29th Toronto International Festival 2004
War Seen Through Children’s Eyes
One of the themes during the recent 29th Toronto International Festival of 10 intense days of films from 60 countries was war seen through the eyes of children.
At every shift in human consciousness there is a pause, a moment of stillness in which the past is reappraised. Many of the 328 films this year showed the filmmakers acute awareness of the human condition and a passionate commitment to help open a path to a renewed future for our planet.
Two of these films were TURTLES CAN FLY and INNOCENT VOICES. Both films had world premiers at the Toronto Festival.
There are families in Kurdistan who call their newborns "Mine," says Iranian director Bahman Ghobadi, whose celebrated film, A Time For Drunken Horses, deals with the survival of the border populations between Iran and Iraq. His new film, TURTLES CAN FLY, treats fallout from anti-personal mines and the resulting casualties.
"American and European weapon makers sell mines to dictators like Saddam Hussein and others who have swamped the country with them. Poor innocents get killed or maimed. My mother and grandmother told me stories about these casualties. I think it will take a long time for Kurdistan to get rid of those mines."
His film is set in a sweeping panorama of the parched and mountainous area of Kurdistan on the Turkish-Iraqi border before the recent American adventure.
The villagers desperately seek a satellite dish to access news of the impending American invasion of Iraq. Their young leader, l3-year-old Kak, nicknamed Satellite, leads the children from village to village fixing the electronics to keep a connection between an ancient feudal and contemporary society. Barely a teenager, Kak provides protection for the children, many maimed and orphaned by land mines. Yet the children’s meagre wages flow from removing unexploded military hardware from the fields to sell back to the American forces. The film’s children are all amateurs.
Kak convinces the village chiefs to buy a satellite dish when a young armless boy arrives from another village with his beautiful sister and her baby. The boy has a foreboding: The war is getting closer. Kak falls in love with the sister who is traumatized by her own war horrors to the point that she wants to get rid of her blind baby.
In spite of everything the children show an amazing life-assuring spirit that shines through hardship and horror --- a triumph of the human spirit and hope, perhaps, for the future.
P.S: The young blind boy in the film had an operation and can now see.
The film was inspired by Ghobadi’s pilgrimage to Iraq after
the fall of Saddam and he is dedicating it to all the innocent children in
the world --"the casualties of the policies of dictators and fascists."
Canadian release will be October l.
Mexican filmmaker Luis Mandoki who, since his acclaimed film Gaby, has become a major Hollywood director, returns to his roots with the same subject -- war seen through the eyes of children -- in Central America’s El Salvador civil war. Mandoki’s film INNOCENT VOICES, another world premiere at Toronto, is a true story based on the fight over land rights between the Salvadoran army and peasant farmers. 1980 saw a series of skirmishes between the army and the farmers. The farmers formed a guerrilla resistance named FMLN which escalated into a civil war.
Eleven-year-old Chava (Carlos Padilla) lives in a small village trapped between the army and the guerrillas. The family is abandoned by the father and has to fight for survival. The government forces take to recruiting 12-year-olds, rousting them out of school before the frightened eyes of the younger children.
Chava has just one year left before the army conscripts him to fight the peasant rebel guerrillas. Between school, trying to find work to help his mother (Leonor Varela) pay the bills, and his first love for his beautiful classmate, Chava is brutalized by the daily violence as his village becomes both playground and battlefield. He is buoyed only by the love of his mother and his guerrilla uncle who gives him a small radio that receives broadcasts of forbidden songs of love and peace
A decision looms as he contemplates the charred ruins of his home. He has to either join the army or the rebels. ---- But there is a third choice. Chava escapes to the United States where six years later he is reunited with his family.
The United States government helped equip and train the Salvadoran army, and provided over one billion dollars in aid. Salvador’s 12-year-old civil war caused 75,000 deaths, 8000 disappearances, and nearly one million exiles.
Today, more than 300,000 children serve in armies in over 40 countries.
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