Posts Tagged ‘IDFA’

The History of the Civil War (1921) IDFA

Dir.: Dziga Vertov; Documentary; USSR 1921, 94 min.

Exactly hundred years after The History of the Civil War was shown in a Komintern meeting in Moscow, Dziga Vertov’s historical document of the Russian Civil War (1918-1921), – believed to have been lost, apart from a twelve-minute footage – screened at IDFA, having been fully restored by Russian film historian Nikolai Izvolov, who also plans to bring back Vertov’s masterpiece Man with a Movie Camera to its original glory.

Dziga Vertov (1896-1954) is the father of modern documentary filmmaking. Using the camera as an observer, and structuring the film in the editing room, he revolutionised the genre, paying as much attention to small details as well as constructing an overview. The History starts with a sequence of devastation: decimated bridges, destroyed railway stations, burning oilfields and exploding munition factories. ‘The White Terror’, enemies of the 1918 Revolution are responsible, they range from anarchists to feudal landowners. Trotsky ends the sequence with the promise that the newly founded Red Army “Will answer the White Terror with the Red Terror of the Revolution.”

The fight back starts with the disarming of the Anarchists in 1918 Moscow. The captured opponents are (mistakenly) not afraid of their fate. In a garage, machine guns are readied, a cat strolling nonchalantly among the deadly hardware. The HQ of the counter revolutionary forces is to be found in the Spasski monastery. Comrade Nicolai Kazadanov is in charge: he poses narcissistically in front of the camera. Other Soviet military leaders liked to be seen as ‘intellectuals’, their writing desks piled high with books.

Meanwhile, the Soviet Navy deals with their own Kronstadt uprising, among the sailors we see a well dressed woman, looking into the horizon. Comrade Innocenti Kozhevnikov is in charge of a partisan unit crossing the border into Czechoslovakia. Kozhevnikov would be one of the first victims of Stalin’s purges, murdered in 1931. The defeat of Cossack general Miranov is celebrated, and the general is pardoned after the original death sentence. The ‘Makhno’ movement assists the “the young and inexperienced soldiers of the Red Army” to win the battle for Kazan. Political commissar Timofei Mikhailov is pictured in earnest discussions, he would be another of Stalin’s victim in 1928.

We watch a revolutionary Muslim unit and Trotsky greeting a revolutionary Czech unit. The leader of the Soviet Perm front is Grigori Zinovev, shot after a show trial in 1936. The Denikin front is commanded by Yakov Swerdlov, who died “suddenly of TB” in 1919, but had a city named after him by Stalin, the mastermind of this deadly irony. In between the many meetings of military officials at the different fronts, British ‘monster’ tanks are captured by the Red Army, who “would learn soon to operate them”. Meanwhile, at the Baku front Ivar Smilga (executed by Stalin in 1937), and Sergei Ordzhonikidze (driven to suicide by Stalin in same year – but getting a State Funeral), are being honoured for their bravery.

At the Caucasus Front, Sergei Kirov and Konstantin Mekhonoshin are unaware of their fates.  The former will be shot by a jealous husband in 1934, the latter executed 1938. At the front fighting the reactionary Baron Vrangel, Kliment Vorishilov and Red Cavalry founder Semyon Budyonni, are the lucky ones, both will survive Stalin’s massacre of the Old Bolshevik guard. At the very end, Trotsky, general Tukhachevski and Grigory Petrovski, who would sign the treaty of Brest-Litovsk, take the parade of the victorious army. Petrovski, who helped his master with disastrous collectivation experiments, is the the only one who would survive Stalin, with Tukhachevski murdered after a show trial together with seven other old Bolshevik military leaders.

The filmmaker Vertov would never have believed his masterpiece would one day indict Stalin for the murder of these military leaders who fought for the national base, from where he murdered millions. Ironically, Stalin manages to keep a low profile throughout, only appearing briefly in an uncovered scene. Vertov turns out to be one of the lucky survivors – had the documentary survived, Stalin would have taken his revenge on the filmmaker for not hailing him as a war hero.. AS

INTERNATIONAL DOCUMENTARY FESTIVAL AMSTERDAM 2021

Flee (2021)

Dir: Jonas Poher Rasmussen | With: Daniel Karimyar, Fardin Mijdzadeh, Milad Eskanderi, Belal Faiz | Denmark, Animated drama, 90′

Based on real events, this noirish gay awakening story blends new beginnings and past trauma in an involving and surprisingly poetic way, the delicately drawn animations notching down the rawness of a harrowing escape for the central character whose real identity is kept confidential.

Director Jonas Poher Rasmussen calls his friend Amin but only discovered the true horror of his backstory years after they met. Amin is a refugee from Afghanistan who escaped Kabul during the the 1980s and is now safely settled in Denmark in a relationship he never dreamed possible.

