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|Shadows off the beaten path
Indies, foreign, docs, revivals and shorts...
|See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 16.Nov.19
Ai Weiwei: Yours Truly
Review by Rich Cline | MUST SEE
dir Cheryl Haines
prd Cheryl Haines, Cassandra Jabola, Christy McGill
with Ai Weiwei, Cheryl Haines, Ahmed Maher, Chelsea Manning, John Kiriakou, Alexandra Munroe, Steven Hawkins, Ai Dan, Gao Ying, Wu Tun, Farida Ghulam, Jackie von Treskow
release US Apr.19 sfiff,
UK Sep.19 rff
Beautifully assembled by first-time filmmaker Cheryl Haines, this documentary traces Chinese artist Ai Weiwei's exhibition exploring people who are persecuted for their beliefs and speech. His art is of course stunning, inventively unpeeling the themes to make them resonate on a powerfully human level. And Haines documents this project in such a clever way that the film carries its own emotional gut punch.
After Ai's 2011 detention in Beijing, authorities refused to return his passport, so he was forced to create exhibitions for galleries around the world without visiting them. Working with Haines, he plans @Large, a major installation at Alcatraz featuring people who currently imprisoned for their ideas. Elements include Lego portraits of prisoners, a gigantic wing made of Tibetan reflective panels and ceramic flowers to echo Ai's father's exile as a poet. Finally, visitors are given a chance to send a postcard to a prisoner. The show ran for seven months and attracted nearly a million visitors.
The film documents the creation of the exhibition, and then goes further to explore the reaction of those who experience it. Their comments are moving as they identify with people who have been locked up around the world due to a lack of free expression. And this is the point: each one of these is a human with hopes and dreams, a family that cares about them and a passion for getting the truth to their people.
And then there are the postcards, which reach their destinations, causing ripples of reactions as detainees discover global support for their actions. Family members visit the exhibition. And Haines' cameras travel to meet Maher on his release in Egypt, as well as two American political prisoners: Manning, who released documents revealing the horrors of US treatment of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Kiriakou, whose crime was confirming that the CIA used waterboarding (something openly admitted now, but he remains under parole, his family destroyed in the process).
Because he has experienced this himself, Ai's work speaks without shouting. Instead, he appeals to our humanity, asking us to remember that every prisoner and refugee has a life they didn't want to leave, and a cause that shouldn't be silenced. Ai's art reminds us of the power of truth: when a government suppresses its people, freedom will emerge within individuals who refuse to accept the lies. And the way Haines allows the message to emerge through art makes this one of the most important documentaries of recent years.
Cleanin Up the Town: Remembering Ghostbusters
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Anthony Bueno
scr Anthony Bueno, Claire Bueno
prd Claire Bueno, Anthony Bueno, Dorothy Bueno, Lily Virginia Goudie
with Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Ivan Reitman, Annie Potts, Ray Parker Jr, Richard Edlund, John Bruno, William Atherton, Steve Johnson, Joe Medjuck
release UK 10.Jan.20
Snappy and entertaining, this doc covers the making of the 1984 comedy classic. The filmmakers use animation along with a terrific collection of interviews, backstage stills and footage, storyboards and clips to explore how the film came together. So even if it feels like a fan-made movie, this is a remarkable chronicle of a group of people who invested their passion and skill into making a movie against the odds.
Like most genuine hits, Ghostbusters was never expected to make much money. Certainly no one thought it would beat the second Indiana Jones movie at the box office. Aykroyd talks about how the idea originated through his great-grandfather, who conducted serious research into psychic phenomena. Presented as a general idea, the studio gave Aykroyd, cowriter Ramis and director Reitman just over a year to write, produce and get the movie into cinemas. The biggest challenge was to make a film that was both funny and scary.
This is a terrific look at how movies were made in the 1980s, most notably the complexity of creating everything in-camera. It's fascinating to hear the effects team members discuss the challenges of creating audio and visual tricks before digital technology. There's plenty of behind-the-scenes footage of key scenes being shot, plus some great throwaway anecdotes from the production. And a wide range of cast members (Bill Murray is notable by his absence) speak about how they approached their roles as serious actors in order to make things funnier.
Weaver talks about how much she enjoyed the more physical sequences, including her wild transformation into a fiery she-devil. And the doc delves into every aspect of the production, from building a special effects company from scratch to hiring Elmer Bernstein to compose the score. There are sections about building the vast sets, and an extended segment about the elaborate creation of the marshmallow man climax, which was outrageously complex and also surprisingly low-tech.
This is quite a dense film, packed with details that require close attention. Both the interview clips and visual material are edited together very tightly to propel the audience through the story, giving fans a wonderful look at every corner of the movie's production, including the realisation that the film was going to work once the test screening scores came in. The depth of the dive into this film is frankly astonishing, which bodes well for filmmaker Bueno's forthcoming Ghostbusters II doc.
Depeche Mode: Spirits in the Forest
Review by Rich Cline |
An inventive mix between a concert film and a fan documentary, this film sharply captures the connection between a band and its most loyal followers. Intriguingly in this case, they are second- and even third-generation, too young to have followed Depeche Mode at its peak in the early 1980s. Yes, the band is still going strong, but it's their timeless hits that get the audience pumping.
Director Corbijn, who has worked with Depeche Mode since 1986, follows six superfans who travel to the Waldbuhne (Forest Stage) in Berlin for the final concert of the 2018 Spirit tour. The brightly articulate tour guide Indra from Mongolia says the band helped teach her English. From Brazil, Daniel lives in Berlin and was encouraged by the songs to live honestly as a gay man. In Los Angeles, single mother Liz used their music in her battle against cancer. In Bogota, Dicken remains bonded with his children Korben and Milah, who now live with their mother in Florida, as they perform as DMK, a Depeche Mode cover band. In Bucharest, Christian discovered the band through underground cassette recordings during Communist oppression. And in southern France, Carin lost all her memories at age 25, except for her connection with Depeche Mode's iconic songs.
The film is beautifully shot to impressionistically capture the lives of these six engaging people, both at home and as exuberant fans in the stands singing along as Dave, Martin and Andy perform on-stage with Corbijn's vivid video art on a massive screen behind them. The film is very cleverly edited, allowing fan renditions of massive hits like I Just Can't Get Enough, Everything Counts and Personal Jesus to interweave with the live concert.
The brief running time means that not all of the big hits are included, but there are terrific segments centred around more personal songs like Enjoy the Silence (Christian re-enacted Corbijn's music video in Romania) and the more recent Precious. In addition, the film quietly captures the social and political themes running through Depeche Mode's music in the emotionally powerful stories of these six very different people, each of whom discovered the music in a distinct way.
Three of them are shown to have extended their love of the band's songs to their children. And there's also a gorgeous segment in which Depeche Mode pays homage to their mentor, with a rendition of David Bowie's Heroes. This layered mix makes the film much more engaging than a more conventional concert doc. And it's a rare movie that explores the way an artist impacts the audience, and vice versa.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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