Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Cairo International Cult Festival

I don't know how to describe what just happened so you get the full effect, so I'll start by saying that you will never be able to understand what we went through today unless you've lived in Cairo, and also been inducted into a cult. How's that for an intriguing introduction?

Yes, it was another crazy day at the Cairo Film Festival, which has become my favorite thing ever. Remember what I said about "Cairo" being synonymous with "low quality"? Today proved that, and the unfortunate victim of this lesson was Harvey Keitel. And then later, it was us.

We showed up early to get good seats for Reservoir Dogs, which wasn't a problem because the place was deserted. Even at 11:56, there were less than twenty people in this large auditorium. I quickly got up to run out and get some popcorn, and I literally ran into Mr. Keitel. He was walking in the door, holding his son, and I was walking out at the same time, so I all but trampled him. I was way too shell-shocked to say anything, so I just quickly jumped out of his way and let him through. He look at the abysmal crowd and joked, "I knew it would be packed in here!"

He stood at the front of the auditorium with an interpreter and his son, and just did a brief introduction for the movie. And it did not go well at all. He was hilarious and classy and very, very nice, but Egypt kind of got the best of him. The microphone was not working, so various Egyptians kept running up to him with other microphones and literally shoving them in his face. None of the mics worked, and he couldn't get through any of Quentin Tarantino-related anecdotes without some moron interrupting him with a new microphone. He was way more patient than I would have been, but eventually he just said, "I can't do this. These people just want to watch the movie, so welcome to Cairo and enjoy." And then he got the hell out of the theater entirely. Thus ended my encounter with Harvey.

Within two minutes after he had left, a man came out and announced something into the broken mic, so none of us understood exactly what he had said. But the gist was that their only copy of Reservoir Dogs was "broken". You'd think at least one person would have thought, "Well, Harvey freaking Keitel flew all the way to Egypt to attend a showing of Reservoir Dogs, so maybe I'll just run up to the film booth quickly and make sure we actually have a copy of the movie on hand." But, of course, they didn't.

Incredibly, Beckett had a copy of Reservoir Dogs back at our apartment. So he volunteered to get in a cab and run to get the disc, which they agreed to, since he was totally saving their asses. So he took off running, and we all sat down to wait. Twenty minutes later, they decide that they are through waiting for him (even though they had called him and found out he was already on his way back), so they were just going to stick another movie in. I think they just assumed we all were there only to see a movie in English, not specifically Reservoir Dogs, because the guy came out front again and said, "We have English movie for you. It's okay, in English." Uh, what? One of the guys sitting next to us asked if they had any movie that Harvey has been in, since that's kind of the point, but I don't think this employee had any clue who we were talking about.

So we just sat and watched Battle for Haditha, which turned out to be really great. It's shot like a documentary, and feels incredibly real, and it shows the events of November 19th, 2005 in Haditha, Iraq, when an IED killed a Marine, and the remaining Marines proceeded to kill 24 men, women, and children. Four of the Marines are currently on trial for murder, so it's an incredibly controversial movie, but it was very well done. So I guess it was a fair trade - I got to see Harvey Keitel, and a good, new movie. But somehow I doubt Harvey will be returning for the 2008 Cairo International Film Festival.

Okay, now comes the insane part. Beckett, Elizabeth, and I convinced Allyson and Megan to come with us to see Spiritual Warriors, which they were all for, because we had visions of rubbing elbows with A-listers like Angelina Jolie and George Clooney. Yes, this was sure to be a grand affair.

We arrived half an hour before the movie started (assuming we'd be fighting for seats if we got there even a minute later), and practically got knocked over by Jsu Garcia himself on the stairs. He seemed all a-fluster, but he recognized us, and said, "Come on, I'll hook you up!" We soon found out he was only trying to sound cool and important, because we followed him up to the theater, which was free to get into anyway.

