Posts Tagged ‘docs’

Made in England: the Films of Powell & Pressburger

Dir: David Hinton | UK Doc 122′

A leisurely look at the filmography of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, forever to be known as The Archers. Made In England which premiered at this year’s Berlinale and is directed by David Hinton (longtime director of numerous episodes of The South Bank Show). The documentary has a trump card that raises it above ‘run of the mill’ linear telling of their dual careers in that it is guided and contextualised by long time supporter Martin Scorsese.

To say that Scorsese narrates the film is to do it and him a disservice; he starts with a tale he has told many times before and that is his own cinematic origin story, from discovering the adventure fantasy that Michael Powell co-directed in 1940: The Thief Of Bagdad. Scorsese, although he watched it on a tiny B&W television, remembered the name of the director and his formal experimental mise en scene that he wanted to see more of. Made in England is very much in the vein of Scorsese’s two documentaries that focus and US and Italian cinema.

People think having the internet and access to unlimited information makes them more informed and engaged with the world, but the opposite of that is true, and we sometimes forget how it was in the pre-internet era. I discovered Powell and Pressburger through the prism of Emeric Pressburger which is unusual. I read an essay he wrote for the Faber annual film journal Projections entitled: The Early Life of a Screenwriter, which sent me on a mission to discover the films this man had written.

After relating his discovery of Powell & Pressburger Scorsese – in immense detail – takes the audience on a journey through the ups and downs (mainly ups) of their career, which encompasses WWII, the creation of their partnership as The Archers and adventures through the UK and US studio system, and the eventual split of the partnership, with Michael Powell’s career being destroyed after the release of Peeping Tom.

Scorsese numerous times talks about their representation of love which they told through a visual language that can only be described as ‘pure cinema’; the juxtaposition of Colour; light; music and movement. One thinks of what Jean Luc Godard said about Nicholas Ray, but which can also stand in for Powell & Pressburger: “There was theater (Griffith), poetry (Murnau), painting (Rossellini), dance (Eisenstein), music (Renoir). Henceforth, there is cinema. And the cinema is (Nicholas Ray.) Powell and Pressburger”.

Their cinema gives a Kierkegaardian dizziness of freedom, it shows the impulses but also the limitations of love. It is a cinema that stops the written in its tracks and deals a death blow to its descendent: the imaginary. This is its virtue: to switch off, to put a stop to make believe. Their universe is a hermetically sealed one that is disgusted by the rigour of humanity, and they continue to remind us that what interests them is the rigour of angels and romanticism, rather than the logic of chess masters

What we are left with, of course, is that the films are now thankfully readily available, and many of the iconic ones have recently had a cinematic release. One of the images that will endure is the feeling of safety and excitement when one comes across the legendary logo of The Archers, that beautiful technicolour comfortable indent. ©DavidMault @D_W_Mault




Kokomo City (2023)

Dir: D Smith | US Doc 73′

If your idea of entertainment is watching a series of Black trans sex workers loudly lamenting their life, then Kokomo City is for you. More  impressive than anything though is the hyper-stylised way D Smith captures his subject. The glossy black and white images splash onto the screen at refreshingly odd angles: It all feels rather like flicking through a slick fashion magazine – maybe a trans version of Men’s Vogue or even that French erotic title NewLook (now out of publication).

Here we are in Atlanta and these women are seriously disgruntled behind their Barbie-style rigouts and fluttering black false eye lashes. Gesticulating at the camera with super sharp white painted talons and jutting chins, they offer advice about how to avoid that 5’clock shadow. But most of all they harp on about the trials and tribulations of satisfying the males that come to them for satisfaction – and how they do it better than cisgender females. There’s a raw, competitive edge to their narratives. And sometimes we feel for them. But after thirty minutes or so enough is enough. And while they rightly point out that no man wants to listen to women’s problems at the end of the day – that’s what is mostly dished up in this unique, cinematic and occasionally insightful kaleidoscope of American trans views. MT



Val (2021)

Dirs: Leo Scott and Ting Poo | US Doc 104′

The thing about Val Kilmer is his silly humour. It shines out in this warm biopic of an actor who struck gold commercially but still wants to make it in the arthouse world. Now in his early 60s, a glittering past is behind him, a cancer survivor clinging on cheerfully despite a robotic voice like Stephen Hawking, he still smiles radiantly. A shadow of his former self but his spirit is strong and full of positive energy for the future. And once you get used to the voice you realise he’s much the same as he ever was: just older and wiser – and more philosophical.

In Val, directors Leo Scott and Ting Poo use a hotchpotch of videos and snapshots mostly taken by Kilmer himself: an actor and writer but most of all a big human whose love for life and his family radiates through the 40 years of archive footage in a documentary that takes us from his childhood years in California to the Batman years for which he is most famous, and beyond. His latest project – a tribute to Mark Twain – is still ongoing and clearly fascinates him. 

The film starts with him playing around in his trailer with Rick Rossovich during the making of Top Gun, his complex character comes out in another scene where he’s filming John Frankenheimer on the set of The Island of Dr. Moreau. Ordered to stop filming Kilmer carries on regardless. The director had threatened to walk out and so Kilmer bargains with him to stay and the camera continues rolling.

