SIFF Double Feature – We Are the Radical Monarchs and Fly Rocket Fly
We Are the Radical Monarchs: Directed by Linda Goldstein Knowlton, We Are the Radical Monarchs documents the formation and first three years of the Radical Monarchs, an alternative (or even complimentary) scouting group that seeks to center girls of color and create the next generation of activists. Oakland community organizer Anayvette Martinez was hesitant when her daughter asked to join the Girl Scouts because she wasn’t sure they would be set up to support her daughter’s experience in society as a brown girl. Martinez and friend Marilyn Hollinquest decided to create the group which would later grow into the Radical Monarchs. Not only are the girls supported and taught leadership skills, they are given the tools to break down and reinterpret societal messages about beauty, gender, bodies, and race. They are also given practical experience in activism and community participation, and the film ends with their graduation from the program in the seventh grade. There is also a lot of behind-the-scenes struggles of Martinez and Hollinquest to cope with full-time jobs while getting the Monarchs off the ground and trying to respond to communities who want to get something similar going. It’s hard work, but eventually, they get a second troop started in Oakland, with the possibility of more in the future.
I like this film because it’s viewpoint is as unabashedly radical as its subject matter. The girls are taught to navigate the world with an intersectional feminist viewpoint, and the film doesn’t shy away from that at all. There is always a lot of nonsense floating around about a liberal biased media, but as far as I can tell, most “liberal” media is middle of the road stuff that doesn’t want to alienate anyone. Good for the Monarchs and good for Goldstein Knowlton for actually being radical and not serving up this information with an apology or toning it down. When Trump is elected president, the girls are understandably upset about it, and there is no backing down from that or trying to gloss over it. (There are some complaints about the Radical Monarchs indoctrinating children, but aren’t parents and communities supposed to pass down their values to their children? We only call it indoctrination if we don’t agree with what is being taught.) The film itself is a pretty standard documentary, which like most things, could stand to lose ten or fifteen minutes of running time to tighten it up. It bogs down a bit in some spots, but for the most part is enjoyably informative.
We Are the Radical Monarchs plays on May 19th at the Ark Lodge Cinemas, June 1st at the SIFF Cinema Egyptian, and June 2nd at AMC Pacific Place.
Final Grade: B+
Fly Rocket Fly: This documentary directed by Oliver Schwehm, tells the story of the first private space company, OTRAG, and its charismatic founder Lutz Kayser. In 1975, Kayser founded his company on the idea that rockets could be built easier and cheaper than what was currently being done by national space organizations. Rather than designing one powerful rocket, his engineering team attached several smaller rockets together to create the needed propulsion. In addition, they repurposed already existing technologies they thought might work in this context – using tiny windshield wiper motors in one case. The problem with this was that rocket-building on German soil was prohibited after 1954. (No missiles after World War II.) So, Kayser decided to circumvent this by moving his operation to Zaire (currently the Democratic Republic of Congo) and working with dictator General Mobutu Sese Seko, who leased OTRAG 39,000 square miles to play with. Things seemed to go along swimmingly until the French – fearing competition – objected to their presence, and the rest of the world freaked out based on false information that the rockets where in fact, bigger and badder than they actually were. Mobutu acceded to foreign demands and rescinded the land lease, and after a tragic accident killed several of the crew members, the OTRAG experiment was over.
I really wanted to like this movie (I enjoy space stuff), but I just couldn’t. I felt this was much better suited to an hour-long tv episode than a ninety-minute feature film with a jazzy electronic score. To be perfectly honest, I thought some of the time spent on interviewing the camp cook about what kind of sausages he made (that is not a joke) could have been spent talking about Kayser’s fondness for strongmen and some of the ethical impacts that might have had on his businesses. (Not only did he really like Mobutu, but he and his wife later lived in Libya for twenty-eight years and befriended Muammar Gaddafi. This latter point is never mentioned.) A lot of these dictators were put in place by Western governments, and maybe we should all spend some time talking about our moral culpability for their crimes, but this film doesn’t even really give an adequate description of who Mobutu was. (Kayser is like “Mobutu was a great guy!” This other guy is like “Nah, he was real corrupt.” That’s about it.) And the film does not reflect in any way on the colonialist nature of the company and the racism of some of the interviewees. (It is not a good sign when one of the modern-day interviews has a white German referring to the locals as “the blacks.”) There is a really interesting story to be told here, but Schwehm refuses to present anything other than the self-serving history Kayser gives him.
Fly Rocket Fly is playing at the Majestic Bay on May 21, Lincoln Square on May 25th, and SIFF Cinema Egyptian on May 27th.
Final Grade: C-