Snapshot of a Shattered Community

Last Days In Shibati

Hendrick Dusollier

France, China 2017 60min

French director Hendrick Dusollier’s first documentary captures the final days of Shibati, the last old quarter in the city of Chongqing, China. Many in Europe will have never heard of this place, but Chongqing is one of the largest cities in the world. Over 30 million people live in the municipality. That’s 6 times the population of Norway living in one urban area.

«The film strives to reclaim the intimacy between people and place.»

End of an Era

The city itself looks like any modern Asian metropolis, with high buildings and shopping malls. To make space for these, the government is one by one erasing old streets and buildings. Over a period of 7 months, Dusollier follows the changes in the one remaining old neighbourhood as it heads towards its demolition.

«With its labyrinthine streets buzzing with life, this place was a time capsule, reminiscent of the city’s beginnings and of a lifestyle that is generally disappearing fast.»

The inhabitants of Shibati are one by one moving out, either to live with relatives or to state-assigned apartments in the suburbs. The film encompasses the feeling of the place and encounters the last people living there. The disruption created by the destruction of their neighbourhood is visible in all the sentimental and bittersweet details the camera captures.

For many years now, stories of people that objected to the state-imposed demolition of their homes made headlines in the Western media. For example: a few years ago an elderly couple in Wenling, Zhejiang province were the latest people in China to refuse to sign an agreement allowing their home to be demolished, resulting in the authorities constructing a planned road around their building. These are called nail houses, the buildings that remain standing after everything around them is destroyed and redeveloped. They are tiny totems of the past defying annihilation by the future. In the end however, their disappearance is only a matter of time.

«The disruption created by the destruction of their neighbourhood is visible in all the sentimental and bittersweet details the camera captures.»

At the time of Dusollier’s filming, the disappearance of Shibati is inevitable. Modernization in China resembles a wave, wiping away the old and replacing it with the new. New roads, new high-rise apartment buildings and new shopping malls appear overnight. These developments leave little space for nostalgia, or for reflection on what’s being lost in the process of change.

However, the film strives to reclaim the intimacy between people and place. It also captures a sense of belonging in which the people shape their surroundings and their surroundings shape them. The way people are and how they live seems so inherently linked to their neighbourhood that it’s difficult to imagine who they will become once the neighbourhood is no more. Its disappearance means the end of their community and will take away their source of income – selling food locally, cutting hair or sorting garbage. It will also sever all their social bonds.

Last Days In Shibati. Director Hendrick Dusollier

Moonlight City

As he roams around Shibati, Dusollier finds the extraordinary in two unlikely ’local guides’ he befriends. One is a little boy called Zhou Hong and the other is an amazing old lady, Mrs Xue Lian. Zhou Hong takes an interest in Dusollier and offers to guide him to Moonlight City. One would expect this to be a temple or a spectacular view, but at the end of their walk we find a shopping mall covered with TV screens and lights. To the boy this is the fascinating unknown, a place where he’s not allowed to go.

«Tiny totems of the past defying annihilation by the future.»

The other ’guide’, Mrs Xue Lian, at first seems to be just a garbage sorter. ’My life is very rich’, she says, and by the end of the film there’s no doubt that this is true. Incredibly creative, open and optimistic, she collects surprising items she finds in the garbage. She gives them a new life as part of fantasy-like secret corners she creates in the neighbourhood. Her favourite items are a huge half-horse statue and a gigantic mushroom, two objects that look surreal in her home and make you wonder about who threw them in the trash. There’s more, but her world is too sophisticated to describe here. The way she reaches us through the images is much more powerful. ’I’ll travel to France through your photos’, she tells Dusollier.

Last Days In Shibati. Director Hendrick Dusollier

She seems flattered that Dusollier takes an interest in her. We wonder at that bit of magic that she is and worry about what will happen to her.

«Modernization in China resembles a wave, wiping away the old and replacing it with the new.»

A Place No More

As I’m writing this, Shibati is already cut down. With its labyrinthine streets buzzing with life, this place was a time capsule, reminiscent of the city’s beginnings and of a lifestyle that is generally disappearing fast. If you look at a map, Shibati was at the heart of the city, a starting point. Now all that’s left of that heart is this film.


 Last Days in Shibati won the Special Jury Award in the 2017 IDFA Competition for Mid-Length Documentary.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Re-humanizing refugees

Kalès

Laurent Van Lancker

Belgium, 2017, 63 min.

A camera hovers over the ground, through some bushes, and happens upon a tent, cooking utensils, more tents, and waste lying around. We enter ‘the Jungle’, the temporary and highly improvised refugee camp near Calais, France, a haven for refugees seeking to cross the Channel to the United Kingdom. Kalès is an exploration of this camp and its life.

Filmmaker Laurent Van Lancker, also an anthropologist, worked collaboratively with a number of inhabitants of the Calais camp during its existence, from April 2015 till November 2016, the film’s credits inform us. Although the direness of the living circumstances is evident, the film focuses on the everyday lives of the inhabitants. Van Lancker visits them in their various shelters or outside and shows them mainly through their (cultural) activities: making music, watching video, painting, singing, cooking, playing sports, telling stories, buying cigarettes, learning French. The people who have managed to reach this place are depicted as not only adaptive and strong, but also as creative. Dante’s Calais. This makes Kalès a very human film. Most media representations of refugees focus on the problems they supposedly cause and the dangers of refugees’ itineraries (which undoubtedly exist).

Most reports about Calais stress the abominable living circumstances, the reciprocal tensions and threats, the dangers of trying to cross to the UK, the frustrations of being in these circumstances, and the police forces trying to control the situation. Such representations de-humanize the refugees and restrict them to being problems and threats. In contrast, Kalès shows people (mainly men) who have found a way to calmly co-exist and create something of a life. The camp is a kind of separate multi-cultural society, a civilisation of its own. It seems to work. It is presented as a permanence rather than a passing station.

«Kalès shows people who have found a way to calmly co-exist and create something of a life, a civilisation of its own.»

The men joke around, contemplate and reflect on their situation, recount their dreams and anxieties and thereby share both their inner and outer life. They do not negate the less favourable aspects of their lives: risks, fears, murder, and health conditions are discussed but as one aspect of many others in their lives. The participants remain unnamed and we get to know details about their identities and origins only through the stories they decide to share. Much of their context remains implicit.