Rasmussen recounts his friend’s adventures through a series of animated events and interviews in a way that draws us into his world as we experience the horrors from Amin’s own perspective. The conflict that caused his family to leave their home and suffer at the hands of the authorities on their way to Europe is not news to any of us but it is brought to life here in an alarming way that brings a sobering perspective to the refugee crisis that’s still unfolding every today. Being gay was a further hurdle that Amin had to overcome in this bracingly tense adventure. MT

IN CINEMAS and EXCLUSIVELY ON CURZON HOME FROM FRIDAY 11 FEBRUARY 2022 | NOMINATED FOR THREE OSCARS

May God Be With You (2021) IDFA 2021

Dir: Cleo Cohen | Israel Doc

Cléo Cohen’s directorial debut is a highly personal exploration of her own identity as the granddaughter of Jewish Arabs who emigrated from Tunisia and Algeria to France during the 20th century.

In the intimate confines of the family homes Cohen plays devil’s advocate, questioning the time honoured subject of Jewish identity and the relationship between Arabs and Jews in the Maghreb. What emerges is a generational conflict, as well as a very subjective view of the past from the older generation’s perspective.

Cohen starts with a provocative bon mot in the opening titles which manages to ruffle a few feathers back home: What is the shortest joke in history?: “A Jew met another Arab.” When defending the Arabs’ view of history she is told: “Defend the Arabs and you’ll see what happens to you”. When she answers back: “the worst massacre of Jews took place in Western, Christian Europe” a swift reply comes: “If the Arabs were organised, they would have done the same to us. Cleo does not feel Jewish at all when her grandma Denise tells her “the Arabs got what they deserved.”

In an attempt to gain context she then speaks to Richard Cohen (to whose memory the film is dedicated) former lawyer for the FLN in Algeria. He nods, too weak to answer in full. And Daniel Shebabo is equally frank: “The French got the Jews on their side during the wars of Independence in the Maghreb – separating them from the Arabs via the Cremieux Decree, which made Jews French overnight in 1960. I still remember the pride my mother felt. It caused some confusion with other Pied-Noirs, but my mother said we are Pied-Noirs. My family never mingled with Arabs.”

Denise Houri, is firmly in the Jews’ camp and considers herself ‘in exile’ from her native Tunisia. “It was hard finding ourselves in another country. But we can’t go back, the old country won’t be the same any more. Memories stay still in time. You are often disappointed if you go back. Alain went, he sent photos”. Nevertheless, Cleó is planning to visit Oran in Algeria. Denise is hard-line when it comes to Cleó’s duty regarding her own (as yet unborn) children: “You will be the guide for the people of Israel, on their behalf. You must pass that on to your children. Transient Jewish identity is a value. They should never marry an Arab. I practice my religion at home. Cultural blending is not a good idea.”

Daniel Shebabo talks about the thorny issue of identity: “Identity is never a foregone conclusion. It can always be undermined by yourself or others. I am re-assured by being Jewish, but I do not distance myself from others. The more you are re-assured, the better you can accept others with different identities. In Tunisia I mainly lived with Muslims.”

The director wanders around Denise’ flat, resting in the huge bath tub, and reading Albert Memmi’s classic of 1957 ‘The Colonizer and the Colonized” from his perspective as a French-Tunisian writer of Jewish origins. She reflects that “Arabs are not just Tunisians, there are Christian Arabs, Muslim Arabs and Jewish Arabs too. We are not Muslims, but we are Jews with an Arab culture and identity. Our mother tongue is Arabic, but we are Jews. I am an Arab by culture, but not a Jewish Arab.”

A highly personal feature which nevertheless touches on ideological conflicts, not only between Jews and Arabs, but also within the Jewish communities themselves. An important film that attempts to shed light on the complex the issues surrounding cultural and religious identity, antisemitism, racism and colonialism. AS

SCREENING DURING IDFA 2021 | INTERNATIONAL DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL AMSTERDAM 2021

In the Billowing Night (2021) IDFA 2021

Dir: Erika Etangsale | France, Doc 50′

In her delicately atmospheric meditation on identity and colonial origins Erika Etangsale uses silence, a soft ambient soundscape and an impressive editing technique as an affective distancing mechanism in expressing the ongoing feelings of disconnection felt by her Creole father, offering  insight into French social history enriched by evocative personal photos and original footage.

Originally from Reunion, he still feels a strong connection with his island birthplace in the Antilles, and a deep pain in the his soul, flushed with anger, that only softens when he eventually returns to the place of his birth as a much older man. As a teenager he was only too happy to come to Metropolitan France (during in the 1960s-1980s Bumidom2 initiative), where he worked for thirty years, never thinking of going back despite finding himself uprooted from his friends and family, at a time where France was experiencing the same social and economic turbulence as his native Reunion. Marrying Erika’s mother, from Macon, brought a certainly stability. But now in retirement he is affected by strange dreams that Erika herself shares with her father, whom she describes as “a man of few words”.

Shot between Reunion Island and Mâcon, In the Billowing Night, is an attempt to understand and connect with her cultural background through the story of her father who has buried the trauma of his uprooting. And perhaps the dark, unsettling dreams are his way keeping the past alive but also working through the trauma. The past is certainly reanimated in a melancholic cinematic rumination that fuses black and white archive footage of the volcanic islands with vibrant images of exotic flora and fauna, contrasting with scenes of violence in the streets of both locations. A valuable, living memory of slavery, turmoil and unrest that still resonates throughout Europe in the post-colonial present.

