In scheduling my screenings for Los Angeles Film Festival, I’m making a conscious effort to see movies by women directors, and films that tell stories that we don’t often see in film. Los Angeles Film Festival is catering to this quite well, as 40% of their films are directed by women and quite a number is directed by minorities. While normally it’s hard to find films directed by women, here there’s a big chance you’ll walk into one by accident – which is as it should be; you shouldn’t have to make a conscious effort to see films by women or minorities.
I saw two films directed by women today, Moko Jumbie and Mighty Ground. Both were enlightening in their own way, but couldn’t be more on the opposite side of the spectrum of each other – it was extremely jarring how different the two films were, in tone, in philosophy, in their settings and in their purpose.
Moko Jumbie (Directed by Vashti Anderson)
Set in beautiful Trinidad and Tobago, British Asha (Vanna Girod) is visiting with her family. She’s staying with her aunt and uncle (Sharda Maharaj and Dinesh Maharaj), and all of them are of Indian descent – their ancestors were led to Trinidad by the British to work on the sugar cane farms after slavery was abolished. Since then, there has been a strain between the African and Indian population of Trinidad – articulated poignantly during the film by Asha’s uncle when he says that the Africans and Indians keep fighting each other, while the British get rich.
Asha’s eye soon falls on their neighbour, Roger (Jeremy Thomas), whose family rents a small space from Asha’s family. The strain between the two families, one Indian and one African, is palpable, and Asha and Roger’s romance is of a very Shakespearean nature. At some point, Asha’s family’s home is robbed and they instantly suspect Roger and his family. It soon becomes clear not everything is what it seems, and not everything Asha is experiencing and seeing is real.
Deeply embedded in the mysticism and spirituality of the two cultures, it’s a beautiful story about forbidden love, broken families, and a country in constant political and racial turmoil. Moko Jumbie explores these issues in a nuanced and subtle way. The title itself signifies it – “moko” is a stilts dancer and reference to an African god, while the word “jumbie” is West Indian and means ghost, or spirit.
The film demands your focus in the way it’s shot; it’s slightly claustrophobic, with a lot of it shot in close-up, or with extremely shallow depth of field, so some things are only seen as abstract shapes in the blurred background. The film is creepy and unsettling at times, and I’ve never heard a more successful use of the sound of mosquitoes for foreshadowing and to create a sense of dread.
My only criticism is that Moko Jumbie is quite slow – especially the first half of the film could’ve been tighter. Overall, though, it’s a moving film with a beautiful ending, one that is bound to make you cry, or at the very least tear up.
Moko Jumbie will have its premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival on Tuesday 20 June at 6:30 PM at ArcLight Culver City.
Mighty Ground (Directed by Delila Vallot)
Where Moko Jumbie aims to close the gap between people with different backgrounds and bring them together romantically and spiritually, Mighty Ground reinforces that gap. A display of white privilege and arrogance, I felt grossed out after seeing this film.
Mighty Ground is a documentary that is in the “LA Muse” competition of the Los Angeles Film Festival, which features “films and documentaries that capture the spirit of Los Angeles”. This film sure did that. It shows the jarring gap between poor and rich, of power and powerlessness in Los Angeles.
The subject of Mighty Ground is the charming and incredibly talented Ronald Troy Collins. Unfortunately, Ronald is addicted to crack and lives on Skid Row, a notorious area of Los Angeles where many people live on the streets in the most terrible of conditions. The people involved in making this film were approached by Ronald in the streets, and he sang for them, which is how he tried to make a little money. So inspired and touched by his voice, they made it their mission to make Ronald’s dream come true; they would “take him from the streets and put him on the stage”.
Showcasing Ronald’s talent or making his dream come true seems of secondary importance here. Its primary purpose seems to be these white people involved attempting to relieve their white guilt. Images of Ronald surrounded by white people who are using their wealth and power to help him, and him profusely thanking them and hugging them every other scene, is frankly a bit sickening.
Moreover, the people on the “saving” end of this film are all white, while all the hope- and homeless people in this film are black. We’re not shown the white (or any other) homeless population, nor do we see the black people involved in helping the homeless and addicted. It merely underscores the gap between poor and rich, and that poor and rich equals black and white. Addiction is not an affliction that is exclusive to black people – neither is homelessness.
It’s almost as if it’s suggested that homelessness and addiction can be fixed by adopting your own homeless person – because, as one of the talking heads reminds us, they are after all “humans, too”. Simply toss some money at them, put them in rehab and make them famous, and all is miraculously solved. Unfortunately, not all homeless people are talented, or in the right state of mind to turn around on their previous lives like Ronald did here.
Mighty Ground is by no means a poorly made film and Delila Vallot did well in capturing the story, as it happened. Their motivations were sound, but a filmmaker has a responsibility in being aware of the message they send with that story. What Ronald did here was incredible and it’s enormously respectable and inspiring how he turned around his life. He did that because he had the willpower and strength to conquer his addiction, not because of these “saviours”. If their aim was to open the conversation about the topic of whether or not white people can help black people without that being a problem, they certainly succeeded.
Mighty Ground premieres on Monday June 19 at 6:45 PM at ArcLight Santa Monica.
Yesterday, I discussed the first two films I saw at Los Angeles Film Festival – Midnighters and El Vecino. Read my report here.
Stay tuned for more in-depth reviews from the Los Angeles Film Festival next week!
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