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Culture Watch




Ryan's Well
2001, Canada, 50 min., documentary
Director: Lalita Krishna

Best Social Issue Documentary, Chris Statuette, Columbus International Film & Video Festival, 2002; Best Documentary, East Lansing Children's Film Festival 2003; Kid's First Choice Award, Kids World Film Festival, 2003; Best Documentary, California Wine Country Film Festival, 2003

One day, Ryan Hreljac, age seven, came home from school and asked his mother for $70 to help build a well in the remote Ugandan community where his pen pal, Jimmy, lived. Ryan did dishes, laundry and other chores to raise the money. On finding out that the actual cost to build the well was $2000, he enlisted his friends to work with him to help reach his goal. This remarkable young boy eventually raised over $500,000.

As part of Ryan's story, we travel to Uganda and witness the meeting of the two very special pen pals, and the inaugural pumping of "Ryan's Well." At that moment, Ryan realizes that he has more friends in Uganda than just Jimmy; he has won the hearts of the entire community, and changed their lives forever. This film shows first hand how one determined spirit, regardless of age, can be a genuine inspiration to everyone.

2005, UK, 76 min., animation
Director: Gary Chapman

A witty British animation for children but for those used to American special effects and the latest CGI animation, it may fall flat.

Valiant (voiced by Ewan McGregor) is a common wood-pigeon with a small wingspan and big dreams. Fired up by World War II recruiting propaganda, he flies off to London to join the elite and glamourous Royal Homing Pigeon Service. Along the way he picks up his cousins, Toughwood and Tailfeather, a flea-bitten London pigeon named Lofty and, in Trafalgar Square, Bugsy a fat, smelly, cheeky con-man pigeon, who ends up volunteering for the war effort by mistake.

Together these five are molded into a squadron during their brief training under the guidance of "Sarge" (Jim Broadbent). They are then sent on a vital mission to retrieve an important message from two French rats who are part of La Resistance. Along the way they have to avoid a nasty bunch of leather-clad German falcons, led by General von Talon (Tim Curry) who would undoubtedly torture them as POWs (Pigeons of War…hmmm).

British Intelligence did indeed use pigeons to get secret messages across the Channel to the French resistance during World War II and the British military awarded medals for bravery to carrier pigeons. A title card at the end of the film thoughtfully details the history of England's Dickin Medal, given to animals during the war. This is a modest, unassuming little work and, as such, is really quite successful.

The Secret Life of Geisha
1999, USA, 100 min., documentary (originally an A&E TV program)
Producers: Arthur Geffen and Clive Maltby
Narrator: Susan Sarandon

Japan's ancient Geisha (literally "artist") tradition is still mysterious to us in the West, but has long played a significant role in that society where it was accorded a place of honour. Traditionally, Geishas train from childhood in music, dance, the arts, formal ceremonies, conversation, and various ways of supporting and enhancing the male of our species. They live in the secretive "floating world" of tradition, intrigue, and pleasure where they learn to dress beautifully, according to the seasons and their character, and to wear elaborate hair-dos and make-up that displays to the world as a mask. This revered tradition is not easily understood by "liberated" western society, so this program, narrated by Susan Sarandon, may help to sort out some of our assumptions by providing an inside look.

The film includes an exploration of the impact of famous geisha alliances with political figures, the tradition's struggle for survival during World War II and the impact of cultural change up to the present. Interviews with modern-day geisha and their clients are included as well as discussions with authors Arthur Golden (Memoirs of a Geisha) and Liza Dalby (Geisha).

Return to Page One of Angela Pressburger's 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

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© 2006 Angela Pressburger for SeniorWomenWeb

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