Monday, 21 November 2011
Lens Politica 2011
Lens Politica is one of the finest smaller-scale festivals Helsinki has to offer. The festival focuses on documentary films (also a few fictions) concerning different kind of issues from all over the world. It seems like this festival's precentage of foreign guests was bigger than with many bigger international festivals in Finalnd. I both visited Lens Politica for the first time this past weekend, and also wrote for the festival's catalogue. So I'll keep this post short and not overtly critical, because, you know, I might be politically biased.
Better This World
Directors: Kelly Duane, Katie Galloway (USA, 2011)
David McKay and Bradley Cooper seemed to be ordinary Texan teenagers, albeit quite left-leaning in their political opinions. But when they were caught attempting to disrupt the 2008 Republican Party Convention with fire bombs, a number of questions rose. What made the two friendly youngsters turn from political convictions to anarchism? In custody McKay and Crowder explained that the drastic measures were the last hope to get their message across and to end the inequal hard-line Bushist right-wing politics in America.
Although the subject is political with a capital P, directors Duane and Galloway have approached the subject from another point of view. The film is more a study of a co-dependent friendship. When each of the best friends feeds off the other's extremist views, nothing beautiful can happen. They both shield each other from the outside world and turns to the other. But that all makes the final half of the film all the more heinous. In custody, the FBI and Homeland Security start to play the two friends against each other. In custody, isolated and waiting for a trial while being fed lies about their best friend is an enormous strain on a friendship. The film's tension is built on whether this relationship can last in all the hubbub. It works on a morally grey area, where all the participants are equally heinous, and do things that have consequences on a lot of innocent people.
Director: Michael Barnett (USA, 2011)
In real life, you can't get spider-powers from being bitten from a radioactive arachnid. But you can put on a costume, get out to the streets and attempt to help people. In many urban centers around the world, real-life superheroes have started to emerge. Of course most of them come from America, but even Helsinki has our own Laser Skater, who was in attendence of the screening of this film. A lot of real-life superheroes are just entertainers looking to make people happy. But the guys the film covers are people fed up with the apathy and turning a blind eye towards suffering in a modern urban area. Even with no superpowers, you can help out the homeless, spread the word about a dangerous sex offender, not allow people driving while drunk, and stop fights.
But real-life superheroes are not just saints. Many of them are lonely people, without other hobbies, that live in their little fantasy worlds. So while it may be funny to watch a kid dressed in cape do extreme superheroic poses while going to ride in a subway, there is also a melancholic side to it. One almost gets the feeling that these superheroes were people that didn't get the help they would've deserved at some point in their life. Barnett's film plays a lot of the ridiculousness of the characters by doing comic-book panels of them and such. But at the same time he also looks at the phenomena from multiple points at the same time. Interviewed are other urban dwellers, cops, psychologists, Stan Lee (because what's a superhero film without a Stan Lee cameo), and of course, the heroes themselves. Their personalities vary from the timid Mr. Xtreme to the happy-go-lucky beer-drinking Master Legend. There may be a little too many heroes in the film, and thus the time doesn't last to go deep into the psychology of these characters. But the doc is entertaining, funny and makes the viewer ponder.
Um Shmum – Seven Hours to Death
Director: Gideon Gitai (Finland, 2011)
Um Shmum is what the high-ranking Israeli generals might say about the UN (Um in hebrew). The director Gideon Gitai moved from Israel to Finland years ago when he got fed up with his native country's aggressive politics and disregard for the international community. Thanks to the support from the USA, Israel has done numerous violent strikes to achieve its goals without having to listen to any critical voices. In 2006 this culminated when the Israeli military dropped a bomb in Khiam, which killed four neutral international observers. The outraged Gitai did a politcal documentary, that examines Israel's foreign politics from the early 1960's onwards, parallelled with various UN logs.
