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2018 World Cup Group Stage: Draw Time

World Cup Draw

It’s right there on FIFA’s website on how much it took to determine the 32 qualifiers for next year’s World Cup: thirty months, six confederations, 209 teams, 868 matches played, and 2454 goals scored. All 31 available berths up for grabs were decided by November 15th. December 1st was the day to decide the four teams for all eight groups for the World Cup.

Qualifying for the World Cup is already enough of a battle. The respective continent’s confederations contested their matches conducted their own qualifying format for deciding their qualifiers for the World Cup. There were even two countries that qualified via a ‘wildcard’ berth where they’d have to play a team from another continent twice. The thirty-two qualifying countries were all decided more than two weeks ago. The qualifying rounds made a lot of news for those that qualified, but those that didn’t got a lot of news of their own too. The second-round qualifying matches for the CAF saw two of Africa’s best-ever teams–Nigeria and Cameroon– pitted against each other. Only one can qualify and it ended up being Nigeria. Another surprise was the Ivory Coast being surprised by Morocco and Ghana being overtaken by Egypt. Asia didn’t have many surprises, but Qatar finished last in the Second Round group. Not good since they will be hosting in 2022. The CONMEBOL almost saw the non-qualification of Argentina, but they recovered to win their last game and qualify. Instead the most shocking non-qualifier was 2015 and 2016 Copa America winner Chile which was third the day before the final game for all teams.

The biggest shockers in qualifying came from the CONCACAF and Europe. On the last day of CONCACAF qualifying, all the USA needed to do to qualify was beat Trinidad and Tobago in their last game. It was something they could do as Trinidad would finish last of the Final 6. Instead the USA lost 2-1. That was enough for them to kiss their qualification chances goodbye as Panama beat Costa Rica 2-1 to qualify and Honduras beat Mexico 3-2 to earn a berth in the interconfederation playoff against Australia. Europe had some of the biggest shockers as The Netherlands didn’t even qualify for a UEFA playoff round and Italy thwarted their playoff against Sweden losing 1-0 the first game and a scoreless draw the next. Russia 2018 will be the first World Cup since 1958 in which Italy didn’t qualify and only the third World Cup ever with Italy absent!

Now enough of this World Cup’s also-rans. On with those that qualified. Twenty of the 32 teams for Russia 2018 played in Brazil 2014. Brazil makes it 21 for 21. All former World Cup winners except for Italy will be present. The team with the longest absence making a return to the World Cup stage in 2018 is Peru whose last World Cup appearance was back in 1982. There are only two countries that will make their World Cup debut in Russia: Iceland and Panama. Iceland is especially noteworthy as it has become the first nation with a population of less than 1 million to qualify for a World Cup! Actually there aren’t even half a million people living in the nation of Iceland so that makes it even more remarkable.

Now onto the draw. The draw was held Friday at 18:00 Moscow time at the Kremlin. Legends from all eight countries that have won the World Cup in the past were present: Laurent Blanc, Diego Maradona, Gordon Banks, Cafu, Miroslav Klose, Fabio Cannavaro, Diego Forlan and Carles Puyol. Gary Lineker was host of the event and Russian legend Nikita Simonyan was also part of the event, Vladimir Putin was defintely in attendance, an d the Igor Moiseyev Ballet provided the performance before the draw.

Now on to the draw. In the past, FIFA has organized the pots to give appropriate correlation with continents and availability. FIFA wants the eight groups of four to be a case of no more than two European teams and only one team of the other confederations. There are fourteen European teams (UEFA) including host Russia, five South American teams (CONMEBOL), three teams from North and Central America and the Caribbean (CONCACAF), five African teams (CAF) and five teams from the AFC (Asia and Australia).

FIFA also wants to create better parity among the groups. FIFA doesn’t want a case of two or three top-ranked teams in a group as only two can advance past the Group Stage. We all remember the dreaded Group D of 2014 which consisted of three top-ranked teams. This time around FIFA decided to break the draw into four pots of eight. The pots are all based on the teams’ FIFA World Ranking as of October 2017, regardless of continent. The only exception being Russia as the host nation is always automatically in Group A. Here’s how the pots break down with their confederation listed and their ranking in brackets:

POT 1:

  • Russia – UEFA (65)
  • Germany – UEFA (1)
  • Brazil – CONMEBOL (2)
  • Portugal – UEFA (3)
  • Argentina – CONMEBOL (4)
  • Belgium – UEFA (5)
  • Poland – UEFA (6)
  • France – UEFA (7)

POT 2:

  • Spain – UEFA (8)
  • Peru – CONMEBOL (10)
  • Switzerland – UEFA (11)
  • England – UEFA (12)
  • Colombia – CONMEBOL (13)
  • Mexico – CONCACAF (16)
  • Uruguay – CONMEBOL (17)
  • Croatia – UEFA (18)

