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Central Station
directed by Walter Salles

Baby Angel
directed by Usman Saparov

[image, unknown] Comedia Infantil
directed by Solveig Nordlund

Get Real
directed by Simon Shore

The outstanding success of child-focussed films like last year’s Oscar-winning Kolya, Ma Vie en Rose and Ponette seem now the early indicators of a worldwide trend. At this summer’s Edinburgh Film Festival, children featured large as the victims of global societal breakdown.

In the Brazilian Central Station, nine-year-old Josue loses his mother in a road accident. In one fleeting moment he has become a Rio street kid, desperately alone and sleeping rough at the railway station. Retired teacher and letter-writer Dora reluctantly takes charge of the boy, and it is this odd couple’s growing relationship as they go in search of the youngster’s father that proves the heart and soul of this Brazilian road movie. Director Walter Salles infuses the drama with a true sense of place. The vibrant Catholicism of South America – the image of the Madonna and child is a recurring motif – rubs shoulders with the impression of being lost and penniless in a vast landscape and wholly reliant on one’s wits and the friendship of strangers.

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Such a sense of dependency is even more acute in Baby Angel, Usman Saparov’s fable from Turkmenistan. Ethnic tensions between German settlers and Turkomen natives are emphasized by the outbreak of the Second World War, and when the branded ‘fascists’ are removed from the village and their children destined for the local orphanage, one infant escapes capture and must learn to fend for himself.

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A child's innocence offers hope, Comedia Infantil For ten-year-old Nelio in the Mozambique-based Comedia Infantil it is a child’s innocence and spirituality that offers some hope. Nelio has seen his village burned down and witnessed atrocities to his family. After shooting his guerrilla captor, he flees to Maputo. En route, in mystical images reminiscent of The Night of the Hunter, he seems to be protected by the local wildlife. In the capital he scrapes a living among the local street children and gains a reputation as a healer. But he is not free from his past, and his story – told in flashbacks – captures the hardships and displacement caused by civil war. That the child actors are real-life streetchildren (leading actor Sergio Titos apparently ran away from his orphanage to audition for the part) adds another dimension to Solveig Nordlund’s film while raising issues about exploitation.

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Searching for a boyfriend, Get Real. That the teenage years can be as much a place of vulnerability to adult ways as the pre-teens, is shown not least in the subversive British film Get Real, a hugely entertaining first feature by Simon Shore. Sixteen-year-old Steven and his sassy neighbour Linda are each desperate to find themselves a boyfriend. Given that Steven is a well-adjusted young man who has known he was gay since he was 11 and that Britain’s unequal ‘age of consent’ of 18 for homosexual men is being hotly debated, this film is especially relevant.

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The Compassionate Revolution
by David Edwards
(Green Books, ISBN 1-870098-70-6)

Manual 2000: Life choices for the future you want
by John Elkington and Julia Hailes
(Hodder and Stoughton ISBN 0-340-69679-6)

Copse: the Cartoon Book of Tree Protesting
by Kate Evans
(Orange Dog Productions, ISBN 0 9532674)

The Compassionate Revolution is a remarkable and ambitious attempt to fuse radical political analysis with the spiritual philosophy of Buddhism. As such it will provoke both Leftists who have rejected religion and Buddhists who have seen their transformation as a personal rather than political journey. Edwards takes us through a cogent Chomsky-inspired analysis of Western foreign policy and the mass media as they function within corporate capitalism to illustrate the extent to which our society is based on the Buddhist ‘poisons’ of greed, hatred, and ignorance. And he demonstrates how Buddhism can help us to respond to this system not with self-destructive hatred, but with a revolutionary combination of rational awareness, and the transformative and creative power of compassion.

Edwards’ strength is in his courage to yoke disparate subjects together, and his radical holistic approach is often inspirational. Occasionally he opens up questions rather than answers them. For example: can we really identify the Buddhist notion that the world is illusion, essentially ‘empty’ in nature, with a revelation of the true nature of power when one sees through the illusions of capitalist society? Is it not possible to hate a ‘system’, but feel compassion for individuals who are trapped within it? There is also a curious absence of any mention of Mahatma Gandhi, who epitomized the notion of revolutionary compassion and non-violence.

But in identifying our own happiness and well-being as inextricably linked to the happiness and well-being of others, we are necessarily committed to a moral and political transformation of the world – a point that The Compassionate Revolution makes with fiery integrity.

