As part of me celebrating reaching half way to 90 years old this week, we went to Le Pure Cafe in Paris for lunch, something I’ve wanted to do for years since seeing Richard Linklater’s film Before Sunset (2004). This film series is special to me, not only as wonderful pieces of cinema but I also wrote a chunk of my Master’s film studies thesis about them in relation to Deleuzian concepts of cinema, time, and philosophical time travel. I was immersed in these films and they will always mean an awful lot to me, and still agree with a Robin Wood article I read once that a brief scene in a record shop in Before Sunrise (1995) is one of the most beautifully perfect romantic and poetic pieces of cinema – a scene which has no dialogue but clearly denotes the moment when this couple truly fall in love. Before Midnight (2013) had not been made yet, and is the hardest of the trilogy to watch because of its authentic character development and expression of tensions in long term relationships. I think the trilogy is a gorgeous example of romantic drama, character study and screenwriting, Sunset is perhaps my favourite because of it’s nearness to an urgent real-time conversation whilst wandering the streets of Paris and the way various emotional beats and characterisations are woven into the screenplay (for which it was thusly Oscar-nominated). In short: I was very nerdily excited to luncheon here with Paul Dorrington, who is my Jesse, even if it has changed a bit and the weather was a bit too hot.
Began the day with Italianamerican, a WONDERFUL doc by Martin Scorsese wherein he basically chats to his parents. It’s New York, 1974, their sofa is encased in plastic and his mum shows us how to make her family’s meatball sauce. Intercut with enough family photos and contemporary street scenes to give us a genuine flavour of a slice of life, and a strong sense of their family history, it illustrates well their stories of growing up with multiple siblings to a room and parents having experienced difficult migration via weeks-long boat journeys. But most of all it’s fabulously warm and funny! With bonus meatball recipe at the end of the credits! And a reminder to get out your videocamera and film your family’s funny ways, stories and mannerisms whilst they’re still around.
The film was coupled with a screening of Chris Marker’s famed La Jetee, a great piece of cinema which I had seen at the same cinema before perhaps 20 years ago. After the lively character of the Scorsese family, I’m afraid I found this more soporific than haunting this time around.
A Bunch of Amateurs – best doc so far (in retrospect, along with Herzog’s film, this is one of my two favourites of the entire festival), about a 90-year old amateur filmmaking club in Bradford. I properly laughed and cried most of the way through this. Gorgeous, glorious film full of wonderful, lovely characters and their amazing amateur creative feats and friendships. Check them out, they are something very special indeed. Lovely surprise to see director and some of the ‘cast’ at the Q&A also. Check the filmmaking group out for real at: http://www.bradfordmoviemakers.com/
And finally… how wonderful to be able to finish off my own DocFest experience with a film made in and about Sheffield – or at least an unsung corner of Sheffield music history, Ken Patten’s studio in Handsworth which he called Studio Electrophonique. Ken recorded a bunch of internationally famous bands before they were famous, all of whom credit Ken with playing an important part in their first steps to success: ABC, The Human League and Pulp included. A nicely understated, authentic film that rightfully puts Ken’s enthusiasm, talent and contribution to (Sheffield) music on the map – after a sold out screening on a Tuesday afternoon, I hope this gets picked up for a wider release!
Wow. Began the day with the festival’s world premiere of Werner Herzog’s The Fire Within: Requiem for Katia and Maurice Krafft. I’m a fan of Herzog anyway, but this was astounding, particularly on the big screen. The film is comprised of the Krafft’s own footage, filmed over decades of their careers as vulcanologists, up to and including the day of their death in 1991 at a volcanic eruption in Japan. Herzog’s thematic intrigue with people tilting at windmills is as present as ever here – at one point he explains that much of their footage documents hardship (I would say PERIL) and comments that though many viewers may be glad not to be there, he would give anything to be present. His admiration for these scientists-cum-filmmakers is evident and speaks to Herzog’s existential fascination with impossible situations – what is it about him as a filmmaker, beyond the peril and beauty of the footage that he is so persistently and wonderfully drawn to (people who) push the boundaries of human limitations? As well as astounding footage of larval eruptions and pyroclastic clouds, there is some amazing film of all kinds of natural world scenes from obscure parts of the world. Although the magnificent footage is all Katia and Maurice Krafft’s, and is a testament to their boldness and artistry, Herzog’s construction and narration make this film still very much his own. And it might be my imagination, but I am convinced I could feel the heat of the hypnotic volcanic flows emanating from the screen.