POT 3:

  • Denmark – UEFA (19)
  • Iceland – UEFA (21)
  • Costa Rica – CONCACAF (22)
  • Sweden – UEFA (25)
  • Tunisia – CAF (28)
  • Egypt – CAF (30)
  • Senegal – CAF (32)
  • Iran – AFC (34)

POT 4:

  • Serbia – UEFA (38)
  • Nigeria – CAF (41)
  • Australia – AFC (43)
  • Japan – AFC (44)
  • Morocco – CAF (48)
  • Panama – CONCACAF (49)
  • South Korea – AFC (62)
  • Saudi Arabia – AFC (63)

As you can tell by the pot arrangements, they’re trying to make the contest as balanced as possible.In addition, FIFA knows the top seeded teams are Team 1 in each group–host nation being Team A1– but FIFA still wants a drawn ball in all cases to make it official, even drawing the order of the last group team drawn. That explains all those red balls at the beginning of the draw; to make defaults official. Confederation rules still apply as far as maximums per group. Pot 1 had six UEFA teams and Pot 2 had four. It could have been a case where four groups could have reached their maximum two for UEFA teams by the time Pot 2 was all drawn out. Instead it was just two groups with UEFA berths completed. Drawing teams and placing them in the right groups was not as hard and tedious as I had anticipated. In the end, all eight groups had their teams drawn and allotted with only minor complications which were sorted out with ease:

GROUP A:

  • Russia
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Egypt
  • Uruguay

GROUP B:

  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • Morocco
  • Iran

GROUP C:

  • France
  • Australia
  • Peru
  • Denmark

GROUP D:

  • Argentina
  • Iceland
  • Croatia
  • Denmark

GROUP E:

  • Brazil
  • Switzerland
  • Costa Rica
  • Serbia

GROUP F:

  • Germany
  • Mexico
  • Sweden
  • South Korea

GROUP G:

  • Belgium
  • Panama
  • Tunisia
  • England

GROUP H:

  • Poland
  • Senegal
  • Colombia
  • Japan

So those are the groups for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. It makes for some interesting analyses. The draw usually tries to make for the host nation to have an easy time qualifying to the knockout phase. Russia has a good group with only Uruguay looking to be a real threat to them. Group B is most interesting not because of the challenge of the teams, but of the geography: Spain, Portugal and Morocco! The draw was aimed so that there could be better parity among ranked teams, but there are possibilities of a ‘Group Of Death’ or two. First bet is Group D; Croatia and Iceland are underdogs that can cause a surprise, and Nigeria meet Argentina for the fifth time out of six World Cups. The second potential Group Of Death could be Group F with Germany and Mexico plus possible upsets coming from either Sweden or South Korea.

And there you go. That’s the Final Draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The teams now have six months to prepare themselves and be among the top two to advance. Lots of excitement guaranteed.

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2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup: Group E Focus

I’m sure that when some of you hear me talk about a controversy about this World Cup, it’s about the recent bombshell about the arrests of FIFA members. It’s not. I’m going to save that for another blog just like I’m saving the topic of women’s football for a separate blog. In this blog, here’s my review of Group E with another stadium focus and another issue focus:

GROUP E:

Spain Fixed-Spain (14): This will be Spain’s first Women’s World Cup. Spain’s women are relatively inexperienced to  major competition. They’ve never played in an Olympics before either. Nevertheless ‘La Roja’ do have some accolades like a third-place finish at the 1997 Women’s Euro and a quarterfinals finish at the last one in 2013. They’ve also had an impressive play record in the past two years with only a single loss to Norway in 2013 and wins against Italy, the Czech Republic and Belgium. Spain may just be a future power in women’s football.

Brazil-Brazil (7): When women’s football started making a name for itself in the 1990’s, it was North America and Asia that were the leaders. Countries from South America and most European countries still thought of football as strictly a man’s game and had lackluster women’s teams to show for it. Since then the continents have been taking women’s football more seriously. If there’s one country that has shown the most progress, it’s Brazil.

The Brazilian men without a doubt have the biggest legacy of any football country. The Brazilian women have really made strides to become one of the best in the world these last 15 years. They were finalists at the 2007 World Cup and achieved 3rd place in 1999. They also have two Olympic silver medals and have won the Copa America Feminina all but once. They even produced a player that can be called ‘The Female Pele,’ Marta, with five FIFA Women’s World Player Of The Year awards.

