Posts Tagged ‘documentary’
In our latest Talkie, Eric Hynes talks to filmmaker Clio Barnard about the slippage between reality and representation in her new documentary-fiction hybrid THE ARBOR, which utilizes an evocative lip-synch technique to explore the gritty legacy of celebrated British playwright Andrea Dunbar.
“Most of my work refers to the historical memory of Chile and Latin America,” says acclaimed documentarian Patricio Guzmán (Salvador Allende, The Pinochet Case), a Santiago native who has lived in exile for more than three decades, after reflecting on the arc of his long, legendary career. “It’s a passion — creative territory that I have always followed.” Best known for his monumental three-part film The Battle of Chile (1973), an on-the-ground account of democratically elected leftist Salvador Allende’s brief term in office before a U.S.-backed coup d’etat brought dictator General Augusto Pinochet to power, Guzmán has always fought to rescue his native country from cultural amnesia through the art of eyewitness cinema. But his tireless examinations of remembrance (and the violence of forgetting) have been just as trenchant to his many projects.
Guzmán crystallizes these lifelong fixations in his brilliantly self-narrated new documentary, Nostalgia for the Light, a soulful exploration of science, astronomy, politics, and the question of how past and present intermingle in physical spaces, as well as the minds and hearts of the living. In Chile’s Atacama Desert, a coast-hugging ribbon of Martian landscape that is reputed to be the most arid region on Earth, Guzmán discovers a milieu that, while seemingly devoid of life, is steeped in history. Astronomers he meets at the Páranal Observatory, like Gaspar, surveil the night sky utilizing some of the most powerful telescopes in the world, searching for answers about the deep past — Where do we come from? What are we made of? — like archaeologists of the cosmos. In the desert flats surrounding the observatory, veteran scientist Lautaro digs up mummies and pre-Colombian relics, studying the more recent history of humankind. And in yet another torque to the film’s gyre of concerns, we meet two middle-aged women, Victoria and Violeta, who for 28 years have patiently probed the pitiless Atacama sands with small shovels, hoping to exhume the remains of their “disappeared” loved ones, victims of the Pinochet regime. With inexhaustible patience for the stories of those he interviews — nearly all of whom have been touched by the crimes of the post-coup dictatorship — Guzmán creates a somber, often poignant after image of that tragic epoch when hope yielded to corruption, correlating celestial and earthly realities, personal and political histories with magisterial skill.
On the ground in Austin for SXSW 2011, the Reverse Shot team chatted with Marie Losier (THE BALLAD OF GENESIS AND LADY JAYE) about a particularly surprising meeting with a wasp during a screening of Azazel Jacobs’s TERRI. In advance of our full-length Talkie with Losier, shot at the Texas State Capitol building, we’re posting this “short end.”
A couple of weeks ago, the press officer for the Stockholm International Film Festival got in touch with me with a generous offer, wondering if I’d like to travel to Sweden at their expense and cover this year’s programming, an international meld of features, shorts, and documentaries, most making their Nordic debut. After a glance at the competition films (many of which I’d seen at the 2010 Berlinale or elsewhere) and sidebar sections (Latin Visions, Asian Images, Twilight Zone), I decided there was enough here to chew on: a dozen or so world premieres, works-in-progress by up-and-coming Scandinavian filmmakers, and plenty of entries from Cannes, Venice, and Toronto. Besides, I’d never been to Stockholm, a beautifully preserved archipelago city with cinematic associations stretching from Victor Sjöström and Greta Garbo to Ingmar Bergman and Stellan Skarsgård. Never mind that it would be wet and wintry, or that the sun sets sharply at 3:30 p.m. in late autumn. The thought of stuffing myself on foreign cinema and braised reindeer meat a few days before Thanksgiving seemed to be the only antidote to post-election November blues.
As a theme in Western art, sibling rivalry is as ancient as the Hebrew Bible or the internecine blood feud that shapes the destinies of two sisters in Sophocles’ Antigone. In her utterly absorbing family portrait Prodigal Sons, which won the FIPRESCI prize at the 2009 Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival, Kimberly Reed (“25 New Faces of Independent Film,” Summer 2007) revisits this archetype with honesty and courage, grappling with questions of identity as she details how life-changing transformations have affected her relationship with adopted brother Marc McKerrow, a soulful hard-luck character who has long felt he was living in her shadow. The wheels are set in motion with Reed’s decision to attend a high-school reunion in her hometown of Helena, Montana, with Marc, from whom she’s been estranged for over a decade. Then comes the first big reveal: Kim is transgender and used to be Paul, a popular, all-American high-school quarterback and model student, evidenced by a quick shuffle of old family photos and degraded home-video footage. Marc’s own transformation hinges on the head injury he suffered in a car accident on his 21st birthday, which has resulted in seizures, wild mood swings, and explosive outbursts that a cocktail of meds keeps only partly under wraps. As Reed (who narrates) tries to reconcile the past she’s labored so long to forget, Marc—a beautifully expressive, entirely self-taught pianist—decides to seek out his birth legacy and turns up a rather startling connection to Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth. Full of surprising revelations and agonized turnabouts, Reed’s film is impressive as a personal document about self-definition and as a uniquely intimate tale of searching compassion.