Kalès by Laurent Van Lancker

A couple of narratives recounted by inhabitants explicitly serve as metaphors for their situation. One is a story focusing on the idea that the real trouble lies ahead and the current situation is actually quite safe. Another is a poem describing the situation in and of Calais and the fatigue of the people and the city. There is also a story expressing the absence of help and the need for self-reliance. At both the beginning and the end of the film, an extensive quote from Dante’s Inferno summarizes what Van Lancker wants to make us see: the good that he found in this godforsaken place, the kind people sharing their experiences and existence. The argument of the hour long film thereby is presented rather explicitly.

Barren land

The film’s calm approach is reflected in the camerawork and the sound design. Both are unobtrusive. Van Lancker silently observes (while one of the inhabitants deploys a very lively recording style, adding comments as he films). He generally stays close to the inhabitants, which creates a certain intimacy as well as a sense of claustrophobia. But there is also a counterforce: Calais being a coastal city, there is always wind and in the majority of images tents, tarpaulin, even a painting canvas flutter. In the background there is the motorway with its promise of passing to the UK. There is always some kind of unrest. People are often filmed with parts of tents or other housing in the image. There are no uncomplicated views ahead.

Kalès by Laurent Van Lancker

Eventually it becomes clear that the camp will be demolished and the film ends with the remains: the camera hovers over left over waste, through abandoned shacks and over the now barren land.

«The participants remain unnamed and we get to know details about their identities and origins only through the stories they decide to share»

Despite its sad subject matter, Kalès is something of a relief to watch as it not only provides an alternative representation of a social controversy but does this in a very tranquil and mellow style. In doing so, it re-humanizes refugees who, whether or not you appreciate their reasons for being here, deserve to be heard and treated with respect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When Art Opens Eye

When the bombed-out small town Kassel was to be rebuilt after the hellish war, a local anti-fascist artist who had returned after being a prisoner of war, established a contemporary art festival for the art the Nazis had banned. In 1955, no one would have dreamt of that Documenta – that once belonged to “the German Garden Exhibition” – would, within a few decades, become the most important art festival of the international art world and that it was going to be visited by around one million people every time it takes place. Documenta is organized every five years and it is mandatory for all artists, art students and others with ambitions to understand and participate in international contemporary art.

«This year’s Documenta 14 was expressively political and activist, based on nationalism, migration and our recent history»

Documenta 14

This year’s exhibition was expressively political and activist and curated by the leading radical Polish curator Adam Szymczyk. Based on nationalism, migration and recent history, Szymczyk wanted to create an exhibition that breaks with the art world’s social and economic hierarchies. I, therefore, had expectations for this year’s version – which also was organized in Athens for the very first time – although I, in my experience, rarely get anything particular out of political art within such a framework. I have participated in another major international exhibition myself, Manifesta, and I know how contemporary art exhibitions of that kind can limit the “politically engaged” art; they are heavily financed by public funds, thus it is important not to provoke the authorities financing them, too much.

Documenta 14 is an extremely comprehensive exhibition consisting of traditional galleries, film programs, publications, archives, performances and actions, debates, outdoor installations and concerts. It took three days, with the opening hours of 10:00 until 20:00, to experience it.

It’s the experience of the exhibition’s dynamics, the interaction between cultural and political statements and my physical and mental movement through the exhibition that stands out as the most thought-provoking aspect of it. As a socialist, it was enjoyable to see truly radical contributions to discussions about class and identity. Because, as an artist, I am primarily concerned with strong individual works, this time, I was – unlike the previous versions of Documenta I have seen – also pleasantly surprised by the variable, but at its best, high level of ambition.

Two Meetings and a Funeral

My personal favorite work was Naeem Mohaiemen’s video installation from 2017. Mohaiemen was born in London, in 1969, and his parents had a background from Pakistan in the part that later became Bangladesh. Mohaiemen is known for working towards the left-wing radical movements of the past and has among other things dealt with the Japanese Red Brigades. He has been politically active for many years himself, including in the group Visible Collective group, which consisted of artists, activists and lawyers who worked against the suppression of the lower class muslims in the USA after 9/11. I have also been politically active for a long time and therefore often react negatively towards artists who engage in political issues without having contact with the social movements and the historical assumptions for what they are thematizing – it often feels hollow, arbitrary and characterized by factual errors that show that this is not digested material.

Two Meetings and a Funeral (2017), Three-channel digital video installation, color, sound85 min., Co-commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation and Ford Foundation Just FilmsAdditional support by Arts Council England, Bengal Foundation, Bangladesh, and Tensta Konsthall

However, Mohaiemen’s Two Meetings and a Funeral is an impressive piece of documentary work that is convincing with its political insights, artistic sensitivity and formal qualities. I find myself sitting in a dark room, comfortably decorated with cinema chairs and wall hangings, as I slip into the story and the artist’s agenda which is clearly presented on a three-channel projection that provides a large and wide screening area. Mohaiemen tells the story of how Bangladesh, after the bloody detachment from Pakistan, evolved from attempted socialism within the NonAligned Movement, to be forced into the conservative Organization for Islamic Cooperation under the imperialist agenda of the United States during the Cold War.

«It is ironic that the struggle against Islamic forces has taken over the fight against the Third Way because this Islamism is a real child of American imperialism.»

It is a sad story, but it has to be told to make sure it will not be repeated. We are facing major global changes, and Mohaiemen’s history of optimism in the, at the time, newly independent states, liberation movements and global solidarity are an important, but a tragic backdrop for today’s international situation. Unlike the dominant attitude in Western media and politics, the power management shown by the US is not a solution in Two Meetings and a Funeral. It is the very basis of the problems we are experiencing, and Mohaiem’s report is not only likely – it seems true.

Two Meetings and a Funeral (2017)

Important for the way ahead

Both Mohaiemen and I were little children when Chile’s President Salvador Allende was killed in a CIAsupported coup in 1973 – although it seems like an eternity ago. This event appears as a dark shift in a story that could have ended well, but instead it ends with an empty shell of a building in Algeria – the conference building built by the young Algeria after the War of Independence against France, the same building that was the scene of the Non-Aligned Movement’s meetings in 1973, and all its radical and solidarity statements.

