by Bill Chambers Named after an initiative of the Italian Development Cooperation's Ministry of Foreign Affairs that supports Unicef and other global charities, this omnibus project assembles seven short subjects about children from a handful of world-class directors, all of whom were instructed to locate their contributions in their home and native land. Poverty seems to be the unifying theme until Jordan and Ridley Scott's vaguely autobiographical segment, which sticks out like a sore thumb but subversively suggests that if All the Invisible Children proper has any lessons to impart, they revolve around the auteur theory. Having never seen a film by Mehdi Charef or Stefano Veneruso, I don't know how closely their episodes hew to their previous work, but I can tell you that Emir Kusturica, Spike Lee, the Scotts, Kátia Lund, and John Woo tread familiar ground in a borderline egotistical fashion.
On the individual pieces: set in North Africa, Charef's Tanza is a disturbing portrait of pre-pubescent freedom fighters (in particular the titular sharpshooter, who's outlived many of his peers) undercut by wholly unnecessary exposition. In Blue Gipsy, Kusturica visits his blend of absurdity and pathos on some gypsy boys being released back into the wild after a cushy stay in juvenile hall. Lee idly tugs at the heartstrings in Jesus Children of America, the story of an adolescent girl coming to terms with the fact that she was born HIV-positive. The Scotts' drab Jonathan finds an ailing photojournalist (David Thewlis!) regressing to his childhood in war-torn England. Lund tells the spirited tale of Bilu e João, a resourceful brother and sister hatching "Our Gang"-style moneymaking schemes on the streets of São Paolo, while Veneruso pays tired hommage to The 400 Blows in Ciro. And Woo's Song Song & Little Cat is an unapologetically mawkish salute to Chaplin that contrasts the lives of two little girls, one an orphan raised in squalor by a lovable tramp, the other a child of divorce raised in affluence by her self-centred mother. Lund and Woo clearly have something to prove, making theirs the true stand-outs of the curiously ephemeral septet (I've already forgotten how half of these shorts end), with Lund laying to rest any doubt that she deserved her co-directing credit on Fernando Meirelles's City of God and Woo showing that despite the weird ways his sentimental side has manifested itself in his Hollywood output, his skills as a master manipulator remain sharp and at hand. Aye, there's the rub: All the Invisible Children is actually fairly unremarkable from a non-auteurist perspective, at once betraying a certain apathy for the project's agenda of advocacy and soliciting the same. PROGRAMME: Special Presentations