Posts Tagged ‘Bertha Dochouse’

We Are Russia (2022)

Dir.: Alexandra Dalsbaek; Documentary; France/USA/Russia 2019/21, 77 min.

The first feature length documentary by Russian-French director/co-writer, DoP and co-editor Alexandra Dalsbaek, is a study of a Moscow student group, protesting against the re-election of President Putin in 2018. Very much shot ad-hoc, but still able to catch the arrest of opposition leader Navalny (twice), this feels very much like a work in progress, even though it is the long version, shown at the DOCNYC in 2021, sixteen minutes longer than he original version from 2019.

The action revolves around Milena K. almost playfully leading her group in anti-Putin and pro-Navalny activities. Milena poses with provocative placards in front of the Duma building and the Lubyanka – as well as other residences of state power. “Sell your villas, and build roads”, is one of her slogans attacking Putin and his oligarchs. But the resonance of the mostly elderly public is is anonymous and negative: “What have you even done for your country” is one of the answers that echoes back to Milena and her agitator friends. For the older generation Putin is still considered the saviour of Russia. Milena’s boutique owner mother is afraid for her daughter and tries to persuade her to limit her activism. Milena’s friend Alexander, who works in Navalny’s election office, is beaten up over night by the police, and fined 400 Roubles after a court hearing. Kostya S is arrested with Navalny in January 2019, after he was “disqualified” from standing in the election, and had called for a boycott of the state controlled proceedings. Whilst Navalny was eventually poisoned and re-arrested after his return from Germany, Kostya is sentenced to three year’s house arrest. But in the end, the ‘election’ goes ahead and Milena makes a final attempt to show the proceedings are rigged by walking into a polling station, and claiming rigged ballots: the voting cards are not counted and just stuffed into mailing bags. Finally, at a major demonstration, Milena is arrested, along with over 16 000 others, but released after 48 hours.

The narrative’s lack of structure is compensated for by its sheer  sheer panache. Milena could well be the alter ego of the director, enjoying the political fight and sweeping away the restrictions of the past . WE ARE RUSSIA begs the question, has Russian youth stopped demonstrating since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Looks like the state forces could well have cracked down on insurrection. While Navalny languishes  colony what has become of Milena and her cause. AS

WE ARE RUSSIA on July 15 will also be playing for a week at the Bertha DocHouse cinema.

Radiograph of a Family (2020)

Dir/Wri: Firouzeh Khosrovani | Doc, Iran, Norway, Switzerland 82′

Firouzeh Khosrovani’s prize-winning documentary chronicles her early life against the background of Iran’s revolutionary recent history.

Delicate and deeply moving – sorrowful even – Khosrovani’s fourth feature is a tragic love letter to a childhood and early adulthood blighted by the growing distance between her parents largely due to the revolution and her mother’s religious fundamentalism.

With its resonant cultural and political touchstones, Radiograph is an compelling and elegantly assembled collage of memories and photographs, narrated by actors and describing the simple joy of her parent’s early days together in Geneva: her father Hossein was training to be a doctor in Switzerland, inviting her mother Tayi to join him there in the early 1960s.

Recorded on Super 8 footage, ten years before the filmmaker’s birth, it tells of a couple who fell in love but whose aspirations turned to dust as the silent shadow of revolution gradually spread into every aspect of their life together, eventually threatening the stability of the family. What stands out is deep sadness and regret, rather than anger or bitterness, and we feel for Firouzeh and her broken dreams.

Switzerland is home to many Iranians and Hosseini had chosen to study medicine in the thriving cosmopolitan lakeside city of Geneva. The hard-working radiographer was able to offer a good life to his much younger wife when she arrived from pre-revolutionary Tehran. For a timid young girl Tayi certainly knew her own mind, praying to Mecca while her husband preferred to meet his urbane friends in glamorous bars and listen to music. Eventually Tayi used her new pregnancy and back problems as the kicker to return home, persuading Hossein to move back to Iran where she was delighted to be reunited with her friends and growing family.

