On the surface, Mugabe and the White African is about Mike Campbell’s fight to protect his land from being illegally taken from him by the corrupt Mugabe government of Zimbabwe. Campbell had purchased his farm legally. Mugabe began a plan of redistributing land to poor black farmers. Campbell, his family and his workers had been threatened and physically abused when they tried to fight against this land grab. Campbell brought his case to a regional African court and won.
This straight-forward legal battle was, of course, complicated by a subtext of racial tension because Mugabe was redistributing land only owned by white farmers. The story is further complicated by the long history of colonialism. Although Campbell obtained his land legally, his farm was resented by many in the community. The tale is even further complicated by the accusation that Mugabe was not actually redistributing land to poor farmers but to his cronies.
It could be easy to assume Mugabe and the White African is the tale of a white Englishman who faced reverse racism. But the film is much more than that as it raises many issues that are too complex to resolve. However, it’s hard to say whether or not this strategy works in favor of the film. The main focus is on Campell, his son-in-law and his son-in-law’s parents in England. There is some footage of Mugabe’s legal team and the men trying to occupy the farm. Oddly, the film does not present any interviews with any of the black farm workers whose insights could have gone a long way to providing some context for the racial issues.
The Price of Sex is a disturbing look into the world of human trafficking of Eastern European women. Filmmaker Mimi Chakarova interviews current and former victims, clients and anti-trafficking activists. She also goes undercover with a hidden camera to one of the clubs where women have been forced into prostitution and films major streets where these women solicit clients, often the local police. Such first hand accounts and primary footage give The Price of Sex a palpable sense of danger.
The film also provides unique insight into the fall of Communism which led to the harsh economic climate that made these women vulnerable to the tactics of the traffickers. Often, Chakarova laments how things were better under Communism and takes the viewer to her all but abandoned hometown.
For My Wife is a moving film by and about Charlene Strong whose partner lost her life during an intense storm. Charlene was denied access to Kate’s hospital room without first securing permission from her partner’s next of kin. In addition, she was later dismissed by the funeral director who would not recognize the important role of Charlene in Kate’s life. After these events, Charlene fought to change the legal system to secure more rights for gay and lesbian couples so that the same barriers would not be faced by other people.
The first half of the film focuses on the initial tragedy and legal battle. The second half revolves around Charlene’s continuing advocacy and the stories of other people who faced similar discrimination.
Despite the importance of the issues raised and Charlene’s emotional story, For My Wife is not consistently engaging. Even with a relatively short 60 minute running time, the film drags in spots and is a bit repetitive.
The Interrupters is a well-intentioned documentary that tells the story of youth violence in Chicago and the good people who intervene to try and end the violence. However, the film is overlong (over 2 hours) and does not provide sufficient unique insights to warrent the running time. Judicious editing could have made this a tight and engaging film, but, as it is, The Interrupters feels repetitive to the point of undermining the importance of the story.
Stonewall Uprising and Freedom Riders are two must see programs from this year’s American Experience slate. Both deal with civil rights issues in the 1960’s. Stonewall Uprising deals with a police raid on the popular gay bar, Stonewall Inn. Freedom Riders tells the story of a group of white and black Americans who traveled by bus together into the segregated south. Both stories are moving, tragic and ultimately triumphant sparking much needed social change.