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To celebrate the general release of director Mike Leigh’s film Mr. Turner, we’ve compiled a list of films, biopics of artists from the 1930s to the present day.
The last years in the life of English Romantic landscape painter, Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) is the subject of director Mike Leigh’s latest film starring Timothy Spall, Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey, Paul Jesson and Lesley Manville. It won Spall the best actor prize at Cannes this year for his performance as J.M.W. Turner, the finest of his career to date.
Following its premier at the BFI London Film Festival earlier this month, Leigh’s biopic of the English artist and associate of the Royal Academy since 1799, has already been received with positive reviews by critics. The film’s cast give a superb performance including Dorothy Atkinson’s as housewife Hannah Danby with whom Turner had a sexual relationship, Marion Bailey’s as Margate widow Sophia Booth (Turner’s late-life relationship) and Joshua McGuire’s act as writer and patron John Ruskin.
With cinematographer Dick Pope in charge, Mr. Turner is beautifully shot with the distinctive colouring of a calm morning like Turner’s paintings from his early career in the first decade of the 19th century, which recognised him as a prodigy. But the British director of Naked who also wrote the script for his latest film, brings back to life an artist’s genius of contrasting character with Mr. Turner. What is fascinating in Leigh’s film is how strongly bonded Turner was with his father, who lived with him for 30 years and worked as his studio assistant.
Here we’ve compiled a number of films about artists alongside their real-life portraits and sample of their work to try and imagine their spectacular creativity.
Mr. Turner is out in cinemas on 31 October and the exhibition Late Turner – Painting Set Free, devoted to the work of J.M.W. Turner between 1835 and his death in 1851, runs at the Tate Britain until 25 January 2015.
Rembrandt (Alexander Korda, 1936)
Charles Laughton as Rembrandt
Based on a story by Carl Zuckmayer with music score by Geoffrey Toye and cinematography by Georges Périnal, Rembrandt is a biographical film of the life of 17th-century Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) and starred by Charles Laughton. In 1940 Dutch filmmaker Gerard Rutten directed a film also portraying the life of Remmbrandt under the same title and performed by Jules Verstraete and a 1942 film was also made by German director Hans Steinhoff, starring Ewald Balser (The Woman at the Crossroads).
The one (and only) explanation surviving about what Rembrandt wanted to achieve with his art, is in a letter to poet and composer Constantijn Huygens where he wrote: “the greatest and most natural movement, translate from de meeste en de natuurlijkste beweegelijkheid.” The word “beweechgelickhijt” is argued to mean “emotion” or “motive.” Rembrandt’s painting The Storm on the Sea of Galilee (1633) is still missing after the robbery from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990.
Lust for Life (Vincente Minnelli, George Cukor, 1956)
Kirk Douglas as Vincent van Gogh
In the role of Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Kirk Douglas famously practiced painting crows to closely imitate van Gogh at work in Vincente Minnelli and George Cukor’s biographical film about the Dutch painter. Anthony Quinn’s performance as Van Gogh’s friend Paul Gauguin, earned him an Academy Award for best actor in supporting role. Lust for Life is based on Irving Stone’s 1934 novel and the film was received with praise upon its release. On 18 September 1956, New York Times critic Bosley Crowther wrote about the production team: “consciously made the flow of color and the interplay of compositions and hues the most forceful devices for conveying a motion picture comprehension of van Gogh.”
Vincent van Gogh was influenced by Impressionism, Neo-impressionism and Japanese prints and he painted peasant subjects in earthly colours. While in Paris in 1887, Vincent and his brother Theo met and befriended Paul Gauguin who had just arrived in the city. A year later van Gogh went to Arles and was joined by Gauguin shortly afterwards. But their violent arguments led van Gogh to his first mental crisis and cut off his own ear. His Sunflowers are the most recognizable series of paintings in all art.
Andrei Rublev (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1966)
Anatoly Solonitsyn as Andrei Rublev
Named as the best arthouse film of all time by the Guardian, and placed in the top 30 within the BFI’s once-a-decade greatest film poll, Andrei Rublev is a 205-minute epic story about the greatest medieval Russian painter of Orthodox icons and frescoes. A feast in the language of film, Andrei Tarkovsky‘s biopic of Andrei Rublev (c.1360-c.1428), also known as The Passion According to Andrei, depicts a portrait of a turbulent 15th century Russia that resulted to Tsardom.
Due to pressure from Soviet officials and the film’s religious themes, Andrei Rublev was not released in Russia for years after its completion except from a one off screening in Moscow in 1966. It screened at Cannes Film Festival in 1969 but again due to pressure from the Soviet Union it was not eligible to compete for the Palme d’Or or the Grand Prix awards. It did however win the FIPRESCI prize of national organisations of professional film critics and film journalists from around the world.
Little is known about the life of the painter. The first mention of Andrei Rublev is in 1405, in the list of masters who created the icons and frescos for the Cathedral of the Annunciation of the Moscow Kremlin. His name is listed together with Byzantine master Theophanes the Greek who had moved to Russia and is believed to have trained Rublev.
Edvard Munch (Peter Watkins, 1974)
Geir Westby as Edvard Munch
Writer-director Peter Watkins’s drama about the Norwegian expressionist painter Edvard Munch (1863-1944) was originally created for TV but got its theatrical release in the US as a three-hour biopic in 1976 and screened at Cannes Film Festival in the same year. It is an extraordinary account of Munch’s life and influences that shaped his art, the gratification of disease and death in his family and his attempts to explain life with his art and through his emotional and psychological states.
The Scream, which exists in four versions – two pastels (1893 and 1895) and two paintings (1893 and 1910) – is Munch’s most famous works. He left all the works in his possession to the City of Oslo to form a Munch Museum.
Schalcken the Painter (Leslie Megahey, 1979)
Jeremy Clyde as Godfried Schalcken
Shot in a docudrama style, Leslie Megahey’s Schalcken the Painter was aired on 23 December 1979 as part of the BBC’s arts documentary programme Omnibus. It is an adaptation of Sheridan Le Fanu’s gothic story Strange Event in the Life of Schalcken the Painter inspired from the atmospheric work of Dutch portrait painter Godfried Schalcken (1643-1706). Magically shot by cameraman John Hooper to closely illustrate the Dutch painter’s studio, director Megahey was influenced by Polish director Walerian Borowczyk’s film Blanche (1971).
Schalcken drew small scenes lit by candlelight and examples of his work can be found in the National Gallery, London, the Louvre and Dresden Gallery.
Caravaggio (Derek Jarman, 1986)
Noam Almaz as boy Caravaggio, Dexter Fletcher as young Caravaggio, Nigel Terry as Caravaggio
Artist-director Derek Jarman spent seven years experimenting with 8mm films and raising money for his 1986 biopic Caravaggio, a fiction film on the life of Baroque painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610). Funded by the BFI and for the first time with the help of the British television company Channel4, Caravaggio saw Jarman’s first collaboration with actor Tilda Swinton. Her role in the film as Lena was her first film role and in real life Swinton and Jarman established a long and strong friendship until the director’s passing in 1994.
