Films to Try Our Souls
Location truly is everything: Need an island paradise just north of the tropics (to avoid that pesky mosquito-borne malaria) and accessible by Boeing 707, the first tourist jet aircraft? Here’s Hawaii for your profit and pleasure. Need a remote atoll to test atomic and hydrogen bombs, out of sight and mind? Try the Marshalls, just down the block and to the left. Don’t bother to knock: Just walk right in and make yourself at home.
Of such twists of fate are tragedies, and documentaries, made. To find out what became of the poisoned Marshalls and their poisoned people after 67 detonations, Adam Horowitz began, back in 1986, to shoot film and take notes for his documentary Nuclear Savage. This is part of our local legacy now, thanks to the Federal Government expressing some shame at last and agreeing to give the Marshallese unfettered immigration and free healthcare. First stop, naturally, is Hawaii; and so, apparently, is last stop. (And the government appropriated no money for health care, after all, so the state is stuck with it.)
A portrait of a Marshallese community on the Big Island, The Land of Eb is a fictional film by Andrew Williamson that uses real people, including lead actor/producer Jonithen Jackson, to create a documentary-like tragedy about one family’s life in Kau’s Ocean View Estates. Nobody gets off easy; and, by the way, that locally-sourced coffee you’re savoring is implicated, too. These films explain why, like it or not, our island fates are now entwined. (Showtimes: Nuclear Savage: Thu., 10/18, 9:15 p.m., Dole Cannery C; The Land of Eb: Sun.,10/14, 6:30 p.m., Dole Cannery B; 10/21, 5:30 p.m., Dole Cannery D.)
Another kind of savagery is on brilliant display in The Devil’s Dosh, which reveals the dark Satanic mill of the sex industry in charming old Liverpool. Notwithstanding that Zachary Guerra’s debut is, at 28 minutes long, one of the shorter films in the Hawaii International Film Festival lineup, it is one of the best made in terms of storytelling, cinematography and set design. Set in a slum bordello in a time that may be the early 1900s, it seems lit by gaslight, so that its scenes take place in cozy gold-hued snow globes. The characters are bordello types: the girls, the punters (as the English call johns), the cruel male enforcer, the even crueler mada and her cringing teenage son, Marcus, who takes the first step toward his destiny as an infamous crime lord.
At the swirling, Dickensian start you might think you’re in for a risque Downton Abbey, sexy titillation spiced with a touch of Jack the Ripper. But what Guerra has written and directed with extraordinary panache is a nightmare of Bruegelian proportions, no sooner setting up our expectations for a little leisurely jaunt in a more golden age than bludgeoning them in one scene after another, so that there is no chance to catch your breath or change your mind before sensing the doors close behind you.
What Guerra is saying about sexual exploitation and the society in which it thrives goes well beyond morality, approaching forensics. He makes his point through violence, but not the easy, ironic kind of a Tarantino or a slasher flick; he makes it sickening. But if we look away, it feels dishonest, as if we’re asking for a little sugar to sprinkle on our voyeuristic fantasies. The Devil’s Dosh is constructed as an invitation to financial backers or even Hollywood for the wherewithal to flesh itself out into full length feature. It deserves that; but delivers lethality in this smaller dose, perhaps a refraction of former Kaneohe-based Navy pilot Guerra’s experience in the Iraq War. (Screening Oct. 12 at 5:45 p.m. at Dole Cannery F.)