INTERNATIONAL DOCUMENTARY FESTIVAL AMSTERDAM 2021 | 17 – 28 NOVEMBER 2021

The Last Shelter (2021) IDFA

 

Dir.: Ousmane Samassekou; Documentary; Mali/France/ Germany, 2021, 85 min.

Malian director Ousmane Samassekou has filmed random travellers from all over North Africa in a transit home in Gao, near the Sahara Desert. Most have come a long way, the nearest from the Malian capital of Bamako which is 496 km away – and some as far away as Burkina Faso. Their common goal is Algeria, a stepping stepping stone away from France and Italy where there are magic money trees and streets of gold. The reality is migrant camps and years of misery.

The Caritas –  House of Migrants caters for mostly young people whose aim is to cross the desert, however reluctantly, to their families in Bamako or more far-flung destinations. Many of the girls and women have spent time in captivity and have been raped. Yet they travel on regardless, risking it all. One 16-year old girl talks about the usual teenage pipe dreams of becoming a celebrity, an actress or a boxing champion. Far from this reverie is the reality of road blocks, where they often robbed on the money to pay the people smugglers taking them over the border. They’d have been much safer staying at home with their families.

Esther doesn’t want to share details of her relative, ashamed that she has not made it to France, even though her family has given her money to support them from Europe. So her dreams are largely built on wild ideas from unrealistic parents who are simply living in the cloud cuckoo land of social media, and she is caught in an invidious trap. Another young woman had ended up in captivity, and only thanks to a benevolent older woman, has been released – but she still wants to try again to get to Europe from this Sahara’s hostile terrain and treacherous sandstorms.

Mariko, an older man, begs staff not to send him to Bamako where they will give him injections which make him sleep all the time. Another young woman was sold by the man who was supposed to be looking after her. Endless stories from Sahara crossings are told: “You die without warning. No matter why, they shoot us like chickens.” The staff warns them over and over again: “Your dreams and illusions make you feel clever, but you will not reach your destinations, it is better to have a job at home, than to dream of abroad.”

Made on a shoestring budget, The Last Shelter could do with a re-edit. But the rawness of the material lends itself to some structural inadequacies, a more polished version would only mask the terror these migrants have been through – and, worse, want to risk all over again. Their lives are so far removed from the dream of the places they want to reach – they think that wearing the logo teeshirt of a millionaire footballer from Barcelona and Arsenal – will transport them on a magic carpet to that lifestyle. They as well might try and reach Mars. AS

|CPH:DOX | DOX:AWARD Winner – Main Competition
|DOK.fest Munich (5-13 May) | NOW SCREENING DURING IDFA 2021 | 17 – 28 November 2021

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

 

 

iHuman (2019) **** | CPH:DOX 2020

Dir: Tonje Hessen Schei, Doc, Norway Denmark 99′ 
One of the major challenges of our times is how the global community is going to deal with artificial intelligence (AI). Who will control this technology? Has the train left the station, never to be stopped? An unsettling new documentary from Norwegian filmmaker Tonje Hessen Schei explores these issues in the same way as his film Play Again investigated the positive impact on the natural environment of kids development.
iHuman studies the benefits of AI in increasing our potential for the greater good, but crucially also highlights its negative aspects. And there’s no turning back. AI development is hurtling forward with tech companies affiliated to the defence industry and algorithms in law enforcement enhancing existing biases. Once we allow the use of such powerful technology to assist us, the brakes are off: AI is like raising a new offspring: eventually we cannot control everything it does. One day it will be in charge. And this has frightening but seemingly unavoidable consequences.
Hessen Schei has gained impressive access to a variety of leading influencers and they present a wide range of views, from tech optimism in Jurgen Schmidhuber “the father of AI,” to more cautious voices like technology journalist Kara Swisher, human rights lawyer Philip Alston, and Shalil Shetty from Amnesty International. Animated computer graphics visualise a polymorphous, self-developing structure with ever-greater autonomy guiding us forward. Computer scientist and psychographic specialist Ilya Sutskever is one of the most helpful and persuasive talking heads. He is working on how computers can max out our problem-solving abilities while ensuring they share the same goals as us. Computational Psychologist Michal Kosinski is another ‘good guy’. He sees his goal as protecting people against the risks of how algorithms are reading their most intimate motivations.
By 2025 each person will produce 62 gigabytes of data per day. And this information is increasingly being used by the vast tech companies to manipulate each of us in our lifestyle choices: how we live, vote, and even who we chose to date. And this is one of the downsides of everyone getting to have their say on social media. As social animals who enjoy interacting with one another we have chosen the path to our own potential downfall. We have all become hooked to a high performance ad machine in the shape of Twitter, Google and Facebook. Shouting for our various teams has become an enjoyable and addictive pastime, and gradually the world has become more and more polarised, our majority views encouraging others to blaze the trail. Eventually we will become obsolete, unable to finance our lives – with mass employment the result of computers taking over.
The Police and the military are also tracking in an effort to manipulate us but also – they say – to protect us. Their highly advanced systems are set up to predict and track potential criminals from early on in their lives, using algorithms. In the future their intervention and high level surveillance equipment will kick in more and more intensively so as to clamp down on the potential for crime. In the military the use of so-called  unmanned systems are actually autonomous lethal weapons to be feared because they could easily turn against those programming them.
Combining her informative talking heads with convincing data and an eerie soundtrack, Hessen Schei gives us plenty of food for thought in this well-paced and good-looking documentary. And the takeaway is positive: Ai has actually forced us to re-examine what it really means to be human. We have created it, now maybe it can re-create us. MT
The film is screening for 8 weeks from 10 December via independent cinemas including Broadway Nottingham, Chapter Cardiff, kinokulture Oswestry, Rich Mix London and Rio Cinema London. Cinema listings can be found here: https://www.modernfilms.com/ihuman

