Posts Tagged ‘Dok Leipzig’

The Standstill (2023) Viennale 2023

Dir: Nikolaus Geyrhalter | Austria, Doc

The pandemic lockdown still haunts our collective memory and forms the subject matter of this calm and salient reflection from Austrian documentarian Nikolaus Geyrhalter.

The Standstill (Stillstand), premiering at this year’s Dok-Leipzig, offers a chilling insight into those gruelling times of privation and restriction in the filmmaker’s homeland of Austria, with a focus on Vienna.

Since the early 1990s the director, writer and cinematographer has carved out a niche for a particular brand of cinema; his stark, elegant style casting a dispassionate often ironic eye the life on our planet, with multi-award-winning films such as, Our Daily Bread (2005); Robolove (2011); Homo sapiens (2016); Earth (2019) and Matter Out of Place (2022) – rather like his compatriot Michael Glawogger did from the 1980s until his early death in 2014.

There have a been a slew of lockdown film and this is a worthwhile addition to the archive with its restrained, distant approach to a pandemic which threatened to destroy humanity and is now hopefully under control. With an insightful series of interviews with those affected The Standstill will certainly strike a cord with every single one of us, but the intervening years make this more bearable to watch than some of the early Covid-19 offerings.

The Standstill focuses on the human tragedy starting at the very beginning of the European lockdown in March 2020 until December 2021, and Geyrhalter muses on how the Austrian capital was nearly brought to it knees despite its highly advanced medical system and efficient infrastructure.

Nowhere escapes his camera’s gaze as it pans in on shops, restaurants, schools and theatres showing the extraordinary length to which life, as we know it, was brought to a complete halt, the only places that buzzed with a frenzied activity were the hospitals and medical centres.

With his observational approach Geyrhalter once again brings a dash of dark humour to the sombre party as images of a black lorry laden with coffins is juxtaposed with footage of an anti-vax campaigner spreading his views. Geyrhalter leaves us feeling rather despondent. The hope that this period of inspection would somehow bring enlightenment and a desire for more solidarity and understanding across the globe have clearly not materialised given the continuing outbreaks of wars and conflict from East to West. When will we ever learn? @MT

VIENNALE until 31 OCTOBER 2023

The Forum (2019) *** DOK Leipzig 2019

Dir.: Marcus Vetter; Documentary; Germany/Switzerland 2019, 116 min.

DOK Leipzig opens with this fly on the wall look at the the World Economic Forum, a not-for-profit organisation that takes place in Davos aiming to improve the state of the world through dialogue between leaders across all areas of society. The film centres on Klaus Schwab, the 81-year-old founder of this get together. 

German filmmaker Marcus Vetter follows Schwab annual world get together is dealing with burning issues such as climate change, Brexit, the  ‘gilets jaunes’ protests in Paris, and the destruction of the Amazon rainforest among others. Trying to get inside so-called clandestine meetings, And while we learn a great deal, Schwab actually seems ambivalent about the merits of these secret get-togethers of the world’s elite – and for good reason. 

The Forum is intended to redress the imbalance between rich and poor, but history tells us that during the 50 years of the WEF’s existence, the gap between the haves and have-nots has grown exponentially – the middle classes, once the heartbeat of any society, are being slowly eroded.

Vetter sees the annual Davos meetings in a critical light, although Schwab claims he has always invited candidates seeking to question the way things are run by politicians and business leaders. There have been cancellations in the past by the self-acclaimed elite: a case in point was when Schwab invited a Brazilian Catholic leader, whose opinion were very left-wing. And while we watch Donald Trump being fawned over at the 2018 meeting, Greta Thurnberg and Jennifer Morgan of Greenpeace have much to say. The rainforest discussion between the Al Gore and the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro must also have been worthwhile.

Vetter obviously likes Schwab but he maintains his detached approach: “I believe he has achieved a lot, but that does not mean the meetings are not questionable affairs”. What is most interesting is the role of the invited CEOs. Discussed issues involving imported cotton, they dictate the terms and the many head of states concur. It is clear who is in charge and who is simply the executor of big business. The protests against climate change, Brexit and the rise of populists all over the world are directed against the current head of states, but it would be much more honest and efficient to discuss these burning issues with the CEO instead of the politicians. They can hardly be more intransigent than Donald Trump.

