyman on a quiet crusade in and around the Triangle to repair whatever damage he can, and to get as many Sunnis to vote as possible — even if it’s not for him. (Anti-secularist that he is, he deserves a bumper magnet.) It’s a project that even takes him to the fences around Abu Ghraib: “We’re an occupied country with a puppet government,” Dr. Riyadh says to the pleading prisoners, “what do you expect?”

But Poitras, traveling alone, also rides with the Kurdish militia, records U.S. military briefings, attends outraged public hearings, listens in on security contractors trying to make sense out of chaos and sits in Sunni living rooms as shells fall in the street. She never intrudes on her own movie; what we see, remarkably, has the electric heat of a new experience, of seeing what has been heretofore officially proscribed. Best of all, the film is so immaculately constructed that it cannot be dismissed with charges of partisan subjectivity — Poitras covers the waterfront as she avoids ideology and cant, and yet everything that unfolds, from the combat-copter rides over Baghdad to the Arab TV footage of the Fallujah bombing, is first-hand evidence of an illegal occupation, an oppressed native people, and an abundance of needless pain and decimation. Without uttering a word herself, she calls the cards on every prevaricating pundit and politician blathering about “the enemy.”

In other news: if you love Asian pulp — Japanese, Korean, Thai, what have you — sooner or later you’re going to find yourself pondering what life must be like in East Asian public schools. While the predominant crucible at work in the heart of American pulp may be the family, in Japan etc. the tribulation of the classroom haunts the cultural psyche. I couldn’t begin to count the number of recent Asian horror films, thrillers, fantasies and heartbroken melodramas fueled at their center by the slights and wounds of their countries’ respective educational systems, the primal traumas of which spawn endless explosions of slaughter, chaos, derangement, infinite woe and evil craziness. (You might begin with “Battle Royale,” “Oldboy,” “Peppermint Candy,” “The Power of Kangwon Province,” “Memento Mori,” “Bounce Ko Gals,” “Ringu,” “Bungee Jumping of Their Own” and so on.) Which brings us to the unpretentious glories of Lim Dae-woong’s “Bloody Reunion” (also known as “Seuseung-ui eunhye,” and “To Sir with Love,” and “The Teacher”), a simple but full-blooded Korean slasher film that probes the high-school-memories dynamic with a laser. Schoolmates now in their 20s collect at the secluded home of a beloved, ailing teacher for an ad-hoc reunion; when the truth slowly emerges from underneath the Asian sense of propriety (the teacher was in fact an abusive horror, and all of the kids are scarred for life), a killer begins kidnapping them and torturing them to death. If you’re looking for a metaphor for what may well be a real and pervasive social wound, you can hardly get more outraged and mournful. The movie may not be terribly scary — who’s titillated by slasher films anymore? — but as yet another elegy for a generation of Asian walking wounded, it’s fascinating.

“My Country, My Country” (Zeitgeist) will be released on DVD on March 20th; “Bloody Reunion” (Tartan Video) is now available on DVD.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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