iHuman (2019) **** | CPH:DOX 2020

Dir: Tonje Hessen Schei, Doc, Norway Denmark 99′ 
One of the major challenges of our times is how the global community is going to deal with artificial intelligence (AI). Who will control this technology? Has the train left the station, never to be stopped? These are some of the issues tackled in an unsettling new documentary from Norwegian filmmaker Tonje Hessen Schei whose Play Again investigated the positive impact on the natural environment on kids development.
iHuman explores the benefits of AI in increasing our potential for the great good, but crucially highlights its negative aspects. And there’s no turning back. AI development is hurtling forward with tech companies affiliated to the defence industry and algorithms in law enforcement enhancing existing biases. Once we allow the use of such powerful technology to assist us the brakes are off: AI is like raising a new offspring: eventually like a real child we cannot control everything it will do. One day it will be in charge. And this has frightening but seemingly unavoidable consequences.
Hessen Schei has gained impressive access to a variety of leading influencers to debate her premise and they present a wide range of views, from tech optimism in Jurgen Schmidhuber “the father of AI,” to more cautious voices like technology journalist Kara Swisher, human rights lawyer Philip Alston, and Shalil Shetty from Amnesty International. Animated computer graphics visualise a polymorphous, self-developing structure with ever-greater autonomy guiding us forward. Computer scientist and psychographic specialist Ilya Sutskever is one of the most helpful and persuasive talking heads. He is working on how computers can max out our problem solving abilities while ensuring they share the same goals as us. Computational Psychologist Michal Kosinski is another ‘good guy’. He sees his goal as protecting people against the risks of how algorithms are reading their most intimate motivations.
By 2025 each person will produce 62 gigabytes of data per day. And this information is increasingly being used by the vast tech companies to manipulate each of us in our lifestyle choices: how we live, vote, and even who we chose to date. And this is one of the downsides of everyone gets to have their say on social media. As social animals who enjoy interacting with one another we have chosen the path to our own potential downfall. We have all become hooked to a high performance ad machine in the shape of Twitter, Google and Facebook. Shouting for our various teams has becomes an enjoyable and addictive pastime, and gradually the world has become more and more polarised, our majority views encouraging others to blaze the trail. Eventually we will become obsolete unable to finance our lives with mass employment the result of computers taking over.
The Police and the military are also tracking in an effort to manipulate us but also – they say – to protect us. Their highly advanced systems are set up to predict and track potential criminals from early on in their lives, using algorithms. In the future their intervention and high level surveillance equipment will kick in more and more intensively so as to clamp down on the potential for crime. In the military the use of so-called  unmanned systems are actually autonomous lethal weapons to be feared because they could easily turn against those programming them.
Combining her informative talking heads with convincing data and an eerie soundtrack, Hessen Schei gives us plenty of food for thought in this well-paced and good-looking documentary. And the takeaway is positive: Ai has actually forced us to re-examine what it really means to be human. We have created it, now maybe it can re-create us. MT
SCREENING DURING IDFA | 20 November – 1 December 2019

Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream | Ne Croyez surtout pas que je hurle (2019) ***

Dir.: Frank Beauvais; Documentary, France 2019, 75 min.

Frank Beauvais’ debut documentary is nearly impossible to categorise: best described as an Avantgarde diary chronicling the filmmaker’s seven-year exile from Paris and his life in a village in Alsace: which is set entirely against snippets from hundreds of films, particularly B-movies and horror pics. Admittedly I could only identify Carpenter’s Christine and Von Stenberg’s American Tragedy. They sometimes illustrate Beauvais’ melancholy comments, or elaborate on them. A little like reading Houellebecq, and watching self help movies. But Just don’t Think is very much an acquired taste: you’ll either love it or hate the pretentiousness of it all.

Beauvais also has credits in the music industry and now works as a festival organiser. He moved from Paris to the village in Alsace to be near to his mother. It also provided a new beginning after a failed love affair. Admittedly, he doesn’t much care for his new neighbours: he accuses them of being reactionary and self-righteous. This criticism applies very much to his father, who he hasn’t really seen since his teenage years and who he ends up looking after when he falls ill. The evenings see them sitting together in stressful silence, so Frank shows him Gremillion’s The Sky is Yours, with Charles Vanel, a paternal figure his father admired. Unfortunately, Beauvais senior has a seizure and dies in front of his very eyes.