Marking Jarman’s new phase in his filmmaking career, which opened up the opportunity of support received from television companies for his films’ distribution, Caravaggio screened at the 36th Berlin International Film Festival and was awarded the Silver Bear for outstanding single achievement.
With superb visuals, live representations of Caravaggio’s most notable work and outstanding production designs by Christopher Hobbs, Caravaggio is Derek Jarman’s most notable works alongside his 1977 daring film for its originality in the punk genre, Jubilee.
Camille Claudel (Bruno Nuytten, 1988)
Isabelle Adjani as Camille Claudel
Based on the book by Reine-Marie Paris, Bruno Nuytten’s biopic film about 19th century French sculptor and graphic artist Camille Claudel (1864-1943), was seen by almost three million in France alone upon its release on 7 December 1988. Co-produced and starred by Isabelle Adjani, whose performance earned her the Academy Award and Silver Bear at the 39th Berlin International Film Festival for best actor, the picture’s cast and crew also took the Academy Award for best foreign language film. Gérard Depardieu stars in the role of Auguste Rodin, with whom Claudel had a long and depressing relationship. Later in 2013 Bruno Dumont also wrote and directed Camille Claudel, 1915, a riveting portrait of the artist powerfully performed by Juliette Binoche.
Camille Claudel was one of the first artists to exhibit at the Salon d’Automne annual art exhibition in Paris since it was initiated in 1903 and novelist and art critic Octave Mirbeau once described her as: “A revolt against nature: a woman genius.”
My Left Foot (Jim Sheridan, 1989)
Daniel Day-Lewis as Christy Brown
Based on his autobiography of the same name, My Left Foot tells the story of Irish writer-painter Christy Brown (1932-1981) who was born with cerebral palsy and could only have unequivocal control of his left foot with which he wrote and sketched. Brown’s story was adapted by Shane Connaughton and director Jim Sheridan and during production Daniel Day-Lewis could only manipulate his right foot to perform the scenes from the film thus many of them were filmed through a mirror. Day-Lewis’s performance earned him the Academy Award for best actor alongside his co-star Brenda Fricker in the role of Brown’s mother Brenda, who also received the Academy Award for best actor in supporting role.
Van Gogh (Maurice Pialat, 1991)
Jacques Dutronc as Vincent van Gogh
As with Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner, a film that looked at the last years in the life of J.M.W. Turner, Maurice Pialat’s Van Gogh follows the last 67 days of the Dutch artist. Contrasted with Minnelli’s film Lust for Life mentioned earlier, Pialat’s approach is on the 19th century society and the artist’s relationships with his brother Theo, his physician Paul Gachet and the women in his life.
Surviving Picasso (James Ivory, 1996)
Anthony Hopkins as Pablo Picasso
Shot in Paris and Southern of France, star Anthony Hopkins in the role of Spanish painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist and stage designer Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) gives an all together bold performance but the artist himself comes out as cold and careless. Directed by James Ivory, Surviving Picasso is seen through the eyes of his lover, French painter and author Françoise Gilot (Natascha McElhone) and other women who were influential in his life.
Basquiat (Julian Schnabel, 1996)
Jeffrey Wright as Jean-Michel Basquiat
Basquiat was the debut feature about a painter made by a painter-filmmaker, Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly). With generally favourable reviews, including Roger Ebert’s high rating in the Chicago Sun-Times, art press reviews were unconvinced by Schnabel’s idea. Nevertheless, Basquiat, the biopic based on expressionist and graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) is a fearless film, bold for its subject, its trying difficulties (Schnabel was not permitted to film Basquiat’s work by the artist’s agency so he had to recreate it all by himself) and performances by Jeffrey Wright in the main role and David Bowie as Basquiat’s friend and mentor Andy Warhol.
Pollock (Ed Harris, 2000)
Ed Harris as Jackson Pollock
A long-term dream of Ed Harris, his biopic of American abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) in which he also stars in the lead role, is a fierce portrait of the artist’s volatile personality. Harris created all the paintings in the film himself and co-star Marcia Gay Harden‘s performance as Pollock’s wife and artist Lee Krasner earned her an Academy Award for best actor in supporting role.
Pollock signed a gallery contract with Peggy Guggenheim in 1943 and is thought to be the first artist to have originated the term action painting through his technique of pouring and dripping paint to his canvases from all directions.
Frida (Julie Taymor, 2002)
Salma Hayek as Frida Kahlo
Winner of two Academy Awards for best makeup and best original score, Julie Taymor‘s film biopic Frida tells the story of life and art of surrealist Mexican painter Frida Kahlo (1907-1954). With an exemplary performance by Academy Award nominated for her role as Frida, Salma Hayek alongside Alfred Molina as her husband and painter Diego Rivera, Taymor’s film is perhaps one of the most adorable art biopic films worldwide and its total gross reached more than $56,000,000.
Due to an accident while on a bus ride at the age of 18, Kahlo suffered from multiple injuries including a broken spinal column. As a result, a great deal of pain persisted throughout the rest of her life. Her work is celebrated in Mexico and around the world for its indigenous tradition and by feminists for its representation of the female experience. She created more than 140 paintings alongside dozens of drawings and studies.
Séraphine (Martin Provost, 2008)
Yolande Moreau as Séraphine Louis
Séraphine is a portrait of French painter Séraphine Louis (1864-1942) who found inspiration in nature from where she collected her material (soil, dead pig blood) while walking to work every day. Martin Provost’s film is an inspiring work elegantly telling the story of a talented housekeeper, self-taught artist and the prize of being a creative in a narrow-minded society.
The film explores the relationship between Louis and German art collector Wilhelm Uhde when they first met in 1912 and won a number of awards in France including the César Award for best film and best actor for Yolande Moreau in the lead role.
Renoir (Gilles Bourdos, 2013)
Michel Bouquet as Auguste Renoir
Based on the last years of leading impressionist painter Pierre-August Renoir (1841-1919), Gilles Bourdos’s film is a celebration of colour, light, flesh and beauty with a voyeuristic eye. It tells the story of French actress Andrée Heuschling (known as Catherine Hessling), Renoir’s last model and first actress in the films of his son, Jean Renoir destined to become one of the greatest film directors of all time.
Georgia Korossi is editor of 11polaroids, writer and curator of film based in London and Athens. You can read more of her writings here.
Tell the world about Philosophy! 15 films from around the world that inspired our imagination during the festival in London this year.
The present is a strange beast.
- Jean-Luc Godard
Goodbye to Language (Adieu au langage, 2014)
Αnother festival of imaginative films closed its curtains last week. Our focus this month was the BFI London Film Festival where we saw films from around the world that took us outside of our comfort zone. It was an adventurous 12-day festival covering for the BFI’s very own live blog and putting forward BFI-produced videos of highlights and interviews. A week later the memories are still bold with inspirational films. Here are 15 that caught our attention.
