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

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IDFA 2015: Some Documentaries You Might Want to See // Part II

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’.

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The Way of the Reindeer: photos of the Mongolian Dukha people

It looks romantic but it’s actually a really tough harsh life. So tough and so harsh that it’s actually disappearing. The Dukha people live in the North of Mongolia and they domesticated reindeer but the current population is now estimated between 200 and 400 people. Many moved to the cities and the herds diminished. The remaining people make most of their money from tourists buying their crafts and riding the reindeer. Hamid Sardar-Afkhami documented the life of this shrinking community in these beautiful and poetic images.

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Nature and freedom: Antoine Bruy’s photos of Europeans living off the grid

I don’t like jokes about husbands and wives, and I don’t like comments about dreadful Monday mornings and happy Friday afternoons. Yet, here I am, pretty sleepy and confused on a Monday morning, sitting in my office, dragging myself through the hours, wanting to be somewhere outside instead of here. And it’s in this kind of moments – sometimes powerful, sometimes just a thought – when opting out sounds free and romantic and natural. Sounds like the way it should be. And I’m not alone in this.

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Reenacting love: a photographer’s reflection on her past relationships

Jeniffer McClure‘s series You Who Never Arrived is a collection of photos reflecting her past relationships. And while I deeply felt for this series of women wearing the t-shirts of their lost lovers, and I could empathize with Laura Steven’s imagines reflecting the stages of letting go a relationship, You Who Never Arrived feels more emotionally complex. The photos are staged in hotel rooms, the men are friends and acquaintances, and taking this photos was for the photographer a process of understanding and letting go her own misunderstood emotional past. The project caught my eye because the photos are good and so painfully personal, but not only because of that. Recalling my past relationships trying to understand what went wrong is something completely foreign to me. While I can feel the pain and the discoveries this close look at the past can bring, the series made me realize I feel no need to reprocess any of my past relationships, and I also don’t think of them as ‘failed’.  They are not failed, they somehow organically reached a natural end, and I feel it was no one’s fault.

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Have you ever heard of Svalbard and its Soviet ghost town called Pyramid?

I have been watching a total of six films over the weekend. Three of them were documentaries. One of them was about a place you most likely never heard of: have you ever heard of Svalbard, this Norwegian island archipelago somewhere close to the Arctic? It is a largely frozen place populated by few people and way more polar bears, and the starting point of many expeditions to the Arctic. After seeing a short, informative and rather awkward TV documentary about the Russian community there (see the bottom of the page), I realized I heard about this place before, when I read about Pyramid, a Soviet town that used to represent the ideal communist community. The town is now abandoned.

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From grandma with love: a photo series of grandmas and the special food they make

I stared at these photos for quite some time because they’re such a warm illustration of human diversity and culture. Gabriele Galimberti’s series In Her Kitschen is like a thank you note for all grandmas and such a complex illustration of traditions, social customs (some grandmas are really young, for example) and the table atmosphere in different countries. More than that, for sure we all recognize the comfort of food, and unless your grandma is or was an evil witch, it’s most likely that thinking of her and her food is comforting and brings some nostalgia.

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The comfort of taking a break from being you: Tom Broadbent’s portraits of Furries in their homes

What you do when you’re a Furry is that you dress up as a fluffy character and you meet up with other fluffy characters and you chat and have and hang around. You can also do other things, like you dress up as a fluffy character and then go fishing, or cut a leek or iron your stuff. What you don’t do is two things: reveal your identity and talk to journalists. I think there’s something liberating in being a cartoon and I am currently looking for something liberating, so I am considering becoming a Furry journalist, perhaps I’d be the first ever. And perhaps Tom Broadbent will add me to his collection of photos of people who like to dress up like this.

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Last day of 2014.

I’m ready. Ready for two things: to go back to The Netherlands (in a couple of hours) and to start 2015 (in just a little bit more than a couple of hours). The first thing is almost completely true. I am in a hotel room in Bucharest, everything is white outside and it’s sunny and I’m feeling I could be here just a little bit longer, but it somehow feels that 2015 has to start home in The Netherlands. I don’t know why, perhaps because most of my life is now there.

I don’t believe in New Years resolutions, I think they’re bound to fail because they’re rooted in the temporary feeling of a ‘new chance’, a new start and they usually don’t start with self-acceptance but with a hyper drive to revolutionize ourselves. And I don’t believe we need that. But I do believe in deciding to live something new and something different, whether you begin that on the 1st of January or on the 20th of September. And I hope this year will bring some of those de-clicks when changes feel right.

