DIFF 2019: Day 6

Hurdle is a powerfully evocative documentary that attempts to dive deep into the extremely complicated conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and, instead of pointedly taking sides, the film focuses much of its attention on two Palestinian young men living in the occupied territories of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. One of the men does not too much care about politics but simply has the desire to teach other Palestinian youth the relatively new sport of parkour, which is essentially a combination of gymnastics and dance practiced on the streets, while the other is more of an activist who teaches photography and filmmaking to young Palestinians to help raise awareness about their daily lives. The filmmaker, a Dallas native who spent many months in Israel, quite effectively uses the symbolism of parkour, an athletic act to overcome physical obstacles, to draw a comparison to the Palestinian situation in which they live behind literal barriers and must mentally overcome them to live a relatively normal life. However, since it is such a hot-button issue around the world, the documentary tries to avoid confronting the issues head-on but rather tries to show a personal side of the conflict and thereby allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions.

Sister Aimee is an intriguing low-budget fictionalized account of the still mysterious disappearance of evangelical superstar Aimee Semple McPherson during the 1920s at the height of her celebrity status in Los Angeles. Since nobody knows what happened to her during those weeks that she vanished, the filmmakers decide to use their own creative license to create a creative and somewhat fanciful story of what could have happened to Sister Aimee. The movie shows her running away with a married man obsessed with Mexican revolutionaries and taking a wild road trip along the border to eventually reach Mexico City to meet associates of the famous revolutionary Pancho Villa; on the way, they encounter lonely stretches of desert and dangerous bandits with their Mexican-American female guide. It may have not had the highest production value or the best acting, but I found the plot unique enough to make for an entertaining movie that also subtly incorporates elements of feminism by depicting strong female characters.

American Factory is a thought-provoking and unexpectedly enjoyable documentary about the extreme culture clashes that occur between the Chinese owners and workers of a large Chinese automotive glass factory and their American counterparts working at a newly-opened factory in Dayton, Ohio. The film is a complicated case study of what happens when the very different Chinese work ethic directly interacts with American ideals of getting a job in order to live a life outside of work with family; as a result of the often heated conflicts, the factory does not reach its full profitability potential set out by the overconfident Chinese management. To help illustrate the differences and similarities between the workers, the filmmaker introduces the audience to several Chinese and American characters who give their personal perspective to the situation and discuss how their lives have been affected by the ever-changing work environment of the American economy. Rather surprisingly for a movie that explores such complex issues as culture clashes, the rapid growth of the Chinese economy, and the merits of unionization, the documentary is full of cringe-worthy moments of humor and irony that make a rather ordinary documentary into something more entertaining.

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