Political Film Society - Newsletter #183 - November 1, 2003

November 1, 2003


Emerald CowboyColombia is the world's main source of emeralds. In the Colombian biopic Emerald Cowboy, based on his biography, a twentysomething Eishy Hayata (played by Luis Velasco), an American citizen born in Tokyo, one day decides to visit Colombia. On learning firsthand that miners are selling purloined emeralds on the streets near the mines, he becomes so fascinated with the emerald industry that he abandons his airline engineering job in Los Angeles to live in Bogotá, and in 25 years is the chief executive officer of the world's top emerald company. He finds new emerald mines in the Andes, pays his employees handsomely, and manages accounts of perhaps the most profitable legitimate business in Colombia. Over the years, Colombia changes drastically, with guns increasingly providing order rather than the law. Hayata, therefore, encounters security problems as he navigates his empire amid scam artists, rival emerald merchants, guerrillas, kidnappers, corrupt officials, the cocaine cartel, and labor unions. On March 25, 1995, ultranationalist members of a phony union seek to shut down his business. Hayata is vulnerable because he retains his American citizenship, though his spouse is Colombian (played by Carolina Aristizabal), so the government investigates Hayata to find wrongdoing, thus satisfying the ultranationalists, but he responds that his family is Colombian and that so is he in spirit. Hayata does not back down to threats. His fists fly at unionists trying to block his office on an upper floor of a Bogotá building, and his associates join in, resulting in a retreat of the ultranationalists to the ground floor just in time for police to come to Hayata's rescue. On November 1, 1998, his Colombian daughter begs Hayata to take her to the emerald mines before her high school graduation. Although warning her of the danger of the excursion, she insists. On exiting from the mine, an armed band indeed attacks the Hayata party. Outnumbered, Hayata escapes with his daughter, yet they find their way back to the car that they use for the trip. His daughter then graduates on schedule from a high school in Colombia, bound for Harvard University. What is remarkable about the film, which the Political Film Society has nominated as best film exposé of 2003, is that the older Hayata stiffly plays himself. Filmed in handheld digital, the film is a quasidocumentary, codirected by Hayata and Andrew Molina. In 2000, Hayata fell into a coma from a gunshot wound. Emerald Cowboy serves as his epitaph and eulogy. MH

Beyond BordersAccording to Sarah Jordan (played by Angelina Jolie) in Beyond Borders, there are some 50 million refugees in the world; the United Nations High Commission for Refugees handles half, and various nongovernmental organizations cope with what they can of the rest. Directed by Martin Campbell, the film is dedicated to the refugees and the aid workers, whose courage makes life possible where hope is almost lost. The principal focus is on Dr. Nick Callahan (played by Clive Owen), who represents a courageous NGO, presumably Medicines sans Frontières. The story begins in 1984 at a banquet of a fictional Aid Relief Organization in London. After Sarah's father-in-law receives praise for generous donations to the organization. Callahan bursts into the banquet hall with an emaciated ten-year-old Ethiopian boy whose condition provokes tears from Sarah. Having just returned from Ethiopia with the boy, Callahan lambastes the organization for spending funds on the banquet but has nothing for a very real crisis in Ethiopia, where millions are starving and dying from disease. Soon, Callahan and the boy are arrested for the intrusion. Callahan is released after being taken to a police station. The boy, sent to an alien detention center, manages to escape; the next day he is found dead from overexposure to the cold. Sarah then decides to cash in her life savings, go to Ethiopia to see conditions for herself, and, before the film ends, she ends up visiting similar non-UNHCR refugee camps in Cambodia in 1989 and Chechnya in 1995 (though the actual locations are Kenya and Canada). What filmviewers learn is that UNHCR helps only the politically correct refugees; the most desperate cases are left for the NGOs, which are understaffed and undersupplied, often in war zones. Although Dr. Callahan speaks quite harshly to Sarah about her unexpected presence in Ethiopia, both before and after she delivers to him several thousand dollars in traveler's checks, she falls in love with him for his courage amid impossible conditions. Since she can only observe, Sarah leaves but hopes to learn of Dr. Callahan's whereabouts in the future. On returning to London, she resigns from her job in an art gallery to assume a position at UNHCR. Her visits to Dr. Callahan in 1989 and 1995 occur after her sister Charlotte (played by Teri Polo) tracks him down; each time, she leaves her loving husband Henry Bauford (played by Linus Roache) and family. One of the children whom she leaves behind is conceived while she is with Dr. Callahan in a Khmer Rouge-controlled zone within Cambodia, so one purpose of the 1995 visit is to inform him that he has a daughter. Filmviewers will correctly expect that one of the two or both will die in the end, given the hazardous conditions of aiding victims of wars, and the story appears rather amateurish in combining Saving Private Ryan (1988) with Tears of the Sun (2002). Nevertheless, the conditions depicted on the screen of Ethiopia, Cambodia, and Chechnya are so stark that the Political Film Society has nominated Beyond Borders for an award as best film exposé of the year as well as best film in raising consciousness about both human rights and peace. MH