Fruitvale Station

TCFF 2013: Day 3 – ‘Fruitvale Station,’ ‘Propaganda’ and ‘The East’

Fruitvale StationMy brain is like a big wet sponge absorbing all the amazing films I saw today. First up was “Fruitvale Station” at Milliken Auditorium.

Sometimes you know right away when a film will do well during awards season. Opening night’s “Blue Jasmine” is one of those films. So is “Fruitvale Station.”

‘Fruitvale’ isn’t even what you’d call an explosive film – at least, not until you get to the end. It’s a quiet, thoughtful film about people just living their lives, doing what people do – getting together for family gatherings, eating good food, praying together, struggling to keep the rent paid, trying to be better people. And yet somehow, all of that leads to tragedy in this particular case.

Fruitvale Station” is based on the real-life story of Oscar Grant (a terrific Michael B. Jordan), a 22-year-old Bay Area resident who wakes up on the morning of December 31, 2008 determined to make a better life for himself and his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz) and 4-year-old daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal).

As the day progresses, we learn there’s more to Oscar than his recent prison stint and loss of his job at a grocery store. He’s kind to strangers and animals, makes a bold decision not to sell drugs (even though he needs the cash), and celebrates his mom’s (Octavia Spencer) birthday. But his final encounter of the day, with police officers at the Fruitvale BART station, shake the Bay Area – and the nation – to its core.

“Fruitvale Station” isn’t a movie that yells at you. It’s a movie that takes you on a pensive journey of one person who’s at the mercy of his past, the color of his skin, and the unfortunate circumstances of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s such a well made film and, again, I expect it to do well during the upcoming awards season.

Propaganda” is an eye-opening film, but it’s so covert that I really can’t say much about it. The film festival guide summarizes it this way: “If the best way to gain insight into yourself is to look through the eyes of another, you’re not likely to get a more unique and shocking look at the West – and specifically the US – than by watching this jaw-dropping, mesmerizing and skull-crunching film that was purportedly smuggled out of North Korea by defectors.”

Yeah, that’s really all I can say about it. But I will add that the filmmaker, Slavko Martinov did a Q&A after the film and specifically had this to say about Traverse City residents: “Everyone’s so adorable. And suspiciously nice.”

Oh, and Michael Moore did a little song and dance routine with the music group TC Sings before the screening. That was really fun.

Brit Marling

Brit Marling, star of “The East,” at a Q&A following the film | Jane Boursaw Photo

I’d heard a lot about “The East” from the New York writers who write for my own website. It’s always interesting to me that when you see people on the red carpet (my writer Paula Schwartz interviewed Brit Marling at an NYC screening of “The East”), you automatically think they must have been brought up in Los Angeles or New York, grown up in the entertainment industry, or least studied acting or went to film school.

None of that is true for director Zal Batmanglij or star Marling, who met at Georgetown University and began making movies with their friend Mike Cahill. Zal studied English and Anthropology; Marling studied economics and was the class valedictorian.

It just reinforces the fact that you really can do whatever your heart desires if you keep your mind open and keep moving forward in a positive way.

In “The East,” Brit plays an operative for an elite private intelligence firm who finds her priorities shifting after she’s tasked with infiltrating an anarchist group known for executing covert attacks upon major corporations.

It’s a moody, thrilling, issue-oriented drama that keeps you on the edge of your seat. I can’t wait to see what these young filmmakers do next.