Even though Brazil has become one of the best in the last couple of decades, they still have some noticeable ‘weak spots.’ For starters, they’ve never won against England or France. Secondly, they lost to Germany twice this year. Nevertheless Brazil has been impressive these past twelve months. They’ve ties the U.S. and they’ve had wins against China, Sweden and Switzerland. Canada will be both another proving point for Brazil and a learning experience for Rio 2016.

Costa Rica-Costa Rica (37): Another of the two debut teams of this Group E. True, Costa Rica have never played in a world Cup or an Olympics before but they are a team whose cred is growing slowly but surely. They’ve been impressive during the CONCACAF Women’s Gold Cup with three semi-final finishes and were finalists at the last one in 2014.Despite their lack of experience on the world stage, they do have a promising team with four players playing for either American professional teams or American colleges.

I know I’ve talked a lot about countries here to learn. We shouldn’t forget women’s football is still growing, especially in continents where play has been denied a lot in the past. We should keep in mind Costa Rica is the first Central American country to qualify for the Women’s World Cup. Like the other ‘learning’ teams, Costa Rica really has nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Korea-South Korea (18): South Korea’s men are the tops of Asian countries in football. South Korea’s women have long been relegated to second-fiddle to China and Japan but they’re seeking to improve over the years. They’ve never qualified for an Olympics and they’ve made only one previous World Cup appearance back in 2003. However they have some accolades of their own like four semi-final finishes at the AFC Asian Cup and bronze medals at the last two Asian Games.

Their play has been 50/50 this year as they beat Russia and tied Belgium but lost to Canada and Scotland. 2015 should help boost the team for a brighter future.

MY PREDICTION: I predict Brazil to win Group E with South Korea coming in second. Third-place was a tough prediction. I predict Spain, based on their experience. Mind you anything can happen.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

-EDMONTON: Commonwealth StadiumEskimos

Year Opened: 1978

World Cup Capacity: 56,302

World Cup Groups Hosting: A,C,D

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16, Quarterfinal, Semifinal, Third-Place

The Stadium was opened in 1978 in time for the Commonwealth Games Edmonton hosted. Since then it has served as the venue for the Edmonton Eskimos football team and occasionally the FC Edmonton soccer team. The Stadium is the biggest of the six hosting matches for the FIFA World Cup which explains why Canada’s first two Group Stage matches will be held here. The stadium has undergone two renovations: the first in 2001 in time for the World Athletic Championships which included a new scoreboard, an enlarged concourse and a new track. The second in 2008 which experienced a reconfiguration and a turf replacement. Outside of their main sports teams, the stadium has hosted many concerts and has also hosted many soccer friendlies for both Canada’s men’s and women’s teams.

THE TURF ISSUE

The World Cup may be building in excitement but hard to believe a year ago there was a controversy brewing with threats of boycotts. The reason was because all six stadiums will be using some form of artificial turf. why does it matter? Many believe artificial turf makes players more prone to injuries. 50 players protested the use of turf on the basis of gender discrimination. Seems odd to me to think that getting them to play on turf is a form of discrimination. Keep in mind it’s FIFA regulation that the men’s World Cup matches all be contested on grass.

There was even a lawsuit claiming FIFA would never have the men play on ‘unsafe’ artificial turf and is a violation of the Canadian Human Rights Charter. The suit filed in October 2014 in Ontario even pointed how FIFA demanded stadiums in the United States to replace the artificial turf with grass even if it meant extra millions in expenses. The lawsuit had supporters like Tom Hanks, Kobe Bryant and U.S. men’s team goalkeeper Tim Howard. FIFA’s head of women’s competitions Tatjana Haenni made it firm: “We play on artificial turf and there’s no Plan B.” The lawsuit was eventually dropped in January of this year. All the stadiums have kept the turfs they had.

Despite its firm stance, FIFA has not hesitated to discuss the issue. In fact FIFA.com did an interview with Professor Eric Harrison. Harrison, who was assigned by FIFA to inspect the pitches of the six stadiums between September 29th to October 8th of last year, was given a Q&A about his findings, the various football turfs and even injury rick. He gave his answers on why Canadians stadiums have artificial turf (Canada’s extreme weather conditions), the various turfs classified by FIFA and if there’s any difference int he frequency of injury (Harrison claims there’s no real difference). For the complete interview, click here.

And there you go. My focus on Group E and bonuses. That only means one last group to review. Coming Sunday.

WORKS CITED:

FIFA.com Staff. “Harrison: Football Turf is Integral to Canada 2015” FIFA.com. 23 October 2014<http://www.fifa.com/womensworldcup/news/y=2014/m=10/news=harrison-football-turf-is-integral-to-canada-2015-2461003.html>

WIKIPEDIA: 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Wikipedia.com. 2015. Wikimedia Foundation Inc.<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_FIFA_Women%27s_World_Cup>

VIFF 2013 Review: Felix

Hlayani Junior Mabasa (right) plays Felix, A South African boy with jazz dreams.