In this building, state leaders from the third world’s postcolonial states waited for Allende and mourned the coup in Chile with leaders of the liberation movements at that time – such as PLO’s Yassir Arafat and the Provisional Revolutionary South Vietnamese Government’s Vice President Madame Binh, who temporarily opened their press conference with “Ladies and Gentlemen of the International press, please listen.” Today the decayed building is a reminder of what was lost. In Bangladesh there is a trade fair hall that once symbolized national independence and faith in the future, today left to commercial interests. There is nothing left of the dream about a Third Way, regardless of the superpowers’ imperialism, other than faded film recordings.

These film recordings are, on the other hand, important to be able to understand how extreme the pressure made by the United States and its allied Islamic states against progressive movements in the 1970s and 80s was, until what was left of the anti-imperialist power of the third world dissolved in the 90s. It is ironic that the struggle against Islamist forces has taken over the fight against the Third Way because this Islamism is a real child of American imperialism.

Hope through understanding. Mohaiemen offer no clear alternative for the time coming, but in the encounter with radical artists and theorists, we understand that there is hope that the experience of the attempts in the 60s and 70s were not a waste of time. Through understanding how it could go wrong, we become aware of the systematic and pervasive nature of oppression. If Norwegian left-wing politicians were as clear-minded as Mohaiemen, they would hardly have accepted Norwegian participation in the Libyan War or sent troops to Afghanistan. Mohaiemen’s film is so profound and convincing in its artistic depth that it should be mandatory for system critics; how can we discuss the way ahead without reflecting upon what happened to the Third Way 40-50 years ago?


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The Struggle for Admission

From his 1967 debut Titicut Follies, which portrays a mental hospital for the criminally insane, the American documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman has devoted a large part of his career to making movies about various institutions. With his studies of – among other things – hospitals, universities and military organizations, the well-known direct cinema-director created a school for observational “institution films.”

On these shores, Margret Olin is among the filmmakers who’ve followed in his footsteps. In Dei mjuke hendene and Ungdommens råskap she portrayed a retirement home and a secondary school respectively, while her latest and most consistently observational film, Barndom, shows how play unfolds in a kindergarten.

Frederick Wiseman

The French filmmaker Claire Simon’s latest documentary The Graduation is another such “fly on the wall”-movie about an institution. Simon has turned the lens towards a central institution in her own industry, the national French film school La Femis – and more precisely its intense, exhaustive admissions process.

The distributor should have chosen a more direct translation of the original title Le Concours (meaning “the competition”) than its misleading international title The Graduation. This is primarily because Simon’s documentary doesn’t deal with the school’s graduate level students, but with the process of selecting new students. Moreover, the film directs its focus precisely at the competition you have to go through to gain admission to this prestigious educational institution, which count luminaries like Louis Malle, Theo Angelopoulos, Costa-Gavras, Claire Denis, François Ozon, Sólveig Anspach and our own Eskil Vogt among its alumni.

Comprehensive process

The school’s entrance exams stretch over several months. Naturally these tests take different forms depending on the different fields of study, which encompass scriptwriting and directing, cutting, sound design, movie distribution and cinema management. The candidates to the different programmes are assessed by professionals from the industry, in accordance with the school’s distinct philosophy of not employing regular teaching staff, but hiring filmmakers and other professionals to share their experiences instead.

This two-hour long movie consists of a series of longer sequences from different parts of the selection process, chronologically presented from the first assembly to the final decision – followed by the photographing of the chosen few. A more obvious choice would perhaps have been to follow the same candidates throughout the entire process, but Simon’s focus is on the work with, and the thinking surrounding, the selection process itself. As a result, the film deals more with the admission committees than with the prospective students, in a documentary that gives the viewer the chance to evaluate the evaluation itself – or at least to reflect on this kind of evaluations.

Talent contest

The selection committee must necessarily base its decisions on subjective judgement, and in the last resort these decisions may well rest on the different committee members’ ability to argue their favourite candidate’s case. Occasionally the whole process comes across as a talent contest à la American Idol or The X Factor, where the candidates try their best to impress a jury that will then assess their skills and future potential (in this case with the difference that the candidate has already left the room). Then again, such admission processes are essentially talent contests, and as such only a foretaste of the competition that awaits the students if or when they graduate.

The Graduation by Claire Simon

The applicant’s talent, however, doesn’t necessarily have to be completely developed at the outset, as he or she will be expected to mature further during their period of study. To assess how the candidate will handle both the process itself and life in the industry, the committee must also to a large extent evaluate the individual applicant’s personality.

During the evaluation of a relatively eccentric candidate, one of the committee members expresses her fears of “rejecting a Cronenberg”, the Canadian filmmaker serving as an example of “crazy artistic genius”. Here the movie touches on a fundamental issue involved in such selections: if you’re to find tomorrow’s pioneers of film, you have to tolerate a certain amount of madness, not to mention personalities who’re unlikely to play the part of obedient model students. At the same time, they must take into consideration the fact that filmmaking – more than any other art form, probably – requires good communication and cooperation skills. Of no group is this truer than of directors.

Claire Simon

With her systematically observational approach, Simon (who’s also the movie’s main photographer) has gotten close to the interviews and evaluations. For the people involved, the film captures them in a demanding, highly vulnerable situation. At the same time, this is a process that is obviously of some interest to the wider public.

I watched the film at the Documentary Film Festival in Thessaloniki, where Simon was present to answer questions from the audience after the viewing. Here she explained that all those appearing in the film had given their consent in advance, and that rejected applicants were at liberty to withdraw from the documentary. Members of the selection committee were also given the chance to watch the parts in which they were involved in the editing room, and could freely ask to be edited out of the documentary – something that none of them did, according to the director.

Right to insight

Simon taught at La Femis for several years herself, something which we may assume was an advantage in gaining the trust required to carry out this project. In an interview with the American magazine Film Comment (published on March 15), she nevertheless argued that a tax-funded educational institution has no right to deny the public an insight into how it functions, something that the head of the school apparently agreed with.

In any case, the filmmaker’s relationship with the institution doesn’t take the movie in a polemical direction, as Simon’s almost anthropological approach leaves it to the viewers to draw their own conclusions about the admissions process. Even though the selection committee at La Femis appears to perform its task thoroughly and conscientiously, many factors influence their decisions – some of them undoubtedly more arbitrary and less fair than others. In this respect, the film offers a sobering reminder that making a movie or getting accepted into a prestigious film school is not a human right.

Above all The Graduation provides a fascinating insight into a process that usually takes place behind firmly closed doors, and as such it raises some interesting questions about the competition going on behind the screens.