As a history lesson, Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith’s enthralling new documentary, The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, is as solid as a textbook, stitching together old broadcast footage, first-person testimony, tart excerpts from the Nixon White House tapes, and noirish recreations into riveting, revelatory political drama. The name “Daniel Ellsberg” probably doesn’t trigger the same flurry of associations as Deep Throat, the shadowy antihero of the Watergate scandal, but it should: An ex-Marine, former assistant to Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, and highly respected analyst at the Rand Corporation, Ellsberg leaked a 7,000-page study detailing the top-secret Southeast Asia policies of five presidential administrations to the New York Times, resulting in a landmark court case, attempted cover-ups, and a nasty smear campaign, all culminating in the ignominious resignation of President Nixon. To be sure, the spy-grade story of the Pentagon Papers controversy has a lot of rich angles, including government secrecy, first-amendment rights versus executive privilege, and the rise of the national security state. But it’s also a conversion tale deeply concerned with the burden of conscience that Ellsberg felt as a government insider to tell the public what he believed they had a right to know, and his desire as a newly minted dove to change the course of the Vietnam War.
It’s Sunday, and the tourists have arrived. Thank God, because it was a little eerie walking around town and seeing so few people on the streets. Lots of the new arrivals are badgeless ski bunnies and goateed snowboarders heading for the lifts, but that’s fine. At least there are slow-moving clusters of North Face–attired gawkers to steer clear of on the sidewalks and, like always, little-to-no elbow room at the Main Street pubs. Time for a quick bite? Forget it. It almost feels like a film festival again! Seriously, though, there are noticeably fewer journalists and industry professionals here this year, as I noted in an earlier entry, and the downtempo feel here seems keyed to the country’s gloomy economic state of mind, even if my inbox is still flagrantly stuffed with decadent-party invites (e.g. “Graphic Sexual Horror Hits Main Street!”) and breathless promotionals.
At least we have the movies. But here again, my samplings have not made much of an impression. Lynn Shelton’s Humpday, one of the most buzzed-about films here, was an entertaining dude-on-dude romp that pushed the boundaries of Seth Rogen-style bromance comedies into comically uncomfortable territory. Two friends, married Seattle traffic analyst Ben (Mark Duplass) and globe-hopping boho wild card Andrew (Joshua Leonard), reunite and decide, on a drunkenly competitive lark, to make an artsy gay-male porno starring two straight men: themselves. In essence, Shelton has remade Old Joy by invoking the doofus-y vernacular and hapless male sensibility of The Puffy Chair. The film is genuinely funny, but once the yuks subside, there’s not much left to carry you home. In fact, of the eight films I’ve seen over the past two days, only a couple have resonated with me. Should I be surprised that they’re all documentaries?
Let me home in on my favorite: Tyson. I don’t mind saying right out of the gate that a) my interest in sports is limited, for the most part, to cultural history and b) the idea of seeing a documentary about controversial heavyweight Mike Tyson at 8:30 in the morning left me stone cold, even though I sensed the director, James Toback (Fingers), an intimate friend of the former champion for over 20 years, would bring some of his own raw energy to the boxer’s reflections. Despite my lack of enthusiasm, I found myself marveling at this stylized, incredibly intimate portrait of the troubled boxer when I attended a public screening Friday at The Racquet Club here in Park City. Sure, Tyson is candid and movingly eloquent about his stints in juvie detention centers and his close relationship with trainer Cus D’Amato, who vested trust in the wayward young man, took him into his home as a surrogate son, and built the scared teenage street brawler into an intimidating, world-class fighter. (He chokes up and barely restrains himself from bawling while reminiscing about ol’ Cus.)
What I found so disarming, though, was not Tyson’s willingness to discuss his bumpy road to triumph or the sordid details of his well-known personal travails in and out of the ring, though he has plenty to say about his fraught marriage to Robin Givens, his rape conviction, and the life-long anger problem that led him, quite infamously, to bite a chunk out of Evander Holyfield’s earlobe in a title bout and viciously beat promoter Don King (“He doesn’t know how to love anybody”) in front of a swank hotel on his long, lonely spiral downward. Revelations like these should be a given for a film that purports to scrutinize a public figure. The only talking head in the film is Tyson himself, and Toback craftily blends rich archival footage with split-screen images of his subject’s poignant, funny, and audacious testimonial. What took me by surprise, though, was Tyson’s curious and irresolveably complex outlook on the darker corners of his psyche, because Toback’s vibrant film is, at its core, not a portrait, per se, but an extended self-interrogation. Mike Tyson is a man who has stared into the abyss and is still staring, unable to peel his eyes away from the turbulence at the core of his being, the “madness…the chaos of the brain,” as he puts it, and he doesn’t blame anyone but himself for his failures.
Tyson is proto-Kierkegaardian in grappling with the slippery nature of his identity (reflected in Toback’s conscientiously fragmented shots of his subject), and he has a poetic expressiveness that belies his brute strength as an athlete. His sole motivation in pummeling challengers, he tell us, was to avoid the feeling of humiliation he had as a bullied kid on the streets of 1970s Brooklyn. And he makes a convincing argument for why that primal fear has never left him, even at the Olympian height of his repute. (“No one will ever fuck with me again.”) When he tells a reporter at the end of his last ignominious fight, “I don’t have the ferocity … Boxing is not in my heart anymore,” you can’t help feeling relieved for Tyson, who seems, at this point, to have tempered his demons and reached a place of spiritual well-being. But it’s not easy watching a legend fall to his knees.