A training at New York’s Juilliard school has clearly instilled a strong sense of quality in his work. And this is probably the root cause of his reputation for being ‘difficult’. He was billed for the main role in the 1983 production of “The Slab Boys,” a Broadway hit play, Sean Penn and Kevin Bacon later pulling rank for the main parts. His creativity went on to be stymied by the commercial system that ultimately offered little by way of freedom to express himself, and this theme sets the tone for an entertaining portrait of a real man, rather than just a jobbing player of parts. This is why his story remains one of success rather than failure, despite the decrepit guy in the picture. Loss is a big theme: his marriage and divorce from Joanne Whalley affected him badly, and obviously the cancer diagnosed in 2015. But he soldiers on making us laugh with an infectious humour in this feelgood movie. 

Batman was a personal disaster for him weighed down by a heavy costume and hardly able to breathe, let alone speak. It crushed his performance and he signed out after one go at the Caped Crusader: “every boy wants to be Batman, but not play him”.

The Top Gun episode was a blast with much fooling around off set, sealing his reputation:“For the rest of my life I will be called Iceman by every pilot at every airport I ever go to.” he comments from his Malibu beach hideaway. But he wanted more than fame. Inspiration was really his watchword. In a bid to work with Kubrick and Scorsese he sent them audition tapes but nothing came of it. His force of personality projected him forward for choice roles but he didn’t always get them. Willow was another disaster but the The Doors would be special and he honed his performance again and again, even wearing the leather trousers in an obsession that ultimately cost him his marriage. 

Family intervenes throughout the film: particularly his sadness over his brother Wesley who died in a jacuzzi accident in his teens. And his mother was a big influence and he reminisces over her in some tearful sequences. Although his father was a big business man Val ultimately had to bail him out. His faith Christian Science also figures strongly and clearly gives him the strength to pursue his artistic projects. He may have fallen from the pantheon of stardom but seems to have found peace with his kids and a boundless enthusiasm drives him forward to the future. MT


Brazil Indigenous Film Festival 22 – 24 October 2021

Inspired by the UN Climate Summit this first edition of the Brazil Indigenous Film Festival takes place in London’s ICA cinema on the Mall from October 22 -24, featuring a dozen or so features and shorts from indigenous filmmakers sharing their stories – both fact and fiction – from all over Brazil.

Twelve films, in six languages, from seven different groups will be showing in the three-day festivalbetween 22 – 24 October 2021. The programme is split into three strands: The Right toEarth combines work on different forms of Indigenous struggle – symbolic, practical, political, mythological – for the right to land; The Ritual Dimension documents and celebrates the Maxakali andKisedjê in rural Brazil, exploring their political rituals, and Orality, Film and History brings historical, social and philosophical perspectives from the Parakanã, Guarani–Nhandewa and Guarani–Kaiowácommunities.

A few highlights from the programme: Equilibrium, an ethno-media video art by Tupinamba journalist and educator Olinda Muniz Wenderley. The female filmmaker explores through an experimental narrative the connection of the Indigenous People with the Earth and their spirituality. Two animations explore colours of nature and traditions. The Celebration of the Spirits tells the saga of a Guajajara man, who, during a search for his lost brother, ends up on a voyage of self-discovery.

Other films to look out for are Tatakox, a hypnotic ritual film that documents celebrations evoking the spirits of dead children, and Nũhũ yãg yõg hãm: This land is our land!, winner of the Best International Film prize at this year’s SheffieldDoc/Fest.

The festival also presents two productions from Alberto Alvares: Dream of Fire, an interpretation of a dream – an omen of disease, according to Guarani Nhandewa traditions, and Tekowenhepyrun: The Origin of the Soul, is based on the belief that the soul is the connection between the body and the spirit. Alberto has had works exhibited in Arts Biennales and international film festivals.

FreeLandCamp a documentary by photographer and anthropologist Edgar Kanaykõ, portraying the massive 2017 demonstration organised by APIB, when diverse ethnic groups got together in the country’s capital, Brasília to demand their rights. Ava Yvy Vera: The Land of the People of Lightning, is a depiction of the Guarani–Kaiowá peoples’ struggle for land rights that gained international recognition after the release of a joint letter in 2012, protesting against the assaults and advances of Brazilian agribusiness.

The thought-provoking Zawxiperkwer Kaa explores the activities of the Guardians of the Forest, a group that has been fighting against illegal logging and working to protect the Awá-Guajá, one of the most threatened isolated Indigenous groups on the eastern coast of the Amazon.

This festival has the support of APIB, a national reference of the Indigenous movement in Brazil. Raising international awareness about Indigenous peoples as protagonists in the fight against climatechange and resisting the destruction of their traditional ways of living is urgently needed.

Festival Schedule:

Friday, 22 Oct @18h30 (Opening Night followed by a Q&A with festival curators and special guests)

Saturday, 23 Oct @16:20

Sunday, 24 Oct @16:20

Full programme can be seen here.

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