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Five Great Indie Films


1) “The Cuckoo,” a humanist, pacifist, feminist, indigenist film about a Soviet soldier, his Finnish enemy, and a Lapp woman who takes them both in, when they have each escaped sentences of execution by their respective armies. None of them speaks a language either of the others can understand. There is no preaching by any of them about anything. But when a Russian writer or director wants to be humanist, no one of any other nationality can hold a candle to him.

2) “Camp,” not a documentary but filmed in an actual summer camp for would-be theater and other performers in their teens and younger. As performers they are so extraordinary that I think the casting directors (plural) deserve Oscars. But the film is about adolescents. There isn’t a single false touch.

3) “Whale Rider,” Maori actors depicting their culture. A lead character is as confident that nothing has changed in 2,000 years as the Israeli settlers I’d seen the previous week at the SF Jewish Film Festival, so it takes a miracle to provide a happy ending, which is about as realistic as if Jonah’s whale landed on the beach in Tel Aviv enabling him to provide a solution to the Palestine crisis. Nonetheless, a highly worthwhile film.

4) “Winged Migration.” French documentary. Shot all over the world. Birds is wonderful. Their matching steps in courting dances equal any pas de deux of any ballet company, and I’ve been watching the world’s best ballet companies for over seventy years.

5) “Step into Liquid.” Awful title for the surfing film to end all surfing films. Documentary. Splendid because it does not limit itself to the beauty and unbelievable athleticism of the greatest surfers. It shows duffers on Lake Michigan who just enjoy, and does not make fun of them. It shows stupendous female surfers who differ from men in that the latter are out not to fall off their boards under any circumstances, while the women are out to have fun. Three Irish-Americans introduce surfing to Ireland, and do good by bringing Protestant kids down from the North to surf with Catholics. A professional in Southern California and his buddies regularly assist a teen-ager who broke his back surfing a couple of years ago but still loves the sport. A teen-age girl in Santa Cruz understands that her father’s insistence on surfing several thousand consecutive days, “sun,rain, or tonsillitis,” simply is his life. In short, genuinely a film about human beings, not simply the sport that entrances them. Photography unparalleled and hard to believe.

WILLIAM MANDEL can be reached at:


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