My DocFest – mini reviews – day three


Docfest #7 – Commander Arian: Germany, Spain, Syria. A close up personal portrait of the YPJ from 2015-now (and ongoing), a Syrian army where women fight for equal rights alongside their male comrades, but also in women only units, against ISIS. They are feminists, fighting to keep themselves from being “women slaves” where the culture of many of their own families treats women as ‘worth less than a piece of cloth’, where options remain only to be wives and mothers. One woman tells of her sister, kidnapped and raped by ISIS, who when she is found pregnant on her return is killed by her own family. The YPJ (Kurdish all-female militia) are soldiers, comrades and their own support network, and are as familiar with kalashnikovs as with caring for each other. They are admirable feminists, literally taking up arms for their own freedom, but also the freedom of their country. Commander Arian herself is an inspiring leader, firm and organsied, caring and philosophical, she regularly talks to the younger comrades to encourage them to consider what kind of future they want as a woman, why they have joined the fight. We follow Arian’s journey as she deals with liberating villages, car bombs, losing comrades and her own physical difficulties after taking 5 bullets. Inspiring stuff and makes you question how far you would be willing to fight for feminism and freedom. The film is dedicated to Anna Campbell, a young feminist from Brighton, who volunteered to join the YPJ to fight, who was killed in combat just 3 months ago. The director Alba Sotorra was at the screening and spoke of the humble bravery of the women, with whom she filmed on the front lines for weeks and months.

Docfest #8 – The People’s Republic of Desire, China. This is like an odd Jeff Noon short story, following the story of two real-life live streaming ‘star’ hosts on the web platform ‘YY’. An entire subculture itself of millions of people involved in watching their favourite host’s shows obsessively, showering them with digital ‘gifts’ expressed as emoticons on lollipops, or cars for the big spenders. The hosts don’t seem to have any special talents, and do little more than chat about nothing much or sing karaoke, except for encouraging their followers to buy them more gifts. The biggest stars have the richest followers, the rich followers have their own fans who applaud them for spending their wealth, money follows money. The hosts lives, however popular, seem increasingly stressful, insular and claustrophobic as they have to work even harder for theor agencies to maintain their popularity ranking. Many of the followers are young lower class Chinese people in menial jobs, with no apparent goals or opportunities in life, and YY is a form of escapism for them, they support hosts like others support sports teams. But its all such an objectionable way of bleeding money out of the poorest vulnerable lonely people in society. One host even cynically mentions something to that effect, that the shows are for “all of you who don’t have the talent of deceit”. Overall, this is a tale of abject loneliness throughout much of Chinese society, the followers don’t have friends but they have YY, and can aspire to be a live streaming host someday. The hosts are caught up in the adulation, but it’s a hollow treadmill of money making, which clearly doesn’t make anyone in this film happy at all. Yet another film illustrating a cultural end of days, craving money for money’s sake world.

Docfest #9 – Love Means Zero: USA. Biopic of Nick Bollettieri, tennis coach to the superstars in the golden ages of the sport. I don’t know that much about tennis, and had never heard of Nick, but found this entertaining and engaging, with a surprising amount of laughs. Nick was responsible for discovering Andre Agassi (amongst other tennis stars), and spent 10 years working closely with him, building a father-son relationship which ended badly over money issues, to the point where Agassi refuses to speak with Nick to this day (and wouldn’t participate in the film). Boris Becker and a bunch of other tennis pros who you might have heard of are featured here (Becker is a charismatic delight), telling their tales of interactions with Nick and his style as coach. Intense, very Italian and somewhat of a ‘character’, Nick comes across as a goal oriented taskmaster with an ability to overlook emotions in other people to get to where he wanted to be. He’s funny to watch though “i react in life and move on…hey, if you were to ask me to list the names of my 8 wives, I probably couldn’t remember” , and refers to himself often in the third person which I found most entertaining. An old man now, Nick does open up a little, expressing regret at not reconciling with Agassi sooner or handling moments in life better, but he is still very much aware of putting on “the Nick show” for the cameras throughout.

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