Sunday, October 25, 2015

LFF#59: 5 Documentaries

Five documentaries from the 59th London Film Festival, reviewed by Kiomars Vejdani

Director : Davis Guggenheim
USA 2015

The story of Malala Yousafzai has received so much attention by public media. A fifteen year old girl who was shot by Taliban for openly opposing their suppressive regime, subsequently rising to the level of international fame having audition with Queen and President Obama and eventually awarded Nobel Peace Prize. But international fame has made her a controversial figure open to debates. Some of her admirers see her achievements as her destiny decided by powers higher above, drawing a parallel between her and a legendary figure of the same name who with her words inspired the army of her country to win a battle over a more powerful enemy. A less sympathetic group see her fame in the light of propaganda created by the West against Taliban. But some facts remain indisputable. Malala is a courageous girl who after being shot by Taliban has not stopped her fight against them. She has a close relationship with her father who is an intelligent, cultured, and enlightened man. Her way of thinking is very much influenced by her father. She is brought up to believe in freedom of people and human rights. She has had a good education. Her speeches are well articulated. Some speculate that her speeches are written by her father but that is not for certain. At interview when faced with an unexpected question she comes up with a well formulated answer. Davis Guggenheim for making his documentary has had a great deal of material to use ( as Malala has been photographed and filmed a lot ). In treatment of his subject he has glorified Malala to the extreme. He particularly highlights the similarity between Malala,s character and her legendary namesake. The end result is a well compiled picture of an emotive subject. But how truthful ?

Director :Ondi Timoner
UK 2015

Russell Brand as an Stand up comedian is famous for his loud volume of voice, a non- stop barrage of words and jokes which, although at times witty, are mostly vulgar and not to everyone,s taste. But this documentary about him reveals the other side of his character showing that he can be a more interesting person out side the stage. Film focuses, not on Russell,s stage career and scandals of sex and drugs ( although they have been covered adequately ) but more so on his personality and politics which are very much inter -related. The picture that emerges is a manic character with an over-active brain, non -stop coming up with ideas which are immediately voices without being checked for their logic. His uninhibited nature can not accept control. If anything he controls and dominates other ( as shown in the funny scene of American TV interview) with regard to his politics he has a sharp wit to instinctively notice problems but his disorganized way of thinking comes up with solutions which at best are unrealistic and at worse dangerous. Any possibility of his engaging in politics would be nothing short of disastrous. The film tries to present as honest a picture of him as possible. But in the end gives up defending something which is not defensible. In the words of Brand,s manager :” Ask Russell all the questions. But do not follow him”

Director : Mor Loushy
Israel 2015

During Six Day War in 1967 between Israel and Arab countries leading to Israel,s remarkable victory, some Israeli soldiers were interviewed as they were making their advance towards Jerusalem. The recorded interviews reveals a very different story. A dark truth behind the glory of liberation of Jerusalem. Many soldiers admit that while initially they were proud of their victory, they gradually began to see their role as aggressors. They express the shame and guilt for their treatment of Arab people, making them leave their homes ( in the words of one soldier making them refugees in their own country ) The recorded interviews were only allowed to be partly released. In this film, for the first time and after many years, we can hear them uncensored and in their totality. Director Mor Loushy uses their recording on the soundtrack of the film as a basis for his documentary. They are visually accompanied by authentic ( and rarely seen ) archive material carefully matched with the narrative on the soundtrack. Added to the archive material are shots of key figures commenting on the events of the past. The message coming across is the futility of war, putting more value on human life than conquering lands. A strong anti war film with a moral tone to match.

Director : David Sington
UK 2015

It is a documentary about Nick Yarris, a prisoner accused of murder and on Death Row, who after 23 years trying to prove his innocence appealed to Court for his execution. The film is entirely made of showing him talking to the camera. He is a great story teller. He talks about his criminal past, drug addiction, burglary, car stealing, and acts of violence (but not murder ). He tells us about prison wardens and their acts atrocity towards him as well as other prisoners, his relationship with a female volunteer visitor which led to romance and marriage. Later on breakdown of that marriage could have something to do with his appeal for execution. Eventually with advance of science and discovery of DNA he could prove his innocence and was released from prison. He saw his freedom as a second chance life has given him and decided to reform himself. Since then he has become a virtuous man, leading a respectable life, helping drug addicts and criminals with similar problems of his own in the past. He now lives in UK ( away from his reputation of the past ). He is married and has a daughter. A very positive and heart-warming film.
Even more interesting than film was presence of Nick Yarris at the screening, answering questions from the audience, gaining sympathy,respect,and admiration of everyone.

Director : Hanna Polak
Denmark – Poland 2014

Only thirteen miles out side Moscow there is a huge garbage site of several miles in dimension. A crowd of homeless people live there. They try to survive by finding whatever left over food in the rubbish, and build some shelter by any means they get hold of to protect them against cold winter. The rate of crime, prostitution, drug abuse and alcoholism is high. A good number do not survive for too long. Director Hanna Polak decided to film this group ( secretly and away from the watchful eyes of police and authority ) Soon she noticed Yula a ten year old girl who was born on the site and decided to film her over the next fourteen years ( a method not dissimilar to Richard Link later,s Boyhood ). The result is document on human misery unimaginable at the heart of our present day civilisation.

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