My lineup for Day 3 was totally international/transnational: Russian Winter Go Away!, Israeli The Gatekeepers, American After Tiller, Italian Da Vinci (a short), and Danish The Act of Killing.
Winter Go Away! – 3/5
Ten filmmakers from the Marina Razbezhkina’s School of Documentary Film and Documentary Theatre lived with a camera for two months in order to chronicle the popular uprise against Putin’s presidential run in Winter 2012, which became to be known as ‘Russian Winter’ or ‘snowy revolution.’ The film was commissioned by the independent newspaper Novaja Gazeta. Interesting idea, but the final product is (inevitably) fragmentary and too much old-fashioned-cinéma vérité – with a persistent jittery camera – to be truly convincing. Favorite scenes: the old men talking politics over vodka at the beginning and at the end of the film, and the action (red) painting performance.
The Gatekeepers (dir. Dror Moreh) – 3/5 for subject/investigation, 4/5 for construction & visual
Six former heads of the Israel’s secret service, Shin Bet, offer insights into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by revealing actions, decisions, successes, and failures. The structure (with talking heads) is similar to Manhunt, which I saw yesterday, but the style is more refined and more visually elaborate than the HBO documentary on Bin Laden’s hunt. There’s honesty, and somehow blatant candor in what the Israeli officers say. However, the viewpoint is not dual (how could it be?) and what it’s repeated a few times in the film, that a terrorist for one side is a patriot for the other, seems tragically true. Some of their statements (kill one to teach a lesson to many) reminded me of the slogan of the Italian terrorist group the Red Brigades. The six high-profile Israelis all defend targeted assassinations. They all have no doubts that Gaza’s occupation was legitimate. If you want to read more about The Gatekeepers go here.
After Tiller – 5/5
“Since the assassination of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas in 2009, only four doctors in the United States continue to perform third-trimester abortions. These physicians, all colleagues of Dr. Tiller, sacrifice their safety and personal lives in the name of their fierce, unwavering conviction to help women” (from the film’s website). Co-directors Martha Shane and Lana Wilson give us a poignant, courageous film. Just an ‘old school’ documentary, without visual gimmicks nor beautification, but able to present the touchy issue of late-term abortions with objectivity and humanity. From the perspective of women. Because women are not mere reproductive wombs. From the (enlightening) perspective of the doctors and why they do it. After Tiller will get nationwide distribution thanks to Oscilloscope. (Thanks, Oscilloscope!). Watch Amy Goodman’s (excellent) issue of Democracy Now reporting on After Tiller from Sundance.
Powerful. A fist in the stomach. Surreal. Poetic at moments. Breathtaking cinematography. Brilliant. My favorite film so far. I agree with Peter Debruge’s review in Variety and with this review: “The Act of Killing stands as one of the more powerful and harrowing documentaries ever made. It demands to be seen, and stands as an epic achievement in non-fiction filmmaking. Certain to be applauded for years to come, it’s more horrifying than any genre pic, more unsettling and nightmare inducing than any fiction work could ever be.” The Act of Killing shows how transnational filmmaking can bring rich complexity to cinema – an American director (born in TX) who now lives in Denmark films a piece of Indonesian history co-produced by American director Errol Morris, the German Werner Herzog, and both Danish and Norwegian companies (The Act of Killing is officially a Danish film). Read the production notes on the film’s website to know the background on how the film came to life.
Da Vinci – 5/5
Da Vinci was shown within a program of seven shorts titled Boys and Their Toys. It’s not about the Renaissance genius who painted the Monna Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci, but about a surgical machine that can perform minimally invasive surgery, as advertised here and explained here. Italian video artisit and documentary filmmaker Yuri Ancarani presents, with the robotic system Da Vinci, the third part of a study on the interaction between human beings and machines, after Piattaforma Luna (2011) and Il capo (2010 – which appeared at True/False, too). Ancarani’s style mingles documentary cinema and contemporary art, with the goal of exploring what may not be visible in daily life. His works have been shown at numerous film festivals and received many awards, as briefly outlined here. I was enthralled by the uncanny cleanness of the images, by the abstractness created by the extreme close-ups of the surgery, by the subtle playfulness with genres (the scientific documentary meets Kubrick’s Hal 9000), by the absolute photogénie that Ancarani has created in Da Vinci, in which spoken words have no space. This pure cinematic pleasure, without dialogues, was exactly what I needed to clear my head from all the (heavy) political/social stances I’ve been exposed to on this Day 3 of True/False 2013.
Fulfilled by Da Vinci’s visual feast, I bailed out of the last movie I had reserved tickets for, Richard Rowley’s Dirty Wars, and opted, instead, for a drink, a chat, and a bite to eat at Sycamore with Yuri Ancarani and Salla Sorri, co-director of another short, Resistance (which I did not see during the Festival, but I will soon as Salla generously gave me a copy of the DVD). This is one of the (many) things I love about True/False: hanging out with the filmmakers!