Apart from this traumatic event, nothing much happens: Frank watches about five films a day, and feels sorry for himself. He spends the summer of 2016 in Paris and decides to move back there in the October. It the meantime he has filled his place with books and vinyl and has to offload it all. A work trip to visit two directors in  Porto proves a downer: .He had chosen the waltz from Deer Hunters for the project and learns on the same night about Michael Cimino’s death. Soon Abbas Kiarostami dies, increasing the anxiety attacks of the filmmaker. The 2015 terrorist attacks only make him angry: “The media exploits them with the opportunism of grave diggers”. Beauvais admits, that he is using “films as bandages”, and his mind set is reflected by readings of Aragon. But when ever it comes to people he was close to, Frank distances himself. A young boy, with whom he had a relationship at the beginning of his Paris exile, collects the cat they cared for, and Beauvais only comment is that the last hug they share confirms their split was the right decision. As for the cat, he has forgotten her after a week.

Beauvais shares a lot with JL Godard: aloofness and certain editorial preferences, which remind of the master’s Historie(s) du Cinema. Like Godard, Beauvais has got lost in the movies, and even in Paris he might not manage to get out of it and find himself. He is the prisoner of his obsession, and prefers watching to personal engagement. His austerity manifests himself in the countless images of bloody horror images, which he views with frightening detachment. But there is much to be admired in this tour-de force, particularly the encyclopaedic collection of cinematographic images corresponding to his emotional turmoil. AS

SCREENING DURING IDFA 2019

You Think the Earth is a Dead Thing (2019) | IDFA 2019

Dir: Florence Lazar | Doc 61’

Parisian born filmmaker filmmaker Florence Lazar follows her award-winning documentary Kamen: The Stone (2014) with a revealing expose of one of the last vestiges of colonialism.

She discovers that the soil on the Caribbean island of Martinique is plagued by the monoculture of industrial banana plantations and poisoned by the use of the insecticide chlordecone. This is just one of the many far-reaching impacts of the slave trade on human history is on agriculture and horticulture. While the French plantation owners on the Caribbean island of Martinique had their gardens laid out in Versailles style, their enslaved workers continued their tradition of using medicinal wild herbs, which grew in hedges on the periphery of the “habitations.” The plants were known as rimèd razie, or “hedge remedies.”

Nowadays these herbs represent one of several resources through which the people of Martinique counter the health and ecological ravage caused by the use of pesticides on the banana plantations, which cover a quarter of the land.  . In line with natural resources and informed by centuries of tradition, generations of locals fight to resist pesticides and rebuild a sustainable relationship with their environment, while unearthing the pervasive and toxic legacy of colonialism.Another form of resistance is being led by farmers who are reclaiming uncultivated lands to grow indigenous vegetables, guided by expert local knowledge and without any industrial pesticides.

While pruning, chopping and harvesting the plants, local farmers explain, with extensive historic knowledge of the post-colonial era, how difficult it is to preserve biodiversity. These lively interviews alternate with more poetic and tranquil scenes of the island’s lush greenery, and of the cause of the problems: the dangling bunches of bananas, wrapped in plastic packaging. Once again plastic becomes the antihero of our contemporary world and the villain of this informative look at communities desperate to survive and flourish in the 21st century.

IDFA Competition for Mid-Length Documentary

INTERNATIONAL DOCUMENTARY FESTIVAL AMSTERDAM 2019

Cause of Death (2018) *** IDFA 2018

Dir.: Ramy A. Katz; Documentary; Israel 2018, 79 min.

On the night of March 5th 2002, a gunman opened fire in a restaurant near Tel Aviv’s Maariv Bridge. Police officer Salim Barakat, who was nearby, brought the gunman down only to be found dead next to the killer. Director/producer Ramy A. Katz (Freeflow) researches the death of the Druze policeman, following his brother Jamal on his search for the truth.

The verdict was that Salim died from a knife wound to the throat. But after visiting a memorial ceremony for Salim, held every year in the police precinct for the tenth time, Jamal begins to question the official version. He discovers that the emergency ambulance’s doctor called in that night, reporting that his brother was “murdered by gun shots” and contradicting the official diagnosis of throat slashing. We watch a video where the main witness, middle-aged Willys Hazan, claims to have shot the attacker, after slashing Jamal’s throat. He is on a drip in a hospital bed, praising Salim, but admitting that the police officer was actually the terrorist. Then Jamal, a trained investigator, meets the head of the National Centre for Forensics, and tells him about the contradictions. The director is concerned l, and questions why no autopsy was performed; asking Jamal to have his brother undergo an exhumation  –  but Jamal’s religion does not permit such an option. Jamal also confronts the chief of Police who asks him to “let his hero brother rest in peace” – the same answer Jamal gets from Hazan, whom me meets twice. Breaking down, Hazan finally concedes, that “this would not have happened had Salim been an Israeli”. Finally, tracing down the staff of the restaurant, who were on duty on the fateful night, Jamal gets the answers he was originally searching for.

