by Peter Wong on January 15, 2014

Resolving armed conflict by methods other than force of arms may seem counter-intuitive to the average lay person. Yet all 37 wars currently occurring around the world can’t reasonably be ended by someone shooting their way to victory. Anne Thoma’s documentary “Miles and War” follows a trio of men who travel to global hotspots in pursuit of non-violent means of ending armed conflict.

The documentary’s subjects are mediators from the Geneva-based Center for Humanitarian Dialogue (CHD). Dennis Mc Namara, a 30-year veteran and Thoma’s former boss, travels to negotiate humanitarian aid delivery to remote Sudanese villages. 5-year veteran David Gorman goes from defusing tensions over an insult in The Philippines to hammering out a new government structure to replace Moammar Qaddafi’s crumbling rule. CHD founder Martin Griffiths handles highly confidential government-level mediations despite attempts to assassinate the negotiating parties. Over a three year period, Thoma’s camera attempts to chronicle the mediators’ small successes, large failures, and sometimes ambiguous results.

Griffiths’ discussion with a US Agency for International Development (USAID) representative encapsulates the challenge Thoma faces with her film. The USAID man wants Griffiths to provide measurable accomplishments to persuade American politicians to authorize further CHD funding. But mediation, as Mc Namara puts it, is a series of tiny mundane steps requiring a lot of patience and determination to reach a great goal.

Ironically, despite Thoma’s access to CHD’s mediators, she fails to de-mystify or show the value of the mediation process. Such basic and general questions as “what just happened” are less helpful than ones attempting to engage her own comprehension of the mediators’ work. The mediation sessions seen in excerpts lack even the small insightful moment Mc Namara describes as crucial to the process.

Fortunately, the documentary’s three subjects offer explanations that carry some of the creative burden “Miles & War” is unable to bear. An especially telling moment comes when one mediator talks about the ability to avoid moral judgment on disputants as essential to doing the work. Yet despite this and other insightful rhetorical lifelines tossed out by Griffiths et al., Thoma’s film fails to engage the implications of the CHD mediators’ ideas. While this film literally travels thousands of miles, its insights never take the viewer more than a step or two beyond the USAID man’s level of understanding mediation.


Markus Imhoof’s partly personal documentary “More Than Honey” makes colony collapse disorder an indictment of human shortsightedness. Imhoof’s film travels from California to China, seeking the causes and solutions (if any) to this bee-killing blight. His discoveries will make sympathetic viewers want to slap sense into the average commercial beekeeper.

Viewer aversion to bees gets patiently dismantled by Imhoof. Amazing microphotography and animation of everything from a drone emerging from a cocoon to a bee flying with an attached microtransmitter engages the viewer’s sense of wonder. An entomologist explains the waggle dance and other indicia of the complexities of bee society. Imhoof does arouse pity for bees unnecessarily exposed to pesticides. But that comfort level with bees falls far short of apiarist Fred Jaggi’s nonchalance in cutting an active beehive off a tree without wearing protective clothing.

Imhoof aims far higher than arousing viewer sentiment. His film condemns by implication the short-sighted, greed-driven human mismanagement that has probably doomed commercial beekeeping to slow extinction. Having heard earlier about the complexities of hive society, viewers are horrified by commercial apiarists’ society-destroying practice of treating their hives as little better than interchangeable machine parts. Giving bees a regular diet of sugar water and antibiotics raises suspicions that such “nutrition” ultimately undermines bees’ ability to withstand disease.
Will agriculture’s future be a worldwide version of inferior human hand pollination of flowers in the absence of bees? Or will the publicly condemned “killer bees” prove critical in saving human life? Imhoof offers no answers, just a sense of profound loss at seeing a foulbrood-infested hive unfortunately gassed to death.


Viewers who missed Stephen Lacant’s gay drama “Free Fall” at Frameline LGBT Film Festival 2013 now have another chance to view this painful drama.

The potential gay couple in question is Marc Borgmann (Hanno Koffler) and Kay Engel (Max Riemelt), roommates at a German police academy. Marc’s life poses major barriers to the relationship’s sustainability. He has a pregnant wife named Bettina (Katharina Schuttler). Despite anti-discrimination lip service, the police station Marc gets posted to is still a very macho environment. Finally, Marc himself seems in denial of his gay identity. Kay’s posting to Marc’s station will ultimately force Marc to choose what life he will lead.

The title for director Stephen Lacant’s drama describes the state that Marc’s life eventually reaches. His formerly certain reliance on family, friends, and even co-workers becomes unsustainable once news about Kay’s homosexuality comes out. “Free Fall”’s first third feels like a slow burn, as the viewer is unsure whether Kay is mistaken about Marc. Yet what appears an error of pacing ultimately makes sense given the stability of Marc’s existing life and his initial denial of his own gayness. Ironically, all it takes is an accidental outing to turn a supposedly rock-solid life into one in a state of free fall.

While “Free Fall”’s story has been told before, Lacant’s film offers some nice character turns. Bettina’s eventual resentment of Marc doesn’t stem from his being bisexual, but from his deceptions. Kay’s insult early in the film ironically upbraids the cops’ macho culture. Overt bigotry is discouraged from the police force, but it’s hinted less obvious bigotry is acceptable.

“Free Fall” ultimately and sadly criticizes culturally rigid social roles.

(“Miles and War” screens January 18, 2014 at 4:30 PM at the Castro Theatre (429 Castro, SF). “More Than Honey” screens January 20, 2014 at 6 PM. “Free Fall” screens January 20, 2014 at 8:30 PM. Both of these screenings take place at the Goethe-Institut Auditorium (530 Bush, SF). For further information and schedules go to )

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