The Movies That Matter Festival just ended, and this edition reminded me why I love documentaries and why I write about them. I had a week of films and debates, and I feel I got some new insights and ideas and also some new questions. And that’s great because this is what documentaries do, they open up the world a bit more, one film at a time, and challenge our emotions and knowledge. So here are some thoughts and feelings from and about the festival, fresh from the oven.
Archive for March, 2015
Serge Bouvet first went to India in 2012 with the plan to make a photo project about the hijras – a term used in Southeast Asia to define transgender people. But while documenting this story he discovered something else: the openness and beauty of the Muslim community living in the Turkman Gate old city in Delhi. Bouvet decided to photograph the Muslim men he met. And I talked to him about this project, about how he got the idea and about the way he approaches the people he photographs.
Yesterday I ran through the cold rain and arrived soaking wet at the Movies That Matter Festival to see Jafar Panahi’s new film, Taxi. Panahi has a 20 year ban on making movies in his home country, Iran. But he doesn’t stop making films, filmmaking is his life and this is his third film since he got the ban. Taxi won the Golden Bear at the Berlinale this year and I was very curious about it. But… I was disappointed. Here’s why and also here’s what’s good about the film.
Last night. I went with a friend to watch the documentary The Free Voice of Egypt (directed by Konstanze Burkard) at the Movies That Matter Festival. I knew she would be there for a debate, much later. But as we were waiting for the movie to begin, there she was coming, and she sat next to us. Nawal El Saadawi.
That’s very special at the Movies That Matter, people you see in the films become real walking people while you’re there. And she certainly is very special to me, for how witty and warm and coherent she is about big issues. She can talk about something enormous in a way that has meaning and makes great sense. She’s warm and powerful and often the two don’t come together in a person. And she is fearless, she doesn’t compromise her ideas, she speaks her mind. I doubt she was never afraid. I am sure she was. But it is people that can be greater than their fears the ones who make a change.
She is an inspiration to me, and even though the term has been used and abused so much that it lost a good part of its weight…well, she really is special to me, full weight.
Article about the films and all the good things I have seen and heard to follow soon.
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.
In the end of January this year, I decided that for the whole month of February I will take photos every day. Not random photos, but photos of the same route I walk every day. I really live in one of the most uneventful places possible, and especially the route I walk is pretty plain, passing by flats, a huge parking lot (where I found the heart balloon) and the Shell offices. But the commitment to keep taking photos, even though not a recipe for some amazing photographic project, proved to be a way of paying attention, searching and finding something new and something beautiful in the routine the mind normally ignores. These are some of the photos I took.
I think most people have seen darkrooms in films, where they can seem this mysterious places where pictures come to life. Film characters are either developing their films there because they’re artists, or is their craft or perhaps because they’ll reveal a secret this way. But truth is hardly anyone uses darkrooms anymore. Truth is they’re smelly places, far less charming than portrayed in movies. Truth is photographer Michel Campeau documents a world that is disappearing.
I began training for the marathon in September. Yesterday morning I did the first run from a series that will take months, about four times every week. It’s exciting and a little bit scary to think of the marathon. I did half marathon last September and half way through I got a cramp that ran with me to the end. Now the distance is double. What if. I ask myself what if just briefly and then I move on to the feeling of challenge, freedom and adventure this training and running in general give me.
And yesterday was really special because I somehow magically woke up before 7 (almost never happens on a work day) and decided to get dressed, I basically jumped from my pyjama in my running clothes, brushed my teeth and went outside. And then there was this quietness. The fresh cold morning air. The white frost all over the grass. And the sun! I saw the sunrise in between trees. And felt that freedom does look a bit like that to me.
Here it is, fresh from the print and almost finished (I’ve been hiding from people to be able to have some peace and quiet to read), Jon Ronson‘s new book about public shaming, the way it’s done today and what it means for the shamed ones. Includes stories of people who made a big mistake, a small mistake or simply a joke, or they have been exposed doing something that was/could be considered shameful. Some of them fell apart – some for no good reason became social media ‘sensations’ overnight and have been fired from their jobs and so on. Yet, some of them surfed the wave and came to land without a scratch.
As usual, Ronson’s style is super entertaining yet full of substance and heart, and I love that about his writing in general and about this book in particular.
And I find the subject so relevant and curious at the same time. I’ve seen people being shamed on social media, that kind of shaming that becomes a sort of a sport, something to see ‘who says it better’. I’ve been – small scale – in similar situations myself, and it feels unfair and for some reason it’s frustrating and it hurts. Whether it has a reason or not, it is a form of bullying. And in most cases in which people’s lives ended up falling apart, social media had something to do with it.
Ronson looks at the phenomena of public shaming from many different angles, among others telling the story of a therapist who tries to ‘help’ people stop feeling ashamed for various reasons, a judge who changed convicted people’s lives by shaming them, Princess Donna Dolore from Kink who directs porn but essentially tries to make certain behaviours less taboo.
To end: no one is immune to this, some survive it better than others, eventually the funny photo you posted online this morning might become the beginning of your career.
Read the book.
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.
If there is one thing now that’s very different from my life in Romania, that is the pace of life. I’ve never lived in Bucharest, so I don’t know how that is, but in Cluj the rhythm of life is slow and sweet and last weekend I realized I miss a bit of that.
I went back to Romania for a course I will be doing for the next two years, and on my way to the friend I was staying with, 10:30 in the night, I kept writing her to apologize I am arriving that late after visiting other friends… It was Sunday after all and she and her brother, both work full time during the week. But I arrived and the whole apartment was lively, like it was the middle of the day. I’m simply not used to that any more. Everyone was doing something while at the same time chatting, smoking and cooking! The stew they were making was ready around midnight. We went to bed at 1:30!
Both my body and my schedule do not allow such extravagances. Although I remember those… late nights, late mornings, working on something til 3, chatting, some sort of organic unfolding of time and activities.
The next day I woke up and I couldn’t tell whether it was early or late, whether it was weekend or the week had just started… I somehow knew the week had started but there was no sound or movement to confirm that, and my watch said 8 o’clock. Everyone took their time to get out of bed, make coffee, following that inner voice that says take it slowly. I love that calm, the feeling that time is elastic and it can be bended and twisted according to my inner clock. I think that’s the space where ideas and solutions jump in your mind, it’s the space for self knowledge and for observations.
Or maybe I’m just romanticizing.
All I know is that in Dutch terms my habits are still quite eccentric, but in Romanian terms I am a complete foreigner. My eccentricity consists in not having an agenda and planning everything weeks in advance. I deeply need spontaneity and unstructured time. I am also the last one to come in the office and I like to spend my breaks by myself reading or writing. BUT. I do wake up before 8 almost every day. I do plan as I go. And I need to be structured not because it’s in my nature to be so but because otherwise I won’t have enough space to write and read and organize the film screenings I organize. Otherwise I won’t have time to run. And to watch the pile of films I watch every week. It takes some structure to do that and have a full time job. To do all that I need to be in bed by 11. 12 during weekends. Maybe 1. I need to know who’s coming and when.
In Romania, after a weekend of going here and there, and taking part in the course all day, and seeing friends and sleeping too little…I felt really tired. I missed my schedule but felt a bit nostalgic at the same time, because this life rhythm reminds me of old me and of home. I do know I could easily fit back in, cooking at midnight, writing at 3 AM, sleeping in the morning whether awake or not. Would that be sweet? I have no idea. Somehow, I kind of got used to the fresh and cold smell of early mornings, and to running in the park.
Small note: check Robert Levine’s really interesting book – A Geography of Time – on time and pace in different cultures.