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Economy in a Sound Eco-system

There are those who still quibble, but most now recognise that our way of living has brought us to the edge of a cliff, where the threat of global crises is real and grave. For the first time in Earth’s history, one species have managed to shift the living conditions of their own existence. In years to come, an overriding discussion will be on how we are going to solve the problems we have created ourselves. Is it enough to make changes within the framework of modern society, or do we have to think radically different?

I am one of those open to the idea that a green transformation of society may be necessary. I have, nevertheless, viewed ecological economy with a certain scepticism. There is a difference between assuming a critical position and proposing idealistic visions of a deeply ecological shift, radically different to the reality we currently live in. Such was my attitude as I read Economics Professor Ove Jakobsen’s Transformative Ecological Economics – despite this, the book was an interesting and educational encounter with radical, at times Utopian, but still realistic ideas.

Reductionism

Let us start with the book’s second part, where we are introduced to 32 different thinkers and their prospective projects. The portrayal spans philosophical and scientific sources of inspiration, via the meaning of interdisciplinary and viewing the economy as moral science, to institutional arrangements and concrete solutions measures. When a book sweeps across such a wide landscape, it is obvious that each presentation will only provide a tiny taste. Jakobsen stays away from the commentator role, instead introducing each perspective on its own premise. This feels like a liberating invitation to think for yourself. I read the book much in the same way you move around a film festival: from one point to the next, steadily given new angles on a comprehensive framework, a mosaics of impressions and ideas which preciselythrough their, often contradictory, composition, contribute to a deeper understanding.

A vital piece of Jakobsen’s mosaics is the awareness of modern society as saturated by a mechanical, instrumental and reductionist mind set – focusing on the individual parts and what we can do with them. An organic approach is taken into account, whereby nature, society and economy are interlinked in a dynamic whole. Such a change of mentality would impact our political thinking and the way we organise society. It would for instance have made us more conscious of the value of a circular economy, where production, distribution, consumption and recycling are connected in much closer cycles than today. In this, the point of local currencies becomes more understandable. It is not about abandoning global or national solutions, but to contribute to schemes that stimulate local financial cycles.

Ove Jakobsen

Organic understanding

The first and third sections of the book have an entirely different format. The first part presents three analytical distinctions that shape Jakobsen’s text as a whole. The significance in moving from a mechanical to an organic understanding of reality is fundamental: Rather than viewing the world as many single objects, we ought to emphasise how everything is connected through dynamic relations characterised by continuous change. This leads on to an analytical divide between ideology (anchored in the preservation of the existing) and Utopia (the source for creating alternative narratives about a different future). Lastly, a divide between green and ecological economy is outlined. The green economy is seen as an extension of the existing order, designed to solve environmental problems through reforms. The ecological economy on the other hand, views the problems as an expression of a system crisis, only to be solved through fundamentally changing how we live.

Part one creates an interpretive context for what we read in part two, the 32 approaches I started off with. In part three, the various elements are joined together to a sketch of a transformative ecologic economy, a Utopia derived from a narrative anchored in the categories of worldview, economic system, business practices and human image. Faced with this mind set, my critical sense is re-awoken – but there is no doubt the book succeeds in showing the possibility of alternative thinking.

Complex reality

In is difficult to read Jakobsen’s exciting work without reinforcing it with my own book From Eternal Growth to Green Politics (Fra evig vekst til grønn politikk) (2016). Where I draw a historical-political map of a diverse landscape, Jakobsen assumes a much more defined position where he points out the direction for an alternative development of society. And whereas I am anchored in politics, from where I carefully write towards the economy, Jakobsen starts in the opposite end: his observations are based on the economy and the possibilities of transforming this, whilst the diverse and interchangeable play of politics and ideologies is hardly visible.

It is in this I where find my most critical comment to the book: the point of resistance, the existing order, is at times portrayed as too one-dimensional and caricatured. Where my book sheds light on a modern society on the cusp of various political discourses, Jakobsen writes about ideology in the singular – understood as a symbiosis of a mechanical world image, instrumental science and economic liberalism. This is undoubtedly significant and important. But – if we accept that reality is more composed and complex than its caricature, we are led towards a question which Jakobsen does not allow for: Is it a given that we must think in completely new ways to create a sustainable lifeform? Could it be that liberalism,mechanically considered strategies are also able to provide functioning solutions?

Eco-ideology

Ove Jakobsen claims, fairly categorically, that the established mechanisms are unable to direct us to the society we must create. This gives the portrayal an either-or-mark. A possible alternative is to assume that we are faced with complex questions without definite answers. Rather than speaking in absolute terms, we should be open for many solutions will be created in the space between the existing and its alternative. We ought to recognise that economy is also an ideology, forming a part of the break and interaction with other ideologies – where our choice of direction in the end is mostly about values, ways of understanding and what we want from social development. This point could be explored if Ove Jakobsen’s transformative, economic-ecologic Utopia was to grapple with more politically-based perspectives.


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Bread and Circuses While Democracy Dies

According to the 2017 Global Risk Report, published to coincide with the World Economic Forum’s meeting in January this year, misinformation can now be added to the list of manmade hazards that potentially threatens our very existence. The threat from misinformation consists primarily in its capacity to undermine democracy.

Alternative facts

Where in the world can we find the forces that can mobilize against this development while there’s still time? The question becomes pressing after reading Fake News. When Reality
Loses, written by the philosophers Vincent F. Hendricks and Mads Vestergaard. When large-scale wars can be started and the president of the most powerful country in the world can be elected as a result of fake news, the red warning lights should be flashing.

Unfortunately, the book doesn’t provide an answer to how we can reverse this development, but a useful angle can perhaps be found in the authors’ account of the fake news phenomenon.

With the election of Trump to the US presidency, a new type of news event has seen the light of day. When faced with the incontestable fact that fewer people attended Trump’s inauguration than Obama’s, Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway maintained her version by referring to what she called “alternative facts.”

In a similar vein, Trump rejected the Paris Climate Accord on the basis that the whole phenomenon was a nefarious Chinese hoax aimed at undermining America’s
competitive edge.

The alternative facts, Trump’s rejection of the climate accord and a persistent stream of similar statements underlines the need to both understand and to raise awareness about what’s going on, as well as contemplating what a democratically inclined world can do about it.