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Clear, user-friendly and comprehensive in its scope, Manual 2000: Life choices for the future you want is an organizational feat. Although its contents may appear familiar territory for regular NI readers, this book pulls together several strands and functions at one level as a genuine guide, with contacts, addresses and ideas for action.

Authors John Elkington and Julia Hailes, who brought us the best-selling Green Consumer Guide, are described as ‘advisers to many of the world’s best-known companies’. Maybe this helps explain why Manual 2000 has such a politically ‘middle-of-the road’ feel, concerned with appearing even-handed and fearful of betraying passion. You are frequently left wondering where Elkington and Hailes really stand. Sometimes it’s obvious – but disturbing. For example, in a section entitled ‘Take a Stand Against Excessive Sex and Violence’, Mary Whitehouse’s famously puritanical, pro-censorship and anti-gay National Viewers and Listeners Association is given a positive puff. Incongruously, this follows mention of Article 19 and the International Centre Against Censorship. Elkington and Hailes are on more solid ground when dealing with head-on environmental issues like renewable energy, ethical investment and food.

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Copse - by Kate Evans Quite a different kettle of fish is Copse: the Cartoon Book of Tree Protesting. Brought up on a diet of Greenham Peace Camp – she was 11 years old when her mother took her and her older sister to join the anti-missile protestors – Kate Evans is now an environmental activist with a rare talent to inspire and amuse. This book’s a delight, displaying political activism at its most refreshing and fun. There’s passion without pomposity and humour by the bucketful in her illustrated account of the pro-tree and anti-road struggles that have attracted such media attention in recent years.

In his introduction to Copse, environmental writer George Monbiot somewhat optimistically describes Britain’s direct-action campaign against road building as ‘the most successful revolutionary movement in Western Europe in the second half of the twentieth century. Never before have such radical aims been so comprehensively achieved in so short a time’

Certainly the gutsy energy needed to fight for the trees – often at great height – against a pretty nasty assortment of bailiffs and technologically aided private-security guards is apparent as you read the text. But one of the most appealling things about Copse is Kate Evans’ intelligent, gently self-mocking, decidedly unheroic stance.

The book is available through Turnaround Distribution, Unit 3, Olympia Trading Estate, Coburg Road, Wood Green, London N22 6TZ. A ‘nice hefty wadge’ of the proceeds will go to non-violent direct action in defence of the environment.

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Las Leyendas de la Musica Cubana
by Orquesta America with the Cuban All Stars
(Tumi TMG BOX 1)

A Toda Cuba le Gusta
by Afro-Cuban All Stars
(World Circuit WCD 0474)

Buena Vista Social Club
by Ry Cooder, Ibrahim Ferrer, Rubén González, Eliades Ochoa, Compay Segundo
(World Circuit WCD 050)

Memories of a golden age: Orquesta America If Latin lovers have been been wondering where all the clave rhythms have gone they should soon be in seventh heaven. Full brass, swinging, sensual rhythms and full-throated vocals are reasons enough to brand these three discs ‘must-haves’.

Collectively, they cover an enormous amount of original Cuban material, offering everything from cha cha cha – invented in the 1940s by Orquesta America’s leader, Enrique Jorrín – to golden age son. Not surprisingly there’s quite a fluid arrangement in terms of musicians – foremost among them Queen of campesina musica Celina González and Cuba’s answer to Piaf, Omara Portuondo.

In offering present-day facsimiles of the great tunes of the 1940s and 1950s these albums refer back to the past just as much as they filter it through new eyes. This is something that’s done in recording studios every day: the difference here is that the directors of all three records have assembled as many original band members as possible, brought them into contact with decent recording facilities and these are the results: music of a timeless and boundless energy. Working its way through interpretations of boleros, danzón, cha cha cha and guaracha-son, Tumi’s handsome Las Leyendas de la Musica Cubana certainly has all bases covered and it forms – along with an excellent accompanying booklet – a great foundation stone for any serious Latin aficionado.

A Toda Cuba le Gusta (All Cuba Likes It) and Buena Vista Social Club are equally well-prepared packages, with extensive sleevenotes and translations on tap. Their originating premises are slightly different: Juan de Marcos González has used the former to recreate the great bands of 40 years ago while the latter is a more contemporary affair. This collaboration between US guitarist-producer Ry Cooder and some pivotal Cuban vocalists – the 89-year-old Compay Segundo among them – was recorded in a whirlwind six days and is a reinterpretation of ballads, son, bolero and some jazz and gospel-influenced numbers. It’s impossible not to be transported back in time by any one of these discs – they evoke sepia photos and hot tropical nights. But above all they celebrate, emphatically and with real spirit, the African, Creole and Spanish diversity of Cuban music. Great party records, every one.