Winner of The Grierson Award in the Documentary Competition, Ossama Mohammed and Wiam Simav Bedirxan’s Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait is a courageous work filmed under the most dangerous circumstances. A film made of 1001 images, shot by 1001 Syrian men and women and Mohammed himself, the director found these images on a daily stream from YouTube. He left Syria on May 9, 2011, “the day of triumph over fascism” Mohammed tells us in his film. With him he carried these 1001 images for a talk in Cannes and since then he’s been living in exile in Paris. A year later in 2012, Wiam Simav Bedirxan, a young woman who lived in Homs, got in touch with Mohammed and started filming what she was witnessing: the cinema of the victim and the murderer alongside her struggle for survival.
A much-deserved winner for such a prestigious documentary award, Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait brings forward experiences from a cruel reality that is hard to imagine in the western world. This is disturbing, pure cinema that observes life’s cruel reality and Syria’s deep struggles.
Juror’s for this year’s documentary competition were film-director and producer Sophie Fiennes (The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology), the Emmy®-winner and BAFTA-nominated producer and director Roy Ackerman, the Emmy®-winning producer and editor of Storyville Nick Fraser, Dogwoof’s head of distribution Oli Harbottle, and the BAFTA-nominated filmmaker and screenwriter Penny Woolcock.
For Ossama Mohammed and Wiam Simav Bedirxan’s confronting account of life in Syria during the civil war, Fiennes commented:
The jury were deeply affected by this film. Ossama Mohammed and Wiam Simav Bedirxan’s portrait of Syria is both unflinching and poetic. It is hard to watch, because the fact of war is and should be unbearable. Bedirxan’s passionate and courageous quest to be a reliable witness, while trying to comprehend and survive her desperate situation in Homs, is profoundly moving. Ossama Mohammed’s exile in Paris, resonates with our own safe distance from this war, but the miracle of the film is how it engages us.
In one of the screen talks at the festival, director Abderrahmane Sissako was in conversation with the BFI’s Head of Film Programme and critic Geoff Andrew. When asked why he made his latest film, Timbuktu, Sissako explained there was a situation that made him start with the idea. In July 2012 while on visit to one of the villages in Mali, he witnessed a couple being stoned to death because of adultery. On this very day, he adds, a new phone had come out and the media filmed the very first person buying it, as if someone who has a new phone is an important piece of news. We are bombarded on a daily basis with news that is not of any significance. As Sissako emphasized during his conversation with Andrew, “It is important to him [the person who bought the new phone] but not to the rest of us”.
Later in the conversation, Sissako tells us about today’s spotlight on Islam:
The current discourse is that [Islam] is about this terrible religion but it’s not true. There are a number of people who have appropriated this religion as a vehicle for their own interest and it has nothing to do with Islam itself.
Sissako’s latest picture Timbuktu, bares witness to what the director saw in July 2012. Timbuktu is a powerful portrait of love, compassion, suffering and humanity brilliantly shot by Blue is the Warmest Colour‘s cinematographer Sofian El Fani.
Similarly, writer-director Mohsen Makhmalbaf (A Moment of Innocence) made The President, an insightful film with a universal scope: peace for all. Filmed in Georgia, Iranian director Makhmalbaf triumphs in bringing international anxiety with powerful effect to his picture. The President is an astonishing work that asks this simple question: if ideology is based on revenge, how can you talk about democracy?
Outside the international spectre, we caught up with films that dealt with personal difficulties, struggles, loneliness and rage. Jean-Paul Civeyrac’s My Friend Victoria, adapted from a story by Doris Lessing, is an intelligent portrait of racial identity in the contemporary western world. Poignantly performed by newcomers Guslagie Malanda and Nadia Moussa, the two friends, and adopted sisters, come across a French bourgeoisie that is open to diversity under its own terms and conditions. Following some unexpected circumstances and much consideration for her little girl’s future, Victoria chooses to take this journey but equally it has to be under her own terms too. It is a lonely journey and Civeyrac’s adaptation of Lessing’s story is an achievement in portraying a complex reality.
Tender and at the same time funny, Ne me quitte pas by Sabine Lubbe Bakker and Niels van Koevorden, tells the heartfelt story of the friendship between the recently divorced, with two kids, Marcel and his pal Bob. Beautifully photographed with an eye for still-life symbolism, the duo’s film reminded me of Sergei Dvortsevoy’s 1998 documentary Bread Day. In Ne me quitte pas, also reminiscent of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, the two men live their intuitive life in rural Belgium, which is far from harmonic.
Greek director Syllas Tzoumerkas’s second feature A Blast is a superb portrait of the gratitude and sadness flaming in Maria’s (Angeliki Papoulia) life. A mother of two whose husband is a sailor and works on a tankship in Germany for six months, Maria is trapped in the misery of loneliness and huge financial depth inherited from her mother (Themis Bazaka).
Like with his debut feature Homeland, in his second film Tzoumerkas focuses on family, its patterns and consequences. But in A Blast rage breaks through institutional, social and personal anomalies in search for dignity and a firm mission for change. With outstanding performances from Angeliki Papoulia (Alps), Themis Bazaka (Wasted Youth) and newcomer Vassilis Doganis in the role of Maria’s husband Yannis, A Blast looks into adolescence, prostitution and escapism against the rise of far-right ignorance. Still threatening the most vulnerable in the crisis that is gripping Greece for the last five years, fascism gets the black eye from Maria’s daring and explosive anger.
Tzoumerkas balances the personal and national turbulence to a poignant level, which together with his film’s electrifying imagery of Maria’s and her husband’s flashbacks to the years of their romance, announce him as an audacious filmmaker. There’s nothing ‘weird’ about Tzoumerkas’s picture. Only the reality of a burning desire: to be loved, unconditionally. A Blast is an engaging film, which together with Ken McMullen’s admirable OXI: An Act of Resistance, also an entry to this year’s festival programme, are perhaps the most accurate accounts that carefully illustrate Greece’s difficult years of austerity and the tragic impact it has in people’s lives.
This year’s festival paid tribute to one of the world’s tireless documentary filmmakers, Frederick Wiseman. This is good news because at the age of 84, Wiseman continues to educate us with his passion for the art of documentary and technique as the great invisible behind the camera. It is truly a magical skill, as his characters in all his films seem almost always not to notice the presence of the camera. It happened most recently in his At Berkeley (2013) and it happens again in his new film National Gallery, a glorious account in a day of the life of the glorious paintings held by one of London’s art museums.