The problem with the film is that altough the subject matter is interesting, the film is very dry. Gitai is more of a journalist rather than a filmmaker. We hear testimonies from diplomats, politicians (including Finland's foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja, who has spoken against the tyranny posed by Israel towards the international community), and also war veterans and victims from Israel. But they are largely portrayed as mere talking heads, with just a minimal amount of archive footage thrown in. The film has been made very cheap, and altough one must admire its goals and attempts, it would work better as a reportage in a news programme.
The Death of Pinochet (La muerte de Pinochet)
Directors: Iván Osnovikoff, Bettina Perut (Chile, 2011)
When the former dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, died on a hospital bed in December 2006, a lot of different emotions were stirred in Chile. The leftists did a huge street party, laughing and dancing because a man they viewed as a murderer and as bad as The Devil himself had died. The rightists were stuck with grief, mourning the passing of a man they viewed as a father of the country, praying and visiting his corpse in a mausoleum. Needless to say, all that led to a lot of confrontations. But the film chorincling the events is colorful, almost carnivalistic. According to the co-director Osnovikoff, ithe whole ordeal is a satire.
The film really stretches the limits of documentary filmmaking. It doesn't feature talking heads but rather, talking mouths. Extreme closeups are mingled with footage shot during the days of Pinochet's passing. The camera might be in the middle of a crowd, or looking from the rafters of a large line waiting to pay respects to Pinochet's corpse. The film does take an equal look at the both sides of the ordeal. One gets the image that the leftists and the rightists are both as bad, taunting the other, going so far as to say thet they're glad a lot of the opposing side had been murdered during Chile's bloody contemporary history. There are a few characters featured that would fit right in with a Kafkaesque story or a film by Bunuel. A right-wing botanist loses to the bureaucracy and the partying her flower shop she needs to support her terminally ill husband and father. A leftist decides he would get a lot more of the word spred if he dressed like Santa Claus and passed pamphlets to soldiers. Chile was a truly crazy country during those days. The experimental film is not very long, but takes a while to pick up some steam. But once it gets going, it's quite good.
Red Forest Hotel
Director: Mika Koskinen (Finland, 2011)
One of the most talked-about documentaries of the festival was this film exposing the dirty businesses done by the part-finnish, part-swedish paper company Stora Enso in China. Extortion, violence, paying off politicians, and completely wrecking the environment are just some of the sinister acts the corporation seems to have their hands in in China. At the same time the company green-washes its image in the front page of major newspapers back home. Recently, representatives of Stora Enso have had a hard time explaining themselves in the media thanks to this film.
Director Mika Koskinen, a journalist specializing on Chinese subjects, originally set out to make a documentary about China's fight against global warming. He planned to interview also local representatives of Stora Enso, that are planting numerous eucalyptus trees near their paper-processing plant in rural provinces. But as soon as Koskinen arrived, he was questioned by representatives of Chinese government by what he is attempting to uncover. When the government and their spies started to tail Koskinen, he realized something fishy was going on with Stora Enso's businesses. But getting anyone to talk to him about it proved to be difficult, as he himself was grounded in the Red Forest Hotel and his interviewees getting kidnapped.
Much of the film takes place during Koskinen's stay at the hotel, with a lot of secretly shot footage of government officials speaking among themselves. This doesn't actually tell a lot other than that they wish to restrict what Koskinen might find out. That raises anxiousness that the film doesn't actually have anything other to say that Stora Enso doesn't allow reporters to find out about their business and while it's doing business with the local government, also has them in their back pocket to stop anyone snooping around. But Koskinen has packed the truly outrageous interviews to the end of the film, when he finally arrives to a small rural village to interview the locals. They have been forced to cut down the trees surrounding their own home by threatening to burn them if the wouldn't. Stora Enso's goons have gotten rid of all of the lower-level plantation and brutally beat anyone up that dares to demand for their human rights from the company. The eucalyptus forests planted in the openings have killed all the wildlife and sucked up all the water sources. All that is left is unnatural rows of similar trees, in a forest that is built to make money to a immoral corporation. While Koskinen's film isn't based very well for a cinematic piece, it is still a shocking revealation. The locals in the unnamed village reveal to hate us Finns. I fully understand why. This business is a shame for the whole country.