Documentary

the bomb

the bomb was another film that I managed to catch at Sheffield DocFest, but something struck a chord with me when watching it as I went back to see it again. (and again later on streaming service through DocFest) And I believe it comes down to sheer audio and visual experience that is the bomb.

It opens in the quite a bizarre way but remains strangely captivating, with a compilation of army parades whilst music pumps. What starts as innocent footage of army parade soon descends into the parading of vehicles and nuclear weapons that is at the disposal of the armies nowadays. But the opening sequence becomes quite seductive as the weapons of mass destruction are paraded whilst The Acid thumps in the background and finishes almost in celebratory fashion as snapshot footage of rockets being fired fills the screen.

As the scene changes, The Acid’s music becomes quite intoxicating as it drives the bomb from one scene to the next. It should be noted that the bomb doesn’t feature a traditional narrative, but rather a compilation of archival footage throughout the sixty minutes of running time, whilst The Acid back the footage with their music.

With the help of this archival footage, Eric Schlosser, Smriti Keshari and Kevin Ford bought to life this audio and visual experience about nuclear bombs. But what becomes the triumph within this film is that the awareness they are bringing to the forefront about the dangers of these bombs that isn’t necessarily common knowledge. This message isn’t forced down your throat either, but shows enough footage for the audience to engage in their own way.

Whilst the opening scene thumps away in this seductive way, the footage of the nuclear weapons failing contrasts that strongly. The failing weapons have an abundance of mishaps, from misfires to failing to stay the course and some even falling from the sky as they fail to take off. This contrast is really powerful, especially as it is a far sight from the innocent-looking parade captured earlier.

the bomb brings an awareness of the dangers of nuclear weapons, but the way in which this message is presented is the thing that stays with you. You are not force-fed information, but rather the visual and audio experience of the bomb really sticks with you. It’s structure is perfect as well as it shows the contrast from Oppenheimer creating the first bomb to the aftermath of the Japan bombing in the Second World War in some painstakingly striking footage.

Schlosser, Keshari and Ford, with the aid of this structure found a way to tell the story about nuclear weapons keeping it informative and enjoyable, but most importantly, thought-provoking.

Sheffield DocFest 2017: The Work (2017)

On Tuesday evening DocFest hosted it’s award ceremony and announced that the winner of the audience award was The Work. This same film actually picked up the Grand Jury prize for documentaries at South by Southwest film festival, which is really unsurprising considering The Work is potentially one of the most emotionally raw and profound documentaries I have seen in a good while.

Twice a year Folsom State Prison allows members of the public to join with inmates of the prison in an intensive group therapy session for four days. Their aim is to discover lost emotions, or gain closure on sensitive subjects they may not get the chance to do before. The key to this working is that no man is forced to vent or divulge information, but if they offer something the group come together, inmate and civilian alike, to help them move past the all too familiar suppression.

The result of this group therapy? An absolute pressure cabin of four emotionally raw days.

The Work follows three members of the public, Charles, Brian and Chris as they engage in this intensive group therapy session whilst seeking help from the inmates, primarily Vegas and Dark Cloud. But rather than having it centralised through these characters, the inmates alliances are left at the door as they begin to support each other in the group.

This allows for some incredibly footage as Vegas helps Kiki break down his proudly built masculine armour as he pleads that he just wants to cry. The group immediately swarm the former Asian gang member and coach him to tap into his emotions. This becomes a common occurrence throughout as the inmates and civilians alike tread this similar path, each with difference stories to tell.

The group engage in emotional and physical exercises as they help one another, but also themselves to harness the emotions they have been suppressing. The Work becomes incredibly moving, but an interesting look into masculinity as it explores different stories from Dark Cloud’s horrid past, to the intense embrace that captures the rapid heartbeat that matches the audiences after the intense scene.

Jairus McLeary and Gethin Aldous have managed to effectively capture an emotionally raw film, but filmed it in such a way that the audience almost feel they are sat in on the circle, as you hear the screams and anger from the other groups in the sessions. The fly-on-the-wall filming really works, and The Work is incredibly engaging with the beginning and end results of all those involves in the sessions.

