- Courtesy Of VTIFF
- The Blue Caftan
As winter trudges on, Vermonters may crave an exotic getaway. The Global Roots Film Festival offers a more affordable escape, bringing filmgoers to the far reaches of the planet through outstanding cinema this weekend.
Global Roots, which runs from Thursday, February 16, through Sunday, February 19, at Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center's Film House in Burlington, is one of three annual festivals presented by the Vermont International Film Foundation. Founded in 2013 by VTIFF executive director Orly Yadin, Global Roots screens films selected to fit a theme, such as food, disability or Indigenous cultures.
This year's theme is international submissions to the 2023 Academy Awards. Yadin believes that a country's submission to the Oscars offers a fascinating look at how its people perceive themselves.
"Some countries just choose what they think has the best chance to win, but others want to say, 'Look, you don't know much about us. This is who we are,'" Yadin said.
For instance, this is the first year Uganda has submitted a film for consideration for Best International Feature Film (previously called Best Foreign Language Film). The country's selection, Tembele, is about a garbageman experiencing grief after the loss of a child.
According to director Morris Mugisha, the film rejects a common cultural narrative in Africa that men must never show weakness. As the Hollywood Reporter notes, Mugisha wrote in a statement accompanying the film submission that the drama suggests "it is OK for a man to cry and vulnerability is no crime especially if you're hurting. This is a film of hope, love and brotherhood."
Yadin noted that countries often choose films set beyond their own borders. For instance, Holy Spider (Les nuits de Mashhad), the Danish submission, was filmed in Jordan and set in the Iranian holy city of Mashhad. This crime thriller is based on the true story of serial killer Saeed Hanaei, who murdered sex workers out of a perceived moral obligation.
"I found it interesting [that], two years running, the Danish submission is about human rights issues in other countries," Yadin said. "What does it mean about Denmark? It's obviously trying to say something about who the Danes are."
Muffie Milens of Burlington has "adopted" a film for Global Roots for the past five years, donating money to sponsor a film of her choice. Milens, who works part time in the VTIFF box office, said ticket sales don't cover nearly enough of the cost of putting on the festival. Adopting a film, which starts at $300, "is a way to support the festival and ... a way to get incredible enjoyment," she said.
This year Milens adopted The Blue Caftan (Le bleu du caftan), a Moroccan drama about a woman and her husband, a closeted gay man, who run a caftan store. Same-sex relations are illegal in that country and can be punished with prison time. Yet the film is not a tragedy but a tale of warmth and love. "The Blue Caftan dares to imagine a world where there's room for both appreciation of the old ways and room to evolve," Variety writes.
Jennifer Rangnow of Burlington has also been sponsoring films for years and loves that Global Roots' selections offer viewers something unexpected. "Hollywood films do something really well, but you can kind of guess the plot," she said. "You know what you're getting into."
Yadin, who announced earlier this month that she'll step down as VTIFF's executive director in June, said this model of funding is not only about finding new sources of financial support for films but also about helping bring new audiences to the festival.
Rangnow, for example, adopted a film she knew her sister would like to see with her: The Quiet Girl (An Cailín Ciúin). The submission from Ireland has since been nominated for an Oscar. Adapted from Claire Keegan's novella Foster, the drama relates the coming of age of a young girl sent to live with her cousin for a summer in 1980s rural Ireland.
"I wouldn't pick some crazy experimental thing for my sister," Rangnow said. "This is an old-fashioned good story with a lot of heart." She also appreciated that the film is in Gaelic, a first for the Academy Awards. "I'm a big supporter of Indigenous languages and people holding on to their language."
While Oscar submissions allow countries to place their cinematic arts on the international stage, not all these films are as well regarded back home. For instance, religious groups pressured government officials in Pakistan to ban Joyland from director Saim Sadiq's home state of Punjab, where it is set. The story of a trans love affair was seen as "against Pakistani values," the Guardian reported. Malala Yousafzai, an education activist and 2014 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, served as executive producer of the film.
Canada's Eternal Spring is sure to be a crowd favorite at Global Roots. The documentary won the Audience Award at Hot Docs 2022 and features animation inspired by the art of Chinese comic book illustrator Daxiong (Justice League, Star Wars). The story follows protagonist Daxiong after the 2002 hijacking of a Chinese state television station by Falun Gong, a religious group with which he was affiliated. In the fallout, Daxiong fled China for France and eventually for Canada. Through mixed media, he shares his personal journey and sheds light on Chinese history and culture. A Q&A with director Jason Loftus will follow the screening on Saturday afternoon.
The festival finishes on Sunday night with Finland's Girl Picture (Tytöt tytöt tytöt), which won the Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. The film follows a set of friends over three consecutive Fridays. While Vermonters are familiar with dark winters, Girl Picture transports viewers to Finland, where they can experience that season with three girls on the cusp of womanhood.
"This is a great way to do international travel," Rangnow said. For $12 per ticket, "[these films] take you to parts of the world that you might want to visit — or you might want to visit for a couple hours."