About 13 years ago I found myself transfixed by an image on a television news broadcast of a seven-year-old girl trapped on a bridge. With her family she was trying escape the Rwandan genocide and escape to Tanzania before the border was closed to refugees. The confusion and panic was overwhelming and before she could get through officials shut the gate with her family on the Tanzanian side, the Tutsis who wanted to kill them all on the other side, and her in the middle, looking for someone to help her.
I often think of that little girl, and the agonizing fear and uncertainty on her face, which is why films like All the Invisible Children have the ability to rip the heart right out of me. The film is a UNICEF-supported collection of short films about the unrecognised plight of children in the world. From child soldiers in Sierra Leone to entrepreneurial scavengers on the streets of Rio, these are children whose miseries are the direct the result of the actions of adults, even parents.
Directed by luminaries like Emir Kusturica, John Woo, Spike Lee and Ridley Scott, these are films that have a heavy point, sometimes too heavily made. The agit-prop purpose of the project means that enjoyment isn’t really on the agenda but a copy belongs in every school in the country and it served to reinforce to me, at least, that any human activity that isn’t for the children ain’t worth shit, really.
More children being abused for the aggrandisement of adults appear in the Australian mockumentary Razzle Dazzle, a welcome return from the recent World Cinema Showcase. In it, the world of child dance contests is given a good roasting with the help of a jolly cast led by English comic Ben Miller. He plays Mr Jonathan, a dance teacher who believes that his choreography has the power to change the world, if only the judges would recognise his talent for merging issues like global warming with 80’s English pop music and sequins. The usual rogues’ gallery of pushy parents, lonely administrators and garish judges are on display and I have it on good authority, from someone who might be described as an expert witness, that it nails its subject matter perfectly.
Another film getting a brief return from the Showcase is the easy-going documentary Wordplay, about crossword puzzles (specifically the New York Times’) and the people that puzzle every day, including the Indigo Girls, former President Clinton and a very funny Jon Stewart. The climax is the final of the National Crossword Championships in Stamford and it is almost as gripping as that other non-sports sports movie Spellbound, though the contestants aren’t anywhere near as cute. Wordplay is a perfectly acceptable way to while away an afternoon but I still have no desire to even look at a real crossword puzzle, let alone try and fill one in.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital TImes, Wednesday 11 July, 2007.