There is an emotional intensity that is so high, it begins to envelope you as you share the emotions with the group, from Kiki’s breakdown to Dark Cloud’s intense internal battle and Chris’ profound breakthrough. Rehabilitation of inmates at prison has always been a testy subject, but Jairus and Gethin proudly finish The Work with anyone that has been through this programme, has never returned to prison, which speaks volumes about the program. After the ninety minutes of viewing, it’s clear to see why as you genuinely feel and see people change through the four days of the intensive group therapy.

Sheffield Doc/Fest: Ulysses in the Subway (2017)

Ulysses in the Subway was a three dimensional experience film, and that was probably the most exciting thing about the film. This experimental documentary introduces the audience to the sounds of the New York City Subway for sixty minutes as it traverses through its routes.

But here’s the kicker, there isn’t any narrative to it, nor actual visuals to accompany, but rather an abundance of soundwaves capturing the audio track we experience. Ulysses in the Subway reminded me of those tracks you can put on to help you relax, like a thunderstorm or the background noise to a coffee shop. But as Ulysses in the Subway drew to it’s close, I realised it was not something I would actively sit down and watch, or listen to.

As I mentioned, there isn’t really a narrative drive held within the film, but there could have been something more interesting to do. There is a sequence where we hear a busker playing steel drums and thanking the people who are donating money, this could have been a starting point and tour around the different buskers on the New York Subway. Not this audio experience of just listening to a train journey clunking its way around New York.

The 3D experience did not really work for me, and the visual representation of the sound began to hurt my eyes after a short while. It was interesting to watch the graphs bounce around to the audio, but it becomes quite monotonous after a short while. To try and keep it fresh, there was images of the old New York Subway spliced into it, but these were few and fair between and did not bring anything other than a change of pace to the visual.

Truthfully, I went into Ulysses in the Subway expecting little and my expectations were still shocked at what unfolded. When compared to the likes of The Bomb and DRIB in terms of experimental documentaries Ulysses is eating their dust. Unless I am missing something about this experience, but it just felt as though it was designed for someone who was missing the sounds of the New York City Subway and needed their comforts, something that I did not require.

Sheffield Doc/Fest: Drib (2017)

There was an unusual draw to Drib, and I still cannot pinpoint what it was. Maybe it was the narrative that is so wrapped up in legal issues, that the director Kristoffer Borgli had to create a fictional energy drink brand just for the film.

At the centre of Drib is Borgli’s friend Amir Asghernejad, a comic from Oslo that went viral by getting people to beat him up. As a result of this and aggressive marketing, Amir was approached by an unnamed famous energy drink brand.

With the marketing world always wanting to be ahead of the curve and in the loop, they contacted Amir to become the star of the new ad campaign centred around his violent videos. However, due to the legality of retelling this story, Borgli created the fictional brand of Drib to retell Amir’s story. And he definitely had fun with it, even going as far as creating an awesome clothing brand (drib.us)

For the next 90 or so minutes, you are wrapped in the ridiculous five days that Amir spent with the marketing team. Borgli chose to fill these minutes with the unbelievably bizarre narrative, the perfect mix of comedy driven through Amir and it is all crafted with a purpose. Borgli’s craft and film knowledge is perfect, as Drib becomes a cinematic adventure with Amir in Los Angeles.

For me, the choice to have the narrative driven through a one-on-one interview with Amir and then recreating his story with Drib in place of this unnamed drinks brand was perfect. It allowed Borgli to exercise his knowledge of film language, but also allowed Amir to do what he does best, and be funny.

Due to the actual narrative and the direction Borgli takes us in, a question raised of whether this is actually the truth, or just a superbly played out ploy by Borgli. But that doesn’t take anything away from how enjoyable Drib actually is, as Borgli recounts Amir’s story with the unnamed energy drink company with the help of actors playing different roles, aside from Adam Pearson who plays himself.

The importance of Drib lies in the impact that marketing has, and the vice-grip that it can hold over someone through NDA’s (Non-disclosure Agreements) or the ridiculous extent some companies may go to just to achieve a ‘good’ marketing campaign. Drib will not go down in history as one of the great documentaries, but it will go down as one of the most interesting due to content but also the impressive use of film language.