This is not just a document of Jamal’s investigation, but a testament to his coming to terms with grief – and his shattered belief in the righteousness of the law. The more he learns, the more his world crumbles. In the end he has not only lost his brother, but what he called his ‘extended family’,the police officers at the station where Salim served. There are some poetic moments, particularly when Jamal talks about his belief in reincarnation that persuades him that Salim has been reborn, and that his soul now rests in the body of a young boy in primary school. Moving, passionate and gripping, Katz takes a candid approach to his narrative, letting the audience make up their mind about the social implications of this cover-up. AS

SCREENING AT IDFA 2018 |

 

 

Los Reyes (2018) **** IDFA 2018 | Special Jury Award 2018

Dir: Ivan Osnovikoff, Bettina Perut | 88′ | Doc Chile 2018

Santiago streetlife plays out poignantly through a pair of canny canine caretakers in this wry and filmic foray to the capital’s largest skatepark.

LOS REYES have got it sussed. A black Labrador (Chola) and a Collie Cross (Football) are literally kings of all they survey. With shady trees and water sprinklers to cool the midday heat, they can play away from traffic in this public playground they consider their own. There’s always an odd ball or two to keep them amused, But don’t welcome motorbikes or the rubbish cart, and howl at the fire engine.

Limpidly shot on the widescreen and in intimate often minute close-up, there’s lightness of touch to this graceful and upbeat slice of city life: every twitch of a tail, every tweak of the cheek signals the dogs’ reaction to the human activities nearby. Meanwhile random male conversation is overheard from passers by. Some of it quite startling. But the kids can rest assured that their macho confessions are safe with these trusty tenants of the capital’s microcosm. On wet days they have a contingency plan – a kennel retreat by the rubbish bins. But it’s not all easygoing between the two of them. When Chola tries to hump a discarded old duvet, Football goes mad.

The film derives its subtle humour from the banal disdain of the dogs’ expressions as they tolerate the trivial and sometimes bawdy adolescent banter, shrugging off the intrusion of wildlife and a couple of donkeys who dare to cross their territory. But when uncertainty looms for the future of this canine couple, some welcome female chitchat lightens the mood. Just like humans, dogs don’t need to talk to communicate with their loved ones, but even in Santiago de Chile’s paradise park, every dog has its day. MT

WINNER | IDFA Special Jury Award for Feature-Length Documentary | 2018

 

 

Hamada (2018) *** IDFA 2018

Dir.: Eloy Dominguez Seren; Documentary; Sweden/Germany/Norway 2018, 88min.

Director-writer Eloy Dominguez Seren (No Cow on the Ice) raises the profile of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in this vibrantly passionate documentary shot mainly in the Tindouf refugee Camp in Algeria.

In 1975, when Franco was on his last legs, Spain gave up some North African colonies, and Morocco (300 000 citizens entered the old colony) and Mauritania claimed the territory. However, they did not concede self-government to the Sahrawis, as they were mandated by the UN. The resulting conflict between Morocco and the refugees in their own country lasted for over forty years, with Morocco bombing the Sahrawis with Napalm in 1976, causing a humanitarian crisis as the homeless and afflicted fled to Algeria.

HAMADA follows teenagers Sidahmed and Zaara in their fruitless search for work in the self-governed camp. Sidemeh is rather a restless young. He makes some money repairing cars and radios but finds the work unsatisfying. He also lacks patience, and efforts to teach Zaara to drive soon run out of steam. He’d really like to emigrate to Spain, like everyone in the camp. But this seems like a pipe-dream and none of the others have managed to get a Visa, and Spain does not recognise the SADR or his passport. Zaara can’t get a stable job either and has no qualifications, although she is certainly better educated than Sidameh, who only knows one European country (Spain). Zaara seems more intelligent.

So Sidameh starts to plan an illegal passage to Spain, with his friend Tasalam. Meanwhile the more down to earth Zaara focuses on a potential marriage partner chatting things through with her friends. Both girls are emancipated, and expect their future husbands to leave them in peace, to live their own lives. Zaara still wants to be taught to drive, seeing this as a vital asset in the job market. Sidameh finally sells his car to finance his passage to Spain. When he eventually sets off, the convoy of cars he is travelling in, gets stuck in the desert. And the grass is far from green when he reaches his destination. Homeless and without any proper qualifications, contacts or viable work skills he seems surprises that he is treated with disdain.  Instead of focuses on his own failings, he blames his racial identity: “people make you feel inferior, just because you are an Arab”. Clearly the grass wasn’t greener. Zaara has a better and more philosophical frame of mind and soon finds this leads her to improve her chances of success. And with the help of her kind friend Tasalam, she even learns to drive.

Seren’s observational study certainly succeeds in bringing this forgotten conflict to our attention, letting the teenagers speak for themselves. The local climate and primitive conditions make life tough and extremely challenging. Sidameh is seen rebuilding a house for a family of eight, whose home has collapsed during the rainy season. Spain becomes a much longed for dream destination and their all obsess about finding this ‘Holy Grail’.  But these down-trodden people also reflect on their past: when one of them finds a fishing rod in an abandoned house, it soon emerges that the Sahrawis once made a living from fishing, before being forced into the central plains of the arid desert. MT

WORLD PREMIERE | IDFA 2018 | 15 NOVEMBER 2018

Manu (2018) *** IDFA 2018

Dir: Emmanuelle Bonmariage | Doc | Belgium | 92′

Alzheimer’s is a one of the great human tragedies of modern times. Obliterating personalities, relationships, families, it strikes without warning, often inflicting the most talented and leaving a trail of misery and sadness in its wake. No one escapes its fatal curse.