Hlayani Junior Mabasa (right) plays Felix, A South African boy with jazz dreams.

The last film I saw from the Vancouver Film Festival repeats was Felix. Felix is an entertaining movie of a South African boy with musical talents. How entertaining is it?

Felix Xaba is a 13 year-old Zulu boy gifted in music as he’s an expert at the pennywhistle. He lives in a Zulu area of Cape Town. His mother Lindiwe or ‘Lindy’ wants her children to have the success she never had so she is able to get Felix accepted into an exclusive all-boys prep school. This comes thanks to the help of Mr. Soames: a rich white man whom Lindy is his maid and is a former graduate of that school. Fitting in is not that easy especially since there is a lot of elitist attitudes amongst some of the richer boys of his classrom, especially Junior whom he ranks Felix as NOCD: ‘Not Our Class Dear.’ A punch from Junior during rugby practice leaves Felix with a bad first day. Further ostracism is felt days later when Felix is mocked for his green bag.

Felix does find his way. He does make friends with the big but shy Ricardo and the awkwardly friendly and goofy Samuel. They’re frequently at odds with the ‘elite’ clique of Junior, Marshall and Rocky. Felix wants to make the school’s jazz ensemble but can’t with the pennywhistle. Jazz music however is discouraged by his mother. She calls it the ‘Devil’s Music’ and believes if Felix pursues it, he will be like his late father, whom she refers to as ‘useless’ in front of her children but secretly still loves him. The children soon learn Lindy still loved their father when they come across the ‘evil chest.’ They learn it’s not evil at all. In fact it has memories of their father: various pictures, magazine articles of him and his band the Bossa Boys and even his own saxophone which Felix tries to play to make the jazz ensemble.

Felix tries to re-audition for the jazz band. During the wait, he finds help in learning to play the saxophone from Bra Joe, a former member of the Bossa Boys. All lessons have to be secret because he knows his mother will get angry at him for learning jazz and has a certain hatred to Bra Joe. Actually Lindy has a reputation of being the village snob. The one place where she is friendly is with her church choir. Through Bra Joe, Felix is able to learn to play the saxophone, learn sheet music and learn about his late father.

Everything turns upside down when Lindy learns Felix went into the chest and took the saxophone. She then pawns the saxophone. To get it back, the Bossa Boys hold a reunion concert that’s a benefit concert for Felix. The Bossas try to get the villagers to attend and Ricardo and Samuel try to get schoolmates and their families attend. The concert comes and theplace is packed with villagers and schoolfriends alike. , Felix and the Bossas put on a great show and the money is raised to get Felix’s saxophone back.

However it comes at the expense of Lindy as she disowns Felix. The final act comes after Felix succeeds in re-auditioning. He’s able to impress his strict instructors and he’s eligible to perform in the upcoming show where he has a solo part and a performance with the Bossas. Everybody involved with the school is coming, even Mr. Soames. But Lindy refuses. She still stubbornly disowns Felix. Only time is running out. This leads to an ending that is somewhat predictable but enjoyable nonetheless.

This is a very enjoyable family movie that succeeds in being entertaining without being overly ridiculous. There are some times when the movie does tread on some things like racism and the hard times of apartheid but it succeeds in not making it too heavy for the sake of it being a family movie. Actually the movie is shown mostly of blacks and whites conversing and getting along quite well in the movie. Even Mr. Soames treats Lindy like a friend instead of his maid. The movie does remember to portray the South Africa of today. Even scenes where there’s talk of the death of Felix’s father, including that scene where Felix asks Bra Joe why his father drank himself to death, came across as not too harsh as not to ruin the family-friendly atmosphere of the movie.

If there was one issue this family friendly movie focused on most, it was classism. It does show the separation between the rich and the working-class. It’s evident in Junior and his clique labeling outsiders as NOCD. It’s evident as one of the schoolmasters thinks that being labeled ‘elitist’ is a good thing. It’s also evident as one member of Junior’s clique, Marshall, is black coming from a wealthy political family and he treats Felix as an outsider. It also shows about the sometimes unfair world about privilege. It’s first evident not necessarily in the school but with Mr. Soames as he shows Lindy his tie from the school and says: “This opens doors.” Even Lindy’s attitude as she struts around her village thinking she’s too good for the village and she’s going to get her children out by sending them to prep school is another example of the theme of elitism. Nevertheless it’s Felix and his musical pursuits who shows that class is another border music can cross and actually unite the classes together in harmony.

