By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
The Pilgrimage of Students Peter and Jacob -- Peter is a Czech law student in Prague, and Jacob is a Slovak philosophy student at the university. The two are best friends until a young Romany (read: gypsy) crosses their path during summer vacation in the countryside. Something terrible happens, and the rest of the story is spent dealing with the fallout. The film is confusing in structure, but rich in cultural detail. Pilgrimage manages to deal with ethnic friction, friendship, morality and the law as it shows the two students' very different reactions to a crime of passion. The narrative roars along, making often mysterious quantum leaps, leaving little room for a learning curve. If you're willing to accept a certain amount of confusion, Pilgrimage provides admission to several worlds Americans never see on screen: the almost Medieval Romany village life of rural eastern Slovakia, and the high-energy university scene in Prague, where the brightest young people of central Europe party, pose and philosophize. (J.H.)
Ralph Bunche: An American Odyssey -- Veteran documentarian William Greaves offers an admiring portrait of Dr. Ralph Johnson Bunche (1903-1971), the legendary African-American scholar-turned-statesman who played a key role in drafting U.N. guidelines and international peace treaties during the post-WWII era.
Sandstorm -- If this polemical but rewarding film doesn't energize support for women's rights activists, nothing will. Framed by the research trip of a British-born, ethnic-Indian reporter, this docudrama is based on the 1990 true story of a rural, lower-caste female who got a much-needed job with the Indian government's women's development program -- and destroyed the status quo. Already unpopular for speaking out against workplace discrimination, this illiterate woman was campaigning to wipe out the custom of child marriages, when a group of upper-caste village men beat her husband half to death then brutally gang-raped her. Most people would have given up, but Savitri and her husband sought justice. It's hardly surprising that they never find it. What they find instead is a maelstrom of conflicting political interests, widespread corruption and an international media circus. That the perpetrators were ostentatiously put on trial -- and acquitted after years of shady dealings -- surprised few in cynical, sophisticated India. That Savitri was sent home to live among her rapists surprised even fewer. That this brave woman continues to fight for all Indian women's rights should surprise no one. (J.H.)
See Jane Run -- People keep interrupting Jane's suicide attempts, thus bouncing her off in different directions like some psychotic bumper car. After another attempt to kick the bucket goes awry, Jane realizes she "is meant to be a criminal." The film ping-pongs back and forth between absurdity and subtlety as this troubled, lonely woman tries to find a place for herself. The story is often unintentionally disturbing -- there's little to laugh at in mental illness -- and it's too violent and sad for many tastes. But See Jane Run does exhibit flashes of gallows humor that kind of grow on you. (J.H.)
Serial Lover -- Claire, a writer on the anxious side of 30, invites three lovers to her apartment for dinner, hoping to choose a likely husband among them. Unfortunately, she accidentally kills each of the guys. Even more unfortunately, she's hard-pressed to hide the corpses before other friends drop by. James Huth directed this dark French comedy.
Seven Girlfriends -- Tim Daly of The Fugitive goes on a different kind of cross-country chase in filmmaker Paul Lazarus's indie comedy. Daly plays a compulsive womanizer who's driven to introspection by the accidental death of an old girlfriend. Determined to discover why he can't ever make a long-term commitment, he sets out to interview former lovers.
The Surprise Party -- Garrett Rice's romantic comedy focuses on Oscar, an ordinary guy on the brink of 30. He plans to celebrate his passage by asking Penny, the woman he loves, to marry him. Within 24 hours, however, Oscar must face a shocking parade of surprises.
Tangier: Legend of a City -- Filmmaker Peter Godel blends fact and fiction, drama and documentary, in a film about the fabled Moroccan city's past and present.
The Testimony of Taliesin Jones -- In his last film role, the late Ian Bannen (Waking Ned Devine) plays an eccentric faith healer-turned-music teacher who serves as a mentor to a troubled 12-year-old boy. Martin Duffy directed this Welsh-produced comedy-drama.
This Is My Moon -- Like other festering sores on the world's body politic, the civil war in Sri Lanka seems inexplicable to outsiders. This Is My Moon gives a Sri Lankan version of what's happening. Alone in a bunker under fire, a Singhalese soldier finds a Tamil (enemy) woman scrambling over the sandbags. She trades him sex in return for her life. He deserts and returns to his poverty-stricken village at the edge of the war zone. The Tamil woman follows him home where, naturally, the inhabitants view her with hostility. Nothing truly hopeful happens. This isn't exactly entertaining, but in an anthropological sense, it could be thought of as enlightening. (J.H.)