Lawrence Toppman

Why I drove to Winston in a thunderstorm

An optometrist confronts the Indonesian authoroties who killed his brother in “The Look of Silence.”
An optometrist confronts the Indonesian authoroties who killed his brother in “The Look of Silence.” Courtesy of Drafthouse Films

As I’d promised myself, I drove to Winston-Salem Sunday, despite a downpour that made driving hairy and walking uncomfortable. On the other hand, the rain made sitting in movie theaters all day a satisfying activity.

I got up at 7 a.m., which I think I last did on a Sunday to take an Air Force ROTC physical in 1973. I came back a bit earlier than planned, as I thought I might doze through a fourth film on so little sleep. In between, I made visits to Indonesia, Japan and Ukraine.

RiverRun International Film Festival has lived up to its name more and more in recent years. Sure enough, festival director Andrew Rodgers and his small (mostly volunteer staff) ferreted out three worthwhile pictures for my Sunday alone – out of 165 total over the 11-day event, which concludes April 26.

I started with “The Look of Silence,” director Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow-up to his Oscar-nominated “The Act of Killing.” Both documentaries are about military leaders who overthrew the Indonesian government 50 years ago, slaughtered the communist opposition and brag now about their brutal acts of “patriotism” – even when confronted by an optometrist whose brother got chopped up and thrown in a river.

Then came “Still the Water,” about two Japanese teenagers who find each other amid family angst and the discovery of a corpse on an island full of fisherman. Naomi Kawase’s film overextends itself somewhat but remains lyrical and, in the quietest scenes, touching.

I ended with “The Tribe,” which must be the only film shot entirely in sign language without subtitles or dubbing. I managed to follow about 80 percent of Miroslav Slaboshpitsky’s drama about life at a Ukrainian school for the deaf, where a headmaster countenances the pimping of female students and male students rip off and brutalize each other and passers-by. A tough sit, as we say in the business, but a compelling one – and I hear the Charlotte Film Society’s Back Alley Film Series may bring it here.

These movies won’t be repeated at RiverRun, but you’re likely to find winners almost any day you go. The fun ends Sunday.

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