Without a doubt this is a family movie that follows a familiar formula. It’s a child coming of age and doing what’s in his heart and desire despite the opposition of a parent. I’ve seen the formula before. The only way for a film like this to succeed is if it does the story right and if it makes you want the protagonist to win in the end. The movie does more than just simply make us want Felix to perform at the jazz recital despite Lindy’s opposition. The movie also wants to make the mother heal from the loss of her husband. We know that Lindy secretly still loves Felix’s father despite drinking himself to death. We also know the real reason why she considers jazz music evil: because she blames it for her husband’s death. The movie’s story succeeds in being a risk-taker in the plot. Felix’s pursuit of jazz, especially through playing his late father’s saxophone, could either help her heal from the pain or make it worse. That adds friction to both sides of the story. It’s something that not even Mr. Soames having tickets to Felix’s recital can soften Lindy’s heart.

For all intents and purposes, this is a feel-good movie that did all the right moves. There were many instances in the movie where the feel-good moments would normally come off wrong or ridiculous but it did things right. Some may feel the ending of it to be too fluffy or sugar-coated but we shouldn’t forget that this is intended to be a family movie. Besides name one classic family movie with a sad ending.

This is yet another example of countries trying to lean more towards creating movies and maturing past making simply films. And it’s not just simply making a movie loaded strictly with entertainment elements. They want to put effort into the story and deliver a professional winsome product. Felix is a good example of the South African film industry doing so. And it’s not just any type of movie but a family movie. Film industries around the world have always tried to make family entertainment. Very rarely does one stand out and catch the world’s attention. Felix appears poised to do just that.

Right now making live-action family movies is in a bit of a slump for Hollywood. It’s been a while since they’ve shelled one out that has fared well at the box office. Most family movies that have fared well in the last few years have been the animation movies. Felix doesn’t feel the pressures of Hollywood. The South African film industry is an industry that has little to lose and everything else to gain. A movie like Felix can gain a lot if distributed internationally. I see a lot of elements in the movie that can allow this film to excel internationally whether it be on the big screen or DVD. It just has a lot of charming ingredients that succeeds in entertaining.

The biggest accolades has to come from Hlayani Junior Mabasa for playing the musically gifted Felix Xaba. He was entertaining from start to finish and never let go of his scenes. Lina Sokhulu was also very believable as Lindy. She had to personify a woman with many different personalities: struggling, confused and hurting. She delivered a performance that was very well without interfering with the family-friendly atmosphere of the movie. Thafelo Mofokeng was also very good as the warm Bra Joe. Actually it was Bra Joe’s easygoing personality that seemed to make the hardest issues in the movie come across easier. The ensemble of both the young actors and the older actors and musicians also worked to make it enjoyable.

The thing that will surprise most people is that Felix is actually written and produced by women. It’s directed by Roberta Durrant who has an excellent resume in terms of film and television production in South Africa. In fact she has even received a Lifetime Achievement award for her contributions to film and television in South Africa. Shirley Johnson is a new writer with credentials in writing for television and stage and is an experienced actress. In both cases this is Johnson’s first time writing for a feature film as this is Durrant’s first time directing a feature film as well. Actually the script for Felix was an idea that started by Johnson back in 1995, finished the original draft in 2004 but only now came to full fruition. The end result is very professional, very impressive and very entertaining. The music ranging from the school band to the Bossa Boys to the church choir was also top notch and made the movie.

Felix is a fun entertaining family movie from South Africa. It’s a feel-good movie you don’t have to feel guilty liking. Reminds film festival crowds that audience satisfaction is not a weakness in film making.

Documentary Review: Searching For Sugar Man

Meet Sixto Rodriguez, the music legend you never heard before, in Searching For Sugar Man.

Meet Sixto Rodriguez, the music legend you never heard before, in
Searching For Sugar Man.

When you think of singing icons, which male icons come to mind? Elvis? Bob Dylan? How about Rodriguez? Yeah, I know you’ll be asking ‘Who Rodriguez?’ Searching for Sugar Man solves the mystery for us of who Rodriguez is while the documentary plays out the fan’s mystery of what happened to him.

Sixto Rodriguez was a Detroit rock/folk singer from the early 70’s who wrote songs of what he saw and felt. His songs were a mix of folk and blues and he was already being touted as the next Bob Dylan by Sussex records: the record company that discovered him. He recorded two albums under Sussex but neither sold. Rodriguez was dropped in 1972. Yet another could’ve been that didn’t. That’s that, or so it seemed.