Wiseman’s National Gallery together with Mike Leigh’s biopic of the great Romantic painter Mr. Turner and Mark Cousins’s 6 Desires: DH Lawrence and Sardinia in the festival’s programme, have an appetite for the act of looking and appreciation for the great British artists. Only that Cousins’s latest essay film on the English novelist and poet and his brief visit to Sardinia in the early years of the 20th century, manifests an exemplary script and testifies the very essence of desire. Though his essay film affirms, “Not all desires should be satisfied”, in the end he simply reverses this affirmation with his very final scene. But I wouldn’t like to spoil it, just watch it when there’s a chance.
Peter Strickland‘s third feature and a follow up to his Berberian Sound Studio, The Duke of Burgundy is an adventure in sound and dark humour in the intimate relationship of two women. A long-term experimental musician, English writer-director Strickland emphasises on the intriguing sounds of cats and lepidopterists. But its surreal cinematography, telescopic imagery and kaleidoscopic autumnal patterns, under the supervision of Nic Knowland, alongside metallic appearances of butterflies trapped outside the bedroom, will burst your imagination to a hypnotic effect, transformed to a motif in the sounds of orchestral pop duo Cat’s Eye.
Another favourite from the festival was The Sapience by Eugène Green (The Portuguese Nun). Green is an educator himself who has drawn inspiration from the French baroque theatre technique. Thus it comes as no surprise that his film, for which he also wrote the script, is a visceral attempt to weight the poignancy of education as a bilateral practice between the teacher and the student. In the heart of 17th century baroque architecture during their visit to Italy, withdrawn architect Alexandre and his psychoanalyst wife Alienor encounter young brother Goffredo and his sister Lavinia. The age gap between the four blazes new trails in their personal experiences and the film’s tour around Italy’s celebrated Roman architecture, with strong reference to Francesco Borromini’s work, is an adventure into spaces of light with a ghostly effect. It also emphasises the need for an architecture where cities can grow organically.
Cinema’s enfant terrible, Jean-Luc Godard came back to the festival. This time with his 3D film. At the age of 83, the French auteur paid homage to the great modern philosophers, his dog Roxy, romance and humanity’s blinded conscience. In his Goodbye To Language he superbly plays with a variety of mini-3D cameras and it is an excellent film from which Hollywood needs to learn a thing or two. It felt like a real treat while watching it in full-house BFI IMAX: a celebration of independent thought, an original act of daring to think differently. It was a real gift Mr. Godard.
Sadly, we didn’t catch up with many shorts this year. However both Ahmed Ghoneimy’s The Cave (Cairo), a musician’s odyssey for an audition in Alexandria, and Philippe Lacôte’s To Repel Ghosts, based on Jean-Michel Basquiat’s last trip to Abidjan, deserve a special mention for their vigorous style. Both films screened as part of the African Metropolis programme at the festival.
A revamp programming approach at this year’s festival and a new hub for journalists at the BFI’s Stephen Street location, led an audience turn-out with a boasting 7.5% increase across London venues. Over 12,000 people across the UK attended simultaneous screenings of the Opening Night film of Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game, the Closing Night film of David Ayer’s Fury, and the Documentary Special Presentation of Laura Poitras’s CITIZENFOUR. This is confirmation that alternative content matters creatively as well as financially and with most of the films from the programme to look out for, hopefully when they get their release after their premier at the BFI London Film Festival, we will then meet you again next year.
Georgia Korossi is editor of 11polaroids, writer and curator of film based in London and Athens. You can read more of her writings here.
Continuing its reputation as the biggest international documentary film festival in UK, the 21st Sheffield Doc/Fest welcomed documentarians and activists from the public domain with a fierce independent spirit this year.
The past is always with us. But who wants to live in an antique shop?
- Ian McShane in How We Used To Live
A programme of at least 327 films and events, running in parallel with meetings on creative processes of brilliant ideas, drew much inspiration from filmmaker Peter Wintonick’s wish to exposing the truth and changing the world. Wintonick’s legacy was celebrated during the six-day long festival with the first ever Peter Wintonick Award that went to director Diana Whitten for her optimistic debut film Vessel, which is based on the story of activist-artist Dr Rebecca Gomperts. Since 2001 Gomperts and her crew provide support to women wishing to terminate their pregnancies for it’s “the basic human right to decide what is happening with their bodies.”
The festival this year opened triumphantly with three films. Florian Habicht’s Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets which sees Pulp’s front man Jarvis Cocker and his band back in their hometown, Sheffield; the outstanding documentary Miners Shot Down by Rehad Desai that reflects on the 2012 police crime which took place in South Africa and the astonishing film by Thomas Balmès, Happiness, which travelled festival delegates as far as Bhutan.
Seeing a packed Sheffield City Hall with locals and Pulp fans at the premier of Habicht’s film, it was striking. It was even more so to see these people featured in the film and talking about the unique talent of the city’s band. For most festival delegates, Sheffield is a relatively unknown city outside its centre. But Habicht brought the city’s common people and normal day-to-day things to the enormous City Hall screen, one of the new venues for this year’s Doc/Fest, and actually made everyone appreciate their warmth and admiration for their city’s band.
With great back stage images, enduring footage from Pulp’s 1995 Brixton Academy gig, diary footage with the band preparing for their last gig that took place in Sheffield in 2012 and interviews with the band’s members alongside with the people from Sheffield, Habicht’s portrait is a motivation as much as a desire to see the band coming back on stage after the encore. But it was Rehad Desai’s film Miners Shot Down that prepared the ground for skepticism and the value of accepting responsibility for humanity.
It was just two years ago when the police shot down 34 unarmed miners of the British company Lonmin and injured many more in Marikana, outside the land mines in South Africa, at the end of their struggle for better living. To date no police officers have been arrested or charged and nobody has taken responsibility. Neither the National Police Comissioner who ordered the killing nor Lonmin mining company.
Yet 270 miners out of 3,000 who were striking peacefully for better living and working conditions, without occupying any road or mining location, were arrested: initially charged with ‘public violence’ then for ‘murder’. Through footage filmed by the police and the mining company itself, released upon an investigation request, we see South Africa and its twisted mentality where the life of a black person is so cheap and apartheid heroes become one with the greedy side of the establishment. For the good of humanity everyone must see this film and these events should never be forgotten. Instead they should be investigated further in order to understand what went wrong with the conscience of the people involved in such an atrocity.
There are two forces at work always. A state of injustice, which makes you angry and the belief you can make a better world, which makes you optimistic. When anger and optimism come together, they are a very powerful force.
Amirani’s heartfelt document of the coalition movement is an affirmation of filmmaker Ken Loach’s vision (who also appears in the film) towards a serious organization for the escalation of a better society.
There’s nothing like people coming together out of solidarity around a common cause and one simple message, No War, as it happened all around the globe on 15 February 2013 and a month before the war against Iraq begun. Ten years after “Mission Accomplished”, Iraq descents into chaos and despite public calls and the enormity of divide that existed against the war, the truth about Iraq is not known to our collective consciousness. With an array of interviews from the organisers of the coalition movement, the public and politicians, Amirani’s film is a sensational and necessary watch. We have to keep returning, demonstrating again and again because the cause of war was unjust and people know that with their voices they can win the future of humanity.
