Reviews: AV Festival 2016

The AV Festival runs from 27th February – 27th March. That’s an unusually long runtime for a festival but there are events and screenings spread throughout that whole month, so my reviews will be appearing over the same time period. That said, quite a lot of the films being shown are ones that I either own on DVD or can access via VOD (for a lower price than a cinema ticket), so I’m currently attempting to get a head start on my reviews by watching those films at home. I’m aiming to review 20 films overall, some of which are screening during the last weekend of the festival so I will add titles and links to this post as and when the reviews go online. The first batches of reviews are for collections of shorts but almost all of the rest will be standalone features.

British Doc shorts

1930s – 40s British Documentary Movement –

Showing as part of the ‘Resistance: British Documentary Film’ strand, this collection of four shorts from the 1930s and 40s picks up on some of the same issues raised by George Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier – namely poor housing conditions and precarious employment in industrial areas. According to the festival’s website, the screening at the Tyneside Cinema on 1st March will show them on 35mm – I watched them on the BFI’s 4-disc boxset, Land of Promise.

 

Jennings_Finest Hour

Finest Hour: Films by Humphrey Jennings –

Jennings is perhaps the best-known name among the British documentary makers of the era and is rightly revered for his poetic artistry. What I’ve liked most though is his eye for the small details – often moments of happenstance – that have the spark of real life rather than something stiltedly staged (or self-consciously presented) for the camera. Some of his films are in the Land of Promise boxset – and the BFI also has three volumes of DVDs dedicated to the director – but several of them (indicated below) are also available to watch for free on the BFI Player.

 

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Between Times: Marc Karlin –

On the weekend of Friday 4th – Sunday 6th March, AV Festival are focussing on director Marc Karlin (details here) who spent several decades as a filmmaker consistently questioning and critiquing the British Left. I will only manage to see a couple of his films during the festival, but almost all of the films that are being screened (including the five on Nicaragua) are also available to rent on Vimeo courtesy of the Marc Karlin Archive (here) – I’m certainly planning to investigate his other works.

 

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Nightcleaners 

This documentary about the 1970-72 campaign to unionise the cleaners who worked overnight in London office blocks was screened on International Women’s Day. I didn’t have time to write about it until two days later, by which time I felt that something of its quicksilver and abstract nature had already slipped beyond my grasp. It is by no means ‘difficult’ viewing (I hadn’t been sure what to expect – it caused a stir in academic circles at the time of its original release and a lot of the contemporaneous writing about it seems to verge on the incomprehensible) but it is a film of many layers. It is also the best film I’ve seen so far this year.

 

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Levels of Democracy: Ukrainian Film Weekend

This weekend (18th-20th March) the AV Festival is focussing on radical Ukrainian documentary. Within that context they are creating a profile of Sergei Loznitsa by screening three of his films – his latest, The Event (2015), as well as Maidan (2014) and Revue (2008). I was supposed to be seeing The Event and two classics from the silent era – Earth (Alexander Dovzhenko, 1930) and Enthusiasm (Symphony of the Donbas) (Dziga Vertov, 1930) – but that is not how my weekend has turned out, so there will only be my review of Revue (available on DVD in a set with his films Blockade and Landscape, which is how I saw it) for this section of the festival. If you’re interested in Loznitsa, Maidan is also available on DVD and the majority of his other documentaries are available as VOD on the Doc Alliance site (note: I wasn’t overly fussed by Revue but I like some of his other films considerably more).

  • Revue (Sergei Loznitsa, 2008)

 

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March to Aldermaston: Free Cinema

As part of the ‘Resistance: British Documentary Film’ strand, the festival is screening a showcase of shorts from the Free Cinema movement – March to Aldermaston (Lindsay Anderson, 1959), Refuge England (Robert Vas, 1959), and We Are the Lambeth Boys (Karel Reisz, 1959). The latter two are available to watch for free on the BFI Player – here and here respectively.

That’s it from me in terms of AV Festival reviews. My report on the British documentary section will appear after Easter.