South Africa had a different story. People had bought both of Rodriguez’s albums and it caught on. The fact that his album was banned in South Africa at a time where censorship was heavy increased the stigma of the album and bootleg versions came about into the hands of many more South Africans. There was even talk of his alleged onstage suicide in 1973 that increased the stigma of Rodriguez that made him a bigger phenomenon than Elvis. The problem was that there was not only a lot of censorship within South Africa at the time but a lot of censoring of media of what came out of South Africa. Nobody outside South Africa knew of Rodriguez’s phenomenon there. Not even Sussex Records, which folded in 1976.

Then came the time to put Rodriguez’s music on compact discs in the 1990’s. This was done with the aid of record-store owner Stephen Segerman, who’s nicknamed ‘Sugar Man’ after one of Rodriguez’s songs, and journalist Craig Bartholomew-Strydom who had to write the liner notes to the disc. They try through pictures and through lyrics to get information to no avail. Instead Strydom wrote in the liner notes asking out for knowledge. That’s what triggered the determination to find out what happened to Rodriguez and learn more about his life. Boy were they in for a surprise. They post an ad on the internet asking for knowledge. They get more than knowledge from people that know him: they learn he could be alive.

Then came the call from the man himself to Segerman. Rodriguez is alive and working as a construction worker/demolition remover in Detroit. He has been married twice and has three daughters and a grandchild. He taught his children never to feel like second-class citizens despite coming from a working class family. He even ran unsuccessfully for civic office in 1989. They’re excited but they know that all of South Africa need to know what happened to him and Rodriguez needs to know of his fame. Then he finally agrees to do concerts in South Africa in February 1998 featuring a popular South African band as his backup musicians. It’s at that moment during the very first concert that Rodriguez finally learns of his greatness and South Africans finally meet their beloved musician. After the tour, it was a return for the Rodriguez family to their regular lives and Sixto back to his construction work. Only now his co-workers know more about his fame half a world away.

One thing I liked best about the documentary is that it keeps secret the fact that Rodriguez is still alive from the audience until we hear of Segerman’s phone call from Rodriguez right in the middle. Unless you have your wireless device with you at the film–and I hope you have enough manners not to use one in the theatre while the film’s running– you too will probably think that Rodriguez is deceased because you most likely wouldn’t have known who he is either. The film did a smart move in revealing Rodriguez is alive and showing us the real life Rodriguez in the middle of the film. It makes the South Africans’ mystery of the past our mystery too.

Another good quality of the documentary is that it does remind you about the music industry. It’s cruel but it still decided the winners and losers whether we like it or not. We often think that the late-60’s early-70’s was the time most accepting of new sounds, most consisting or game-changers in the music scene and less pressure to conform to looks or less need for mass promotion. Rodriguez’s lack of success reminds you that even back then, promotion and typical music business procedures were necessary to even make a legend out of Rodriguez. He could have been the ‘Dylan Of Detroit’ that people described him as but his success never happened at home. And this was at a time before independent record labels or alternative radio or even before unsigned musicians could create and produce their own music and have it on iTunes and Youtube. Was the grass really greener back then?

Another good addition in the documentary is the use of animation, pictures and Sixto’s music. The animation shows the images of the Detroit Rodriguez knew and wrote about. The pictures of Rodriguez during the 70’s give a good example of his personality. His music shows the darkness of the life he was living and the life he saw through his eyes. The combination of it makes this out to be something more than a simple music documentary. The people interviews for the documentary also added to it. It’s not just the two South Africans, Sixto and his family but record personnel who worked with Sixto, a South African band who idolized him and would become his back-up band during his 1998 South African tour, and even co-workers of his construction job.

The documentary is not just about Sixto and the fame he never knew he had but also of South Africa and why they fell in love with his music. We should remember up until 1990, South Africa was a country under the strict rule of apartheid: the separation of races. Life was hell for non-whites but life was difficult for many whites too, especially the ones who opposed apartheid. News was censored. Entertainment was limited. And speech against apartheid even from white people was a crime punishable by 3 years in prison. You think the hippies of the late 60’s early-70’s had their things to rebel against? It was nothing compared to what the young South Africans of the time had to deal with. You could understand why censored music would attract them: because they were that disgusted with their government. They even go into South Africa’s national archives of censored music, take out one of Rodriguez’s albums that was to be the nation’s official master copy and show the scratch marks of one of his songs. Scratching out songs on albums was the censorship technique used by the South African government.

The movie does not end on a completely happy note. We still learn that people other than Rodriguez are making money off of his records. We learn that Rodriguez has toured South Africa at least three more times and he has given all of his tour money to family members. He still lives in the same Detroit house he’s lived for forty years and never complained about the fame in the US he never had. In fact he’s even happy with his construction work as he says it helps keep him in good physical condition. Shows that Rodriguez is not just quite a musician but quite a person.

