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Movies! Movies! Movies! An interview with Tobe Jensen

November 13, 2012

Given the richness of the movies shown by Democrats Abroad for their Tuesday Night Film Series, I hoped to learn more about plans for this season by talking with Tobe Jensen, head of the selection committee.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - Last season my husband Larry and I eagerly awaited Tuesday nights in anticipation of seeing the wonderful slate of first-run movies, offered by Democrats Abroad.

Combined with some great refreshments, Paradise Community Center's wonderfully conducive venue and the welcomed company of other film-buffs, the movies were always stimulating, and well worth both the price of admission and time committed.

Given the richness of the past several seasons of fine movies, I hoped to learn more about plans for this season, by talking with Tobe Jensen, who heads the selection committee.

Note: Norma Schuh is one of the team members of the new performing arts collaboration, No Name Productions, which will launch its premier show, Oleanna - Pulitzer Prize winner David Mamet's drama of power and pedagogy - on November 23rd at the Boutique Theater. Tickets are available at PCC Farmers Market, Boutique Theater, and the bookstore on Basilio Badillo.

(Q): I understand that Democrats Abroad is gearing up for its third annual film series. Coming off a successful US election, what is your purpose in having a film series this year?

Tobe Jensen (TJ): It is true that we just had a federal election, but Democrats Abroad, an international organization of ex-pat Americans, works all the time to influence the political process and everyone’s access to voting from abroad. So, we have an ongoing need to raise money for sponsoring resolutions, holding educational forums and speakers, hosting American dignitaries when they visit, and insuring an accessible process to vote in elections in the US.

The film series is one of the ways we try to enhance the cultural and issue dialogue here in Vallarta about what’s going on outside this community.

Q: How do you decide what films to select?

TJ: We look for films that are intellectually, morally or politically challenging in general. We want to inspire dialogue, not give answers, in our interest to promote an open society. That’s the broad overview.

Then we look for films that are typically not available here. They’re art house or festival films, or films for smaller audiences. We’re also very interested in international films that broaden one’s perspective of a global community.

In addition, we select one or two Mexican or Central American-related films to address issues like immigration or cross-cultural comparisons. Twenty films are scheduled through April 2013 and, as was true last year, there will be a special week of Academy-Award-nominated films as well.

Q: How did you select the films for this year?

TJ: Well, given those parameters, we have a committee of interested folks. This year, the selectors were David Kamp, Judy Snow, Colin Hamilton, and me.

Throughout every year, our group in general looks for films it thinks might work for the next year. We welcome suggestions from our audiences as well. We scour movie reviews and film festival winners. Then, we preview the films.

We want at least two people to see a film in our group before it makes it to our list. We may even buy films that, after viewing, are not as good as we’d like them to be and eliminate them. We want films that are a mix of documentary and drama, foreign and American, serious and heart-warming, epic and intimate.

Q: How do people get tickets?

TJ: They will be available at Paradise Community Center for a donation of 60 pesos each at any time. People can get as many as they want in advance. Day of show, we are asking for 70 pesos at the door. The show starts at 7:00 pm.

The Paradise Community Center is a great place for film night. There are going to be even more food vendors this year than last to sell a variety of cuisine. Alcoholic and soft drinks as well as popcorn are also there to purchase. PCC gets all proceeds from food and drink and half of our net surplus to support their charitable work in the community. So people can see a great film while contributing to good in Puerto Vallarta.

Complete List Of Films

• Dec. 4th - The Koch Brothers Exposed
An expose on the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, who helped finance the conservative political advocacy group "Americans for Prosperity." The film shines a light on wrong-doing, political lobbying and money-fueled influence in America.

• Dec. 11th - A Better Life
An undocumented Mexican gardener in East L.A. struggles to keep his son away from gangs and immigration agents while trying to give his son the opportunities he never had. Mexico's Demián Bichir was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for his work on this film.

• Dec. 18th - The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel follows a group of British retirees who decide to "outsource" their retirement to less expensive and seemingly exotic India. Enticed by advertisements for the newly restored Marigold Hotel and bolstered with visions of a life of leisure, they arrive to find the palace a shell of its former self. Though the new environment is less luxurious than imagined, they are forever transformed by their shared experiences, discovering that life and love can begin again when you let go of the past.

• Jan. 8th - Where Do We Go Now?
Set in a remote village where the church and the mosque stand side by side, Where Do We Go Now? follows the antics of the town's women to keep their blowhard men from starting a religious war. Women heartsick over sons, husbands and fathers lost to previous flare-ups unite to distract their men with clever ruses, from faking a miracle to hiring a troop of Ukrainian strippers.

