Mar 22, 2009

Pray the Devil Back to Hell / Not Quite Hollywood

Dir: Gini Reticker

I like to think myself relatively aware, but beyond a vague recollection of Charles Taylor’s indictment by the International Criminal Court for war crimes I knew next to nothing about the 15 year civil war in Liberia, or about the remarkable women’s movement documented in this powerful film.

Pray the Devil Back to Hell (which, incidentally, takes an early lead in the best title of the year race) tells the story of a group started by Leyma Gbowee, a group of women whose message was purely “We want peace. NOW.” Leyma and the movement’s other leaders united Christian and Muslim women behind this message, initially simply getting people to pray for peace, but eventually taking their message out on the streets, staging a sit in at a fish market that lasted so long (two and a half years, all told) that it forced Libera’s dictatorial ruler Charles Taylor to meet the women and both him and rebel leaders to attend peace talks. The peace talks started so slowly that Leyma and the other women, fearful of their breakdown, staged another sit in, this time trapping delegates in their meeting rooms.

That’s not the whole story, but from that you can see, hopefully, why it needs telling. Pray the Devil Back to Hell is a salute to the power of ordinary people to change things for the better through a simple message and total dedication to getting the job done. These women really are heroines, and their story deserves to be told.

Leyma and the other women in the film are natural storytellers, and their relation of the events of the two years they spent campaigning for peace is sometimes funny, sometimes thrilling, frequently sad, and always moving. The story itself is perhaps not matched by the film, which at 72 minutes rather rushes through the telling, and is put together in a rather pedestrian manner. It feels like a TV, rather than a cinematic, film.

Still, even if it isn’t the most dynamic of films, even if it really belongs on TV, Pray the Devil Back to Hell is still a film that ought to be seen, these are things you ought to know about, and while this film isn’t terribly enlightening about the situation in Liberia as a whole, it tells its small but vital story well.

DIR: Mark Hartley

If it’s a serious inquiry into a cinematic movement that you want you’ll not find it in Mark Hartley’s documentary about the Australian exploitation films of the seventies and eighties. If, however, you’re okay with what amounts to a greatest hits reel, interspersed with often tongue in cheek interviews then you’ll have a great time with Not Quite Hollywood, and come out with a long list of movies to find and watch.

Being about exploitation movies this is adults only stuff. Hartley splits the film into three parts, the first deals with ‘Ockers’ – Aussie sex comedies, the next is about horror and the third part deals with the road movies that inspired and followed Mad Max. Throughout there’s masses of violence, stunt sequences to make the jaw drop and enough naked women to keep Playboy busy for the best part of a decade. All in all it makes these movies look like an absolute riot.

The interviews are very good. Barry Humphries proves a real highlight, talking about how Australia doesn’t need culture, Quentin Tarantino is as infectiously enthusiastic as he’s ever been (I must thank him for the mention of Next of Kin, that looks amazing) various grumpy critics moan about how the exploitation industry was cancer at the time of the Aussie new wave (My Brilliant Career, Picnic at Hanging Rock etc) and a lot of actresses who formerly turned up and shed their clothes in these films are very good humored about their cult status.

The clips from the films are extremely well chosen, and make these films look, if not always like great movies, like great fun. I‘m going to have to get this movie on DVD just to make a list of all the featured films I want to see, though Patrick, Next of Kin, Road Games and Fair Game seem like musts.

There are some great stories told here. The insane and quite possibly indestructible stunt man Grant Page provides many of them. The making of the Dennis Hopper starring Mad Dog Morgan sounds like a complete nightmare,as does the making of Australia’s first Martial arts movie starring “one of the two worst people I’ve ever met” Hong Kong star Jimmy Wang-yu. But the stories aren’t the point so much as making you sit up and take notice of these films is, and in that respect Not Quite Hollywood is pretty well perfect. It’s a shallow film, but it does its job.

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