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Published on March 4th, 2013 | by Greg


First Time Fest: Mogolian Bling and Dias de Gracia

Over the weekend, we had the privilege of attending a few events at the exciting First Time Festival here in New York City. This is also the inaugural edition of the festival, which we hope to see return, because the idea is definitely sound: providing a platform for filmmakers to show their debut works, and even get theatrical distribution. Combined with screenings of the movies that launched the careers of established filmmakers and even panels for those in the business or who want to break in, the multi-day, multi-location event continues this evening with the closing ceremony, featuring Darren Aronofsky and Martin Scorsese.

The first screening we caught was the non-competition special feature Dias de Gracia (Days of Grace). Director Everardo Gout won the Mexican Academy of Film’s prestigious Ariel Award for Best First Feature, and the film was even nominated for the Camera d’Or at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. Described as a “thrillingly over-the-top action thriller, filled with violence, drugs, romance, mayhem”, we had high hopes for this one, especially when it’s compared to City of God and Tropa de Elite. And the initial moments of the film definitely deliver: stylish cinematography, a classic Mexican standoff, and some strong character building with solid casting and acting.

But about halfway through the movie, there is a sharp uppercut amongst the twists and turns, one that left us bewildered. Multiple timelines are hard enough to keep track of, but this isn’t an indie time travel movie like Primer (or Spanish film Timecrimes). Instead, Dias de Gracia chronicles the poor choices of a few criminals and cops during three consecutive World Cups. And despite some compelling music and strong performances, the plot doesn’t hold together, even with further discussion and examination. Ultimately frustrating, this one could have been a great story about kidnappings and righteous revenge, but gets bogged down trying to be too clever by half.

More moving, and yet no less energetic, was the documentary Mongolian Bling. Working over seven years, and filmed on site in the remote country, it was great to have director Benj Binks on hand for the screening to give us some background on the project. The film itself isn’t quite as taut as it could have been- the brief diversions to a family that lives in squalor drive home an unnecessary point about the living conditions. But that matters little thanks to three great primary subjects- hip-hop artists Quiza (the “sell-out”) and Gee (the “angry, socially-conscious one”) and Gennie (one of the few female rappers in Mongolia).

We learned a little Mongolian history, and heard a lot of great music. The film leads a tour through the capital, Ulanbataar, and the incredible transformation over the last few years. But it’s not a macro sort of movie, and never becomes dry or boring. There’s no narrator, and no false dramatic tension, no strong message to be pounded in. Instead, you’ll giggle at some of the founding groups, like the characters of Black Rose, and raise your eyebrows at one of the last “epic singers”, Bayarmagnai, who expresses his certainty that hip-hop originated in Mongolia. Throat singing and traditional instruments add to the sense that music is universal, and you can’t help but appreciate that even Kris Kross can change lives.

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About the Author

Greg dreamed up the idea for the Truly Network while living in Hawaii, which began with a single site called TrulyObscure. In 2010, when advertisers and readers were requesting coverage beyond the scope of that site, TrulyNet was launched, reaching a broader audience over a variety of niche sites. Formerly the head technology correspondent for the Des Moines Register at age 16, he has since lived and worked in five states and two countries, helping a list of organizations and companies that includes the United States Census Bureau, TripAdvisor, Events Photo Group, Berlitz, and Computer Geeks. He also served as the Content Strategy Manager for HearPlanet, a multi-platform app that has reached over a million users and has been featured in the New York Times, Hemispheres Magazine, National Geographic Adventure, Fox Business News, PC Magazine, and even Apple’s own iPhone ads. Greg has written as a restaurant critic and feature journalist for a number of national and international publications, including City Weekend Magazine, Red Egg Magazine, the Newton Daily News, Capital Change Magazine, and an arm of China Daily, Beijing Weekend. In addition, he has served as a consulting editor for the Foreign Language Press of Beijing, as well as a writer and editor for the George Washington University Hatchet, the school newspaper of his alma mater. Originally from Iowa, Greg is currently living in the West Village of Manhattan.

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