Passepartout is all about documentaries and visual stuff I find worth seeing.

IDFA2014 (part I): Six new docs you shouldn’t miss

This year’s IDFA had a lot of interesting stuff, including some new program sections like The Female Gaze, about women and their fingerprints on the genre; Of Media and Men of which the title speak for itself; and the really exciting DocLab: Immersive Reality program, where I had my first IR experience. DocLab is one of the IDFA programs I follow year after year, and this year I feel it was a sort of a turning point because of the special focus on IR. I will write more about this later.

This was my fourth year at IDFA. Or fifth? Not even sure. And, as usual, except for hunting for stuff I needed for my articles, I got to watch a lot of films I wanted to see. And even though I had five full days at the festival, I still feel I could have watched even more films but I ‘wasted’ to much time on coffee and sleep.

I always feel I don’t have enough time, so to save the little time I have, I almost never go to the cinema. I watch doc after doc in front of a computer screen specially arranged for press. I eat there too and most films are normally available. Unfortunately, this year many films were not available on the magic computer, so I did go to the cinema. 3 times.

So here’s what I found curious, heartwarming, heartbreaking or entertaining:

1. Advanced Style (2014, directed by Lina Plioplyte)

I’m not sure you know the blog, I know it for quite some time after a magazine article made me curious about it. Advanced Style – the blog is basically one photographer taking photos of fashionable old(er) ladies in New York. I found the idea surprising and the ladies charming and I remembered the name. The film has the name of the blog and when I saw it in the IDFA catalog I knew I had to see it. And oh my, did I enjoy it…These ladies are the living illustration of the fact that personality precedes style, that in fact style without personality is just a good mix of clothes. There are six of them featured in the film, and each are memorable, each have a different personality and they all have different stories from many years ago. For example, Jacquie was a dancer at the legendary Apollo in New York. Ilona painted the portrait of Ayn Rand. And Joyce worked for Cosmopolitan in its beginnings. There is something truly inspiring in their playfulness, openness and freedom to be. And the film is really entertaining.

2. Virunga (2014, directed by Orlando von Einsiedel)

Virunga… I have no words about this film. Almost no words. It is really mind-and-heart-blowing. Virunga is this amazing park in Eastern Congo, home to more than half of the 700 mountain gorillas left in the world. It is now threatened because of SOCO, this Godless, careless and destructive oil company that wants to drill there and destroy this unique place. The films tells about this, and makes a super comprehensive portrayal of the complex socio-political conflict in Congo and how this company taps into this conflict to get into the park. It also makes a touching portrayal of the people defending the park, their courage and their relationship with the gorillas. I swear it’s one of the most beautiful, heartbreaking and important films I have seen in a long time. It is important because of its subject but also because it makes it clear that life beats fiction. Easily.

Note 1: Do you remember Brent Stirton’s 2007 World Press Photo winning photo of people caring a huge dead gorilla? Well, that happened in Virunga, 9 gorillas have been killed for no particular reason. There were 11 of them in the family, 9 died, and the 2 surviving ones appear in this amazing documentary.

Note 2: Check the website of the doc for more info, including on how to take action.

3. Hip-Hoperation (2014, directed by Bryn Evans)

In only ’93 minutes, this film made me laugh and cry so so many times. Hip-Hoperation is the story of a hip-hop dance group from somewhere far, an island in New Zeeland. That doesn’t sound special, what’s special is that its members are in their 90’s (one is 95!) and they make it to the biggest competition, ‘the Olympics’ of hip-hop dance in Las Vegas! Besides the curiousness of the whole idea of having such a dance group, the film tells about its members and their stories. It is a film about openness and about courage beyond age. This is what I like in a doc, a mix of beauty, and curiousness and inspiration. And the members of Hip-Hoperation are truly inspiring, because their age doesn’t stay in the way of them getting into something that’s so…young. It’s a particular story that’s universal and if docs should connect us to our humanity, this one does it full time and with such charm! I was disappointed the film wasn’t nominated for the prize in the First Appearance category. I was sure it would be. And after I watched the films nominated, I still don’t understand how this one wasn’t. Please watch this.

4. Salt of the Earth (2014, directed by Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado)

It’s difficult to make a documentary after you made Pina, but Wim Wenders did, he made this one and did a great job. This film tells about Sebastião Salgado (wrote about his ‘love letter to the planet’ here) and how he became the huge photographer he is and also what he saw in the process of becoming this huge photographer. Half of the film is simply showing his photos, the rest is story, and the combination makes a wonderful and inspiring portrayal of a man that did a couple of extraordinary things: he quit a high paid job to become a photographer; he visually documented some important and tragic events in history; and he eventually moved back to his dad’s farm where he had to face the tragic effects of deforestation (the were no more trees and the entire land was dry). Together with his wife, Lelia, they brought the forest and the wildlife back, and they eventually turned the area into a reservation called Instituto Terra. His latest work and these efforts to bring nature back to life, tell everything about a man who loves this world and does something about it.

5. Domino Effect (2014, directed by Elwira Niewiera and Piotr Rosołowski)

Domino, for Abkhazi people, is a therapeutic game since in the 90’s it became a way of calming the nerves after the war. This film tells the story of Rafael, the Sports Minister of Abkhazia who is trying to put some life into his country’s economy by organizing the Domino World Championship there. In parallel and in fact more prominently, it tells the story of Rafael and his life with his newly moved in 3rd wife. She is Russian, she is educated and she has a beautiful voice. Her name is Natasha and Natasha cannot find a job and she cannot adapt in this small country. Their relationship and the insight into this place we hardly hear of make a good film. I am very interested in the Caucasus region and I loved the way the camera captures the slow paced life, the airy feel of the sea there and a certain dose of bitter-sweetness. It also tells a lot about Abkhazians and their current situation.

Abkhazia used to be part of Georgia, but after fights in the 90s it got its independence. Not many countries recognized its newly grained freedom, and Georgia, Russia and their allies managed to isolate it. Ever since, its economy has been struggling. Abkhazia used to be a popular destination for Russian tourists, but now only middle class travels there, the ones who cannot afford the Russian resorts. The population is about 250.000 people, and poverty and a certain economic paralysis are part of daily life.

6. Me Girl, Me Princess (2014, directed by María Aramburú and Valeria Pavan)

This film is a 47 minute interview with Monica Gabriela Mansilla, an Argentinian mom who four years ago thought she gave birth to twin boys. But one of the boys was different, slept poorly and cried often, and once he could talk he said he was a girl and a princess. This was the beginning of a journey against all fears and all prejudices, to admitting and accepting her boy was a transsexual girl. And a journey to supporting her to become and live as Luana, a name the little girl chose herself. The way Monica tells the story, the details, the others’ reluctant reactions, her motherly concern and the endless care you feel through her words, they all make this interview captivating and touching and really worth seeing.


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