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

Mistaken for Strangers (2014, directed by Tom Berninger)

I love The National so when I discovered this documentary, I thought it would get me some charming insight into this band, its members’ lives, the lyrics and the magic. And I did get some insight. But a very different one from what I imagined.

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Life Itself (2014, directed by Steve James)

Roger Ebert watched so many films in his lifetime. And this is one good film he never got to see. Life Itself is the documentary about Ebert’s life. And since I heard about it at the end of last year, I looked forward to watching it. For a personal reason.

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Looking back at the Movies That Matter 2014 – 3 films and 1 talkshow

At the end of last month I attended the Movies That Matter Festival in The Hague. I didn’t find the time to write about it until now, but better late than never.

I found the festival a bit more modest than in previous years. But even then, I still didn’t get to see everything I wanted to see. It is a full time job to organize such an event and it is also a (temporary) full time job to attend everything.

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The Oscar 2014 Award for Best Documentary Feature: my bets and my thoughts

The countdown for the Oscars began and five documentaries are left in the race for the Best Feature Documentary Award. My bets are on 20 Feet from Stardom and The Act of Killing. But on a more nuanced note, I would give each of the five a different prize.

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Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters (2012, directed by Ben Shapiro)

I always find the films showing the work behind the magic fascinating. That’s because seeing the work makes the magic accessible and possible and human. Otherwise, one can only wonder.

In Gregory Crewdson’s case, the magic takes a lot of time, people and a lot of money. But most of all, it takes his vision and his talent to spot something in the back of his mind and make it reality. ‘The whole process of making art is an act of faith in a way’ he says in the beginning of the film.

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Eight IDFA docs to watch, some to skip and some I wish I didn’t miss

Many films are never heard of again after the festivals. Some land on TV but I don’t know which, where and how because I don’t watch television.

I get a good part of my yearly documentary dose from festivals. And the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam is a good place to be for that. Since my new plan for this blog is to write it more personal, here are some of the films I watched at the last IDFA and I didn’t get to write about them anywhere else . Some I liked, some I wish I watched and some I wish I didn’t.

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The Act of Killing (2012, directed by Joshua Oppenheimer)

The Art of Killing is intriguing and I have mixed feelings about it. I find it daring, original, surreal and often so unbelievable that it makes you wonder whether what you see is acted or not. And then I find it obscene, questionable and eventually unnecessary.

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Stories We Tell (2012, directed by Sarah Polley)

This documentary is terribly personal. The story is that Diane Polley, the director’s mother, died in 1990. She was an actress and a very lively person, bubbly and easily getting in trouble. What Diane Polley left behind is different memories and a big dinosaur in the family closet. Since she is now gone and no longer can explain the choices she made, her daughter, Sarah Polley, sets out to talk to everyone who was close to her mother, and make sense of the dinosaurs.

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Watch Online Documentary: China Blue (2005, directed by Micha X Peled)

If the jeans you are wearing are made in China, then they might have been made by Jasmine Li (she’s the one with the blue sweater in the photo above). China Blue tells the story of this 17 year old girl who lives and works in the Lifeng Clothes Factory in Shaxi, Guangdong. She shares her room with others like her, young migrant workers – some of them with fake ID’s making it seem they are older – who leave the safety of their villages and families to earn some money. Jasmine makes 7 cents per hour.

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Dolls: a Woman from Damascus

Rating: ★★★¾☆ 

Fulla is the Middle Eastern version of Barbie. Fulla is “loving, caring, she is part of the community. ” Fulla is made to reflect the customers she’s been addressed to. She respects her parents. She prays. She takes care of others.

At the same her breasts have been made smaller, because customers requested it. Her undergarments are part of her body, so they cannot be taken off. Fulla is a modern doll, inspired from a liberal society and transformed into the reflection of a conservative one. The film challenges this assumption and questions whether this modern doll really reflects modern young arab women.

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Man on Wire (2008)

Rating: ★★★★¾ 

Man on Wire is a story about the courage to take risks and do something unique that defies any common acceptance. It’s the story of Philippe Petit, a French high-wire artist who transformed fear and risk into challenge and in 1974 he danced on a wire tied between the two World Trade Center Towers, 417 meters (1368ft) high from the ground.

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Manufactured Landscapes (2006, directed by Jeniffer Baichwal)

I don’t think anyone can have the vaguest idea of the scale, extent and impact of industrialization on the Earth, until they see Edward Burtynsky’s photos and this amazing documentary. In Manufactured Landscapes, large scale changes of the environment have a bitter beauty and it’s something of their massiveness that’s necessary to perceive in order to get it. Get what? Get a mind image of what we talk about when we talk about over-consumption, overly-populated cities, about way too cheap labor force and about the price of being an ‘individual consumer’.

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Episode III – Enjoy Poverty (2009)

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Enjoy Poverty is a documentary filmed in the Democratic Republic of Congo by Dutch artist Renzo Martens.

The film shows how poverty is probably the most important ‘natural’ resource in Congo, as development aid brings in the country more money (1.9 billion US dollars) than the exploitation of natural resources such as copper and diamonds. But that’s not all, the film shows that the ones benefiting from this poverty in Congo are not the poor. Their situation stays the same year after year. The ones benefiting are the photographers paid to take pictures of starving children and the ‘corporate’ humanitarian organizations and also the rich people who are being paid high salaries to stop poverty. In the end it is no one’s interest to really eradicate poverty.

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