A week from now, we will know which of the five shortlisted documentaries wins the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. Bets are on Amy, Asif Kapadia’s film about Amy Winehouse. I really loved this film but I am truly hoping it doesn’t win. And here’s why.
Amy is without a doubt a good film. It is a heart-changing portrayal of this amazing singer who died too young. It puts together bits and pieces left and makes you feel you actually know her, better than anybody, you know who she really was, someone raw and genuine and direct. Amy is a film about a real person, a talented one, not the caricature-like sketch she became in the media. And next time you hear her voice, you will feel differently than last time you heard her voice before watching the film.
Amy is a film about a singer, and even though it tells its story very well, it doesn’t do more than that. It is a biographical film. Dot. People always feel inspired by people that are authentic and also make something with that. That’s because everybody aspires to be authentic and do extraordinary things but for many doing that is…complicated.
Authentic person + great singer + trouble + good story = Amy is well received and does well. But in the light of the Oscars, I think it’s important to see that Amy doesn’t break the limits of its own story to tell something universal. And three of the other films in the Oscar run do go beyond their stories, and ‘winning docs’ should do that.
Thinking about this, I ended up asking myself how can one put in a balance a biographical film about a deceased singer with the powerful story Joshua Oppenheimer has in The Look of Silence. I watched the film at Movies That Matter last year and wrote about it – point nr. 3 – here.
Then there’s Winter on Fire, directed by Evgeny Afineevsky, a film I started watching without much enthusiasm one late night. I thought I would only see the beginning and go to sleep, but I couldn’t stop the player, the film kept me awake until 3 and gave me goosebumps and occasionally made me cry because it was such a vivid 1st person(s) account of what happened in Ukraine on the Maidan.
And it’s more than that, it is a story of how the Ukrainians of all ages and backgrounds reach a limit of patient and tolerance and stood up against Russia’s influence – read Russia, a long time bully known throughout the entire region.
Eventually, it’s a story about courage, and saying ‘no’ even though that means losing your life. I believe for the western world, at least for young generations, it is hard to imagine things and issues that once opposed, might end up in a bloodbath. In established democracies that doesn’t happen. And Ukraine is in Europe and it borders the European Union, and eventually it’s close but not that close, because the bloodbath did happen. And if you look in the country’s history with Russia, it all becomes so clear and the people’s response so powerful and admirable.
Last, Cartel Land, directed by Matthew Heineman, is film in which the camera is present in unbelievable situations. What initially seems to be a story about vigilante groups fighting cartel people turns out to be such a strong portrayal of the vicious circle in the way drug cartels, national power and poverty mingle together and feed on each other. You’re also left with the feeling of having had insight into a terrible world in which you can’t see things in terms of who is good and who is bad.
Cartel Land tells a very relevant and important story, about how close to impossible it is to fight the Mexican drug world. And as long as profound change cannot happen, there will be drugs, and murders and young people loosing future. Here’s a review of the film in The New York Times.
To end… I don’t know how to end. I just hope Amy doesn’t win. And I put my money on The Look of Silence. End.