• Jan. 22nd - Cats of Mirikitani
Filmmaker Linda Hattendorf offers a remarkable profile of a man who, after surviving one of the most shameful episodes in American history, finds his nation preparing to make the same mistakes all over again. Jimmy Tsutomu Mirikitani is an elderly man of Japanese heritage who lives on the streets of New York City, where he makes a meager living peddling his drawings. Mirikitani specializes in sketches of cats, but that's hardly the only thing he draws. When he was a young man, Mirikitani lived in California during World War II and found himself in an internment camp in Tule Lake, CA, where Japanese-Americans were stripped of their rights and locked away because of racist assumptions about their loyalties; his years in Tule Lake are a common subject in his more personal work. In the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001, Mirikitani found life in New York City harder than ever for the homeless, and filmmaker Hattendorf, who had struck up an acquaintance with the artist, offered to let him move into her home. As Mirikitani slowly but surely takes over Hattendorf's flat under the gaze of her camera, he shares with her horrifying stories of his days in internment, discusses the emotional scars that have yet to heal from his experiences, and his growing rage over the racism which mirrors his own experiences in the 1940s. The Cats of Mirikitani was screened at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival.

• Jan. 29th - Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
In the dead of night, a group of men - including a police commissioner, a prosecutor, a doctor, and a murder suspect, drive through the tenebrous Anatolian countryside, the roads lit only by the headlights. They are searching for a corpse, the victim of a brutal murder. The suspect, who claims he was drunk, can't remember where he buried the body. As the night draws on, details about the murder emerge and the investigators' own secrets and hypocrisies come to light. In the Anatolian steppes, nothing is what it seems; and when the body is found, the real questions begin.

• Feb. 5th - Beasts of the Southern Wild
In a forgotten but defiant bayou community cut off from the rest of the world by a sprawling levee, a six-year-old girl exists on the brink of orphanhood. Buoyed by her childish optimism and extraordinary imagination, she believes that the natural world is in balance with the universe until a fierce storm changes her reality. Desperate to repair the structure of her world in order to save her ailing father and sinking home, this tiny hero must learn to survive unstoppable catastrophes of epic proportions.

• Feb. 12th - Hope Springs
Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) are a devoted couple, but decades of marriage have left Kay wanting to spice things up and reconnect with her husband. When she hears of a renowned couple's specialist (Steve Carell) in the small town of Great Hope Springs, she attempts to persuade her skeptical husband, a steadfast man of routine, to get on a plane for a week of marriage therapy. Just convincing the stubborn Arnold to go on the retreat is hard enough - the real challenge for both of them comes as they shed their bedroom hang-ups and try to re-ignite the spark that caused them to fall for each other in the first place.

• Feb. 19th - Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Oskar (Thomas Horn) is convinced that his father (Tom Hanks), who died in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, has left a final message for him hidden somewhere in the city. Feeling disconnected from his grieving mother (Sandra Bullock) and driven by a relentlessly active mind that refuses to believe in things that can't be observed, Oskar begins searching New York City for the lock that fits a mysterious key he found in his father's closet. His journey through the five boroughs takes him beyond his own loss to a greater understanding of the observable world around him.

• Feb. 26th - Monsieur Lazhar
In Montreal, an elementary school teacher dies abruptly. Having learned of the incident in the newspaper, Bachir Lazhar, a 55-year-old Algerian immigrant, goes to the school to offer his services as a substitute teacher. Quickly hired to replace the deceased, he finds himself in an establishment in crisis, while going through his own personal tragedy. The cultural gap between Bachir and his class is made immediately apparent when he gives them a dictation exercise that is beyond their reach. Little by little, Bachir learns to better know this group of shaken but endearing kids. While the class goes through the healing process, nobody in the school is aware of Bachir's painful past; nor do they suspect that he is at risk of being deported at any moment.

• Mar. 5th - A Separation
Set in contemporary Iran, A Separation is a compelling drama about the dissolution of a marriage. Simin wants to leave Iran with her husband Nader and daughter Termeh. Simin sues for divorce when Nader refuses to leave behind his Alzheimer-suffering father. Her request having failed, Simin returns to her parents' home, but Termeh decides to stay with Nader. When Nader hires a young woman to assist with his father in his wife's absence, he hopes that his life will return to a normal state. When he discovers that the new maid has been lying to him, he realizes that there is more on the line than just his marriage.