I hope to travel more this year, to write more and better, to make a couple of the projects I planned in 2014 reality. I hope to run a marathon (did half-marathon this year). But most of all I hope to have a year lived from the heart, with compassion, with surprises and people, and with a lot of (inner) peace. Wish you all the same!

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Home in an unfriendly place: a photo portrayal of life in the city of Norilsk, close to the polar circle

Here it is: Norilsk – photographed by Russian photographer Elena Chernyshova. You’ve probably never heard of the city, and there’s no particular reasons you should have. Its list of achievements include being the 7th most polluted city in the world. That’s no surprise, Norilsk is a mining city, the closest to the polar circle. Its mines and metallurgical factories were constructed by prisoners of the Gulag. All together, there’s no happy story there, and yet, there’s something charming in these photos looking into life there and, in Chernyshova’s words, looking at ‘human adaptation to extreme climate, ecological disaster and isolation’. I love the photos, their details, hidden symbols and atmosphere. But life there must be really tough.

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Beautiful or creepy? Portraits of Erna and Hrefna, two young twins from Iceland

They might have a special connection, get the same grades and have to same dreams, but to me these airy photos of Erna and Hrefna, twins from Iceland… well, they’re rather creepy. I don’t even have to explain why, I mean we’ve all seen enough horror films. Of which one do they remind you?

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Sheep and the way of nature: a photo series about shepherds in the Caucasus

In a way I can only partially explain, this photo series reminds me of home. I’m not from the Caucasus and I never owned a sheep in my life, but this is more than just facts, it’s more about a feeling. The nature, the snow, the sheep all remind me of home because my home is a little bit like that too, and I have seen the men who live with sheep since I was small. I’ve seen the mud too, and the difficult life. And now I miss seeing it again.

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Sfantu Gheorghe: photos and stories from the Danube Delta

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.

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Toy stories: kids from around the world and their precious posessions

My most precious possession when I was 3, was a clown named Micky. He was made of that kind of synthetic velvet that can give you goose bumps when you run your hand on it. He was half blue and half orange and his head was made of rubber. One day, he lost the rubber head. No one knows what happened to it. But to the stupefaction of my entire family, I loved him nonetheless. At a point, my mom tried to replace him with a new identical Micky. But – and this is something that defined me since I was tiny – I never cared for identical replacements. I cared for the headless Micky who had all the stories.

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Irreversible goodbyes: photos of people wearing the t-shirts of lost lovers

Some years ago, I was in the train traveling from Amsterdam to The Hague, and the train stopped in Leiden. I was sitting in the last wagon and I remember looking outside the window and seeing at the end of the platform, a young man, crying. I can still see that image, what he looked like, the way he was sitting, inconsolable.  I remember because I could almost feel what would be like to hold him and feel his warm strained body. And I had the same sensation when I first saw Carla Richmond and Hanne Steen‘s project Lovers’ T-shirts.

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Childhood days: a documentation somewhere in France

Many kids, the delights of growing up with cats and a lot freedom. And a bit of chaos.  A documentation of life somewhere in France. Sounds a bit idyllic? Well, it really is. Alain Laboile is taking these photos of his 6 children, and seeing them made me miss childhood friends, idle days and a certain simplicity.

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Big love story: 1200 pigs and their papa

A man and his 1200 pigs (!!!). And a lot of love and playfulness. That’s all you need to know and that’s what you will see in this photo series.  Another simple and touching story from Japan, humans and animals together – reminding of Misao and Fukumaru the Cat.

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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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Eastern loneliness: the story of Lida and Mikhail and a life in the shadow of Chernobyl

Meet Lida and Mikhail Masanovitz, a couple living in the desolate ghost town of Redkovka, Ukraine. The town is located 35 km away from the Chernobyl reactor that exploded in 1986, causing the worst nuclear catastrophe ever known. Lida and Mikhail are some of the few residents of the town, a place classified as ‘zone two’, meaning a place too dangerous for anyone to be living there.

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A new phase for the World Press Photo Awards? – some thoughts about the 2014 winner

There are three issues I am critical about when I look at photojournalism. One is making suffering look aesthetically pleasing and pretty. Even if contextualized well, such photos contribute to a visual imaginary that’s distorted. And I have an ethical problem with that.

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Elin Høyland’s touching photo story of two brothers who shared everything

Harald and Mathias Ramen lived together on their family farm in Norway. Always. Initially there were the parents too and their older siblings. Not anymore.

Elin Høyland‘s photo book documents the life of these two brothers and a way of life that is lost. There is a certain austerity in these photos, a certain northern feel  and a heartbreaking last image that changes the perspective on everything.

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