As much as hope is crucial in politics, digital giant Aaron Swartz’s hope for a better world caught him within a U.S. prosecution system that builds cases of its own. Swartz’s suicide last year at the age of twenty-eight was an international devastation. With an astounding cinematography of family footage and testifiers from his immediate family and friends such as Tim Berners-Lee, Brian Knappenberger’s film The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz testifies the Obama administration and brings to light how it used Swartz to scare people.
From an early age Swartz was a pioneer of science whose intelligence flourished alongside his passion for bringing public access to the public domain. Access and knowledge is a human right so it’s our duty to always question scientific attitude, support hackers for rights instead of money-centered internet entrepreneurs and demand progress. Knappenberger’s film was quite rightly awarded the Sheffield Youth Jury Award and it’s Aaron Swartz who wins the battle of free information, not the inconceivable prosecution system he sadly got caught up with.
Paul Kelly’s collage of archive colour films, the majority of them funded by the British government between 1950-1980 and now held at the BFI National Archive, undresses the city of London to reach the heart of the city’s evolution in his latest film How We Used to Live. Narrated by actor Ian McShane and with glimpses of artist Barbara Hepworth at work and people going about their daily lives in the city, Kelly’s film is a celebration of London from post-war, to a Richard Hoggart influenced green city to an endless city of towers and concrete roads with cars driving to unknown destinations.
With the outstanding music from electro pop trio Saint Etienne, How We Used to Live, is as explosive as our daily imagination can be. But there’s a question to be asked about architecture in this city today. Anxiety and tension are towering, new urban architecture with stainless steel, anti-social spikes is as hostile and tasteless as it has never been before. Tomorrow is not just another day to shape as we imagine in our individual lives. Hopefully it’s another day to make this city functional for all, including vulnerable people and skateboarders in the heart of London.
Quite rightly children had once again an important presence in this year’s Doc/Fest programme. Mo Naqvi’s film Pakinstan’s Hidden Shame, which uncovers the story of vulnerable young boys in cities across Pakistan who are being raped for earning their living, is hard to swallow. Naqvi’s direct approach witnesses paedophiles who seem fearless of the law simply because there’s none for children in Pakistan.
I won’t argue how this portrait might be an attraction to a middle class society or why Naqvi chose to focus only Pakistan’s boys and not the girls, as the post-screening questions from the audience suggested. This is not the point here. But what’s at stake is how we stop this, how much aware we are, how we can help these children who become victims of sex and drugs abuse and why 95% of truck drivers can happily admit having sex with these boys. This is uncivilized, a devastating truth that can’t be ignored.
Thomas Balmès’s Happiness turned our attention to another corner of the world for a portrait of a different experience of youth. Eight-year-old Peyangki lives happily in his village Laya, the last village in Bhutan to enter the process of globalization following the King’s authorization for television use and internet access. Peyangki’s mum cannot afford to send him to school and she decides to take him to the nearby monastery to become a monk. Free-spirited Peyangki would not just let his imagination of the world be limited within a tiny circuit of monks, a single fellow student and the Lama, and he decides to spend much of his time outdoors and takes a three-day journey with his uncle to the capital.
The result of a rich cinematographic skill combined with Peyangki’s thirst for life in Happiness is an exploration of love for the natural world on the big screen. Following its premier at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, Happiness won the Cinematography Award: World Cinema Documentary. This is not a surprise and the experience of seeing Balmes’s film on the big screen is undeniably a very special thing.
The two documentaries that characterised this year’s Doc/Fest programme for their merit in debriefing the art of film, photography and writing were Ethan Reid‘s story of Peter de Rome: Grandfather of Gay Porn, who sadly passed away a few days ago on 21 June, and Regarding Susan Sontag, a film by Nancy Kates. The celebrated work of Peter de Rome (1924-2014) is splendidly illustrated through Reid’s film. Thanks to the BFI National Archive’s recent acquisition of his films, de Rome’s work is now introduced to an entirely new audience.
As a filmmaker who was always grounded, cultured and who liked sex, de Rome took great risks to brake the sealing of gay-rights secrecy. His films were the first example of art-erotic-gay filmmaking and without great resources and a studio he managed to create a monumental body of work. From its concept to its ending titles created par excellence, director Ethan Reid’s skill is bringing together an intimate and mind blowing portrait of the artist in his Peter de Rome: Grandfather of Gay Porn.
Noteworthy this year’s Doc/Fest retrospective on the work of the greatest living filmmaker, Agnès Varda, is also evidence that the spirit of social engagement, Wintonick came to expose in more recent years, was palpable during the festival. Varda emerged in the same historical moment as critic, essayist, novelist and filmmaker Susan Sontag and as the New Wave. However they were both engaged with a social commitment through their work long before the days of the New Wave movement.
It was also appealing to have an entry at the Doc/Fest’s programme that gives the actual definition of the writer and nobody could have been more suitable than Sontag. One of the most intelligent women in America, Sontag’s critique of purism pays homage to writers who she describes as “passionate about everything”. The documentary Regarding Susan Sontag by Nancy Kates unravels the life and style of Sontag as an iconic figure who confronted traditional academia. She embraced progressive politics, feminism, homosexuality and Godard and she described cinema as “poetic, mysterious and erotic all at the same time”.
In 2003 during her speech at Vassar College, Sontag said:
Don’t allow yourself to be patronised, condescended to. Which if you’re a woman it happens and it will continue to happen all the time, all your lives. Don’t take shit, tell the bastards off.
Kates’s documentary is an influential and expressive work most purified of independent and experimental thinking. Combined with Sontag’s voice, archive materials and readings from Sontag’s essays by actress Patricia Clarkson, the result is a beautifully illustrated film that makes us identify the importance of thinking and reflecting on present truths.
Sontag’s thought on photography is vividly referenced throughout Kates’s documentary and we learn that Sontag got in a relationship with one of the most acclaimed American photographers, Annie Leibovitz: a pleasant discovery as both women shared mutual creative visions. On photography Sontag once said: “I think the overall affect of photographs, of painful, terrible photographs is that one is very shocked. I think that when we see a lot of painful photographs, we think less.” Perhaps a good topic for discussion next year, Sheffield Doc/Fest? Till then, I hope all the above films will be available to the public this year as widely and globally as possible for their true nature belongs out there, in the wild.
Till next year Sheffield Doc/Fest.
Georgia Korossi is editor of 11polaroids, writer and producer of film based in London and Athens.
Highly respected for his outstanding work by the British and international arts community, director Ken Loach returns this year with his latest film Jimmy’s Hall.
Ken Loach and his regular collaborator, writer Paul Laverty (The Angel’s Share, The Wind That Shakes the Barley) return to Ireland to feature the story of a dynamic and charismatic character, Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward), and the political situation during the extreme catholic days of 1930s, which left little space for freedom of expression. Ten years after the Irish Civil War, state and church had combined to make a very authoritarian society. Jimmy Gralton and his friends hoped for a middle space where people could come and dance, enjoy themselves, study and discuss freedom.
