Me, my gypsy family and Woody allen

Me, My Gypsy Family and Woody Allen is a film documenting the first tentative steps a Romany girl living in Italy, Laura Halilovic, takes into the world of filmmaking. This is not a completely alien landscape; the camera she uses to document her life and the lives of her family when she is 19 was given to her by her father, who himself filmed their celebrations and lives when Halilovic was just a girl.

The documentary, winner of the UCCA Prize 2009 at the Bellaria Film Festival in Italy, acts primarily as a diary, a diary of a people, and a diary of a girl who has come of age, perched on the edge of adulthood in a culture where marriage and family are an essential part of life. Me, My Gypsy Family and Woody Allen is a an act of Halilovic finding her voice, going from the shoe gazing mumblings of teenagehood – demonstrated especially when the subject of marriage first arises – to a final and more eloquent expression of her own plans for her future and how they relate to her culture and family.

We are introduced to Halilovic’s family gradually, framed through current portraits of her parents, brothers and sisters, her family having migrated to Italy from Bosnia and Herzegovina decades before. They live in a public housing flat, a big step in the Romany community, who traditionally are forced to camp in large numbers, shifted from site to site on the whims of the local councils. This fixed address created better opportunities for Laura to attend school and have a complete education.

The pain of a persecuted people is at first demonstrated historically – the holocaust, the systemic destruction of the Romany people throughout predominantly Eastern Europe. These are her relatives – her grandparents and great grandparents. But it is soon after that the continued persecution of the Romany’s by the Gagé, anyone who is not a Roma, is highlighted. Camps are evicted and bulldozed, they are called thieves and bandits on the street, or, from the point of view from an excited little girl at her first day of school, she is whispered about and ostracised from her peers. That concept of ‘integration’ is brought up again and again, its insidiousness coming from its lack of clear meaning. This is most obvious when the word is brought up during the potential eviction of sixty people, including Halilovic’s grandmother and uncles, from land that they themselves had purchased, the charge of building without a permit as an excuse. Every year Halilovic, born in Italy but not officially an Italian citizen, must give her fingerprints in order to renew her visa.

A lot of the craft in this film is a bit clunky, but entirely forgivable given the filmmaker’s age and the message the film is trying to give. You can see her future potential in the framing of her shots, the imagery within a scene that holds the most poignancy. This film is about her, but she is hidden behind the camera, perhaps unable to combine this foraging for identity with the strong culture of the Romany, her teenage stargazing at Woody Allen combined with the first act of making her own film, her own body of work.

Me, My Gypsy Family, and Woody Allen screens on Friday, May 07, 2010 at 9:30 PM at Cinema Nova in Carlton. It screens with the short film Bingo

Part of the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival

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John Waters – This filthy world

John Waters’ This Filthy World, was a one-off, one man show playing Hamer Hall, with the speaker covering his long, trash-addled career at a speeding, frenetic space. The show was less of a polished act than an open acknowledgement by audience and speaker of the significance of a life lived in a less than conventional way. It was presented as a celebration of the sidelines of life, the gutter and trash that we all watch, but hate to admit that we love. Waters discussed some of his most significant films as a chronology, moving from his early influences of Fassbinder and William Castle, towards his breakthrough to the mainstream with films like Hairspray and Serial Mom.

Waters has had a long career and there is a lot to cover in the hour and a half show, so it was expected that he would only be able to skim over some of the events and films that have meant so much to so many varied groups of people. There is something about Waters’ show that is less than engaging, however. He is sharp almost to a fault, running with films, people, ideas that you can tell have raced straight from script to mouth, with little shaping or editing done in between. The show was a FAQ, a set of answers to questions that he has been asked again and again. Having decades to refine his response, Waters emphasises the anecdote and plays down the tragedy, so that by the end you feel that you’re not getting as much of an emotional attachment as you’d hope. The most obvious of this comes with the figure of Divine, who is often mentioned but rarely recounted with any level of intimacy, a few crumbs being fed to a hopeful audience, his character and stories kept secret. And who can blame Waters for that? An ageing man who makes films as easy as breathing, but, like so many of the survivors of artistic movements and events, are expected to be the storytellers, the chroniclers of an era, their own personal involvement stripped down to anecdote, to the recounting of forty years of filmmaking in a ninety minute show.

Many one man shows are aware of this pull, of stories complex by their very existence refined into a digestible format for public consumption. Maybe this it the transaction that the audience enters into when they take their seat in the auditorium. Maybe that is why the most successful one man shows embrace that inability to convey a whole experience, to translate the memories into a story that captures the feeling of certain events. Maybe this is where Waters falls short. Instead of a story we are presented with a chronology. An interesting chronology, but recounted at such a scripted and frenetic pace that we are not allowed to connect with the characters Waters is speaking of, let alone Waters himself.

Nevertheless Waters is a strong and shameless figurehead of trash, of the creators of art that will always remains in the sidelines. He reminds us of the respect that should come with a trip into this filthy world, a point emphasised during the question time at the end of the show. Traci Lords is a former porn star who acted in many of Waters’ films, and when an audience member boasted to him about owning the video pornography she had made when still underage, Waters reminded her of Lords’ life now, quiet, with a husband and children and books to her name, of the distance she has travelled from an exploited youth. The love Waters has for his artists is great, something that didn’t always hit the mark with the audience.

John Waters – This Filthy World
27 February 2010 
Presented By: Maggie Gerrand
Venue: Hamer Hall

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