What to Watch, What to Read and What to Listen to… in October 2021

A couple of excellent videos to watch.  First is Huda’s Salon.  My son Omri sent a showing from the Toronto International Film Festival as a gift. In this recent Palestinian feature film, one can see the pressure the Palestine Authority exacts on Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.  We can also see the hand of Israel’s Mossad in pushing the PA to find Palestinians, who for a price, are willing to rat on their neighbours.  In a Q&A at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Hany Abu-Assad, the writer and director, talks about exploring the contradictions among people – especially those who live under occupation.  A Palestinian, Abu-Assad was born in Nazareth, in Israel proper, and grew up in the Netherlands.  He notes, if there is no betrayal, there’s no trust. 

Unlike many films that are suspenseful and politically charged, the lead characters in Huda’s Salon are both women.  There is Huda, a 50-year-old hairdresser in Bethlehem, and Reem – her 20-something regular client who comes to the salon one afternoon for a hair trim, and brings her baby daughter Lina with her.  

Street scene and market in Bethlehem, 2019. Credit: Issy Croker, The Guardian

The film’s first ten minutes are benign — even banal.  The two women chat about babies and weddings. But then something so shocking happens that the safety for both women comes to an absolute halt. Here is the trailer.

Filmmaker Abu-Assad has been nominated twice for an Oscar – of course being Palestinian, Hollywood’s moguls never gave it to him.  I did see one of his earlier films Paradise Now (2004), which is available in public libraries and elsewhere. It’s good. Here’s the trailer.

There is a brand new film made by the Electronic Intifada which is a good source of information and spirited discussion on Palestine.  The film is called Why Anti-Zionism is not Anti-Semitism . It’s excellent, especially from 15.00 minutes onward in the 26 minute film. The filmmaker explains about the problems with the IHRA (see IJV Canada’s discussion about it here) and the 7 out of 11 examples which stomp on free speech, academic freedom and fly in the face of any logic.  This film is well worth watching. 

Two nicely done films on Omeleto I’d recommend.  The first, a British film that clocks in at just under 20 minutes is called Stealing Silver.  An angry young woman is tasked with keeping an eye on an elderly man who lives across the street from her in London.  In a very few minutes, we glimpse a few things about her and her life.  She has to check up on an octogenarian whom she’s never taken an interest in previously.  Here it is.

Below: Scenes from Stealing Silver

We Want Our Money Back is a delightful 6 minute video from Omeleto.  A 30-something year old couple in New York who have recently split up decide to visit their therapist and demand a refund for all the money they spent – which (in their view) was wasted.  This is both funny and pathetic – wonderful! Here it is.

Britbox never disappoints me.  There are two seasons of McDonald & Dodds.  Detective Inspector Lauren McDonald is a high ranking and energetic police detective who draws the short straw and is transferred from London’s east end to the Bath police department.  Here is the trailer. She, as a black detective, is testy, glib, and not very empathetic.  She has to work with DS Dodds, a lower ranked detective, in his 50s.  The top brass is pushing McDonald to pressure Dodds to retire.  He bumbles and fumbles throughout the series.  Though assiduous is his deference to McDonald’s authority, he manages to solve crimes by thinking beyond the tunnel-vision of most police.   Part of the delight in this series is seeing the English countryside and the beauty of the buildings in historic Bath.  It’s a real treat.  

McDonald & Dodds (Credit: Amazon.com)

I’m also stuck on MI-5.  This series produced over 10 seasons starting in the years just after 9-11. The series tries to make MI-5 (the British CIA) look more noble, more sympathetic and more just than its US counterpart.  Here’s a trailer. There are dozens of one hour episodes in the series, and it can get a bit tedious, but the scripts are tight and well-written.  And sometimes there is a glimmer of left politics that suddenly leaps out.  Not bad, and good to watch before bed.

What to Read…

I’ve just read Five Little Indians by Michelle Good.  This novel won the 2020 Governor General’s Award for English-language fiction– and well it should have.  The characters are unforgettable. It’s a vivid recounting of the horrors of residential schools – in BC called Indian Schools.  Most of the action takes place in Vancouver where we find out about the splintered family relationships and the discrimination in employment the Indigenous young people faced.   One of the five became “active” in the American Indian Movement of the ‘70s, and that part is amazing.  You must read it.

Photos: below refugees landing on Greek island 2015 (Reddit.com); photo of Omar El Akkad; book cover; photo of author Michelle Good; book cover.

Canadian Omar El Akkad’s newest book, What Strange Paradise, is on the long list for the Giller Prize. It’s brilliant. I liked the political bits, especially his understanding of the Muslim views and acerbic comments on “the west”.  On the face of it, the book is about two children who are on the run. The boy is on the run as an illegal washed up after a shipwreck on an unnamed Greek Island. His uncle and he tried to escape a draining life as refugees on the streets of Alexandria, Egypt. The girl, born and raised on the island, decides to help him. But the book is about politics, it’s about the hundred of thousands of refugees every year who try to make their way in Europe. It’s about men — the smugglers, the military, the police and border security guards. Excellent.