Attention

Hendricks and Vestergaard have defined their mission as attempting to describe how democracies can end up in this postfactual condition. Such a condition arises in a democracy “when politically expedient, but factually misleading narratives replace facts as the basis for political debate, the shaping of public opinion and legislation.” Misinformation in the digital age could well result in a further weakening of our ability to see the underlying structural conditions in which misinformation thrives, and thus make it harder for us to take the actions necessary to counter it.

In the digital age, we’re bombarded with information from every side, leading some to speak of information pollution. But the struggle for dominance on the global market – for nations as well as for corporations – is above all about getting people’s attention. It constitutes the portal to our consciousness and consequently to what we care about and how we conduct our lives as citizens and consumers. Every one of us is forcibly engaged in a selection process in which the truth content of both individual news items and more comprehensive politico-ideological messages must continuously be assessed. In the attention economy, attention constitutes a scarce resource that can be resold for marketing and advertising purposes.

Newspapers, which aren’t necessarily intent on seeking the truth in the first place, are currently engaged in a desperate fight for survival in the face of declining circulation figures. The result is a general scramble for readers’ attention, which in its turn contributes to a curious situation whereby the main product is not the newspaper but the readers themselves, whose attention the customers (the advertisers) are buying access to. The same applies to television, Google and Facebook: The user isn’t the customer, but the product.

«We’re bombarded with information from every side, leading some to speak of information pollution»

Voters’ attention can be bought too, just like the information that is needed to influence them in a certain direction can be bought. Barack Obama did it in 2008 and Trump and Hillary Clinton did it in advance of the American presidential elections in 2016.

The company that Trump hired to lead his election campaign, Cambridge Analytica, uses data-based profiling and compiles psychological profiles (of users, voters, citizens) with the aim of launching precision bombardments. The world still hasn’t seen what the attention and data economy can develop into through the manipulation of human behaviour.

The role of the media unfolds within the framework of a media logic that, according to Hendricks and Vestergaard, can be defined within three separate dimensions relying respectively on media institutions, social environments and markets: Journalistic ideals, commercial interests and technological conditions.

Uninformed vs misinformed

The advent of television brought about a radical change in social communications. Media theoretician and critic Neil Postman stated that: “Entertainment is the overriding ideology for all discourse on TV.” And Trump did deliver “great TV” in his election campaign through his use of the spectacular, the confrontational and the dramatic.

The Internet has offered further possibilities for the attention economy. Yet while ordinary people can now assume the role of citizen journalists on online news platforms and as bloggers, the news diversity remains largely unchanged. There are still a few big players that capture most people’s attention. Similarly, the powerbrokers have retained their ability to get their message across and set the agenda.

Trump’s Twitter account has proved to be an effective tool in managing the attention economy, partly as a conduit for the president’s messages, partly as a blocking mechanism against having to engage in substantial politics. By way of populist legislation and symbolic politics you can speculate in the attention market, thus causing the forming of political bubbles which the authors define as a “collective rejection of reality.”

There’s much that we, as citizens, aren’t informed about. But there’s a difference between being uninformed and being misinformed. Misinformation entails trivialising, leaving out or tweaking important facts when and where it really matters. Disinformation, on the other hand, occurs when someone purposefully and intentionally misleads his or her audience out of underlying interests and motives. The authors operate with a scale of information quality, ranging from “true claims” to “fake news”, where the latter “claims to be journalism and truth-seeking, whereas the true aim is something completely different.

«People with strong ideological beliefs also tend to be factually mistaken more often than others»

Tribal war

To be confronted with facts we don’t feel to be true (cognitive dissonance) can give rise to the practice of conveniently selecting information and sources of information that matches what we want to hear (selection bias). When a specific attitude subsequently grows out of this selection we encounter a phenomenon termed motivated reasoning. Not surprisingly, research shows that people with strong ideological beliefs also tend be factually mistaken more often than others. Other studies show that the very same people are also the most certain that they’re right. This leads in turn to “tribal thinking”, where everything is framed in terms of us-vs-them. And this is where we find the “blue lies” that are concocted to benefit the tribe.

In this spiralling game of public opinion making, both negative feelings (anger and fear) and positive feelings (awe and fascination) are employed as means to mobilize for action. In the face of entrenched elites, populism lays the claim to represent the true will of the people. Your suffering in this world is caused by them, and every critical faculty is suspended in favour of a conspiratorial mindset where alternative facts are swallowed whole as part of the tribal narrative.

The authors dismiss the factual democracy as a technocracy and opens a broad debate on what we can do to counter the postfactual symptoms. If we do not, the result could well be the decay of democracy, or a situation in which “the rulers, in their capacity as technocrats, are never held to account even if they’re caught telling outright lies.”


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Women’s Rights to Self-determination Have Lost Ground

The documentary Birthright: A War Story looks closer at American women’s long struggle for the right to decide over their own bodies. Even though the struggle for women’s right to abortion was won with “Roe vs. Wade” in 1973, the anti-abortion campaign has only increased in intensity since then, in accordance with a general trend in which conservatives have achieved power at the local, state and, with time, federal levels of government.

A neglected struggle to Norwegian observers

Since 2010 no less than 300 restrictions against women’s reproductive rights have been passed by states around the US.
According to the documentary the US has the highest maternal mortality rates in the West, and they keep rising in tandem with America’s lurch towards the right. The right-wing Tea Party movement has experienced enormous growth, and one of their key rallying points has been precisely the fight against abortion.

Till now we’ve closed our eyes to what’s been going on in the US; perhaps because we don’t dare think of what the end result may be, or because the consequences can become so dire for women that we can’t even process it. I’m a woman and a feminist, but not even I have understood this campaign in anything more than superficial terms (i.e. watching footage of how doctors and patients at abortion clinics have been harassed, and in some cases even murdered).

Life begins at…?

What I haven’t noticed is how the conservative raft of legislation, in its eagerness to promote the rights of the foetus, is simultaneously dismantling women’s rights. This is a difficult dilemma, and much of it boils down to when a foetus should be regarded as human being (or indeed as a person) and thus enjoy the rights accorded to humans. Is it at conception or at a later point during the pregnancy? At what point during a pregnancy should a woman lose the sovereignty over her own body? The religious and conservative groups vehemently argue that life begins at conception. Which brings us to the present situation, where the violations of women’s rights and the negative consequences they entail are becoming increasingly glaring.

«In poor areas people often only have access to clinics run by religious charities, which “can’t” offer abortion, prevention or sterilization services.»