The theater was in a real Cairo Pandemonium, because - surprise! - the projector wasn't working! So while Jsu ran around like a madman trying to find his DVD copy of it, we stood outside the theater, talking. A kind old woman said to Megan, "Hello. I'm Sally," and instantly I knew that this was Academy Award nominee Sally Kirkland. Megan, of course, did not, and responded in the most condescending, whatever-you-say-crazy-old-lady voice: "Nice to meet you, Sally. I'm Megan." This embarrassment continued for Sally, because I was the only person not affiliated with the movie who knew who she really was. She actually grabbed a reporter and said, "Do you want an interview?" to which he responded, "No thanks." She finally got a couple interviews, and the only parts I could hear of it were her listing off all the hundreds of movies she's done, and repeating, "I'm Oscar nominee Sally Kirkland!" I wanted to push her out the window into the Nile to put her out of her misery. It didn't help that she was wearing a weird crystal between her eyes, which should have been a clear sign that we were getting into something insane.

We schmoozed with the "rich" and "famous" for a while, like movie producer Rick Ojeda, who made an interesting choice of a first impression: flat-out lying. "I'm the Prince of Darkness in this movie," he proudly stated. Which I discovered later was not true. He was actually just a doctor that had one line. Did he think I wouldn't notice that the Prince of Darkness looked nothing like him? Whatever, he was the nicest guy ever, and I may have fallen in love with him a bit. Hey, compared to Sally's craziness sitting next to him, he was marriage material.

Finally the movie was ready to go, so we were ushered into the smallest theater ever, which smelled like hot dog farts. The DVD menu was projected on the screen in front, and I caught the word "subtitle" misspelled as "subtitel". Why did I not recognize any of these signs and escape while I had a chance? Alas, we sat down, listened to Jsu's little introduction, and the movie started.

I really don't know how I'm going to explain this. I'll frequently be cutting in with little insights, straight from the mind of Jsu himself, so bear with me. You know the scene in Lost where they open a door in the Others' complex, and that kid is being brainwashed by really crazy images? Or the brainwashing in A Clockwork Orange? Or have you ever done acid? It was like that.

It started out normal enough. For, like, two seconds. Basically, Jsu played a struggling actor, who also on the side was a drug dealer for the mafia. (Sidenote: Jsu said at the end that the movie was based on real-life experiences. So I guess he was a drug dealer?) He runs from the cops, and decides the best solution to evade the police is to sleep in a bush. He wakes up, and he's in the garden of the strangest old man EVER. This is him:



The old man gives him some tea, deals some cards, and thus ends the semi-cohesive plot. Jsu's forehead splits in two, launching us back in time to the continent of Atlantis. Some crap goes down, the King dies, and every freaking three seconds the King's face is juxtaposed with the old man's. I can't honestly do a scene-by-scene recap of this, as much as I would love to, because I've tried to erase it from my mind. But most of the movie took place in flashbacks - Jsu's "past lives" - to stuff like Camelot, and also two kids were randomly shown being hanged 2000 years ago in Jordan. (This will become a hot issue in the "press conference" afterwards. Hang on, we're getting there.)

One of my favorite parts of the movie (but let's face it, I thoroughly enjoyed all 99 minutes of it) is that every so often scenes would be stopped, and text would appear, showing a quote from the founder of this god-awful cult they're all members of, John Roger. The quotes were all totally nonsensical, but what made it even better was that in case we couldn't read, they had someone reading it to us. We assume it was John Roger himself, because if it wasn't, they should have hired a different actor. The narrator sounded like Dick Clark post-stroke. Seriously, it sounded like half of his mouth was melting. It's hard to not laugh when you hear the narrator of a movie drooling all over himself, but it's even harder when he's saying stuff like this: "If you withhold yourself from your life, you are withholding the support of the Spirit." Or: "Spirit doesn't care because there are no emotional levels in Spirit." Or: "Spiritual Warriors have the Sword of their Heart in front of them." I could go on for days.

This madness continued for an hour and a half. Crazy stuff happened that I will never be able to explain. At one point, he became a full-on angel with wings. But then he did a swan-dive back into his body. There was a wonderful training montage with Jsu and the old man, during which they did stuff like rollerbladed at the beach (seriously) and planted flowers together (again, I'm serious). And then, out of nowhere, Jsu was standing in the middle of this neon blue ocean with all sorts of cities trapped in bubbles around him, and then he hugged a half-naked toddler and cried. An explanation for this scene was never given.

