8

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Rome International Film Festival, Out of Competition

ROME -- While the shorts that make up a collective movie "8" are reminders of the vital importance of the United Nations' eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), they do not necessarily function as works of art. Most play like stiff educational films or a rap on the knuckles. To ensure they are seen beyond classrooms, each can screen individually before theatrical releases or on television.

The film begins with an introductory voiceover by Catherine Deneuve on the history of the MDGs. The first short is Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako's delicate but uneven "Tiya's Dream," which focuses on children in Ethiopia. Though based on the goal of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, this is one of the most pessimistic works of the group and rightfully so. Although in 2001 nearly 200 governments adopted the initiative and its 2015 deadline, hardly any have actually begun working towards the goals.

Tackling universal primary education, Mexican actor-producer-director Gael Garcia Bernal shows how even Western consciences need to be taught to think globally (and altruistically) at an early age. However, in aiming for poetry in "The Letter," set in Iceland and starring Ingvar E. Sigurdsson ("Jar City"), Garcia Bernal also skirts with oversimplification.

Gaspar Noe's "AIDS," on combating deadly epidemics, is a video diary of a man dying of the disease, made in Burkina Faso. The most aesthetically conscious film of the bunch, the tragedy before us is undermined by a series of fade-ins and fade-outs and static shots of the man's face and dire surroundings against the backdrop of a beating heart.

"How Can it Be," Mira Nair's controversial though somewhat cold take on promoting gender equality courageously shows that parity also means having the freedom to do socially objectionable things. In this case, an Indian Muslim woman living in New York leaves her husband and son to become the second wife of a traditional Muslim. Apparently, the UN pulled its support from the entire project because they deemed Nair's work offensive to Islam.

Jane Campion's "The Water Diary" is by far the most moving and cinematic and least didactic short. Taking on the goal of ensuring environmental sustainability, she tells a poetic and disturbing story on the consequences of drought in rural Australia, seen through the eyes of children. Campion's uses elements of the fairy tale in the Western context, yet the scenario she describes is one already affecting many parts of the world.

Although shot last winter, Gus Van Sant's "Mansion on the Hill" could easily be leftover material from "Paranoid Park." Here, he rolls out a series of harrowing statistics on child mortality and possible solutions for reducing it that throughout are eclipsed by the underlying images of carefree teenage skateboarders.

Dutch director Jan Kounen's black-and-white "The Story of Panshin Beka" looks at the importance of maternal health care, in particular for pregnant women in the developing world. The story of the titular woman is told through the traditional song of the indigenous people of the Peruvian Amazon.

Wim Wenders closes the film with "Person to Person," about global partnership for development. Despite facile moralizing and characters that pop out of computer screens a la "The Purple Rose of Cairo," Wenders admittedly does well to promote the Kiva organization, based on the practice of microfinance begun by Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus.

"8"
Production companies: LDM Films, Ace & Co., Media Screen.
Producers: Marc Oberon, Lissandra Haulica.
Sales Agent: Films Distribution.
103 minutes.

"Tiya's Dream"
Cast: Nigist Anteneh, Tefera Gizaw, Fekadu Kebede.
Director: Abderrahmane Sissako.
Screenwriter: Sissako.
Producer: Franck-Nicolas Chelle.
Director of photography: Dominique Gentil.
Editor: Nadia Ben Rachid.

"The Letter"
Cast: Ingvar E. Sigurdsson, Hringur Ingvarsson.
Director: Gael Garcia Bernal.
Screenwriter: Garcia Bernal.
Producers: Garcia Bernal, Pablo Cruz, Finni Johannsson Haulica.
Director of photography: Rain Kathy Li
Editor: Alex Rodriguez.

"AIDS"
Cast: Dieudonne Ilboudo.
Director: Gaspar Noe.
Producers: Marc Oberon, Lissandra Haulica.
Director of photography: Noe
Editors: Noe, Marc Boucrot.

"How Can it Be"
Cast: Konkona Sen Sharma, Ranvir Shorey, Birsa Chatterjee.
Director: Mira Nair.
Screenwriters: Rashida Mustafa, Suketu Mehta.
Producers: Nair, Ami Boghani.
Director of photography: Declan Quinn.
Music: Mychael Danna, Rob Simonsen
Editor: Allyson Johnson.

"The Water Diary"
Cast: Alice Englert, Tintin Kelly, Isidore Tillers, Harry Greenwood, Genevieve Lemon, Miranda Jakich, Justine Clarke, Russell Dykstra.
Director: Jane Campion.
Screenwriter: Campion.
Producer: Christopher Gill.
Director of photography: Greig Fraser.
Music: Mark Bradshaw.
Costume designer: Jane Patterson.
Editor: Heidi Kenessey.

"Mansion on the Hill"
Director: Gus Van Sant.
Producers: David Cress, Neil Kopp.
Directors of photography: David Hupp, Rick Charnoski, Buddy Nichols, Tristan Brillanceau-Lewis.
Editor: Van Sant.

"The Story of Panshin Beka"
Cast: Loydi Hucshva Haynas, Olivia Aravelo Lomos, Denis Rafael Barbaran; Auristela Brito Valles.
Director: Jan Kounen.
Screenwriters: Regine Abadia, Kounen.
Producers: Marc Oberon, Lissandra Haulica.
Director of photography: David Ungaro.
Music: Jean-Jacques Hertz, Francois Roy, Nadine Kaiser.
Editor: Anny Danche.

"Person to Person"
Cast: Pendo Duku, Tsehaie Abraham Kidane, Megan Gay, Bhasker Patel, Robert Seeliger, Ian Dickinson, Thomas Spencer, Gerhard Gutberlet,
Director: Wim Wenders.
Screenwriters: Wenders, Erin Dignam.
Producers: In-Ah Lee, Philipp Steffans.
Director of photography: Franz Lustig.
Production designer: Sebastian Soukup.
Editor: Toni Froschhammer.

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