It’s worth mentioning that Drib seemed to be an experimental film to some degree, with it blurring the lines of non-fiction and fiction, due to Borgli’s form of narrative telling. This is not helped by the questioning of whether this story it true or not, but after the ninety minutes are up, it doesn’t matter due to the enjoyment of Drib and Amir’s pretty implausible story.

Life, Animated (2016)

People of my generation have generally grown up watching Disney’s animated features unfold on screen as one of their first experiences of films and the cinema. There was something about Disney films that just connected with our youths as we grew up around them.

The animated features were also a big part of Owen Suskind’s life and his growth into a young adult, but in a very different way. Owen was diagnosed with autism at the very young age of three, which is told in a way that juxtaposes the confident and intelligent young adult that was first shown on the screen.

life-animated-sundance-2016

As the film was a documentary, it was always going to have that battle in regards to what direction to take. Do they take the route of discussing autism and it’s effects, or do they take the route of showing the quite remarkable story of Owen Suskind and his development.

Over the course of about 90 minutes, Roger Ross Williams opted for the latter of the options and showed the story of Owen Suskind and his ability to communicate with others through the medium of Disney. Owen’s father Ron starts to talk to him through a puppet of Iago, and this scene is beautifully animated which exemplifies Owen’s newfound ability. Amazingly Owen begins to talk back to Iago, which acts as a huge breakthrough for Owen and the Suskind family.

lifeanimated

In the opening segments, we see Owen as a confident and high functioning young adult as he nears his graduation, which also means he will be moving out to live by himself soon. Ron and Cornelia Suskind kindly invite us into their cherished memories of Owen, as we see him playing with his brother and father quite gleefully. Then immediately, this happiness is shunted out by the juxtaposing image of Owen exhibiting autistic traits, a far cry from the joyful young boy we saw seconds earlier.

What made Life, Animated an experience in film was not the story, but how they accompanied that story with beautifully crafted animation and with a soft use of soundtrack to really underline the story. As I mentioned, this story could have gone one of two ways, but with the route they have taken, it became joyous to watch.

In between the exquisite animation and comforting soundtrack, Ron Suskind fills us in what was so remarkable about Owen’s childhood and what made him blossom into the confident young adult he is today and that was down to Disney.

With the help of Ron, Cornelia and Walter Suskind, Roger Ross Williams kindly retells the difficulties and joys of growing up with Owen. It’s an intriguing look into how autism can affect individuals in a family, but also for future especially as Walter comes to terms with him being Owen’s only support going into the future.

01life-master768

Life, Animated as I said was a really interesting watch as I was unaware that autistic people had that ability to recognise with the world through the medium of Disney, but also through a look at Owen’s life it relayed some interesting information regarding autism and it’s affect on children and to some extent, families too.

Roger Ross Williams managed to fill the 92-minute film with warmth through the Suskind’s care and cherishment of Owen as he enters a new chapter in his life. Through the investment in Owen’s story, the time does melt away as there is a certain joy and happiness throughout Life, Animated and it’s unsurprising that is has been nominated for an Oscar in it’s respective category. Life, Animated is a real triumph and joyous film, but I suspect Life, Animated was a bid to raise awareness for autism more than anything, whilst telling the heart-warming story of Owen.

7 Days in Hell (2015)

I’ve seen a few sports documentaries before, mainly ESPN’s 30 for 30’s and I’ve seen a few mockumentaries. 7 Days in Hell showcases both sides of the coin, directed by Jake Szymanski and featuring Kit Harrington and Andy Samberg as the two subjects of the ‘documentary’.

This mockumentary is based on a fictional seven day marathon match between Aaron Williams and Charles Poole, that occurred during the 2001 Wimbledon Championships. The two characters aren’t cut from the same cloth either, Charles coming from privileged background, whereas Aaron coming from the streets and ending up in the care of the Williams family. Serena explains that they reversed The Blind Side and took this white kid and made him a tennis star. Aaron is the bad-boy of tennis, sporting an outrageous haircut whilst storming out of interviews is all familiar ground for Aaron Williams.

Charles Poole’s (Kit Harrington) story is different. At a young age, he was a prodigy to the tennis world, although he was forced into the tennis world by his mother, even citing that she’ll never love him if he’s number two. So much so, that he forgoes his education and gets an education in big rig driving, so he can focus on his tennis career.

