Film: Make Believe
Watch it at: Los Angeles Film Festival, Saturday 6/26 @ 5:00pm, Regal Cinemas LA Live, 1000 West Olympic Boulevard
A massive oil spill is destroying the environment. The U.S. just fired one of the guys in charge of the war it’s fighting. Women are still using sporting events as an excuse to wear very little clothing. So why, why, why should we care about some kids and their magic tricks?
We all had friends who did magic tricks, and I–despite being way uncool myself (stuttered, wore big glasses etc) — despised them. First, the ones I knew were all disheveled and sometimes drooled. Then there’s picking cards. I hated picking cards because I knew that somehow, by some hell-spawned pact with Satan, they knew; and even if I forgot, they still knew it was a three of clubs. For some reason, I couldn’t handle that. So while everyone would “ooh” and “ahh,” I would “meh.” Move on. It felt good, purging to my 12-year-old ego.
A decade later, reading the synopsis for Make Believe, I thought to myself: well well. Look who’s come back to play. I chuckled. I stroked my cat, slowly.
It’s a simple plot. Every year Las Vegas hosts the World Magic Seminar, where a popular vote determines the Teen World Champion. It’s the summer Olympics to Michael Phelps, the Pokemon tournament to Ash Ketchum, the World Cup to the world (minus the U.S.). It’s so competitive, yearning magicians frequently take time off from school and college to prepare. Director J. Clay Tweel films six contestants (including two from South Africa and one from Japan (!) more on him later) for over a year. The whole thing would seem pretty mundane to us non-magical folk, except for one simple thing: these kids love magic.
You know how someone can love something so much (swimming, soccer, pokemon etc) that you can’t help but take note? Well, I kind of love magic now too. And I love Hiroki Hana, the film’s card-throwing, kabuki-mask-wearing magician contestant from Kitayama, Japan. There’s a scene where Hana stands atop a classic, karate-master-locale hill in Japan, perfect 360 degree fans of playing cards splayed in each hand, where I realized, I was so wrong about these losers. I mean, magicians.
Hiroki Hana, shiny in real life too. Photo courtesy of Hiroki Hana
So it didn’t help my guilt when, after the screening, teen magician Derek McKee waxed poetic about performing for friends: “They wouldn’t care. I’d bam ‘em, and they’re like “so.”"
“And it took me two years to [be able to] do that.”
Now, I can’t in good conscience take one movie and use it to justify doing something so broad as to “follow your passions.” What if your passion happens to be Bud Light Lime? Yet, after watching Make Believe, it’s hard not to root for these kids and their obsessive, sometimes-strange pursuit of their dreams. Those people who said you can be whatever you want to be, well they were right — every now and then.
Now let’s all take a deep breath, and go back to studying for law school.
The cast and director of Make Believe after a screening at the LA Film Festival
Film: Where Are You Taking Me?
Playing: Los Angeles Film Festival, Thursday, June 24th, 5:15pm (1000 West Olympic Boulevard, Los Angeles 90015)
Director Kimi Takesue knows what it’s like to be an outsider. Raised by her Asian American father and Caucasian mother, Takesue split her childhood between the disparate cultural worlds of Hawai’i and Massachusetts. Other hapas can probably relate to the issues of identity and cultural belonging that being bi-racial entails, but Takesue chose to embrace these things in her work — what she calls “that meeting point where people from very different worlds come together and struggle for some form of communication.” When commissioned by the Rotterdam International Film Festival to make a film on Africa, Takesue, who had never before set foot in the country, jumped right in.
I saw her movie at the Los Angeles Film Festival, and it was unlike anything else there. For one thing, this movie employs neither narration nor translation; the camera simply wanders through Uganda, capturing daily life. The scenes are all somewhat familiar, but never completely. There’s the wedding ceremony where soap bubbles float towards the alter; elsewhere, children sit in a dark room watching an old Bruce Lee flick, while an attendant does a live voice-over.
“I intentionally wanted to construct the piece as an outsider,” Takesue explained, “so you’re constructing meaning through body language, through gesture.” While filming, her goal was to capture the little moments — or rather, to let them unfold in front of the camera. This is important, she says. “We’re inundated with images of Uganda that only relate to desperation and victimization. We only see images that relate to war and poverty and AIDs.” Her movie reminds us that it’s the little moments that show life’s beauty and vitality.