Belgian filmmaker Manu Bonmariage was 76 when he succumbed. During his career he  made over eighty documentary films, contributing a vast body of work to the landscape of Belgian cinema and television (including the French-Belgian TV show “Strip-Tease”) and establishing himself as a memorable feature of the country’s wider cultural fabric. Sensitive and highly creative (“the camera is my mistress, I like to feel her in my hands”), he co-films here with his director daughter to record their fraught, deteriorating relationship in this painful love letter to his creative past. Manu also serves a socio-political history of Belgium during his lifetime, even recording the time he got stuck down a mineshaft!. This haunting collage of memories, reminiscences, upbeat archive footage (a New York sequence set in the 1960s is one of the most vibrant), medical meetings, musical interludes and cathartic exchanges cannot fail to sadden and amuse. Manu is an endearing and unsettling tribute that will resonate with those involved with the affliction and keen cineastes who remember Manu’s work. MT.

SCREENING DURING IDFA 2018 | INTERNATIONAL PREMIERE | COMPETITION FOR BEST FIRST APPEARANCE | Sunday 18 Nov)

The Border Fence (2018) **** IDFA 2018

Dir: Nikolaus Geyrhalter | Austria | Doc | 112′

Brenner Pass, Alpine border, spring 2016: the Austrian government announces the construction of a border fence expecting a shift of the refugee routes to Italy after the Balkan route is closed. The Austrian residents seem to fear the fence as much as the influx of refugees to their homeland. Two years later, the fence is still rolled up in a container. History took another route.

This gave Austrian documentarian Nikolaus Geyrhalter reason enough to go to the region with his camera and explore the mood there. Surveillance and border fences have long been themes in his work (Abendland, 2011), along with the delicate balance between humans and their environment (Homo sapiens, 2016). What was originally seen as a welcome from Austria soon switched to a crisis that has swept through Europe like a forest wildfire. Everyone feels challenged to protect their homeland (or heimat, as the Austrians put it). “As the first refugees, we were impressed by the welcome culture of Austria. But at some point in the reporting a switch was put”. This subtle change meant that suddenly these people became unwanted. Europe’s solidarity during the world wars was finally put to the challenge.

A short conversation in the toll booth is one of the many absurd scenes in the film: border functionaries air their negative feelings about the ‘refugees’ and migration, while going about their duties solemnly dispensing a 9 euro toll ticket every 30 seconds. In the nearby hillside, two male hunters talk about their experience with refugees on the so-called ‘Green Brenner’ borderline during the winter months, and admit to feeling sorry for the scantily clad travellers who are totally unprepared for the climate and thick snow. These human encounters are often forgotten or buried in the abstract political discourse. Meanwhile the local police try to carry on with their commitments. It’s a thankless task and one that clearly compromises them, trapped between the humanistic angle and their duty to their country. There are no winners here. Everyone tries to put forward their opinions delicately without appearing racist. But the protesters are not silent. 

Elegantly framed and filmed in long takes, Geyrhalter remains the calm observer, distancing himself from the madding crowd, muting their anxiety and anger with placcid detachment, yet still retaining a humanistic feel. THE BORDER FENCE makes for a contemplative experience, allowing the audience space and time to process this European crisis. Geyrhalter’s documentary is a study in atavistic fear and human behaviour at its most base. And while many are vehemently opposed to the crackdown on migration, others feel threatened: “Be my guest – but don’t take over my home”.  MT

IDFA COMPETITION FOR BEST FEATURE-LENGTH DOCUMENTARY | International premiere Tuesday, 20 Nov)

The Other Side of Everything (2017) ****

Dir/Writer: Mila Turajlic. Serbia. 2017. 100 mins.

Like most people who have been driven to their knees and learned how to survive their troubled history, the Serbians are tough cookies. And none more so than the indomitable a professor (who is also her mother) in Mila Turajlic’s engrossing documentary. THE OTHER SIDE OF EVERYTHING illuminates turbulent times in pre-World War II Serbia when Tito’s communists countermanded her family’s spacious central Belgrade apartment, and forced them to share their home with two other families.

Srbijanka was a tiny girl when Tito came to power in 1943. But the experiences of her childhood have made her a strong-willed and independent thinker who cuts to the chase with salient truisms such as: ” You don’t believe how it all can begin….until it begins.”. Her views and experiences are enriched by fascinating archive footage and news reels of the Tito years in a film that won Turajlic the main prize at Amsterdam’s International Documentary Film Festival in 2017.

When the communists took over, the internal doors of her apartment were locked back and have remained so for more than 70 years. Serbia is a country that has never really recovered from this shocking era. It’s the sort of place where the Census-taker asks ordinary citizens searching questions like: “Have you had links to terrorism? What about genocide?”.

But it’s the personal story of its stoical matriarch that actually makes this potted history of Yugoslavia and Serbia over the past hundred years, so engaging. And it soon emerges that the casually dressed and amiably ‘bolshie’ raconteur actually took an active part in the eventual downfall of creatures like Slobodan Milosovic.

