SUN KISSED: A Documentary Explores a Fatal Skin Disorder Killing Navajo Young

Native American author —he prefers to be called an American Indian— Sherman Alexie was on the Leonard Lopate Show the other day talking about his new book, Blasphemy, and he said he thinks the U.S. still practices colonialism in respect to American Indians. “When you lose centuries of tradition,” Alexie said, “you’re in incredible existential pain.” Yet another source of pain for one tribe, the Navajo, and its connection to the genocide of the American Indians is powerfully revealed in the documentary Sun Kissed, airing this Thursday (Oct. 18) on POV at 10pm.

“Sun Kissed” tells the story of Dorey and Yolanda Nez, a Navajo couple living on a reservation in New Mexico. Both of their children were born with Xeroderma Pigmentosum —or XP— a genetic disorder that makes exposure to sunlight fatal. The disease is so rare it only occurs one in a million in the general population. Their son passed away at age 11 and when the film begins Dorey is the full-time caretaker of his 16-year-old daughter Leanndra, who is paralyzed by the neurological degeneration that can also be caused by XP. Read more

New York Film Festival: To The Barricades!

A scene about one-third of the way into French director Olivier Assayas’ wonderful new film “Something in the Air” brings up a question that was central to film criticism and theory during the time in which the film is set, the early 1970s. It also amounts to something of an embedded self-criticism by the filmmaker. There is a screening of agitprop films for a group of young French and Italian revolutionaries. During a Q&A session someone remarks that the film shown may have political content but its form is not political; it’s simply a conventional document of political struggle.

The filmmaker, in the film’s defense, is that he doesn’t make films for “aesthetes,” he makes them for workers. Assayas can’t make the same excuse, of course; it’s unlikely his new film —or his last, the terrific made-for-French-TV mini-series “Carlos”— will be shown at any factories soon. But the simple binary of political film/film made politically has subsequently been shown to be insufficient to evaluate the political agency —or effectiveness— of a film. Read more

New York Film Festival 50: Pi and Kubrick in the Sky

The opening night film for this year’s New York Film Festival presented the world premiere of Life of Pi, Ang Lee’s adaptation of the beloved 2001 novel by Canadian writer Yann Martell. Introducing the press screening, Lee joked that this project violated all three of the things directors are warned against working with–children, animals, water–add a fourth one, he shot it in 3D. He also noted that it was a challenge for him to make a film about faith. “Life of Pi” is about a boy (Pi, short for Piscine) from India, played by 19-year-old newcomer Suraj Sharma, who is so curious about religion he practices three of them. His father owns the animals in a zoo,  and in one harrowing scene Pi’s father teaches the young boy why he should not be sentimental about animals. Bad times force the family to sail to Canada, along with their animals (which they’ve sold to North American buyers.) A shipwreck puts Pi and a fierce Bengal tiger (named Richard Parker) into a lifeboat together.

The bulk of the film is taken up by Pi’s 200-plus days adrift, trying to keep himself and the tiger alive. The difficulty filming these scenes is what made the novel seem un-adaptable for years but Lee and crew have succeeded brilliantly. Never, for one second–for example–did I believe that the Richard Parker on screen wasn’t a real tiger. (The tiger, in fact, turns in one of the best performances you will see this year!) I’m no fan of 3D, especially since I wear glasses and two pair of lenses make it difficult to watch 3D; the 3D is as good as it gets here but I think the film would be just as visually awe-inspiring in 2D. The scenes of Pi’s inventiveness as he figures out how to keep the tiger at bay and gradually establish a mutual existence are captivating. Occasional fantasy sequences illustrating Pi’s longing for others are poetic and visually stunning. Read more