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|Shadows off the beaten path
Indies, foreign, docs and shorts...
|See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 1.Jan.23
Review by Rich Cline | MUST SEE
dir-scr-prd Brett Morgen
with David Bowie, Dick Cavett, Iman, Brian Eno, Luther Vandross, Mick Ronson, Ava Cherry, Anthony Hinton, David Sanborn, Carmine Rojas, Zack Alford, Russell Harty
release US 16.Sep.22,
CANNES FILM FEST
TORONTO FILM FEST
More of cinematic poem than a documentary, this film recounts the story of David Bowie through his iconic music, using only archival footage. Filmmaker Brett Morgen takes a kaleidoscopic approach, expertly editing often visually dazzling material to create an almost overpowering sensory experience. So the movie itself begins to grapple with what Bowie calls the "deep formidable mystery" of existence. It's mesmerising, achingly beautiful and ultimately revelatory.
Colour-drenched imagery fills the screen with mainly unseen footage of Bowie's stage performances, intercut with a terrific collection of pop cultural touchstones, plus images of fans, the media and backstage moments. Using interviews both on-screen and in voiceover, Bowie narrates the film himself. Along with his music, this allows him to express himself on his own terms as some sort of supernatural high priest alien rock star who transcends gender. And in addition to his various stage personae, the film covers his painting, sculpture, acting and filmmaking.
Morgen edits this footage together gorgeously, never flinching from the edgier elements of Bowie's life, such as his casual approach to sexuality. In everything he did, Bowie stood up to society's expectations, pointing the gaze to more important things. But he steadfastly refused to explain his art, referring to it as an expression without hidden meaning. Indeed, he repeatedly noted that he didn't feel the need to understand the chaos of everyday life.
While this film might be considered a bit indulgent, especially in its use of swirling animation, it creates a wonderfully riveting atmosphere in which to explore Bowie's untouchable genius. Always ethereal and inexplicable, Bowie cultivated a feeling of pure magic. "An artist is a figment of the imagination," he said. And he repeatedly challenged himself to add substance to his work. Remarkably, Morgen's film pushes us to get outside our comfort zones, feed our curiosity and to live unapologetically as ourselves.
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Daniel Roher
prd Odessa Rae, Diane Becker, Melanie Miller, Shane Boris
with Alexei Navalny, Yulia Navalny, Dasha Navalny, Zakhar Navalny, Maria Pevchikh, Christo Grozev, Leonid Volkov, Kira Yarmysh, Anna Biryukova, Fidelius Schmid, Tim Lister, Clarissa Ward
release US/UK 12.Apr.22
22/US CNN 1h38
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
Playing like a thriller, this documentary traces the vicious activities of Putin's government to suppress dissent and control the media narrative. When Russian operatives use his signature weapon novichok against yet another opposition politician, the world no longer has any doubts. So while this riveting film reveals details lucidly, it's also forced to stop at the blunt wall of violence Putin puts up against anyone who disagrees with him.
In January 2021, recovering from the Kremlin's attempt to kill him, 45-year-old Alexei Navalny is in rural Germany defiantly preparing to return home to Moscow, against all advice. Three years earlier he was challenging Putin's corrupt rule, backed by a grassroots campaign. Banned from newspapers and television, he and his wife Yulia stoked Putin's ire, leading to police raids and chemical attacks. On a flight in Siberia in August 2020, he was poisoned and ruthlessly smeared in the press. But he managed to get to Germany for treatment.
Filmmaker Roher has a wealth of footage at his disposal, including extensive clips shot by Navalny's supporters. There are also several new interviews assembled with an emotive underscore to build additional intensity. And because Alexei and Yulia, and their children Dasha and Zakhar, know how to use social media, their own clips are also interspersed through the film, adding a blast of their lively personalities.
It's riveting to see the methods investigators use to discover the truth of what has happened, using data they gather through the dark web, and then publish it simultaneously in global news outlets while directly confronting the perpetrators. So while the story is very well-known, the behind-the-scenes details are fascinating. As is Alexei's inspiring determination to end the corrupt political system in his home country, even if that means doing what he can from a prison cell.
Review by Rich Cline |
There's a remarkable intimacy to this documentary, which is assembled from a superb collection of footage to tell an engaging story that has several layers of far-reaching implications. The movie's thematic diversity sets it apart, as filmmakers Trevor Beck Frost and Melissa Lesh use a situation that's easy to identify with to meaningfully explore issues of nature conservation, post-traumatic stress and co-dependency. So it's entertaining, involving and powerfully moving.
In the Peruvian Amazon, Harry and his girlfriend Samantha run an animal rescue charity, raising creatures that have been displaced by illegal hunting and logging operations. Medically discharged after serving in Afghanistan, Harry carries deep mental and physical scars and finds healing as he teaches the young orphaned ocelot Khan to hunt. But tragedy strikes just months before Khan is due to be reintroduced into the wild. A year later, a new kitten named Keanu offers Harry a second chance.
It's astonishing to watch Harry with this wild little cat, playing mother to teach him to stalk prey and survive in the big bad rainforest. The chemistry between them is stunning to see. This is therapy for Harry, but he also has difficulty letting go, and stress leads to continuing self-harm and darker thoughts about his life. These push his relationship with Sam to the breaking point, especially as she travels home to Seattle from time to time to complete her PhD. She's also dealing with her own past as the daughter of an unpredictable alcoholic.
The film is edited together from fly-on-the-wall footage shot by Frost and Lesh, plus scenes self-filmed by Harry. Throughout, Harry and Sam narrate events and fill in their back-stories. We also meet Harry's parents Colette and Mark, and 13-year-old brother Jayden, now half Harry's age when they visit from England. This adds texture to Harry's story, creating an unusually honest portrayal of a young man who cares profoundly even as he struggles with his own demons.
Because Harry and Sam are so strikingly open about how they face their internal issues, the film pulls us in deeply. Some scenes are also disturbing, but the filmmakers understand the importance of speaking honestly about these things in order to find healing. And they balance these heavy moments with generous doses of both humour and warmth. So while it's fascinating to watch this young man interacting with a wild creature, the underlying story is what lingers.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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