24 May 2008

A blog by any other name

Just for the record, this is not particularly a book review site.

So why the name "Booksmart" I hear you ask. (Hear/made up in my head - same thing.)

I didn't want to dwell too long on what to call the blog, so I just went with a phrase that had been stuck in my head since I heard it used on the NBC television show Scrubs. I was aware of the phrase "booksmart" (or "book smart", or "book-smart" as you please) before hand, but it got in my head after a Scrubs episode which featured the following dialogue:

Elliot: What's wrong?
Carla: It's personal.
Elliot: Why won't you ever open up to me? I came to you when I thought I had a broken tailbone and it was just a really bad pimple!
Carla: It's a sex thing, okay?
Elliot: You mean like a gender issue or like intercourse? Because I'm book-smart on both!

Anyway, I like the sound and look of the phrase, both aesthetically and thematically and it just stuck with me - so there it is.

04 May 2008

Exit wounds

OPERATION FILMMAKER was the last film I caught in the recent short film festival. It's an odd documentary that I’m not sure what to make of. Muthana Mohmed is an Iraqi wannabe filmmaker who was seen on MTV by actor/filmmaker Liev Schreiber. Liev, who was anti the Iraq war, apparently feels guilty about Muthana’s situation and offers him a job as an assistant on the Prague set of Liev’s movie Everything is Illuminated.

Nina Davenport is given the task of documenting the endeavour, which is presumably meant to be a nice inspiring little story about a deprived victim getting a foot in the door and making good. Muthana is less than impressed by some of what is expected of him, seeing it as too menial. When he is given some greater responsibility and the chance to learn some editing, he blows it because he gets distracted by his friends, and ends up going out partying. He undermines one of the film’s producers (I think he is) when the producer makes it clear he’s anti the Iraq war, and Muthana says that he is in favour of it and then proceeds to praise George Bush. (Muthana seems to change his attitude to the US invasion later in the film.)

A lot is made of this sort of thing: any comparison or reference possible to the wider situation in Iraq has much made of it. Muthana turns out to be less passionate about filmmaking as it was thought, or maybe he’s just less grateful to the western helping hand he was extended than was it was assumed he would be. Things don’t really work out on the set of that film, but he manages to get further work on DOOM, and Nina keeps making her documentary.

He eventually gets into a London film school (he desperately wants to avoid going back to Iraq), but he can only afford to go to because of the generosity, and perhaps naivety, of DOOM lead actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnston (also from SOUTHLAND TALES, see previous post).

Muthana is needy and demanding; he borrows money from Davenport and others, and in London he pretty much refuses to get a job (even though he’s still asking for money). He has a falling out with Davenport when he starts blaming her for things not going so well - even though it's likely the documentary is responsible for the decision of Johnston to fund his studies. To be fair, partly he was probably sick of being tailed by a woman with a camera for so long, and it must have seemed like nagging to him. But, as is often the case, it seems mostly to come down to someone realising they are to some extent dependant on another, and becoming resentful of that fact.

The film is really about the relationship between filmmaker and subject. The parallels with the Iraq venture are weak, though. Davenport says in the end, with an inter-title: "I started out looking for a happy ending. Now I’m just looking for an exit strategy."

Sure, this comes after yet more snotty demands from Muthana, even though he had previously told her to piss off. But as she made clear herself earlier, she really was able to exit beforehand, but she wanted to wait for an opportune moment: She felt the need to keep making the documentary until something good happened to finish on.

Muthana can be charming, likeable and smart. And he can be needy, petulant, selfish and na├»ve about what the world owes him. In another words, he’s much like many other people his age and demographic. (He and his friends and family back in Iraq all spoke English well, which my friend told me was an indication that they were middle to upper-middle class.) The message of this film may be no more than teenagers are alike, no matter where they’re from.

The film is interesting as a look at the relationship between filmmaker and subject, and how documentary makers try to construct a satisfying narrative around their "real life observations". I’m not sure that it is anything more than that, though. Although, considering how much I’ve just written, that was obviously enough.