The rather opulent apartment bears witness to Srbijanka’s upmarket background of enlightened intellectuals and professionals. Her grandfather had involvement with the formation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes that later became known as Yugoslavia. Sadly, because Srbijanka was not a Communist, she was unable to study Law, but she later became a Mathematics professor at the capital’s University and worked hard to promote pro-Serbian interests. Like so many parents who have experienced terrible political regimes, she warns her daughter to be watchful and sceptical (Mila remains off camera). Yet Mila has her doubts, and this gently probing film marks their expression throughout. The Other Side serves as a worthwhile tribute to the valiant woman at its core, and to everyone who has risked their lives to make their world a better place. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 9 NOVEMBER 2018  | IDFA 2017 REVIEW | Best Feature-length Documentary Winner 2017 | SCREENINGS IN YOUR AREA

 

Freedom for the Wolf (2017) | IDFA 2017

000e7cce-4e74-4bbb-8f41-64a5dcf00047Dir.: Rupert Russell; Documentary; Germany/USA/Hong Kong/India/Japan/ Kuwait/Tunisia, 89 min.

First time director/writer Rupert, son of the great Ken Russell, shows a rather frightening political reality emerging worldwide: the demolition of democracy as we know it, as a system which allows alternatives and protects minorities. It is replaced by nationalism and religious tyranny, always serving the titular Wolf: the elite, only a percentage of the population, which varies from country to country.

The “Occupy Movement” in Hong Kong, which started in 2014, was protesting against the Chinese government’s subversion of democracy, nominating 12 candidates from which the citizens of Hong Kong could choose their nominal leader – nominal, because who ever was chosen, would put China’s interests first. The movement was mainly supported by students, and was quite successful in blocking the streets of the centre city with mass sit-downs, the occupants living in tents. The movement faltered when taxi drivers and shoppers begun to organise against their restricted ‘freedom’ to drive and shop. This is the result, of the majority of the middle-class Hong-Kong population having a rising living standard, so they abandoned the movement, they had supported at the beginning.

In Tunisia, the government of Moncef Marzouki, ruling between 2011 and 2014, has been replaced by a more authoritarian regime. The reason was mainly that the Marzouki government, which was born from the ‘Arab Spring’, did not provide economic progress; on the contrary, prices for foodstuffs – such as canned tomatoes – went up drastically. Now, under the leadership of President Beji Caid Essebsi, prices have still not come down, but there is a new intolerance rising: cartoons of the Prophet, or dancing sparsely dressed in public, are punished with jail, and the Education Minister, who had tolerated these basic expressions of freedom, was censored for “sleeping on the job”. One of the interviewed is sure that “the less economical growth, the more people want to strengthen the religious ideology”. And the laws of the current Muslim government of Tunisia are the proof.

In India, President Narenda Modi, won his election in 2014 on the back of a religious campaign. “2000 years ago, there were no Christians, 1400 years ago there were no Muslims. There were only Hindus in Rome and Mecca”. And even when in office, his party inflamed the political war between the religions – 80% of the Indian population is Hindu – with scare stories: Muslim families train their men to seduce Hindu girls, giving the youngsters new motor-cycles and nice clothes. And when the Hindu girls have born them eight Muslim children, they are sold into slavery. Six month before the election in 2014, Hindu’s provoked riots, in which over 600 Muslim and 240 Hindus were killed. But again, the middle-classes are profiting here, with more spending power, whilst the rural population is suffering, because the government is forcing them to sell their land for minimal prices to corporations.

In Japan, the police had resurrected a law from 1940, which forbade dancing. Secret policemen infiltrated clubs, and charged the young clients with the offence, which would carry a punishment of one million Yen and six months imprisonment. Only a vigilant judge prevented the cases going to court. And finally, in the USA, after Trump’s win in last year’s election, illiberal trends continued. The police now has a huge arsenal of weapons at their disposal, creating a windfall for the weapon industry: among them grenades, chemical weapons, armoured vehicles, missile launchers and even nuclear weapons. And the whole election process has been undermined after the Supreme Court delivered in 2010 a landmark ruling regarding Campaign finances (Citizens United vs FEC), allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts supporting the campaign of their chosen candidates. Before this ruling, there were two parts of the election process: the primaries, followed by the election itself. But now, about 0.2 % of the population, the super-rich, decide which candidates they will support, making it impossible for outsiders to outspend them. It is one of the ironies of Trump’s victory that the majority of the small business donors who supported his campaign, will be the losers, since the interest of the big corporations will be certainly served by the Trump administration.

Freedom for the Wolf paints a dark picture: worldwide democracy, promising diversity, is replaced by a global wave of ill-liberal policies. Interests of the few are converging against freedom. Nationalism and religious bigotry are on the front foot, and tolerance has been replaced by consumerism as a leading goal. Russell has created a fine film that would make his father proud. Cleverly he ensure that younger viewers will be not to be put off by too many “Talking Heads’ – he has used imaginative cartoons to liven up the viewing. AS

FREEDOM FOR THE WOLF HAS ITS EUROPEAN PREMIERE AT INTERNATIONAL DOCUMENTARY FESTIVAL AMSTERDAM FROM 15 – 25 NOVEMBER 2017

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