Thus they created and organised a hall which for them meant a physical manifestation of their shared creative ideas, Jimmy’s Hall. Soon the hall became an iconic and symbolic thing for the community. The interference of the local priest, performed by Jim Norton, forced Jimmy and his friends into a cruel struggle to save their space and sees Jimmy Gralton deported from his homeland.
A similar situation is not far from today’s reality. The rich are still in control, the violence against the poor continues to be systematic and the struggle of space is still very important. Yet it’s hard to imagine how Ken Loach can be described as someone who has no respect for his country as he’s often been portrayed. This is quite a blind statement of journalism that seems to ignore reality and history. What about Martin Luther King who taught us how unsophisticated nationalism and racism are and that there’s no reason for them to exist in a society aiming at progress? Jimmy’s Hall is a film about class issue and freedom of expression, not a matter of nationality, communism and “never helping mum with housework shock” as Ryan Gilbey mentions in his review for the New Statesman.
Ken Loach’s latest picture was a delight to see on the big screen when it premiered at a full house at London’s BFI Southbank shortly after the 2014 European Parliament election that coincided with the local elections in England and saw the devastating turnout of 34.17% of the country’s total population. Its Tarkovsky-like photographic excellence by the skillful hands of Robbie Ryan (Philomena, Ginger & Rosa, Wuthering Heights) has hues interchanging from the warm and bright colours of swing dancers on the Irish field passageways to cold blue and green tones cutting at the priest’s speech in the church while reading the names of people who went to the hall for a dance, as if it’s a crime.
The outstanding performances especially by Simone Kirby, Aisling Franciosi and newcomer Aileen Henry are arresting at the heart of serious feminist theory and feminist existentialism. But I had to meet with director Ken Loach to hear his thoughts around humanity and how it has established itself quite apart from the natural world as well as how his picture relates to the persisting phenomenon of xenophobia.
Jimmy’s Hall is influenced by a play written by Irish writer and actor Donal O’Kelly, the book My Cousin Jimmy written by Margaret Gralton, newspaper reports and known public events and adapted for the screen by Paul Laverty. But there is nothing to be found in the National Archive Office in Dublin: all paper reports of Gralton’s deportation are missing so it’s all written in the memory of people and some of it Loach and his production crew had to imagine.
Why did you decide to return to Ireland for your new film?
The relationship between Ireland and Britain is obviously critical. It illuminates Britain’s imperialist past, it reveals the consciousness that the British ruling class had perpetuated above what they did in Ireland, which was their colony for 800 years. The Irish were struggling for independence for 200 years and more then when they finally voted democratically to be independent, the British closed the parliament, sent in the troops, closed down the newspapers, brutalised them as they had done for centuries.
Yet the myth that is perpetuated in the discourse about Ireland is that the Irish can’t stop fighting each other and the British intervened out of the kindness of their hearts and it’s completely false: the violence was done to the Irish by the British. Also the way the British tried to stay in control of Ireland even when they were forced to relinquish part of their territory. It was again absolutely illustrative of how they tried to keep control of their empire even when they had to give independence to the country. And Ireland is a very rich culture, it’s rich in comedies and stories and characters so it’s a very rich country to work in. But principally it’s to set the record straight about what the British did in Ireland.
How does the story of Jimmy Gralton relate to the current political landscape?
Jimmy Gralton and his friends tried to set up a free space for learning, for dance, for entertainment, for music, for sports, lessons in boxing, woodwork classes, something where they were in control of what they did, where the community was in control. It was done democratically and it was autonomous. That desire for people to be in control of their own future is very powerful and it’s still an issue now. We don’t have the orthodox of the church now, we have the orthodox of the IMF or the World Bank or the European Union bureaucrats saying this is the only way we can live and we have to be subservient to it, we have to put up with mass unemployment and the dominance of big corporations. There’s an orthodoxy there that you can’t challenge and in the same way we had the church which had the orthodoxy saying this is how you must live your life. How dissidents and people with an alternative perspective find space is still an issue.
What kind of views are you hoping your audience to have after seeing your film?
I hope they enjoy meeting Jimmy and the others, that they’d share and understand their dilemmas, because the same dilemmas occur time and time again when people try to do anything radical. How far do you pursue your principles even if it’s going to risk what you’ve already achieved and that’s the dilemma that Jimmy Gralton and co. face when they consider whether to actively get involved in reinstating a tenant who is being evicted. If they do that they make themselves vulnerable and if they don’t do it then they betray their principles. So it’s a dilemma and I think that’s a dilemma that people in radical organisations have all the time.
I hope they’d understand that and I hope that they’d see Jimmy Gralton in all the local campaigns that everybody can take a part in order to save a hospital, protect the NHS, to support the disabled or support the homeless, trade unionists trying to claim better wages or conditions. There are campaigns for better transport and old people, hundreds of campaigns over and over again, most of them are run by people like Jimmy Gralton who nourish the community.
In hearing about Jimmy’s story I hope that they’ll find a kinship with people who are doing equivalent work right now. Also relate to the times: we had a financial collapse in 1929 and we have one now, we’ve had a recession and mass unemployment then we’ve got one now. The popular left hasn’t got itself organized the way it should and then we’ve had a decade of unemployment. The far right was on the march then and we’ve seen were that led in the 1930s and the far right is on the march now. So there’s lots of parallels and we need to look back and think what did they do wrong, how can we get it better. The good news now is that there are popular left movements. Syriza in Greece has done well and the parties in Spain have done well but we have been there before so I hope audiences could reflect on that.
However people in Greece and perhaps other countries in the world still don’t trust the popular left. In what ways could someone approach far right voters and actually make them understand what they’re doing is wrong reflecting on recent history lessons?
That’s the good thing about Jimmy Gralton: they achieve something. I think people voting for the far right, they’re voting with despair and when they’re voting for the left, they’re voting with hope because they think they can achieve something. We need to stress the positive things that people can do it and achieve together. It is to get rid of that fear, the fear of the immigrant, the fear of the foreigner, the fear of financial meltdown, the fear that everything is going to be chaotic if the European Union pulls out its subsidy. We have all the labour power, we have all the resources, we can achieve everything. And there’s this kind of myth that you need these people to exploit you in order to achieve anything. And of course it’s nonsense. It’s a fear that perpetuates and that’s how they stay in control, through fear and the way to come back to the far right is with hope and to show what is possible.
I wonder if you had any thoughts on Patricio Guzman’s terrific Battle of Chile and the sad ending of his trilogy that sees a failure for the left.
