The best picture I've seen at this year's festivals was Jim Duff's "Hank and Asha." For those of you who do not know, Jim Duff grew up in Omaha. He was a student at Westside High School before going to school at Indiana University and then graduate school at the famous film school at the University of Southern California. Jim's father and step-mother, Wally and Mindy Duff, still live in Omaha, as do his mother and step-father, Ann and Ken Stinson.
"Hank and Asha" is charming, poignant, funny, and in interesting ways, profound. What more could you ask for in a movie? Hank and Asha are both filmmakers--he in New York and she in Prague. They strike up a relationship by exchanging videos. So, what we see if each of the parties speaking to a camera and then sending the message to the other. At one point, Hank tells Asha that he is going to take her to dinner. This means that he sets up a camera in the chair across from him in an elegant restaurant. When he asks for a second menu, the waitress want to know if someone will be joining him. Hank's response is: "No. It will be just the two of us." At the end of the dinner, the waitress, having figured out what is going on, looks into the camera and says to Asha, "I hope you had a pleasant evening." This is great comedy.
Asha is from India and Hank is from North Carolina. We watch their relationship develop over time, going through the various stages of relationships, although all of this is long distance and only through the videos. Since Asha has always wanted to go to Paris, Hank buys her a ticket she can use after school is out. It is their opportunity to meet face to face. But, before the trip, Asha confesses to Hank that she is engaged and will be married to Raj when she finishes school and returns to India. The relationship continues, however, but the talk turns to an arranged marriage and what that might mean to Asha's future. Finally, Asha tells Hank that she cannot meet him in Paris. The screen goes blank and the audience moans. There's got to be something more. Then the lights go back on and the relationship continues, although it is now much different. In the end, Asha sends Hank a package that includes a string of flowers. She tells Hank that she has always wanted him to decorate his office---the van he drives for a movie company. At the end of the movie, we see Hank, ever hopeful, hanging the string of flowers from his rear view mirror. Many in the audience wanted to know if there would be a sequel, where we finally see Hank and Asha together. Neither Jim nor his writing partner and wife, Julia Morrison, would say.
While the movie is funny and heartwarming, it also raises some interesting issues. One of those is about the nature of relationships that can develop via technology. Another is about how different long distance relationships are from face to face relationships. And, finally, there is a question about arranged marriage. The question is: To what extent are all of our marriages "arranged?" Is it possible that marriages can be arranged, not in the way that marriages are arranged in India, but arranged in the sense that they are designed to meet family and social and cultural requirements.
It is our hope is that Jim and Julia will be able to bring this film to Omaha and show it at Film Streams.
Among the other movies we were able to see on Wednesday was "The Gatekeepers." There is a question as to whether or not all Israeli films are films about religion. However you answer the question, this movie is about Israeli politics and you cannot separate Israeli politics from religion, especially Orthodox Judaism. This is a movie that chronicles the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the time of the 1967 war, often referred to as the Six-Day War. The lens through which this history is seen is the eyes of the six living former heads of Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security agency. These are the eyes of the men who were there, making the decisions, implementing policy, carrying out government directives. This is an insiders view of the history of the conflict from those who lived it. The conclusions these men draw are probably to the left of the contemporary government of Israel. It is clear that they are unhappy with how Israel has dealt with the West Bank and Gaza. It is clear that Israel must take some other approach to the conflict. I think it is Einstein who said that to do the same thing over and over again expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. And, this is the veiw of men who had to make hard choices and deal with terrorism. These are not politicians who want to be reelected. This is a particularly interesting movie in light of the recent Israeli elections and in light of the nomination of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense. It turns out that many Israelis agree with those who disagree with the present strategies for seeking peace. Israel is itself a divided nation.
Things are beginning to wind down for us. All press and industry screenings with be over after Thursday. The store fronts that have housed various venues on Main Street are closing up shop, leaving vacant buildings. Most of the movies we have yet to review we will see either on a screener or on the computer. Tomorrow will be our last day in Park City. Stay tuned for the wrap up.