I ran into my chum Carolyn at lunch in the Showroom, where we got to catch up and swap DocFest stories thus far which was lovely, before I went in to see my second film of the day: McEnroe. Booked because of limited availability at another film about early blues artists, this was the next most interesting in its timeslot to me. I’m not sure how much the world needs another documentary about a middle aged white male superstar tennis player but as an examination of personality this was still fairly enjoyable. Structured as somewhat of a redemptive story, it charts McEnroe’s professional and personal life, with reflective interjections from McEnroe himself, his family and colleagues. It’s amusing in places including filming his MTV idents, forays into playing rock guitarand partying (“we weren’t doing performance enhancing drugs, we were doing performance DEhancing drugs”). I enjoyed this as a general character examination, but it’s not world changing stuff.
Last but not least I watched Age of Rage, about Australian punk rock from the 1970s- now. Made in a lovely DIY punk rock style with some cool animations and vintage gig & newsreel footage as well as professional interviews. I learned a lot about the Aus punk scene, many of the elements and politics (punk IS political) are in parallel with the UK – interesting/shocking but sadly not surprising how corrupt and violent the police attitude was towards these kids. Fascinating the variety of politics, activism and where some of the players in the punk movement have ended up (with PhDs, working in global progressive politics, as airline pilots etc) – and really heartening to be reminded that there are groups of people put there willing to fight for race/gender/class equality across the world. ALSO we got free badges/stickers/magnets on the way in, yeah!
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Started the day with Nelly & Nadine, a moving detailed history of two women who fell in love in a German POW camp in WW2 and spent the rest of their lives together. The story is relatively newly uncovered, using some astounding archive footage and unearthed family 8mm film and photos. Their relationship has clearly not been openly discussed in the family for years and is slowly and emotionally unearthed through Nelly’s granddaughter (now middle aged herself), who has been putting off reading her grandmother’s diaries and looking through her treasures until now.
I had a lovely meeting at lunch with Adam Isenberg, co-director of Eat Your Catfish, which sounds like a fascinating and unique film (and took approx 7 years to edit!). Adam contacted me for a chat about a new film idea he has, which was a most enjoyable discussion and I very much look forward to hearing his future progress. I will certainly catch up with Eat Your Catfish at the first possible opportunity!
Finally I saw Pryvoz, a marvellous fly-on-the-wall slice of life from a market in Ukraine. The film follows several rough and ready ‘characters’ as well as a look at a number of stalls, stallholders and surroundings to give a real sense of daily life, place and atmosphere. Some excellent footage of cute market cat life also. The film is being screened as part of a cultural exchange with Ukraine as film festivals there are unable to take place at present, and DocFest is helping support some of these films and events.
I saw 2 films today: Love, Deutchmarks & Death and The Happy Worker.
The former is kind of a history of Turkish culture in Germany when loads of workers were drafted in from Turkey in the 50s-60s, and about the culture of the migrants as expressed in pop music. Lots of Turkish pop stars and examples of alternative/protest music. Done in a very amusing/light-hearted and entertaining way, with some wonderful characters and great music as well as educational!
The Happy Worker promised to be light and funny but was actually quite ploddy, about the modern state of affairs in common workplaces, highlighting issues of office culture, overly complex management structures and overwork. The film especially talks about worker’s burnout. Interesting subject matter but at times feels likes stock footage combined with a support group discussion. Less thorough and enlightening than it could have been, I felt.
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