I think he’s a terrific filmmaker, Patricio Guzman. I have a huge respect for him. He’s a very thoughtful and serious man and a good filmmaker.It’s a huge issue to untangle and I don’t know enough about Chile to be pontificating about it. I think it’s an international failure: when a country like Chile takes a stand and Allende takes a stand the left internationally should have offered more support, because we know it will be attacked and it will be attacked again. It’s happened in Nicaragua and it’s happened all over. If a country does begin to establish the basis for a socialist society, the Americans and Europeans will attack it and they will only survive by international support. It’s a challenge for the international left to support it. That’s when you see the socialist democrats are really right wing because given the choice between a socialist state and a capitalist state they will always back the capitalists, like our Labour party or the French Socialist party, as they did in Spain. They were more prepared for Franco to win than to support the Spanish Republic. And these are the Social Democrats, these are the ones who call themselves left. So it’s got to be the serious left that will defend a country like Chile that begins to establish the basis for a socialist society.
There are talks in Greece that suggest Syriza’s Alexis Tsipras and his representatives should practice their English to avoid embarrassment outside of Greece. Do you think this is a concern at all?
Absolutely not! Why should he speak the language of imperialism. He’s Greek so he should speak Greek and there are good translators. I don’t think everybody should speak English, that’s bowing down before the imperialists. Language is about power. The powerful always take their language with them and make everyone else speak it. So I think it’s a sign of independence to speak your own language. He should stick to Greek.
In Jimmy’s Hall, Marie is probably the most powerful character from whom we could perhaps earn inspiration for strength in achieving our human rights.
Yes. I think you’re right. Marie leads the resistance of the kids. She suffers a beating and she still resists. She’s a great character, a great girl and beautifully played by Aisling [Franciosi] who’s a lovely actress. We were very determined it should be a girl who does it so it isn’t too stereotypical. There was foul piece in The Spectator this week by a woman columnist [Julie Bindel] who accused us of kind of extreme male dominated characters. And there was a piece in the same magazine the previous week by their male political correspondent, a vicious personal attack, and one again this week. This is allegedly like a serious magazine and it’s absolutely foul, it uses foul language.
I’m glad you picked up on Marie because we thought there were strong women in the film. There’s Marie, there’s Alice who runs the local circulating library, there’s Oonagh who makes strong points and she suggests going to the priest. We thought there were strong women but she [Bindel] chooses to attack it viciously. It’s really extraordinary, and I think there is a concerted political attack to takes us down as a group, as people making films. It’s too coincidental. You can have one ugly attack but then to have two in the same paper in consecutive weeks is very bizarre and it’s like they are out to destroy us. It’s very strange.
Did you have a similar response to your previous films?
Yes with the Irish films. With The Wind That Shakes the Barley I was compared to Leni Riefenstahl and a right-wing correspondent in the Telegraph said he hadn’t seen the film and he didn’t want to see the film because he didn’t need to read Mein Kampf to know what a louse Hitler is. It goes beyond criticism it goes beyond anything, it’s a kind of rage or hysteria from the right. I think they know exactly what they are doing they are trying to destroy it. We did another film in Ireland called Hidden Agenda, over 20 years ago, and when it went to Cannes a right-wing MP said that it was the IRA entry at Cannes. You know they try to destroy it, to destroy you.
What did you think about the Dardenne brothers’ entry to this year’s Cannes film festival, Two Days, One Night?
They are very good filmmakers and very good friends. It’s very interesting and it’s a very valid film and makes some good points. Marion Cotillard is very good in the film and gives a lovely performance. I think there is an interesting discussion to have politically because I don’t know how it leaves working people, when they have the question of organization in it, because they are potentially stronger than they appear in the film. If they were to get together they could stop production, they have the power to be strong. It’s a question of whether you have to indicate that in a film or whether you should, or whether you just let it be of face value where everybody is entirely individual and separate. But they are good friends and I always enjoy their work.
In Jimmy’s Hall, is the erotic element between Oonagh and Jimmy true? Is there evidence about it?
Not as far as we know. Oonagh is an imaginary character. But at the end of his life Jimmy got married in New York to an Irish woman who was from just a few miles away from where he lived in Ireland. So that’s really unusual.
With regards to archive and its memory, how important is it for the society?
It’s central. It’s like the famous quote by Milan Kundera, “the struggle of memory against forgetting”: the struggle of the people against those in power. It’s about who writes the history and those in power write the history. So when you challenge their version of history, like we did in Ireland, they become apoplectic, they have a rage and a dedication to undermine anything that challenges their version of what happened. So keeping the record is absolutely central.
Jimmy’s Hall was shot on film, physically worked on a Steenbeck flatbed film editing suite and is now out in UK cinemas.
Georgia Korossi is editor of 11polaroids, writer and producer of film based in London and Athens.
Coinciding with the events in Thessaloniki as the European Youth Capital, the screens in the northern Greek city wrote ethics, truth and literacy on the wall.
Peter Wintonick once wrote: “We should attempt to pour our work and activism into the forge of human service. Let us become our own masters, re-appropriate our media away from conglomerates, consumption and mass-mind colonizers. Let us ‘robin hoodwink’ them, transforming our documentary artwork into real media for the masses.”
This year’s Thessaloniki Documentary Festival honored the ambassador of the international documentary community Peter Wintonick (who passed on last November) and his fellow film director Nicolas Philibert (To Be and to Have, Nénette). In the words of Wintonick, “Documentary is an ethical enterprise.” In our digital media culture this means that the documentary artwork educates, has a worldview and communicates.
Philibert’s In the Land of the Deaf (1992) is the perfect example of power discrimination between the hearing and the deaf, which is still considered a taboo in the 21st century. Never before a work has emphasized so strongly the importance of imaginative social work. In his early years, Florent who is deaf by birth, lets us inside his world while learning the sign language with his mother and schoolteachers. When he reaches for Philibert’s boom mic behind the camera, we’re taken by his hands’ and facial expressions: all that really matters to him and thousands of people who live in silence. Philibert’s film impacts our understanding of communication and his method makes us understand about the world we live in.
Philibert tells me, “All my choices are linked with the idea of cinema. When I decided to make this film it was also because sign language is very close to cinema language. A famous linguist explained that sign language has much more in common with cinema editing than any other language. Sign language is like a frame because it’s a visual language. You have close ups, wide views and movements of zoom inside the sign language and this is also what drove me to make this film. Not only the subject.” When I asked him about what advice he would give to new filmmakers he tells me, “I’m not the one who wants to give any lessons to other filmmakers because they are able to give their best. Any filmmaker has to invent his/her own tools, grammar, method and approach.”
On June 11, 2013 Greece’s broadcasting corporation (ERT) was shut within five hours. A similar incident never happened before not even during the years of the Greek dictatorship and the fascist military junta. Thus it came as a shock to the global community. Yorgos Avgeropoulos’s The Lost Signal of Democracy gives a comprehensive analysis of what exactly happened nine months ago. Apparently an unpublished legislative act allowed ministers the statutory authorization to publish a ministerial decree to close down ERT. The fact that legislative acts are a way to circumvent the Parliament but only in emergency circumstances, as set fourth in the constitution, didn’t matter to the nation’s current Prime Minister Antonis Samaras at all.