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Reviewers: Louise Gray, Katharine Ainger, Catherine von Ruhland.
Reviews editor: Vanessa Baird

T H E[image, unknown] C L A S S I C

Repossessing Ernestine
...being the search for a lost soul.

A life recovered: Marsha Hunt and her grandmother. Maybe this book struck a strong chord because of my own attempts at retracing family history. My grandfather and his brothers were stonemasons who built the sandstone walls around this area. One of them, Tom, carved a block in the shape of a heart and set it into a wall, upside down. But not for love, and now, nobody knows why. Mystery also surrounded a distant cousin, a beautiful girl ‘taken strange’ in a conservatory, then shipped off to Australia.

All families have secrets but it’s hard to accept that sometimes we cannot know the truth. Marsha Hunt thought her grandmother, the subject of her book Repossessing Ernestine, had spent her life in a Tennessee mental institution from the time when her three sons were young children. Ernestine was said to have been retarded, to be delusional, to have turned violent, to be a vegetable; her mental instability was believed to be hereditary.

Learning that she could be alive, the author sets off on a quest to find her and to uncover the history of a family already bowed down by tragedy. Her father, the eldest son, killed himself at 37. Marsha felt he might have taken up psychiatry in the hope of helping to cure his mother, but her parents being divorced she knew little about him or his family. She discovers that he remarried and his second wife, Roberta, is one new acquaintance who proves to be supportive.

Ernestine received no visitors in 11 years at a Memphis nursing home, but her grand-daughter cannot bring herself to question her family’s reasons for neglect: Guilt? Shame? Fear? Equally, she cannot be deterred in her concern for her grandmother, her need to find out more.

Ernestine must have suffered in a place built for 1,000 patients which housed 2,400; all her teeth had been removed when she was only 30. The horror of it strikes home when Marsha realizes that her cousin Will, a man in the prime of his life, has not yet lived as long as their grandmother spent in an institution: 52 years.

No bigger than a ten year old, Ernestine has withdrawn virtually to the point where she was ‘a deserted house’. She herself can provide no explanations. She says little, though in one poignant scene, she recites the Twenty-third Psalm. Yet she insists she is a white girl, which is also on her admission records. Her generation took pride in being light-skinned, though it is an inescapable reminder of racial miscegenation and slavery; the author even wonders whether her grandmother might reject her because of her own darker skin. Seen as a black servant attending on a white woman rather than somebody looking after her beloved, frail grandmother, Marsha Hunt finds it hard to believe that white people will help her, or to trust what they tell her. ‘They used to do all kinds of things to women…lock [them] up just to stop them talking.’

What had happened to Ernestine, the girl whose old friends admired her, the brilliant and beautiful scholar, with her strangely blue eyes and blonde hair? And was this the reason headmaster Blair T Hunt married her, one of his own students? A highly regarded minister and member of the community, no criticism or comment seems to have been made about him.

Maybe Ernestine suffered postnatal depression – the children were raised in Boston by her mother, Mattie – or was she put away for other reasons? Her husband lived in Memphis for 47 years with his mistress, Harry Mae; divorce wasn’t recognized in Tennessee and they could not marry while his wife was alive. After Blair T Hunt’s death, Harry Mae was responsible for paying his widow’s nursing home bills, but never once left her home to see for herself the conditions in which the other woman had to live. She claimed that as teenagers the boys had told their father they did not wish to visit Ernestine any more, and they did not think he should see her again either.

Though so much remains a mystery, one thing which shines through is the author’s love for her grandmother. She manages to bring Ernestine to England, but it proves impossible to give her the full-time care she needs.

Back in America, there’s some kind of happy ending, with a place for Ernestine in a comfortable nursing home near the family of her son Wilson and visits from her relatives, particularly the younger generation. And photographs, so evocative, show a seemingly spry old lady of 97. They also show Ernestine serious in her graduation robes, playful with her first baby.

Even if not wholly successful, Marsha Hunt never stopped trying to do what she felt was right: for her grandmother, for her father, for herself. By turn, heart-warming and heartrending, her determination is an inspiration.

Carole Baldock
Repossessing Ernestine: The search for a lost soul, by Marsha Hunt is published by Flamingo, 1997. (ISBN 000 6548 75x).

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New Internationalist issue 307 magazine cover This article is from the November 1998 issue of New Internationalist.
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