It’s no longer only about abortion. It’s also about prevention and access to adequate medical care during a woman’s pregnancy. It’s about the right to make your own choice; about not being forced to choose based on what health services are available in your area. A woman in the documentary recounts how she’s been forced to perform a caesarean even though she wanted a natural birth no less than three times. The last time she was rolled into the operating room without having signed a paper of consent; the hospital threatened had to threaten her with judicil consquences in order to have the caesarean performed.

Restrictions produce high risks

I’m a woman of almost 41 who is voluntarily childless and who uses prevention, and the stories about these women and the violations they’ve been subjected to by the authorities are hurting my soul. Some of the women have been imprisoned for having had an abortion or for having provoked one because they, for different reasons, couldn’t or wouldn’t have the child. Some became critically ill because a hospital or a doctor refused to perform the abortion they asked for. Then there’s the child who had to die before they could remove it, so that it wouldn’t be considered murder. The fact that mothers get seriously ill with infections is secondary to the rights of the foetus.

To me it’s incomprehensible that US politicians are unable to stop a destructive development whereby women’s sovereignty over their own uteruses has become the subject of a political power struggle. It’s equally incomprehensible that they don’t realize that these restrictions, and the consequences that accompany them, lead to more deaths among both women and children. In poor areas people often only have access to clinics run by religious charities, but the services they provide are generally limited either by laws or by their own charters. As a result, they are often unable to offer abortions, prevention or sterilization services, no matter what the reason may be. And it’s primarily the poor and the unemployed, whose only other access to health care is through Medicaid, who’re affected by this type of restrictions.

«The us has the highest maternal mortality rates in the west, and it keeps rising in tandem with America’s lurch towards the right»

What happens when a pregnant woman knows that she risks imprisonment if she sees a doctor during an unwanted pregnancy, or if she knows that she won’t get the help that she needs? Most likely she’ll take the matter into her own hands. In practice this either means having an abortion on the black market (like in the 1950s), or going through with the pregnancy without access to qualified medical staff and thus giving birth practically without assistance. Both can lead to serious infections and, in the last resort, death. Where does that leave us with children’s rights? A child’s rights should in fact be about more than life at any cost. Is it better to grow up in the “system” after your mother died while giving birth? Or to be born by a woman who doesn’t want to take care of you or is unable to do so?

I’m glad I live here

Was Margaret Atwood ahead of her time with the dystopic novel The Handmaid’s Tale? I can see where the US is heading and I don’t like what I’m seeing. Having watched the documentary, I’m glad I live in Norway – where I have the right to decide over my own body and what to do with it. Where I can decide whether I want to have children or not. Where both me and any future children will be taken care of throughout the pregnancy and followed up closely afterwards. I have real alternatives and I’ve been informed about all of them before I make my decisions, and I face no condemnation when the choice has been made. I don’t risk going to prison if I choose what I think is the most responsible option and the best one for all the parties concerned. Let’s hope that this never changes.

 


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The Way One American Sees It

What characterizes a political essay film? It can be profoundly critical – and subjective, thoughtful, probing and heretical. These are precisely the kind of films made by Travis Wilkerson. Modern Times recently met the director at the non-fiction Dokufest film festival in Prizren, Kosovo where his work was being given a retrospective and Wilkerson presenting a masterclass in person. At DocLisboa, his latest film Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? (2017) is aslo screened.

But why take an interest in a 48-year-old who grew up in a small American mining town, dropped out of high school and initially wanted to become a radio DJ? The answer can be found in his films.

His wife and manager Erin first declined our request for an interview, but then eventually allowed us a 20-minute audience. Wilkerson talks rapidly and concisely in what will turn out to be an hour long conversation. His gaze is intense; it doesn’t waver, but glows with political commitment. “I want to make movies with meaning, about what I’m interested in, read about, care about, think about and talk about. I’m a political man and can only make films out of passion.”

Interestingly, Wilkerson’s films aren’t traditional political documentaries. Beyond their activist content, the form of his films is both aesthetical and suggestive. He prefers expressing himself in black and white and his trademark is the narrative voice-over. Wilkerson mixes fiction, classical dramaturgy and experiments with archival footage, varied imagery and intense musical elements. “The role of the artist is to present uncomfortable truths, to create works that intervene in the world. At the same time, what matters is who you intervene on behalf of, and who you intervene against.”

Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun?

I get the impression that the man seated at the other end of the table is the true descendent of the late French essay filmmaker, Chris Marker. The Frenchman is clearly Wilkerson’s idol, with the latter underlining Marker’s use of the voice-over as a narrative device.

Wilkerson first came to critical attention with his debut An Injury to One (2002), which chronicles the history of the labour movement in his hometown of Butte, Montana. The movie details the miners’ struggle against exploitative capitalism from its inception in 1880 to the lynching of a union leader, Frank Little, in 1917. Dennis Lim in the Los Angeles Times called An Injury to One “one of American independent cinema’s greatest achievements of the past decade.” The film also bears a visual resemblance to the works of the Russian documentary filmmaker Dziga Vertov. Wilkerson documents how easily the war profiteering capitalists of The Anaconda Mining Company outmanoeuvred the striking workers of IWW (Industrial Workers of the World, so-called “Wobblies”). “If you’re going to criticize the exploiters and authority, you will also have to look closer at some of their conspiracies – those who don’t investigate this aren’t open enough”, he says.

«War is a recurring theme in Wilkerson’s films, and it’s clear that the Vietnam conflict has left an indelible mark on him, the trauma of one generation passed on to the next.»

From Vietnam to Iraq

War is a recurring theme in Wilkerson’s films, and it’s clear that the Vietnam conflict has left an indelible mark on him, the trauma of one generation passed on to the next. His father served as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam and was highly decorated for his bravery, something chronicled in Distinguished Flying Cross (2011, see online). In the medium-length doc Travis’s father, William, sits at the kitchen table in his home and tells his two sons Travis and Dylan about the war over a few beers. “As soon as he arrived in Vietnam, my father knew that the war was wrong. But as he’d signed up it was too late to go back. He was only twenty at the time,” says the filmmaker.

Whether the United States has ever officially dealt with the Vietnam War is a pertinent question. “The US has never honestly addressed the Vietnam War, a tragic intervention in a civil war that ended badly for all the parties involved.”

