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Culture and Arts

Culture Watch

In this issue:


Reviews by Angela Pressburger

A favourite spiritual film: The Cup

An important contemporary issue documentary: The Future of Food

Documenting what one human being can accomplish: Ryan's Well

To see with the whole family: Valiant

A documentary to see before or after the new theatrical release, Memoirs of a Geisha: The Secret Life of Geisha

The Cup
1999, Bhutan/Australia, 93 min., subtitles
Director: Khyentse Norbu
Released on DVD in December 2005

People's Choice Award, 2nd Place, Toronto, 1999; FIPRESCI Prize, Pusan, 1999; One Future Award, Munich, 1999; Special Jury Award, Amiens, 1999; Special Jury Prize, Kerala, 1999, Audience Award, Gardanne, 1999

What It's About
The irrepressible drama of twelve-year-old Orgyen, who is growing up in a Tibetan monastery-in-exile. Orgyen is a soccer fan who sports a tank top emblazoned with the name and number of Ronaldo, a Brazilian soccer star, beneath his robes. His tiny room is plastered with photographs clipped from soccer magazines. It's the World Cup finals in a few days and Orgyen passionately wants to watch the game. In order for this to happen, he needs official permission and the money to rent a television set and satellite dish, plus a way to transport them to the monastery.

On the surface it would appear that he and his friends haven't exactly been able to accumulate an impressive amount of good karma. They play pranks during meditation sessions, scrawl graffiti on the walls and do whatever they can to outwit the vigilant geko (head discipline monk). Nonetheless, Orgyen asks the geko if a televised soccer evening at the monastery might be possible. Initial disapproval soon turns to enthusiasm and the geko finds himself explaining international sports, "two civilized nations fighting over a ball,'' to the bemused abbot.

The abbot is a deeply revered old man, but he has a twinkle in his eye, and he knows that the ancient ways in which he was raised are now in collision with the modern world. He decides that a soccer evening sounds pretty harmless, as long as there's no sex involved. Orgyen gets his wish and somehow the sacred meets the profane to achieve a delightful — and very human — conclusion.

What to Look For
It's all in the details. There's a lovely shot at the beginning when the camera pans from a mani stone (a stone engraved with the seed syllable of a mantra) to a can engraved with a different sort of script, "Coca Cola." The can is substituting for a soccer ball but it eventually ends up as a candle-holder on the personal shrine of one of the monks. The almost entirely non-professional cast: the geko is played by Lama Orgyen Tobygal, an eminent Tibetan theologian, and Orgyen by his son, Jamyang Lodro, who is also a monk. Both have flawless comic timing. The abbot is played by Lama Chonjor. The young monks at the Bhutanese monastery where much of the film was shot, play themselves. And we mustn't forget the novice director (this was his first film), who is the recognized third incarnation of an important 19th century nyingma lama, with monasteries of his own to look after when he's not making movies.

Finally, we would like to draw your attention to the film's wry perspective on the relationship between the sacred and the profane. There's a strong dose of good-natured mischievousness that helps bring the monastic setting down to earth.

Why It Matters
While there are those critics who consider this film not Buddhist enough and would have liked to "learn more about the monks," we feel it's one of the best representations of the delight most of the "holy ones" we've met take in the way the sacred rubs up against the mundane in this world. Here we get a real sense that these monks are human beings whose calling does not remove them from contemporary society so much as give them a distinctive position in it.

Perhaps Western filmmakers are too much in awe of the spirituality they encounter, so it has taken an insider to bring their humanity and sense of humour to the screen. This is an immensely likeable and engaging work, filled with genuine humour. Highly recommended.

The Future of Food
2004, USA, 89 min., documentary
Director: Deborah Koons Garcia (widow of Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia)

My goal was to make a film that gave the average person a clear understanding of how genetic engineering works … a combination of Silent Spring and The Battle of Algiers. Once you see it you'll feel compelled to act, even if that means just changing the kind of food you eat.
  . . . Deborah Koons Garcia, Director

What It's About:
It's becoming more difficult to eat healthy, as more and more obstructions to basically good, fresh food are discovered. This film is an in-depth investigation into one aspect of this growing phenomenon, that is, the GMO revolution that is transforming the very nature of the food we eat.

Learn the disturbing truth behind the unlabeled, patented, genetically engineered foods that have quietly been filling North American grocery store shelves for the past decade. From the prairies of Saskatchewan to the fields of Oaxaca, Mexico, this film gives a voice to the farmers whose lives and livelihoods have been negatively impacted by this new technology. And it gives voice to those of us who are worried about a range of issues from so-called suicide seeds to questionable food-safety enforcement laws.

What does our daily consumption of genetically modified seed, chemical herbicides and other inorganic stuff mean for us? Unfortunately, it seems the problems their use may cause are extremely long term so your great-grandchildren are more likely see the effects than you and by then it may be too late.

What to Look For
The complex web of market and political forces that are changing what we eat as huge multinational corporations seek to control the world's food system. During the past 10 years, the film tells us, genetically engineered crops have infected our food supply and undermined cultivation methods that have been refined over thousands of years.

Archival footage and interviews with farmers and agriculture experts including Andrew Kimbrell, head of the Center for Food Safety in Washington, DC, and Ignacio Chapela, an assistant professor at Berkeley, whose work tracking the invasion of American GMO corn into Mexico stirred a furor.

The film questions why the US government hasn't required GMO foods to undergo the rigorous testing required of medicines created by recombinant DNA technology, and why it has resisted efforts to follow Europe’s lead and require GMO labeling on food.

Why It Matters
This documentary may seem a little one-sided, but how do you compare your health with a corporation's bottom-line? And, it's scathing and provocative, so it's bound to divide audiences sharply. Most people don't realize that genetically engineered foods have quietly slipped into much of the North American food supply, mostly through corn and canola. Indeed, they're now at an estimated 60 percent of all processed foods. The health implications, government policies and push towards globalization are all part of the reason why many people are alarmed about their introduction.

Rock musician Jerry Garcia’s widow spent three years and a chunk of what she calls her "Jerry money" to make this eye-opening film. The issues are complicated and technically daunting, but the director threads a clear path through the history, science and politics surrounding GMOs. Point-by-point, she shows how the chemical companies have succeeded in first patenting their own GMO seeds, and then slapping patents on a huge number of crop seeds, patenting life forms for the first time without a vote either by the people or their governments.

Page Two of Angela Pressburger's DVD reviews>>

Angela Pressburger grew up in the film industry (father Emeric Pressburger made The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus and Stairway to Heaven). She has been been an international program consultant at the Vancouver International Film Festival for the past ten years, and has spoken about film and sat on festival juries in both Europe and North America.  She has recently written Show It in Public! — a grassroots guide to showing film in public ( and keeps busy writing reviews for her home video for discerning viewers website Email:


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