This month I bought an obscene number of books, watched many docs and wrote for the latest issue of Modern Times. Below are just a few of the things I find interesting:
All posts tagged documentary
On a flight from Amsterdam to Johannesburg last month, I watched two documentaries in a row. Life, Animated (Roger Ross Williams) and Dancer (Steven Cantor) tell very different stories, one of a boy with autism, and the other about one of the greatest ballet dancers known to day. Yet they both made me reflect on the idea of success and what it means to overcome limitations – whether physical, emotional or circumstantial.
I loved this film, and recognized in it something Eastern, something that is familiar to me, and some of my own thoughts. Or so I thought, because after reading the director’s statement and some interviews she gave, I feel this story is so much more than she herself actually managed to find in it.
After some busy and long months with a lot of things to do – stuff that keeps me away from enough sleep, mental space and also writing on this blog – I wasn’t really much looking forward to IDFA. More work sounds like a pain right now, but I think I temporarily forgot that IDFA is home. I arrived in Amsterdam today without much enthusiasm but once I dived in and got my press pass, a very familiar feeling I get every time I come to the festival kicked in and stayed: I want to see everything!
The first film I remember watching – ever – was one in which the main character is a guy dressed in white. Somehow I believe it was Alain Delon but I’m not sure what makes me believe that. And what happens is that he dies in some sort of corrida arena, not killed by a bull but by someone, someone evil. I don’t remember most of the concrete details, as you can see. What I remember is the strong impact the scene had on me, it felt like something I had to think about and I did think about it for a while. I was probably 4 or 5, film ratings were non-existent back then and and my parents, like many Romanian parents at that time, were watching films in secret, illegally smuggled into the country.
Less Than a Week Left to the Oscars: If You’re Hoping ‘Amy’ Wins, It Probably Means You Didn’t Watch the Other Films
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.
People often ask me what recent documentaries I’ve seen and what I recommend them to see. When they ask me that, my first question to them is what are you looking for? What interests you in general and what kind of stories do you like? Personally, I have an interest in what’s new in general in the documentary world, what’s fresh from the oven and what’s different. But of course, I also have my specific interests in certain subjects. But beyond personal preferences of different kinds, I do think there are films that go beyond their particular circumstances to reach something universal. Something that’s important for all of us and something that we can all relate to. Those films are often unforgettable and these three films I’ve seen at last edition of IDFA are of this particular ‘breed’.
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 think best of lists are strange and potentially dangerous. Like this pretentious list Sight&Sound Magazine put together, of 50 Best Documentaries of All Time. If you’re new to docs and decide to begin by watching the films on this list, it is very likely you’ll never want to try again. It’s also very likely you will be convinced that the documentary world is some elite-connoisseur-group that likes to be bored to death.
BBC docs about nature and animals are super beautiful, but not precisely my kind of docs. It’s often difficult for me to begin watching them and if I do begin watching, it is difficult to stay awake to the end. But this one’s different. Hidden Kingdoms is a mini-series nature documentary that makes you see life from different animals’ perspective. And it’s for sure one of those beautiful and sensible films that can make you feel reassured that the world is actually beautiful and not as bad as the news say. Well, at least until the bird catches the mouse and other terrible scenes of behaviors I don’t agree with.
This is one of those documentaries that I think everyone should watch. For this doc, Vikram Gandhi (who later on gave this really entertaining and insightful TEDx talk about his film and his ideas behind it) becomes Kumare, this fake guru who gets genuine followers and no matter what he does it’s being looked high upon, as long as it seems spiritual. Deepak Chopra said this film is perhaps the greatest lesson a guru can teach. It is a film about how people in search for something more to life, and having a fascination of Eastern spirituality, are willing to follow just anyone who fits the imagery of an Eastern guru. And it’s about how little people understand or question. If it looks and acts like what they know a guru should look like and act like, then it’s all good. That is a lesson and something to think about.
Some years ago, this photo of this young girl smoking was literally covering half of the Fotomuseum in The Hague. My specialty is photojournalism and what I thought when I saw this photo is very much proof of how focusing on something for a long time, can create certain patterns of thought and can make us see connotations. I remember looking at it and thinking – issue: child prostitution/ problem: makes it seem mysterious and Lolita-like/observation: even then, the simple beauty and the candid look in the child’s eyes is arresting, and it does make a point, through contrast, a rough one. And… I was completely wrong. Instead, this is an art photo called Cigarette Candy, and it is part of the Immediate Family series through which American photographer Sally Mann became well known in 1992. Seeing these photos made me want to know more. And this is how I ended up watching What Remains.
Kitty Green’s debut film Ukraine is not a Brothel tells the story of the controversial Ukrainian organization Femen and the women behind it. And despite my allergy to Femen’s thirst for media attention which seems to be a purpose in itself, I found the film interesting and insightful. The story is personal and the surroundings have a distinct feel, the sad beauty specific to post-communist countries. More than that, the film reveals the paradoxes and contradictions behind this controversial organization.
Some months ago I traveled to the Danube Delta, in Romania. I spent a week in Sfantu Gheorghe, a small and beautiful fisherman village at the very point where the Danube arm with the same name goes into the Black Sea. I went there to learn about the community and to write about them and about the Rewilding Europe and WWF Romania conservation initiative that is being implemented there. My article on this subject has been published in Guernica Magazine.
But I feel I haven’t told the whole story yet. And there is something magical about Sfantu Gheorghe that I feel people should go see and experience and enjoy. Something that is beautiful in itself, but incomplete without knowing just a bit more about the life, the past and traditions of this place.
Edward Burtynsky’s work is unique. I really believe that without his Manufactured Landscapes, you simply cannot have a dimension of the scale, extent and impact of industrialization. His Watermark project – of which I wrote before for Feature Shoot – ‘portrays’ water – an element scarce in some places and taken for granted in others – in such a meaningful way. In general, Burtynsky’s images are beautiful, but that’s not all they are. His images also give a visual dimension to macro-issues that otherwise would remain distant and abstract.
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.
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.