Wilkerson’s father was among the few who regarded the war as a mistake. However, on arriving in Saigon he did as well as he could and survived the battlefield’s hail of bullets. After returning home, the veteran remained highly critical of the American campaign in Vietnam. In Wilkerson’s doc, we hear him describe American racism towards the Vietcong, the Vietnamese communists. For the rest of his life Wilkerson’s father worked as an ER surgeon at a hospital back in Montana. “He never found peace, but at least he saved thousands of lives as a surgeon.”

Distinguished Flying Cross

The archive footage in Distinguished Flying Cross was recorded by the military’s own photographers. The film lasts for an hour, but is based on fifty hours of footage that was left lying for years before Wilkerson got his hands on it.

The film revolves around the idea that “the stories of the fathers shape the future”, says Wilkerson, before adding: “For my 15-year old daughter the Vietnam War is as remote as the US Civil War.”

Myths, traumas and suicide. In the US, an 18-hour-long TV-series about the Vietnam War created by the “patriot” Ken Burns is currently showing on PBS. “In the US today, the main discourse about war is all about honouring the veterans.” Wilkerson doesn’t think this is right. “You can show them a certain respect, but to honour those who participated in that catastrophe isn’t progressive.” According to Wilkerson, the stories of returning Vietnam veterans being spat upon and called baby killers isn’t true either. “My own research shows that they weren’t treated as badly as we’ve been led to believe. That’s a myth that there’s little evidence to support,” he says. What then about the soldiers’ traumas? “It’s true that many of them kill themselves. My father probably thought about doing that too but more commit suicide while on active duty than as veterans – 5060 every month,” he responds.

The filmmaker’s Fragments of a Dissolution (2012, see online) deals with the topic of suicide among returning servicemen. Wilkerson listens silently to a widow recounting the story of her husband, who during four years in Afghanistan killed infants, women and other innocent civilians. It was more than he could live with and he never got to see his son grow up. Another mother, Mary Cookhill, tells Wilkerson about her son’s fourth suicide attempt after returning from Iraq – and about how he finally succeeded. American officers subsequently called the soldier a “liar” and a “coward”.

American warfare

With a thoughtful American on the other side of the table, I want to delve deeper into what his country is doing internationally – a country that has established some 800 military bases outside its own borders. “An old phrase says that ‘War is profitable.’ The US is rearming, they’re training the world for war and they’ve fought in most of them. They’ve created most of the world’s weapons and they’ve tested them out, and they keep developing new weapons technology. In my homeland, which sells and uses more weapons than any other country in the world and which is totally driven by the war economy, most people think that North Korea is the world’s most dangerous state!”

The consequences could be fatal, says Wilkerson. “Since the USA was established nearly 350 years ago, the country has not been at war for only 13 of them. Today, in Syria, Libya and Yemen, warfare and rearmament has huge consequences. The so-called Free Syrian Army was a billion-dollar operation to the US, and it was a disastrous failure which didn’t create anything positive.” He delves deeper: “We didn’t even have a basic grasp of what the US was doing in Afghanistan, in a war that started long before 9/11 2001 and which many see as the starting point for the wars of the last years. Americans admire Kissinger, but which of his ideas have worked? Cambodia and Laos both ended up as disasters. People don’t seem to care, however, despite the millions of innocent people who pay the price with their lives. But large parts of the American left remain positive to the idea of war.”

American racism

Considering the extent to which racism is still alive and well in contemporary America – with Charlottesville being but the most recent manifestation – Travis’s essay exploration about his own great grandfather is more relevant than ever. We’re on first names now… Travis confirms that Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? (2017) will soon be shown in Oslo (see below.) The movie is almost a detective story in which Travis digs into his own family background, building his narrative on a rumour that his great-grandfather Branch Wilkerson shot and killed an African American – a 48-year old family man named Bill Spann – in his local grocery store in Alabama in 1946. It also turns out that Spann’s life could’ve been saved if he hadn’t been taken to the worst hospital in the area, where the doctors staggered about in a drunken stupor.

Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? (2017)

Handguns are famously ubiquitous in the US, and Travis’s great-grandfather had used his 32-calibre revolver against the deceased. But he also kept a loaded 38-calibre under his pillow. The same great-grandfather also killed another black man who owed him money, without ever being convicted for his crimes. Wilkerson feels guilt coming from a violent, racist family. “My great-grandfather killed two black men and spread fear by abusing people. Only the distance in time allows me to confront what he did, something that other members of my family can’t. He died when I was little and isn’t so terrifying anymore.”

Even though Travis doesn’t run the same risks as his father the helicopter pilot, he’s filmed nationalists up close and personal as they talked about “American blood” and “white culture”; people who fired guns on horseback as if they were participants in the Civil War of the 1860s. Among these characters, Travis hoped to find his openly racist aunt Geene. “Geene was always good to me and never said hateful things. But I can read her political activism online.” In the documentary, when his aunt finally responds to Travis requests for answers, she presents a cover story that Travis’s great-grandfather (Geene’s father) had saved the life of a black woman whom Spann had chased into his store, by killing Spann. But at one point, it becomes clear that people in Alabama feel that Travis has been digging far too deep into the past, and soon finds himself being followed. In this way, the threatening atmosphere of racism can still be felt three generations after the worst of the racist violence, giving Travis no choice but to leave.

Ignored

Travis shows how many blacks – like Bill Spann – ended their lives in nameless tombs in strange towns. Many of the killers were never apprehended, the local sheriffs preferring to look the other way. Whites can still murder blacks without having to answer for their crimes. I’m reminded of Giorgio Agamben, who refers to such victims as Homo Sacer (Naked Man): people who can be killed because their lives don’t matter. I’m reminded, too, of the recent outburst by a Southern police officer: “Don’t worry, we don’t kill white people here”! (See the article on James Baldwin here).

Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? is also a form of agit-prop, where Travis lets the refrain “Say His Name!” accompany the text montages. Several other forgotten African Americans are thus honoured in the film. Travis’s voice-over dwells poetically on the black-and-white photographs of his grandfather’s grocery store, situated on a corner and flanked by trees.

Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun?

Aunt Geene and other members of the family covered up both their own past and the violent past of this place. I ask Travis how his relatives reacted to the movie. “Exactly as you’d expect. In the South, there’s a sharp divide between your public façade and your private life. The façade must be maintained at all costs. The reaction was that they largely ignored me.”