Curtocircuíto – Santiago de Compostela International Short Film Festival 2015

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I have been covering Curtocircuíto from home in North East England rather than venturing to North West Spain – covering festivals from home always feels slightly fraudulent, as if I’m cheating, but travel and accommodation are costly aspects of going to film festivals and so on this occasion I had to be practical and forgo the festival atmosphere and focus on the films. The festival very kindly gave me access to most of the programme (the line-up can be found here), and I have managed to watch a fair range of what was on offer (and I may yet also delve into the filmography of Jørgen Leth – subject of a retrospective – because I’ve discovered that a lot of his films are available on DocAlliance). I will be writing a report on the festival this week (probably with a focus on the Galician films, given that Novo Cinema Galego is an interest of mine), which I will link to on here once it is up. In the meantime, I’ve written a round-up of the award winners.

I have also reviewed five of the films from across the programme – as usual, links to be added once they are online:

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Becoming Anita Ekberg (Mark Rappaport, 2014) – an essay film (or film essay?) exploring the formation of Ekberg’s star image.

 

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In the Distance (Florian Grolig, 2015) – an animated take on isolation in time of war.

 

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Ni Dios ni Santa María / Neither God nor Santa María (Helena Girón and Samuel M. Delgado, 2015) – witchery and voices from the past.

 

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Noite sem distância / Night Without Distance (Lois Patiño, 2015) – the film that I was most eager to catch up with (regular readers will know that Patiño’s Costa da Morte was my favourite film last year). Another investigation of the Galician landscape, this time in the form of a smuggling operation across the Galicia-Portugal border and utilising a colour negative image.

 

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Ulterior (Sabrina Muhate, 2014) – an essay film on death and life and our bodies in those states. Unnerving (although admittedly I am squeamish) but I think that this is a director with her own voice (and eye).

Art, Seascapes, and Life

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been specifically focussed on documentaries for a while in relation to my otro cine español project, but I have also wandered off course to watch a wider range of documentaries and essay films than I might have done in the past. There’s an idea brewing in my mind in relation to the Spanish docs, so I thought that with this post I’d take a brief look at some of the other documentaries that I’ve seen this year.
In addition to writing about Ciutat Morta (Xavier Artigas and Xapo Ortega, 2014) and La danza del hipocampo/ The Dance of the Memory (Gabriela Domínguez Ruvalcaba, 2014) on the old site, I’ve also reviewed a fair few documentaries at Eye for Film so far this year: Arraianos (Eloy Enciso, 2012); Burden of Peace (Joey Boink and Sander Wirken, 2014); Dancing in Jaffa (Hilla Medalia, 2013); The First Film (David Wilkinson, 2015); Humano (Alan Stivelman, 2013); The Iron Ministry (JP Sniadecki, 2014); Life is Sacred (Andreas Dalsgaard, 2014); N-VI Vanishing Roads (Pela del Álamo, 2012); No Land’s Song (Ayat Najafi, 2014); Precinct Seven Five (Tiller Russell, 2014); Prophet’s Prey (Amy Berg, 2014); and Vikingland (Xurxo Chirro, 2011). Most of the reviews that I write for Eye for Film are for films showing at festivals so – because I don’t often review ‘new releases’ and because the focus of the old site was exclusively Spanish – I generally haven’t written about (apart from handwritten notes in a notebook) the ones I watch in other circumstances (y’know, for fun).
There have been a number of new documentaries released this year that I haven’t managed to see yet. Those that spring immediately to mind are Maidan (Sergei Loznitsa, 2014), Dreamcatcher (Kim Longinotto, 2015), Best of Enemies (Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon, 2015) and Albert Maysles’s final film, In Transit (2015). But of the ones I have seen so far this year (new and newish), here are some of the standouts (listed in alphabetical order):

Zatarain_BrankaBranka (Mikel Zatarain, 2013) – Opening with an epigraph from John Donne’s ‘No Man is an Island’, Branka (the name of a still-publishing magazine founded by exiled Basques in Belgium in the 1960s – a piece of information I gleaned from this in-depth interview with Zatarain over at Desistfilm) consists of 27 minutes of a static camera shot of an island dis/appearing in and out of the mist on a seascape that is for the most part indistinguishable from the sky. The day passes and night falls with the island illuminated by lightning and domestic lights before disappearing back into the mist. Zatarain creates a soundscape that merges domestic and street sounds with a political edge (news reports and chants from a march calling for amnesty for political prisoners) – the audio is less tranquil than the visuals – alongside the sound of the sea. Part of a triptych about Basque society and the ethics / poetry of the image (poética = poetic, ética = ethics), the film is viewable for free online (along with several others of Zatarain’s films) in a collection – La (po)ética de la imagen – at margenes.org.

