At a festival that has kept its independent profile – regardless of the surrounding bureaucracy at the Centre Pompidou or competition from other festivals and television.

MIGHT IS RIGHT. Director: Patric Jean, Belgium/France 2002.

Underground. We know about it, we have read about it. We have heard politicians talking about it for decades. It is on the political agenda. There are budgets set aside to deal with it: Misery. Poverty. Unemployment. Immigrants who beat up other immigrants. Immigrants who are beaten up by the police. We have even watched violent episodes from urban suburbs on television in numerous ultra-short, fragmentary, sensationalist clips. But very rarely have we actually seen what is going on. Rarely have we met a visual interpretation or reflection.

Patric Jean takes us on a journey where we not only watch, but also see. He has made an impressive and depressing essay about misery. He leaves the traditional poverty which he previously depicted in his Les enfants du Borinage- Lettre à Henri Storck, (1999) to seek out the new poverty in Europe, exemplified through visits to cities in Belgium and France. It could have been shot anywhere in Europe, this topographic description of the houses where people live. A deep sadness is the dominant feeling of the film. But also violence, police in the street. A man has filmed police violence from his window in episodes that have officially never taken place, of course. And the new slum is depicted as relatively new buildings that are torn down. A factory is empty, yet a prison is being built, ultramodern with the latest facilities for accommodating the outcasts of this modern world. With a soft, gentle voice, the director makes only few comments on what we are seeing and where we are. Otherwise the inhabitants of the underworld speak for themselves.

The imagery is what sets this documentary apart from hundreds of well meaning social reports on the same subjects. The images depict freezing environments, supermarkets, court rooms, old quarters being refurbished to attract tourists, deporting the old immigrants to council housing areas devoid of garbage collection and lifts for the elderly. The question is asked, “Do you see any Frenchmen living here?”

Welcome to the EUnderground of total misery.

150 SECONDS AGO. Director: Batul Mukhtiar, India 2002.

“On 26 January 2001, an earthquake destroyed the almost 500-year-old city of Bhuj in the Gujarat province. What disappeared was not only the palace, the ramparts and historic streets, but also a whole world of legends, traditions and culture.” These are words from the catalogue of Cinéma du Réel 2003.

15,000 died.

The director recorded what happened during the year following the tragic moments. The pain, the mourning of the dead, the burning of corpses. People being rescued from the debris. The reflections on why it happened and whether it could have been avoided. Poorly constructed buildings? Lives lived in tent camps and shelters. Making new lives with support from the world community, some getting better houses than the ones they had before the earthquake. Education in the schools. Religion. Soldiers looking for people in houses that are no longer safe. Cricket being played among the ruins. Life goes on.

The comment by a character in the film, ”We Indians run things in our own chaotic way,” could be used to characterize the film itself. It tells its story in its own chaotic way as a constant bombardment of visual and verbal impressions. It may seem a bit messy and unfocused, but it does not really matter as the film slowly builds up to a committed and detailed universal presentation of the human consequences of a catastrophe. You are taken through the sequences without pause for reflection. It lets the persons involved express their opinions. The director leads us by the hand while demonstrating an open generosity to the characters and letting the different voices, the sad and the fatalistic, the rich and the poor emerge as they are. No admonishing. This is the first documentary by this director who made 150 Seconds Ago out of love for the people who experienced a change in their existence from one moment to the next.

A WEDDING IN RAMALLAH. Director: Sherine Salama, Australia 2002.

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