This was a decision of political control, ignoring profound democratic questions. On June 17, 2013 Greece’s supreme court ruled the Prime Minister’s act as non-legitimate but the Greek government never obeyed its decision. Job losses added to the 1.5 million of people out of work in Greece with current unemployment surpassing 30% while the closure of ERT also meant the loss of €300 million revenue.
Meanwhile fascism is escalating in the Greek Cypriot community on the sunny island of Cyprus as we get to see in Iva Radivojevic’s shocking essay film Evaporating Boarders. Cyprus is a multicultural island with a 25% of immigrant population, the majority of which are Palestinians from Iraq who escaped from suffering in search for a place to work with ease.
The director and narrator of Evaporating Boarders is herself Easter European who fled the Balkan Wars of the 1990s and resided in Cyprus. Her picture allows us the chance to see a picture of the island as the worst of places for migrants to live. A place where laws are not respected and where, according to Cypriots, a migrant is not an individual but rather an amorphous body we need to be protected from. One can only hope Radivojevic’s film is seen by as many people as possible in all corners of Greece and around the world.
The festival’s opening film for its 16th edition, Linar by Nastia Tarasova, tells the brave story of Marsel who was refused heart transplant in his native Russia due to prohibition. Thus Marsel was forced to live with a ventricle device, the size of a medium height fridge, connected to his body for more than a year, before finally being operated in Italy where he lived inside a hospital with his uncle for three months. Tarasova captures the sorrows and strengths of this child unfortunate enough to be born in a country that hasn’t got the law to carry heart transplants from child to child. But the absence of Marsel’s mother from his long journey remains a mystery.
To see more women filmmakers in the Greek documentary production than ever before is a sign good enough to be excited about. Their work proved dynamic both in worldview issues and auteur style. Christina Pitouli’s Bref is a distinct film about female genital mutilation as experienced by African immigrants whose feelings expressed on camera. Despite their traumatic experiences, Pitouli’s film reveals a diverse opinion on FGM torture, in which cultural heritage fails to recognise health warnings.
There’s plenty on family bonds and memory captured on Alexandra Anthony’s diarist Lost in the Bewilderness, a personal story searching for her cousin. Anthony’s family footage is a precious and delicate encounter of adolescence caught between the magic moments of child’s play and the suffocating world of adults with a strong need for possession. Difficulties in a society are believed to play a significant role within the family and communities, often bringing them together. Similarly, music has historically brought people together but that shouldn’t exist only during a crisis, as teachers demonstrate in Thekla Malamou’s and Alexandra Saliba’s short film Social Conservatory – Notes: a music school in Athens run entirely by volunteers for three years.
In the 1980s, Jim Jarmusch’s friend and American author Louis Sarno went to the Central African Republic and lived among the community of Yandoumbe. He went there to record the Bayakan music and the sounds of the Bayaka Pygmy’s surrounding environment deep inside the rain forest, which he digitised. He married a Bayakan and they now have a son whom one night while he held him in his arms after falling very ill, he promised to show him New York where Louis comes from. Samedi is now 13 years old and ready to take the long trip to the most populous city of the world with his father in Michael Obert’s Song from the Forest.
Obert’s film is an intriguing portrait of two worlds of wilderness: the tropical rain forest and the wild concrete city. One is pure, the other offended by, as Jarmusch says, “territories of greedy power and racism Americans don’t admit”. Both worlds have different perceptions on consumerism and survival. But Obert’s camera and Matthias Ziegler’s still photography have rescued the Bayaka Pygmy from the devil of nationalism by highlighting how Louis as an outsider was accepted among the pygmy’s small community.
Money is worth almost nothing in Cuba whilst Charlie Petersmann’s picture, Cantos, tells us that not only there aren’t drugs available to cure the cancer disease in the Caribbean country, its citizens are unable to connect to the Internet and the outside world. Utopias are far removed and Petersmann’s chronicle of four individuals in his debut feature documentary, are struggling to find their destiny in memory of a revolutionary dream. Perhaps it is our own selves we should be prepare to seek, understand and re-shape, for the ones who have families take a certain responsibility to raise their children responsibly for future generations to come.
Cristina, Jorge, Hayde, Ariadna, Giobanni, Karen and Adrian are escorted to a consultation room of a children’s hospital in Mexico City by their own parents in Nuria Ibañez’s The Naked Room (El cuarto desnudo). The whole world of these children, all abused by a member of their family in one way or another, is closely interrogated in one single room. But on what account their parents have any rights in giving them pills and isolating them in a clinic (instead of educating them) when their errors lead these kids to take their own lives? All of Ibañez’ portraits are close-ups of heroes triumphing their courage to live from a very young age.
In the championship fever of Bill Siegel’s solo debut feature The Trials of Muhammad Ali, the lifelong journey of emerging boxing superhero confronts us all. Ali was drafted to fight in the Vietnam War shortly after his decision to convert to Islam. His opposition to the call by famously saying, “No Viet Cong ever called me ‘niger'” came as a shock to some but influenced many more Americans in the 1960s. Siegel’s film is an inspiring work of Ali’s path by emphasising his fight for his identity, issues of power, race and faith, which will intrigue even an atheist. Archive interviews of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. alongside interviews with Ali’s brother, Rahman and Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan illustrate the champion’s human side and powerful worldviews. In 2005 Ali received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, ironically by George W. Bush.
On defining his documentary work Werner Herzog once said: Perhaps I seek certain utopian things, space of human honor and respect, landscapes not yet offended.” Cristina Picchi’s short documentary Winter embraces just that. Her portrait of a journey through North Russia and Siberia illustrates the harshest of climates that once experienced you become indifferent to everything. People are elements of millennial and unpredictable scripts in Lidia Duda’s Everything Is Possible. In the film, 80-year-old Teresa becomes sick and tired of her marriage and finds her true lover after hitchhiking to faraway places from her native Poland.
A better world doesn’t take a big deal, just will. But be very afraid of ideologies. Instead we should embrace and value schools before a childhood is lost. Rithy Panh’s unique The Missing Picture shows us that in fact nothing is real, just cinema, the revolution of cinema. Peter Wintonick may have gone but his light shown bright in Thessaloniki Documentary Festival this year. Herzog once told Wintonick, “The world is just not for filmmaking. You have to know that every time you make a film you must be prepared to wrestle it away from the Devil himself. But carry on, dammit! Ignite the fire.”
I ask Philibert if he has faith in this world and he tells me, “Not that much. I think that human beings are barbarians. If you look around you, you see corruption, wars, and jealousy. If you look to the recent past you can see how humans are able to act worst than animals. In my films I try to show the small things here and there that are like a life vest, which helps people to keep in life.” Philibert’s film Animals (Un Animal, des animaux, 1996) also screened in the festival’s tribute to his work.