Hand GesturesIl Gesto Delle Mani / Hand Gestures (Francesco Clerici, 2015) – The process from beginning to end – from wax to glazed bronze, and showing the detailed speciality of each artisan involved – of the making of Velasco Vitali’s famous dog sculptures in the Fonderia Artistica Battaglia, a 100-year old foundry in Milan. The title comes from the epigraph with which the film opens – “Sculpture is not a concept. Sculpture is a hand gesture. In the gesture of the body lays the relationship with the world: the way you see it, the way you feel it, the way you own it” (Giacomo Manzù (1908-1991), sculptor). There is no voiceover and only minimal verbal exchanges between the people onscreen – it is all about the craft. It is a genuine privilege to watch such craftsmanship up close and I found this a fascinating and riveting film. Trailer.

Jetlag01Jet Lag (Eloy Domínguez Serén, 2014) – Described by the director as ‘the chronicle of the film that could never, or never wanted to be’, the film was supposed to be a portrait of people working unsocial hours late at night. But in the process of making the film, the filmmakers found themselves inserted into it as well because over the course of four nights circumstances caused a camaraderie to build between them and their ostensible subject, the manager of an all-night petrol station. The film captures the natural development of this happening, starting off with the sideways glances that implicitly acknowledge the camera’s presence and gradually moving on to more involved conversations between people in front and behind the camera.

Life May BeLife May Be (Mark Cousins and Mania Akbari, 2014) – Some films just set your neurons firing. An exchange of letters in the form of short films sent between Mark Cousins and Mania Akbari as they discuss art, identity, the body, cinema, and exile. I watched this as a rental (it’s available in the UK on GooglePlay and iTunes) and then immediately bought a permanent download. Then I bought the only one of Akbari’s films that’s available here – One. Two. One. (2011) (the release of which by SecondRun DVD was the initial connection between the two filmmakers because Cousins was asked to contribute an essay, which in turn became the starting point for this film) – and Abbas Kiarostami’s Ten (which I’ve never seen, but Akbari is the lead) because I want to know more about her and where she’s coming from. I intend to return to this one because parts of it have burrowed into my head – but I need to watch the other Akbari films first.

National GalleryNational Gallery (Frederick Wiseman, 2014) – With no sign of this appearing in my home city (although it did turn up a few weeks later), I went to Edinburgh in order to see National Gallery in a cinema because I felt sure that the paintings would need to be seen on as large a scale as possible. Wiseman’s film is about the National Gallery as an institution and all of the facets of what that entails – the economics of the place, bureaucracy, the institution as a brand (the struggle between being a national, public space and yet apparently not wanting to appeal to the lowest common denominator), education, conservation, curatorship, craftsmanship, art history, the interpretation of art, and the act of looking. If art can encompass everything, this film attempts to do likewise and to consider the place from every possible angle. My favourite bits were probably the ‘inner workings’-type segments showing restoration, conservation, and craftsmanship (for example, the making of the picture frames would not ordinarily be part of the public discussion / consideration of art, and yet it clearly has an impact on how the art is seen), but it is also a joy to listen to experts enthuse about their respective specialisms.

Transatlantique02Transatlantique / Transatlantic (Félix Dufour-Laperrière, 2014) – Black and white. Dialogue free. A dream-like travelogue of a cargo ship’s transatlantic journey between Antwerp and Montreal. I know that I will get another chance to see this later in the year, so I will write about it in more detail then.

Vivan las AntipodasVivan las Antipodas! (Victor Kossakovsky, 2011) – This was recommended to me by Eye for Film editor Amber Wilkinson a while back but I didn’t get the chance to see it until Doc Alliance had an online season of Kossakovsky’s films (the film is still available as VOD on their site and I also recommend The Belovs (1992)). Setting up a series of contrasts between the landscapes, textures, and ways of life on opposite points on the globe (Argentina / China, Spain / New Zealand, Chile / Russia, Botswana / Hawaii), this visually dynamic film is a feast for the eyes – the juxtaposition of music and movement makes it seem like the camera dances in certain sequences while in others Kossakovsky puts the world on its head.