“The Working Class has had enough” is a useful article in Maclean’s here .  Published a week before the federal election, writer Shannon Proudfoot explores issues of race, culture and desperation of working people in Canada.  She is sympathetic and much of what she says needs to be said.

Who knew that The Promised Land was in China? In Shanghai, a women’s activity centre called The Promised Land features male companions who listen to women. This is not exactly an escort service, but something close. Women – many of whom call themselves feminists – are served by butlers, who fetch them food and drinks, watch movies and play board games with them. All for about $60 an hour.  Sounds great – no commitment, no meal prep and no strings.

Another piece of good news is that Maggie’s, Toronto Sex Worker Action Project just joined a union, the 700,000 member-strong CUPE. There are a number of issues, the big one being Maggie’s push for sex work to be legalized. 

What to Listen To…

The Guardian’s Long Read  “Has a lone Palestinian aid worker been falsely accused of the biggest aid money heist in history?” is a brilliant 45 minute podcast about a man from Gaza called Mohammed El Halabi.  El Halabi, 43, has languished in an Israeli jail for more than five years for a crime he very probably never committed.  Working as a manager of operations for World Vision in Gaza, El Halabi was accused by the Israelis of siphoning aid money to Hamas.  Not only did El Halabi not support or work with Hamas, several audits – including a professional one that cost World Vision (one of the world’s largest charities) nearly $7 million revealed there was no theft of money at all.  Israel’s Mossad, and various dirty tricks feature in the framing of this man who has a wife and five children and has been told by lawyers to plead guilty regardless – or he’ll never get out of jail. El Halabi’s father, Khalil El Halabi, a UNRWA aid worker for 40 plus years, has written a moving article in The Guardian about his son’s tragic situation here.

DEMONSTRATORS IN Gaza City protest in 2016 in solidarity with Mohammad El Halabi, who was accused of funneling millions of dollars of aid money to Hamas.
(photo credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/REUTERS)

Just heard something politically useful on the podcast They Walk Among Us.  This is a UK series about true crime. Normally episodes concerns murder and mayhem.  This episode here has to do with the current British anti-terrorism legislation.  In 2020, a university student of criminology and sociology amassed thousands of documents, websites, papers and other printed materials of an ultra-right, anti-semitic, pro-fascist nature.  He had downloaded the materials onto his laptop and many USB-drives.

The young man was lonely, bored and didn’t fit in. He claims he read about Nazis, their history and other right-wing groups.  He also read and downloaded the Anarchists’ Handbook II – a re-issue of the original from the ‘70s. He stored the chapters on bombmaking. 

He did nothing active; he was in no groups and met with no one.  He was passive, he just read, and stored fascist writing. He claimed he did not support fascism.  The police charged him under the anti-terrorist laws, and what happened to him in court was both alarming and very telling.  If you are interested in civil liberties, you must listen. It’s only 30 min. long. Listen here.

Canadaland is starting its new Commons series Mining, the “dirty business of Canadian mining” on Oct. 13.  If it’s as good as their other series, such as Police (brilliant) and Real Estate – it will be dynamite.  I’m still highly recommend Canadaland’s White Saviors series for an inside look at the Trudeau family, WE charity and its demise.

Selected Shorts had two fascinating short stories about mothers and motherhood.  Non-sentimental, but poignant somehow and worth listening to here—they are each read by great actors.

Wrongful Conviction Podcast (number 80)  is about the wrongful conviction Atif Rafay and 25 year imprisonment (he’s still in jail.  Listen here. Rafay is Canadian.  In 1994, just after his first year as a philosophy student at Cornell University, Rafay and his best friend visited his parents for a weekend at their home in Bellevue, Washington.  The family had recently moved from Vancouver to Bellevue. The two young men discovered the grisly sight of his parents and sister savagely murdered in the family home.  The police, with assistance of the RCMP, frame the two students.  Their convictions were based on a bizarre Mr Big operation, which though illegal in the US, is perfectly legal in Canada.  The podcast examines evidence that Atif’s father, Dr Rafay, a moderate Muslim, was threatened (and likely killed) by a group of religious criminals who opposed Rafay’s leadership.  If this sounds far-fetched, you have to listen to this episode –Incredible and shocking. 

Featured Image above: In July 2018, immediately before Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi’s release from jail, two Italian artists and a Palestinian were arrested and the Italians banned from the country for 10 years for painting a 4-metre image of the teenage icon near Bethlehem. Their identity remained unknown until Italian street artist Agostino Chirwin (aka Jorit Agoch) came forward as the artist. Tamimi was released after an eight-month sentence she received after ‘assaulting’ two Israeli soldiers in December 2017 after her 15-year old cousin Mohamed Tamimi was shot in the head during a demonstration against the expansion of settlements. For more about Tamimi, read my article published in Rabble.ca here.

Featured image photo courtesy of AFP, Ahmed Gharabli. 

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