Finally, the final battle between Jsu and the Prince of Darkness (or PoD for short) took place. Just when I thought it couldn't get any better. They each grabbed swords, which turned into Lightsabers (sidenote: Jsu admitted later that Star Wars was, in fact, his inspiration for this scene), and they had a pathetic little battle, before the Prince of Darkness thought, "Wait, what am I doing? I'm the freaking devil!" and just shot a fireball at Jsu, knocking him all the way across the desert as Jsu screamed, "NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" Suddenly, a force field appeared in the middle of the desert, separating Jsu from the PoD, and the force field had the old man's creepy face floating in it! At this moment, I completely lost it and laughed out loud. He gave some words of inspiration, Jsu realized that he was The One (sidenote: Jsu also admitted later that he got this "inspiration" from The Matrix), but the PoD again realized that he's freaking Satan, so he turned into a really terrible computer graphic of a monster. He started stabbing Jsu with his wings and throwing him all around, while the old man's face appeared on the sides of mountains, encouraging Jsu. Then I looked down for two seconds to try to hide my laughter, and somehow the PoD had been magically transformed into a cockroach! Problem solved!

It's really, really impossible to get the full effect of the movie without seeing it, but I hope I did it a little bit of justice. If you were confused by my description, I served my purpose well - we had to run out of the theater to avoid laughing in front of Jsu.

After the movie, we had our pathetic little "press conference" with Jsu, one of the producers named Fadal, and Sally. (One last sidenote: I don't know why Sally came all the way to Egypt, because she was literally in the movie for 45 seconds.) The first question that was asked was honestly this: "It was so deep and spiritual that I think we're going to have to watch it again to fully understand it. Can we watch it again?" I almost crapped my pants. After that, since we were the only Americans in the audience, the conference went into total Arabic, with Fadal answering all the questions, since he's Egyptian. Every once in a while Jsu would make him translate so we could understand what was going on, but Fadal would only translate part of the question before cutting himself off to answer it, so what we got only confused us more. The conference only lasted for about fifteen minutes, but these people had some insane questions. Two women actually started yelling about the fact that the two little Jordanian kids that had been killed 2000 years ago were not wearing historically-accurate costumes. They got in a good three-minute fight with Jsu and Fadal about it. On the list of offenses this movie committed, inaccurate costuming is near the bottom. Then someone else asked a question, and Fadal answered, and then the guy said something else to which Fadal again responded, so Jsu asked, "What the hell are you saying?" Fadal said: "He's asking about Israel and Palestine," and then they got in a big fight in Arabic. What? Why is he asking you about this right now? Then someone else asked a question, and Fadal answered, but translated the question for us: "He's asking about my village which was destroyed by conquerors." By this point, I was waiting for someone to jump out and shout, "Gotcha!" and reveal the hidden cameras.

Jsu allowed only one more question, and then just as we were about to be set free, Sally finally spoke up and said, "Wait, I have a question for the Americans." My heart sank. "What did you feel when you watched this movie? Did you feel anything in your heart and soul? Tell me about your experiences." She was met with total silence for nearly 30 seconds, before Megan - always the one ready to debate someone - responded with, "I actually just have a question. I know why you made this movie - it was an intensely personal, spiritual movie that was all about what was going on in you, and I can see you got a lot out of making it. But what did you expect us, as an audience, to get from it?" Translation: "It sucked." He responded with some bullcrap about it being a "love letter to us and to John Roger", and then we got the hell out of that place.

It kills me to have to write bad things about these people and their movie, because Rick, Fadal, Sally, and of course Jsu were incredibly nice people and I wanted oh so badly to like their movie. But... they can't be serious with this madness. Here's the worst part: I really, really need a copy of the DVD. I haven't wanted anything this badly since yesterday, when I saw the Egyptian wearing the sweater that had "SuperFab" sewn into the back of it. So... I think I'm going back to see it again tomorrow. It's the final showing, so I'm going to offer Jsu some money for the copy of the DVD, since they won't need it anymore. (Unless it's the only copy in the world, considering the only way you can see the movie is if Jsu personally comes to your city and does one of these awkward personal showings.) So if I actually have the balls to go and sit through the movie again, I could end up with a copy of the greatest movie of all time, and most likely get it signed, too. The bad news is that they'll probably be convinced that I'm very serious about the religion now, and will do their best to convert me. But I guess that would make for another interesting story.

1 comment:

Geoff said...

We HAVE to watch this together! See you in a couple weeks!