A campus film series dubbed Reel Evil made its contentious debut in February and continued through mid-April. The series featured a selection of six films made in countries regarded as hostile to the United States, including three that constitute a cinematic "Axis of Evil."
" We know how [President]Bush sees the 'Axis of Evil,'" says co-curator Negar Mottahedeh, assistant professor of literature. "How does someone from within that Axis see his or her own everyday life?"
Among the films are A Time for Drunken Horses (Iraq), a bizarre tale of Kurdish orphans who smuggle truck tires across the Iraqi border in order to pay for their youngest sibling's life-saving surgery. Their work, hauling loads through icy mountain passes, is so grueling that the pack horses will only make the trip when drunk. Pulgasari (North Korea) is the story of a Godzilla-like monster that helps a group of farmers overthrow their tyrannical despot. The film was produced by North Korean president Kim Jong Il and directed by Jhong Gon Jo of South Korea, whom Kim ordered kidnapped and then forced to make the film. After finishing the film, Jhong fled to the United States, and Pulgasari was banned by Kim.
Ten (Iran) is a collection of ten, semi-improvised conversations among five people--a woman, her sister, her son, a drifting prostitute, and a ditched bride--as they navigate the streets of Tehran and, in discussion, the male-dominated sociopolitical landscape of Iran.
The series finale, the most controversial of the group, was 11/09/01--September 11, which some have deemed unpatriotic, but which, after much debate, was shown in Duke's Griffith Film Theater in April. In the film, eleven internationally renowned filmmakers reflect on the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Each film had to be nine minutes and eleven seconds, plus exactly one additional frame.
Upon its arrival, Reel Evil garnered considerable media attention. NPR, CNN Headline News, and Fox, among others, interviewed Mottahedeh and co-curator Miriam Cooke, professor of Asian and African languages and literature at Duke and co-director of the Center for the Study of Muslim Networks.
Duke literature professor and writer Ariel Dorfman calls the films "sobering windows into worlds of the imagination that have been classified as belonging to the enemy." Says Mottahedeh, "The global nature of film and the dominance of the West within that industry mean that everyone else's perception is influenced by what the dominant media portray. This is true even when Hollywood depicts countries and cultures it knows little about. A movie by a native filmmaker is not necessarily an authentic representation of the country, but it is nonetheless an attempt at self-definition."
During an NPR interview it was pointed out that Pulgasari was not made by a native filmmaker but instead by a kidnapped one, who must have been under quite a bit of pressure. "Well," Mottahedeh responded, "It's not that great a film."