An audience at the 2004 Toronto International Film Festival experienced a rare treat. Octogenarian Pete Seeger and other surviving members of The Weavers, a legendary folk group blacklisted during the McCarthy Era, performed a few rousing songs from their extensive repertoire. The mini-concert followed a documentary about New York impresario Harold Leventhal that's also on tap this weekend at the Green Mountain Film Festival in Montpelier.
Isn't This a Time! focuses on another live show, held a year earlier at Carnegie Hall, with many of the acts that Leventhal -- who died in October at age 86 -- promoted during his five-decade career: The Weavers, Theodore Bikel, Leon Bibb, Arlo Guthrie and Peter, Paul & Mary. When these idealists walk onto a stage, nostalgia merges with political passion that's expressed through their music and their moxie.
Seeger's "Guantanamera," for example, is a 1961 tune that may resonate in an entirely new way now, given the alleged abuse of detainees at the U.S. naval base on the southeastern tip of Cuba. His feisty Weavers colleague Ronnie Gilbert says at one point in the film, "There will never be a time when there isn't something to yell about, speak about, teach about, hope about."
Mount Holly resident Robert De Cormier will appear after the last screening on noon Saturday at City Hall Arts Center. Expect the VSO Chorus conductor and longtime arranger for Peter, Paul & Mary to discuss Leventhal's legacy.
The fest, running through Sunday, offers a potpourri of fiction and nonfiction pictures from around the globe. The Syrian Bride -- which Israeli director Eran Riklis co-wrote with Suha Arraf, a Palestinian journalist -- is a narrative tale about the cruel absurdity of hostile nations. It's also about a dysfunctional extended family living in the Golan Heights, a Syrian territory annexed by Israel almost four decades ago. The Salmans are caught between traditional Druze customs and modern realities; they're equally trapped in a no-man's-land between borders guarded by soldiers on both sides.
Mona (Clara Khoury), the title character, is ambivalent about her impending arranged marriage to a distant cousin she's never met, only seen on TV. He is a sit-com star in Damascus. After the wedding there, she will never be allowed to return home because Israel and Syria do not recognize each other. As it is, a United Nations official named Jeanne (Juli-Anne Roth) must try to broker the mindlessly bureaucratic immigration process required before the couple can get together.
Mona's older sister Amal (the radiant Hiam Abass) has an old-world husband who disapproves of her wearing pants. She encourages their daughter Mia to follow her dreams, no matter what.
The elderly Salman patriarch, Hammed (Makram Khoury), is an activist recently released from jail. His two sons are a disappointment to him: The Moscow-based Hattem (Eyad Sheety) wed a Russian doctor rather than a local girl. Marwan (Ashraf Barhoum) is a dapper womanizer with shady business dealings in Italy.
When the Salmans reunite in advance of Mona's nuptials, which none of them can actually attend, it's a tragicomic tangle with topical bite and human tenderness.
For more information on the festival, visit http://www.focusonfilm.net or call 262-3456.
On The New York Times bestseller list for more than three years, The Celestine Prophecy dazzled readers by combining Indiana Jones-like adventure with a New Age sensibility. The James Redfield novel, about a search for ancient mystical scrolls in the Peruvian rainforest, has been adapted as a movie opening in mid-April. And Middlebury is among only 10 American locales privy to a sneak preview: The Great Life Retreat Center will present the film on March 31, with a repeat on April 7. Both 7 p.m. shows will be held at the Champlain Valley Unitarian Church. For $10 reserved tickets, call 388-7478.
"There has been a series of synchronicities that led me to organize this event," explains Bill van Zyverden, a "holistic" lawyer and co-founder of the Retreat Center. He used to assign the spiritual saga as a textbook for students in his communications and ethics classes at Community College of Vermont. Actor Patrick Small -- in a Celestine cast that includes Annabeth Gish, Jurgen Prochnow and Hector Elizondo -- later met van Zyverden, told him about the big-screen version, and helped arrange the advance peek. "Life really guides us along," he says with holistic certainty, "which is a message in the film."