Living for 32, Irena Sendler, A Perfect Soldier, and Dying to Do Letterman

Living for 32 is a short (40 minute) documentary about the Virginia Tech shootings, focusing primarily on one student who was shot four times but survived. He has since focused a big part of his energies on tightening up gun regulations, most specifically on applying the same background check requirements on buyers at gun shows that apply to buyers at normal gun stores. The hidden camera videos showing how it is possible to buy an automatic weapon with zero paperwork (just verbally stating that you’re a resident of the state and over 18 years old) was very compelling to me. I’ve become less dogmatically anti-gun in recent years, but if the laws being pursued in this film have not already passed, I will be supporting them. And any film that shifts my political thinking has got to get a good review, so I’ll give it  out of .

Irena Sendler: In the Name of Their Mothers is a documentary about a Polish woman who, with a great deal of help, saved the lives of more Jews than Schindler. It’s pretty heart-wrenching to hear about children starving to death, but it’s also great to see some of the people who were saved and also those who did the saving, talking about their experiences. The film combines these recent interviews with vintage footage well and it’s an important subject, but it felt a bit slow to me, so I can only give it out of .

A Perfect Soldier is a documentary about land mines in Cambodia, and specifically about one man (Aki Ra) who as a boy was conscripted into various armies and decided to atone for his earlier bad deeds by removing land mines. He uses extremely simple tools and techniques, but has removed and defused thousands of mines without any injuries. He created a makeshift museum, and has also adopted many children, giving them an education and life that they would not have gotten otherwise. The name of the film is a reference to land mines being perfect soldiers because they will wait patiently for years to do their jobs.

The film is hard to watch when people are shown defusing mines, but it is well done and worth seeing. I’ll give it out of . An earlier showing at the festival was the world premiere.

The director, producer, and cinematographer were at the screening for a brief question and answer session (there may be spoilers here, if a documentary can have spoilers):

  • How did they find this story? The director visited the museum, and later talked the others into going to Cambodia and making this film.
  • A fair number of mines are U.S. made (China and Russia are the other two significant manufacturers).
  • Cambodia is the second most mined country, after Afghanistan. It is estimated that there are 2 to 3 million mines still in Cambodia.
  • Newly-made mines stop being active after some period, whereas old mines stay active indefinitely.
  • See for more details.

The Village was a Greek short shown before Soldier. It was a slow moving stop-action film that didn’t do much for me.

Dying to Do Letterman is a documentary about a comedian named Steve Mazan who has wanted to do Letterman since he was a child. A cancer diagnosis speeds up the timetable significantly. This setup could have gone very badly, but the film is far more uplifting than it is depressing, and Steve is in fact quite funny. It made me start to think about what things I might want to do but haven’t been actively working on, and it got a bit dusty (as they say on Filmspotting) in the theater towards the end. So I have to give it out of . An earlier showing at the festival was the world premiere.

The cast (Steve and his wife Denise) and filmmakers (Joke and Biagio) were at the screening to answer questions (there may be spoilers here):

  • First there was a standing ovation, which is funny since he told a joke about how you get shamed into standing once others start.
  • Larry “Bubbles” Brown, another comedian who appears in the film, was also at the screening, as were Steve’s mother and sister and other friends.
  • What’s next? Not sure, but creating the movie was the next thing after getting on Letterman.
  • The film started just as self-filmed video clips, but once he brought Joke and Biagio in, they gave him a better camera for those.
  • The two dogs were old and have both since passed away.
  • The person at Letterman who said it was impossible still works there, and is actually pretty nice.
  • Lots of people at Letterman were following the story, which he didn’t know until he got there.
  • Cinequest programmer Michael Rabehl talked him into premiering the film here.
  • Letterman is a very reclusive person, so there wasn’t any interaction except what you see in the film.
  • Someone they know named Erika had a very similar cancer, and just died on the day that we saw the film.

In the interest of full disclosure I got a free T-shirt just before I entered the theater, and the screening was sponsored by YouSendIt, a company that my wife did some contract work for recently.

All seen on 3/6/2011 at Cinequest.


3 Responses to “Living for 32, Irena Sendler, A Perfect Soldier, and Dying to Do Letterman

  1. Reviews from Cinequest Premiere on March 5 and 6 | A Perfect Soldier Blog Says:

    […] This entry was posted in Progress and tagged A Perfect Soldier, Cinequest, Reviews, San Jose […]

  2. James Says:

    Actually you need a Class 3 weapons license for automatic weapons. And you have to go through some more checks, the process takes months. Automatic weapons are not a simple show me a couple of things or oh i’ll take your word for that.

    Please don’t let the liberals consume your brain.

  3. mweston Says:

    Maybe it varies by state, but the hidden camera footage was quite clear that what I stated does happen, or at least did happen, at gun shows.

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