In the 1960s Tehran was a sophisticated, thriving metropolis where the middle classes enjoyed summers by the Caspian Sea and winters on the ski slopes. But once the Shah was toppled things changed, and from then on Tayi became increasingly drawn to her religion.

Khosrovani’s enlivens her portrait with family photographs picturing her parents’ early days in Geneva before moving back to Tehran on the birth of their first child named Firouzeh (herself). Back in Iran, Tayi questions Hossein’s lack of prayer routine as she pursues Islam with growing fervency and self-determination, rejecting her husband’s way of life and even tearing up the family photos and snaps, which the director has since pieced together for her film.

Both visually and narrative-wise Khosrovani uses her family home in Tehran as a recurring motif and the feature’s fulcrum. What starts as a comfortable and soigné home soon becomes the sober backdrop to her mother’s strict religious beliefs: her parents’ elegant bedroom adorned with her father’s favourite piece of modern art (a female nude) soon morphs into a spartan single room where reflection and prayer are the order of the day, a long table accommodating her mother’s new friends, the proponents of the oppressive Islamic regime. “The revolution entered our house,” the director recalls, as her heavily veiled mother is pictured requesting the whereabouts of her Quar’an.

Radiograph is a deeply subjective view of a child’s fond memories projected into an adulthood full of anguish and sadness, that still lives on today. No matter how much happiness and contentment we find as adults, our early childhood experiences will always colour our future. Khosrovani maintains a non-judgemental approach to her parents throughout her film. And although she never condemns her mother, maintaining a neutral acceptance of her beliefs, it is clear that her father embodies her hopes and dreams. Bonds of sadness and regret can often be more resilient that those of shared joy. In the end acceptance is one form of contentment. MT

NOW AT THE DOCHOUSE Radiograph of a Family | World premiered at IDFA documentary festival in Amsterdam, where it won the main prize for best feature



The Accountant of Auschwitz (2018) Netflix

Dir.: Matthew Shoychet; Documentary; Canada 2018, 80 min.

Oskar Gröning, known as the accountant of Auschwitz, lived out a peaceful existence in his hometown of Lüneburg in Lower Saxony for 70 years  – unperturbed by guilt or singled out for his actions as an active member of the SS of Auschwitz. He would eventually get his comeuppance in 2015.

In his debut documentary Canadian director/writer Matthew Shoychet chronicles the 2015 trial against Gröning, featuring testimonies from the defendant himself and the surviving victims and the last living judge from the Nuremberg trial and Holocaust deniers.

Born in 1921 into a nationalist family, Oskar Gröning was unremarkable but seized the opportunity of a lifetime when he joined the SS during the Second World War. Employed at Auschwitz, he was responsible for overseeing all the artefacts stolen from Jewish internees as soon as they arrived at the Polish camp. The goods trains would turn up laden with their human cargo and Gröning would be present and correct on the infamous “Rampe”, where Dr. Joseph Mengele, the Angel of Death prepared to make the macabre decision as to who would be gassed immediately, or who could be of some use as a worker for a limited period. Gröning witnessed some gruesome events: when a mother turned up with her suitcase hiding a her baby, the child’s crying gave them both away to the guards and both were immediately executed. “The crying stopped” was all Gröning had to say.

But the survivors’ reactions could not have been more different: Bill Glied (who died in 2018) even considered that a certain form of justice had been done. But Eva Morez, who survived the deadly twin experiments of Joseph Mengele (together with her sister Miriam), expressed extreme gratitude to Gröning, offering him a hug.

Benjamin Ferenc, Judge at the Nuremberg Trials, explains why the outcome of this trial is so important and why there should never be a statute of limitations for genocide. He explains how the German justice systems had absolutely no vested interest in prosecuting SS men and other guards who kept the concentration camps going. Sure, they were little cogs in the death machine, but without them, it would have ground to a halt.