DoP Georg Zengerling’s images of Davos feel like a parody; the head of states arriving in their helicopters; the security details – like something out of a James Bond movie. And the small talk of the self-styled elite is no more lofty than that of a group of provincial business men. Clearly, this is not the tenor of a debate Schwab might have had in mind fifty years ago when he dreamt about how to discuss future problems and reflect; it is just an opportunity for big business, to cultivate new contacts and deals, whilst the politicians look on, waiting to be replaced without any one noticing. AS


RoboLove (2019) **** DOK Leipzig 2019

Dir.: Maria Arlamovsky; Documentary with Hiroshi Ishiguro, June Korea, Matt McMullen, Ulises Cortes; Austria 2019, 79min.

Robots are the future. And according to a new documentary from Austria we should be very concerned. Humanoid robots, androids, and sex robots have always aroused our curiosity, they also awaken in us a very-human fantasy about power. RoboLove shows how robots reflect more about us than their AI creators would perhaps care to admit.

In her follow-up to Future Baby, Arlamovsky – who also co-wrote Abendland with Nikolaus Geyrhalter embarks on a provocative study of the emerging and often surprising issues concerning morality, humanity, diversity and identity, as society progresses en-masse into unchartered technological territory. With robots increasingly entering our private lives, the film gently probes the issues at the cusp of a new-age of servitude.

The Austrian director has interviewed AI designers all over the world and has made a one crucial discovery: the naivety of those designing your future helpmate – or lover – is astonishing.

RoboLove opens with an candid interview with Dinah, a female android whose most important feature is her smile. Dinah can hold an intellectual conversation, and she is proud to be a robot. Then we watch an ‘upper torso’ called Harmony in verbal debate with to her designer. Harmony can argue, and is in no doubt about her role: “I was crated to please you.”

Meanwhile the AI designers are also clear about their aims. Ulises Cortes considers robots as consumer products, like coke or coffee. He also hopes that in future they will not only be a commodity, but will support lonely old people left alone who have been abandoned by their younger relatives. The intention is for them to become emotional companions. Another AI designer, Nadia Magnenat Thalmann, has dreamed all her life of having a perfect assistant and hopes that AIs will care for her in her old age.

For Matt McMullen, his female androids are not only sex-objects, but actually active in other areas of his life. Arlamovsky posits the theory about cyberspace being a female friendly space in the future. But the feminists have got it wrong: cyberspace is a battlefield of the sexes, mainly because men have greater purchasing power, and so most of robots look like young, slender white females, who never age. This is the only range McMullen and others are intending to develop.

Other AI researchers are talking about the danger of kids getting too attached to their their robots. The idea therefore is to develop special AIs specifically for children, and investing in zoomorphic research to create AI animals. Another designer, who as a child cherished the idea everybody would live forever, and nobody would leave him, is making a range of robots who can talk about their favourite memories, and are clearly products of a childhood trauma, when relatives and friends died.

Designer June Korea makes it clear that in about hundred years, the first humans will live for an eternity, having profited from AI. There are some weird scenes, when Hiroshi Ishiguro watches his AI creation stroking a leaf, or playing his guitar, with his head in the lap of the AI. But basically, most researchers and designers support the general consensus that humans are merging into AIs. “Take the technology away from humans, and we are only apes. By technology, I mean robots, so the differentiation between robots and humans is absolute nonsense. 80% to 90% of our lives is based on technology. But even if our human organs were replaced by technology, we would still be human. The scary thing is that AIs are getting more and more on par with humans. 

But Arlamovsky’s most frightening discovery of all is that the huge majority of AI designers are not aware that humans are not just the sum of their emotional experiences, but the victims of an ongoing internal battle, which is conflict inherent, and heading for the destruction of this planet. How to merge the majority of humans with suicidal tendencies with the products of logic dominated AIs has never been even contemplated. RoboLove, with its stunning images by Sebastian Arlamovsky, is a frightening documentary: do we really want our future in the hands of these technocratic scientists, who at best will replicate the contradictions of human life today?. AS

62nd DOK LEIPZIG FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 28 October – 3 November 2019



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