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Documenting Discrimination

Flick Chick


Published June 21, 2006 at 4:00 p.m.

Just last week more than two-dozen civilians in Sri Lanka were killed when their bus hit a landmine, the latest tragedy in an ethnic conflict that began during the mid-1970s. Coincidentally, Vermont Public Television is going behind the headlines to examine that country's relentless sorrow: No More Tears Sister will launch the 19th season of the documentary series "P.O.V." at 10 p.m. on June 27. Sri Lankan novelist Michael Ondaatje (The English Patient) narrates the Canadian National Film Board production.

Director Helene Klodawsky uses photographs, archival footage, contemporary talking heads and docudrama reenactments to chronicle the short life of Dr. Rajani Thiranagama. In 1989, this physician, university professor and human rights activist was assassinated at age 35.

Tears is a tale of colonialism's bitter legacy. The independent Sri Lanka -- called Ceylon under British rule that ended in 1948 -- allowed the Buddhist Sinhalese majority to immediately begin denying rights to a primarily Hindu Tamil minority.

Rajani came from a well-to-do Christian Tamil family, many of whom are seen on camera despite the fact that they're in hiding. Ditto for her left-leaning Sinhalese husband Dayapal. She and an older sister initially sympathized with the Tamil Tigers, separatists who continue to wage guerrilla warfare against the right-wing government. But the siblings grew disillusioned with armed rebellion when atrocities mounted on both sides of the divide. Rajani, who became a marked woman, told friends: "One day, some gun will silence me."

Despite the never-ending Sri Lankan quagmire, her quest for peace is still loud and clear.


Quagmires are familiar territory for Matthew Modine, who has appeared in several motion pictures that look back at Vietnam. He's a soldier headed for Southeast Asia in Streamers (1983) and a psychologically damaged vet in Birdy (1984). In Full Metal Jacket, Stanley Kubrick's stark 1987 saga, the actor plays one of several Marines unprepared for the horrors of battle after their brutal stateside basic training.

Modine will be on hand at this weekend's Lake Placid Film Forum to sign copies of the limited-edition Full Metal Jacket Diary, his observations and photographs from a harrowing year-and-a-half shoot in England. The literary effort was inspired by the fact that his character, nicknamed Private Joker, becomes a reporter for Stars and Stripes.

"I was a journalist in the film, so I kept a journal," Modine explains in an email interview. He describes his book as "a story about actors trying to be the best that they could under the direction of a demanding master filmmaker."

Kubrick, who died in 1999, was famously ruthless in crafting his cinematic vision. Modine waited two decades to publish the diary, he says, because otherwise "the tumultuous events and relationships during filming might have been misconstrued or, worse, misunderstood."

The bleak tone of Jacket seems like realism to Modine. "I don't think Kubrick's film is pessimistic," he contends. "It's an honest reflection of man's inhumanity." One might perceive it as pessimistic, he suggests, after "years of watching Hollywood war movies and the cliche of good triumphing over evil. As if it were all so easy. So black and white."

On a lighter note, Modine's sojourn in Lake Placid will also encompass a Saturday night screening of Kettle of Fish, a new release costarring Gina Gershon. "It's a sweet, romantic comedy. Simple as that," he points out. "I've read a lot of angry scripts lately . . . If I'm going to do an angry film today, I'd like it to have some big ideas."

He'll have a chance to explore some big ideas at a Saturday afternoon panel discussion entitled "The Future of Independent Film." The session is scheduled to include Vermont director Jay Craven, whose Disappear-ances opens the fest on Friday evening

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To counter the image of a disheveled Nick Nolte in that widely circulated mug shot from his 2002 DUI arrest, go see Clean. French writer-director Olivier Assayas' movie -- opening Friday at the Palace 9 in South Burlington -- follows the struggle for sobriety by a druggie singer (Hong Kong actress Maggie Cheung). When her has-been rock musician lover dies of a heroin overdose, she serves time in jail. Set in Vancouver, San Francisco, London and Paris, the film tries to infuse a mainstream redemption plot with European art-house sensibility. This approach may not be entirely successful, but Nolte, as a wise paternal grandfather raising the junkie couple's young son, is nothing less than magnificent.