Has my review stimulated interest in you to actually hear Rodriguez’s music? Guess what? The documentary has succeeded in stimulating interest in Rodriguez to the point that the soundtrack of the documentary has sold. This has also led to recent reissuing of his two albums in many countries including the US and even appearances on 60 Minutes and Letterman. Guess what? For the first time his music is charting in the US! In fact this very week, Cold Fact is #78 and the Searching For Sugar Man soundtrack is #100 on the Billboard Album chart. Yeah, it’s a shame that he had to wait 40 years for success of any kind here but better late than never.

Searching For Sugar Man
is an intriguing documentary that leaves the audient engaged in Rodriguez’s music as well as the mystery the South Africans try to solve on him. In a world full of documentaries that mostly one-sided liberal propaganda being shoved down your throat, this is a welcome relief too. I went to see it because it’s heavily favored to win the Oscar for Best Documentary. Boy did I get more than my money’s worth.

Note: If you want to learn more about Rodriguez, here’s his official website: http://www.rodriguez-music.com/ You can even give your email for upcoming news and tour dates. Now if only he can come to Canada!

VIFF 2012 Review – Nameless Gangster: Rules Of The Time (범죄와의 전쟁)

Nameless Gangster looks like South Korea’s attempt to try and make a gangster movie. The one thing is it does a very good job at making one. This film is more than what one bargained for.

Choi Ik Hyun doesn’t seem like the type to become a gangster. He’s a customs officer in Busan who was pilfering goods and taking bribes along with colleagues at the most. On top of it, he gets drunk very often and comes off as both clumsy and idiotic after a lot of drinking. That all changes when he comes across 10kg of heroin in the warehouse. He and a friend approach a gangster, Choi Hyung-bae, to sell it to Japan’s yakuza that he’s tied to. He also learns that Hyung-bae is from the same family tree.

Soon the two would become partners in crime and they would form their own organized crime syndicate. Soon Choi’s power grows to owning night clubs and one of Busan’s first class hotels. He also faces power struggles from close associates, people within his gang and even among rivals. Some of it has to do with his feisty personality and his habit for getting drunk easily. Other times it’s because of the conflict of who’s really in power. As Choi’s power grows, politics are changing in South Korea. The dictatorship which allowed Choi to prosper in his criminal activity is now making way to democracy with the election of President Roh Tae-woo just before the Seoul Olympics. Just two years after the election, the government proposes a crackdown on organized crime. Choi knows his days are numbered. He knows the connections to prosecutors that helped some of his men get off charges in the past won’t work anymore. The story ends with the predictable as the movie begins with a prosecutor announcing the arrest of Choi in 1990 but it ends on a different and on a note one wouldn’t expect from a gangster movie.

The film’s script is good for that it’s able to mix humor with organized crime the same way Pulp Fiction and Fargo does. However the film is just as smart as it is in its story too. The film’s script is very detailed in how it’s able to take into account the situation in Busan and the rest of South Korea during that time. It takes into good account the situation of crime in Busan in the 80’s during the time South Korea was still under a dictatorship. Yeah, just because South Korea wasn’t under the tight grip the communist North was under as was well-to-do doesn’t mean the people of South Korea were completely free at the time. It also highlights the changes in South Korea as the decade progress from the student protests, to the Seoul Olympics to the election of President Roh Tae-Woo to Roh’s crackdown on organized crime and corruption. This is a part of history few outside South Korea know about. It’s as much of an eye-opener as it is entertaining.

The movie not only shows South Korea’s changing political climate at the time but how it impacted Choi and why he made his choice to organized crime. South Korea was under a dictatorship to the move to democracy to the crackdown on organized crime. While South Korea was still under a dictatorship Choi’s income as a customs officer wasn’t good. Organized crime seemed his way out at the time. He chose it and reaped the lucrative rewards as well as the star status. He also faced threats from outside rivals and rivalry within his own gang. As South Korea made the move to democracy, prosecutors then became the stars of the new Korea and that meant the downfall of Choi. The title Nameless Gangster could be because Choi could be any man in South Korea at that time. The subtitle Rules Of The Time send the message that the movie is as much about the times as it’s about the protagonist.

There were two powerful scenes in the film on that subject. The first was when Choi was having dinner with his children while he knew his arrest would be eventual. He says goodbye to his son as he is about to go to Los Angeles and told him of the importance of learning  the English language. Another was when he was at a religious ceremony for his newborn grandchild. It’s the child of his son who’s now a prosecutor. The scene where his grandson grips Choi’s finger is a powerful one of hope. It’s like Choi’s happy that his son and grandson have the better futures that Choi never had the chance for.