In the short forty-five minute mockumentary, it recounts the two tennis players lives from early childhood up until the 2001 first round match. Aaron Williams life is far more exciting as he loses 1996 Wimbledon final after killing an umpire and blowing a 2 set, 5 game lead. Whereas Charles Poole is simply England’s poster boy in the tennis world, but always answering with the word ‘indubitably’ when he is struggling with a question.

England's Poster Boy

England’s Poster Boy

It has an assortment of stars playing characters, such as Mary Steenburgen as Charle’s mother, Will Forte as a tennis historian (Who also comes up with the name 7 Days in Hell) and June Squibb playing the Queen of England. It also features John McEnroe, Serena Williams, David Copperfield and Chris Evert, as themselves recounting the match and moments in their lives involving Aaron and Charles.

This mockumentary strangely works, even though some of the scenes in the short film are downright ridiculous, it still feels like a real documentary regardless of the validity of the story. The recounting of each of the seven days is thoroughly entertaining too, which includes a threesome on the court, Aaron being hit by a big rig truck and the Queen assaulting Charles in an elevator, because why not?

-656a827b12ab7ef6

These are the kind of laughs that can be expected in a comedy driven by Andy Samberg, but it was rather refreshing to see Kit Harrington is something other than a serious drama (especially after the most recent season of Game of Thrones). With it’s run time of around forty-five minutes it isn’t too taxing to watch and fairly refreshing considering the nature of the mockumentary. I was thoroughly entertained throughout and as far as mockumentaries go, this one works very well with the inclusion of footage throughout their respective careers and Aaron Williams brief stint in a  Swedish prison (watch out for this scene, it’s rather odd and probably not for the feint-hearted).

(Spoiler)

As with all documentaries, there is that finishing, lasting message. After the match has finished with them both surprisingly killing each other in a fight (prompted by none other than the Queen), there is a resounding respect that is had for the tennis players opponent. This is shown by the inclusion of more footage during their respective interviews before their showdown at Wimbledon.

(End Spoiler)

For those wanting to watch it, I believe it is being showcased on Sky Atlantic tonight (10/07/15) at 10:10pm.

7/10

Searching For Sugar Man

The other night, I found Searching For Sugar Man on LoveFilm instant, and after watching their academy award acceptance for best documentary, I’ve been intrigued since. What is essentially the plot, is intriguing in itself, which is compelled me into watching it even more so.

The premise of the film surrounds a musician by the name of Rodriguez, a Detroit native, who had great promise when he recorded two albums during the early 1970s. The record labels had hailed him as a Bob Dylan-esque performer. Subsequently, both of Rodriquez’s albums flopped and he faded away back into his manual labour life in Detroit.

His first album, A Cold Fact, found it’s way to South Africa, where it was bootlegged and passed around, and this is where the inspiration from Searching For Sugar Man begins it’s journey. After A Cold Fact spread like wildfire among those whom opposed the Apartheid, there was two people that it touched more than anyone. Stephen Segerman and Craig Bartholomew Strydom. Two young South Africans that felt A Cold Fact was life changing and that Rodriguez, shrouded in mystery at the time, was fascinating.

The mystery of Rodriguez was that he had killed himself on stage, some say he shot himself, others say he lit himself on fire, either way one thing was for sure and that was that he had disappeared. Both Segerman and Strydom wanted to find out the circumstances surrounding Rodriguez, which made them set up Websites, ring people who would’ve known him in hope to find out, generally doing what they thought that would help solve the mystery.

Now the film in itself is a real triumph of the human spirit. Not only this, you could find yourself loving the music of Rodriguez, as the soundtrack is a list compiled of his songs from his two albums. The film won the academy award for best documentary and it’s very deserved. Not only the human spirit prevails here, but also courage and inspiration, in the sense that Segerman and Strydom both wanted to find Rodriguez, and because they never gave up this quest of theirs they were rewarded in possibly the greatest way.

This isn’t a serious documentary, it isn’t a funny documentary, it’s just a simple search for an artist that went missing. As mentioned before, it’s a real triumph for the human spirit and just a fantastic tale in the search for Sixto Rodriguez. It’s a strong recommendation.

4/5.