• Mar. 12th - In a Better World
Anton is a doctor who commutes between his home in an idyllic town in Denmark, and his work at an African refugee camp. In these two very different worlds, he and his family are faced with conflicts that lead them to difficult choices between revenge and forgiveness. Anton and his wife Marianne, who have two young sons, are separated and struggling with the possibility of divorce. Their older son Elias is being bullied at school, until he is defended by Christian, a new boy who has just moved from London with his father. Christian's mother recently lost her battle with cancer, and he is greatly troubled by her death. The two boys quickly form a strong bond, but when Christian involves Elias in a dangerous act of revenge with potentially tragic consequences, their friendship is tested and lives are put in danger. Ultimately, it is their parents who are left to help them come to terms with the complexity of human emotions, pain and empathy.

• Mar. 19th - In Darkness
Leopold Socha, a sewer worker and petty thief in Lvov, a German-occupied city in Poland, encounters a group of Jews trying to escape the liquidation of the ghetto, and hides them for money in the labyrinth of the town's sewers beneath the bustling activity of the city above. What starts out as a straightforward and cynical business arrangement turns into something very unexpected, the unlikely alliance between Socha and the Jews, as the enterprise seeps deeper into Socha's conscience. The film is also an extraordinary story of survival as the men, women, and children in hiding all try to outwit certain death during 14 months of ever increasing and intense danger. In Darkness was filmed on location in Poland and Germany.

• Mar. 26th - Intouchables
An irreverent, uplifting comedy about friendship, trust and human possibility, The Intouchables has broken box office records in its native France and across Europe. Based on a true story of friendship between a handicap millionaire and his street smart ex-con caretake. The Intouchables depicts an unlikely camaraderie rooted in honesty and humor between two individuals who, on the surface, would seem to have nothing in common.

• Apr. 2nd - Incendies
Director Denis Villeneuve adapts Wajdi Mouawad's play concerning a pair of twins who make a life-altering discovery following the death of their mother. Upon learning that their absentee father is still very much alive and they also have a brother they have never met, the pair travels to the Middle East on a mission to uncover the truth about their mystery-shrouded past.

• Apr. 9th - Searching for Sugar Man
Searching for Sugar Man tells the incredible true story of Rodriguez, the greatest '70s rock icon who never was. Discovered in a Detroit bar in the late '60s by two celebrated producers struck by his soulful melodies and prophetic lyrics, they recorded an album which they believed would secure his reputation as the greatest recording artist of his generation. In fact, the album bombed and the singer disappeared into obscurity amid rumors of a gruesome on-stage suicide. But a bootleg recording found its way into apartheid South Africa and, over the next two decades, he became a phenomenon. The film follows the story of two South African fans who set out to find out what really happened to their hero. Their investigation leads them to a story more extraordinary than any of the existing myths about the artist known as Rodriguez.

• Apr. 16th - Surviving Progress
Humanity's ascent is often measured by the speed of progress. But what if progress is actually spiraling us downwards, towards collapse? Ronald Wright, whose best-seller "A Short History Of Progress" inspired Surviving Progress, shows how past civilizations were destroyed by "progress traps" - alluring technologies and belief systems that serve immediate needs, but ransom the future. As pressure on the world's resources accelerates and financial elites bankrupt nations, can our globally-entwined civilization escape a final, catastrophic progress trap? With potent images and illuminating insights from thinkers who have probed our genes, our brains, and our social behavior, this requiem to progress-as-usual also poses a challenge: to prove that making apes smarter isn't an evolutionary dead-end.

• Apr. 23rd - Le Havre
In this warmhearted portrait of the French harbor city that gives the film its name, fate throws young African refugee Idrissa into the path of Marcel Marx, a well-spoken Bohemian who works as a shoeshiner. With innate optimism and the unwavering support of his community, Marcel stands up to officials doggedly pursuing the boy for deportation. A political fairy tale that exists somewhere between the reality of contemporary France and the classic cinema of Jean-Pierre Melville and Marcel Carné, Le Havre is a charming, deadpan delight.

• Apr. 30th - La Otra Familia
The story of Hendrix, a 7-year-old child that's been abandoned by his crack-addict mother Nina. Her best friend Ivana rescues him, however, she can't take care of him because of an ongoing trip to Houston. Jean Paul and Chema, an adult, stable, gay couple, and friends of Ivana, were given the task of taking care of Hendrix while his mother spends some time in rehab. Patrick, Nina's lover and dealer is being chased by a drug-lord, because of a huge debt. In an attempt to get the money he tries to sell Hendrix to a young couple, who just lost a baby. While Nina tries to escape rehab in search of her son, Hendrix slowly adapts to his new life with Jean Paul and Chema. Patrick's running out of time and urges Nina to find her misplaced son.

For more information about the Costa Banderas Chapter of Democrats Abroad, click HERE. For local assistance, contact Susan Wichterman at 044-322-303-5181 or mexicoms(at) or Paul Crist at 322-222-4793 or editor(at)