Without a doubt, the character of Choi was the top quality of the movie. It’s surprising how a bumbling, clumsy, easy drunk like Choi could ever manage to rise to the top of the organized crime scene in Busan but somehow he does. The movie wasn’t just about Choi and his bumbling meetings or his criminal activities. It was also about Choi the husband and Choi the father. The scenes with his children and grandchild show a different side of Choi and make his character three-dimensional rather than the typical stock character of comedies. Actor Choi Min-shik did a very good job with the role. Scriptwriter and director Yun Jong-bin did an excellent job in writing a script that was as comical as it was smart and bringing it to the screen well. I will admit I was first confused during the movie wondering what the point was in having a clumsy, oafish man as a major organized crime don but it all made sense in the end.

Nameless Gangster has received a lot of buzz. In South Korea, the film was #1 at the box office for three weeks. The film has received many awards and nominations amongst South Korea’s movie awards. Time magazine even described it as: “the Korean mob film Scorsese would be proud of.”  Interesting that the Busan-born Yun is almost 32 years-old and he has released two other films that have raised eyebrows, especially in the ways they depict male mannerisms. Already Yun looks like he’s on to a very promising career in directing especially with the success of Nameless Gangster.

Nameless Gangster is more than just an entertaining story of a crime boss. It’s also a statement about South Korea’s politics at the time and about the man caught in between. Definitely a film worth seeing.

South Sudan: The World’s Newest Nation

Hi. This is an article that I have delayed posting here for the longest time. Hope you like it.

It was declared on July 9, 2011. South Sudan was now an official independent nation of its own. Its population is an estimated 8,000,000. The capital city is Juba, a city of an estimated 400,000 people. Hearing about what the people of South Sudan went through, you’d feel their independence from the main Sudan was hard-earned.

Map of Sudan and regions. Area declared South Sudan is in red.

Firstly Sudan was originally a joint condominium between Britain and Egypt until they declared independence in 1956 as the Republic of Sudan. Despite Sudan being independent, it was not unified. The northern and southern parts of Sudan were sharply divided.  The main divide between the two was based on ethnicity but also about religion; the northern part of Sudan was predominantly Muslim while the southern part of Sudan had a Christian majority. Conflict between Northern Sudan and Southern Sudan had already existed for a year and would continue until 1972. That war would be known as the First Sudanese Civil War. Half a million people were killed. It would take an agreement in Ethiopia in March 1972, known as the Addis Ababa Agreement, that would end that civil war. The goal of the Agreement was to address and appease concerns of the southern Sudan liberation and succession movement. This would help to give some autonomy to the Southern Sudanese region and would give peace to Sudan for almost a decade.

The one thing the Agreement failed to do is dispel the tensions that caused the first Sudanese Civil War. Then in 1983, Sudan’s President Gafar Nimeiry declared all Sudan an Islamic state, The Southern Sudan Autonomous Region was abolished on June 5, 1983 and the Addis Ababa Agreement was ended. This would lead to the Second Sudanese Civil War. This war would last from 1983 to 2005 and would have one of the highest civilian death tolls since World War II. Two million people were killed as a result of the warfare, famine and disease caused by the conflict. Four million people from Southern Sudan have been displaced during the times of the war. At the start of that war, the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement was formed as both a rebel group and a political party in response to the crises.

The war finally ended in January 2005 after a comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed. The purpose of the agreement, known as the Naivasha Agreement, was to develop democratic governance countrywide and share oil revenues. It further set a timetable by which Southern Sudan would have a referendum on its independence. The referendum happened during the week of January 9-15, 2011. Almost 99% of South Sudanese voted for independence. Independence was declared on July 9, 2011 and the United Nations recognized South Sudan’s independence on July 14th.

Despite being the world’s newest nation, South Sudan still faces problems and challenges in the time ahead. One problem is that the famine that is occurring mostly in Somalia also includes South Sudan and other nations. Another problem is that conflict between Sudan arose again a month ago with the South Kordofan conflict that still exists today. Another problem is of possible intertribal enmity within the country. One challenge South Sudan will have to face in the future is organizing the nation and its rights amongst the people. It is currently on a human rights watch by the UN, and rightly so. The SPLA may have been able to get South Sudan its independence but is also known for human rights atrocities of their own. Even the CIA has suspected of genocide in southern Sudan last year. One thing the elected President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, has promised is respect to freedom of religion. Kiir himself is Catholic with a Muslim son.

South Sudan: the world’s newest nation. Will it be a better, wealthier, more developed, more just country that Sudan was and still is? Or will it have its own problems or atrocities? Only time will tell.

WORKS CITED

WIKIPEDIA: South Sudan. Wikipedia.com. 2011. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Sudan >

IMAGE CITED

WIKIMEDIA: Regions Of Sudan. Wikimedia.com. 2011. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Regions_of_Sudan.png&gt;