The SS had around 800, 000 men in 1945. And although it was declared a “Criminal Association” only around 200,000 the members were vetted,  a mere of these 6000 prosecuted, with just 124 life sentence given out. The judges had a vested interest in making sure the whole affair was kept low-key, lest they themselves be implicated. In the end Oskar Gröning was found guilty and sentenced to four years’ imprisonment as an accessory to murder in thousands of cases. He lost all his appeals but died before he started his sentence in 2018.

The Accountant makes for sobering viewing: once again it shows how the huge majority of German civilians of the time actively supported the concentration camps by keeping ‘schtum’ and shielding those involved in the atrocities. Even today films like Luke HOlland’s Final Account (2020) show how Germans turned a blind eye to the Holocaust, some actively condoning it. AS








The School in the Cloud (2018) **** Warsaw Film Festival 2018

Dir: Jerry Rothwell | Doc | 85′

“Do not limit children to your own learning for they were born in anther time” Rabindranath Tagore

What is the future of education in a networked world? With the words of Tagore ringing in his ears, TED Prize-winning scientist Sugata Mitra installs an unmanned Internet kiosk in a remote Bengali village to pioneer “The School in the Cloud”. As children encounter the Internet for the first time, will they be able to use it to transform their futures? Award-winning documentarian Jerry Rothwell decided to find out in his latest film The School in the Cloud  which examines the ups and downs of Sugata Mitra’s pioneering cloud-based educational model, as the leap from theory to practice proves to be its own fascinating learning curve, both in the developing and the developed world.

Three years in the making – in India and the North East of England – director Jerry Rothwell  (How to Change the World/Sour Grapes) explores the challenges of bringing the Professor Mitra’s vision of giving the next generation the opportunity to create a better and more informed existence for itself. If he’s successful, education will never be the same again. In his tweed suit, shirt and tie, Professor Mitra comes across as a kind and approachable presence. He began his self-organised learning experiments in 1999, when he knocked a hole in the wall of his office in Delhi, India, into a nearby slum and placed an Internet-ready computer there (that went on to become the Hole in the Wall experiment). Some of the children have never had access to the internet. His research had taught him that if children’s minds are allowed to wander in a chaotic fashion, they will crystallise around big ideas. And the experiment was a big success, initially. Children flocked to the computer and taught themselves how to use it. But Sugata wasn’t satisfied with that – he wanted them to be able to pass the same tests as children in private education. By introducing an adult into the mix who offered support and encouragement in much the same way a grandmother does, he found his answer. Both in India and in England, where children are already digital natives, this access to self-learning turns out to be able to change everything. The Indian system of learning tends to focus on stricter right/wrong answers, whereas British children are allowed to be more creative and playful at school. Rothwell’s film is a portrait of an idealist at work, and of an idea that can potentially create positive change for millions of children. But Mitra also has his (British) detractors who make negative comments about the difference in theory and practice of his idea. They talk of “educational colonialism” and “parachuting shiny objects into developing countries, and then hoping for the best”. But Rothwell the first recipient of the Sundance Institute/TED Prize Filmmaker Award in 2013  counters these naysayers: “Mitra is often accused of naivety about the way children learn, but I think the power of his ideas – even if they are utopian – is in challenging education systems that have failed to acknowledge how the internet has changed the world,” says Jerry, “During the film we see both the difficulties of implementing his ideas of self-organised learning environments in remote locations, and their potential for children itching to explore the world.” The children design their own ideal classroom.

Rothwell’s film is enriched by its widescreen footage of the Sunderbans scenery in the local villages of Korakati and Gurjala and and by the children themselves, both in the UK and India, who share their excitement, ideas and lively observations which bring fresh insight into the learning process. The School in the Cloud is a portrait of a positive idealist at work, and of an idea that can potentially create positive change for millions of children. MT

WARSAW FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 12-21 OCTOBER 2018 | Then at BERTHA DOCHOUSE | FROM 19 OCTOBER 2018 | Q&A with the director on the opening night | International screenings 

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