The theme of racism recurs in several of Wilkerson’s movies. In Machine Gun or Typewriter? (2015), which won the main prize in Kosovo two years ago, he uses images of African Americans being lynched, hanged and burned. The film has been referred to as punk-agit-noir. In this quasi-fictional story, which among other things criticizes the Los Angeles Police Department, Travis is often seen behind the radio microphone. Los Angeles, a city known for the Rodney King riots, serves as the backdrop for a futuristic fable about a haunted man searching for a lost love via his illegal pirate radio station. But this narrative conceals a story of racism, abuse and criticism of power.

Machine Gun or Typewriter?

Activism

It seems appropriate to ask a heretic like Travis whether his films are exerting any influence and making an impact. “I believe that larger protest movements need to start with a personal commitment. Conversations like the one we’re having right now can be extended in a meaningful way. I follow my own convictions. I do what I believe in, in accordance with my own role in the world. My hope is that people start getting more involved than they are today.”

«If you want to tell radical stories you’ll have to use radical forms of expression, so that both the political and the formal elements are innovative.»

South American Third Cinema was an early influence on Travis, especially Cuban director Santiago Alvarez, whose short, fiercely political newsreel documentaries changed his life in the space of five minutes. “That’s where my real education started. If you want to tell radical stories you’ll have to use radical forms of expression, so that both the political and the formal elements are innovative.” In 1999, Wilkerson completed the documentary Accelerated Under-Development: In the Idiom of Santiago Álvarez (1999) about the Cuban filmmaker.

Independent of financial support, Travis is currently a film professor at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. He appears slightly disappointed that his young students seem chiefly interested in making movies for Hollywood. “I try to be useful to them, but also to challenge them, to make them more sensitive to their surroundings. Here in Kosovo you could make extraordinary movies, but it doesn’t seem to be happening. The young are perhaps too concerned about getting financing for their films. But it’s here – in these surroundings – that the resources are!”

Accelerated Under-Development: In the Idiom of Santiago Álvarez

Post-anarchism 

What does Travis think of the notion of post-anarchism a recurring theme Modern Times as a form of resistance and mode of organization to combat capitalist exploitation? “I’m always drawn towards ideas like anarchism. Repression leads to resistance. And direct action can achieve substantial results. To take just one example: Black Workers, a movement from Detroit in the 1960s and 70s, was almost an incarnation of the IWW. It remains a good example of a revolutionary organization in the US. The IWW fought individual cases in court, even if that’s where some 200 of its leaders ended up. The consequences were fatal: The state liquidated the resistance movement overnight. People were deported, arrested or even executed.”

Today we see something of the same in the Occupy Movement; in the anarchism, in the horizontalism of the grassroots, in its beauty, inspiration, profound commitment and involvement. But the fact is that these movements are positioning themselves to be wiped out simply by having its members get arrested or heavily fined, which is enough to discourage many people. Such movements are highly vulnerable and will have to rethink their strategies. Grassroots activists and anarchists don’t seem to realize that sometimes you have to be organized and disciplined to fight oppression. That holds true for everyone ranging from Black Lives Matter to Occupy to immigrant advocacy groups.”

We wrap up our conversation by returning to the subject of Travis’s father. “He was a highly moral person who tried to live his whole life ethically. He died recently from cancer and it was difficult to re-watch the recordings from twenty years ago here in Kosovo. My father had some intense and violent experiences in his life. He’d experienced chaos, but he loved the very adventure of life as well as standing up for what he believed in. Every day I think of how he always encouraged me to do something meaningful, and to base my decisions on convictions rather than on fear.”

Like his father before him, Wilkerson has visited violent places, like Gaza. But in the past few years he’s become more careful; his wife and three children have grown concerned about the risks he has been taking. “I have to find my way back to activism somehow, to be more involved – and to remain an optimist,” he concludes with a heartfelt sigh.


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Netflix

I have no real overview of what Netflix offers, when it comes to documentaries. Below you find a link to an article that recommends the best documentaries on Netflix and there are many fine names and titles which you can also find, when you go to Netflix itself and click on the documentary section. You find names like Werner Herzog, Ai WeiWei, Banksy, Errol Morris, Marina Abramovic, Nick Broomfield, Albert Maysles and titles like O.J. Simpson, Long Shot, Making a Murderer, Amanda Knox, The Promise, Strong Island – all crime documentaries, not to forget the films on Janis Joplin and Nina Simone… But you have to search thoroughly as they are listed among a lot of tabloid stuff.

Nevertheless – as we are Netflix subscribers in our household – I assure you that the grandchildren already from age 3 know the name Netflix – I watched three documentaries recently, two of which were at Nordisk Panorama competition in Malmø and the third one I picked up because it was the subject of a double page article in a Danish newspaper.

I am referring to Bryan Fogel’s two hour long investigative work, Icarus on the Russian state’s organised doping of athletes taking part in the Olympics. The film’s main character is the man who was leading the laboratory that manipulated the urine tests until he blew the whistle, Grigory Rodchenkov, who left Russia and is now hiding somewhere in the US. He is an amazing character for a film.

Swedish Kasper Collin’s I Called Him Morgan is a film that is based on a sound interview with the trumpeter Lee Morgan’s widow Helen, who shot him one snowy night in a jazz club. And based on great archive material and wonderful music from Blue Note and other famous jazz sources. It’s a love story, it has a fine tone, it has interviews with people who knew the two. One snowy night – there are beautiful images “from” 18.2.1972, when it happened.

Both films are well crafted and professional and I watched them with pleasure because of their interesting stories. In these cases you can say that Content is King, even if I got irritated of the wall-towall mix of sound and music that serves to tell the spectator what to feel right now, in this scene, in this sequence. Mostly obvious in that respect is Icarus but there is also a lot of “noise” in the third film, the English/Icelandic Out of Thin Air, a crime story, described like this on the webpage of the English producer Mosaic Film: “Set within the stark Icelandic landscape, the film examines the 1976 police investigation into the disappearance of two men in the early 1970s. Iceland in the 1970s was an idyll; a farming community, pretty much cut off from the much of the rest of the world. Crime was rare, murder rarer still. Then two men disappear under suspicious circumstances and foul play is suspected. The country demands a resolution. Police launch the biggest criminal investigation Iceland has ever seen. Finally, six people confess to two violent murders and are sent to prison. It seems the nightmare is over. But in many ways the nightmare has just begun….”.

Out of Thin Air. Director Dylan Howitt

This is the weakest of the three Netflix films I watched. Simply because it jumps from one suspect to the other, mixes it with archive and an interview with one suspect, a woman. There is no clear narrative.

Is Netflix good or bad? Well from a viewer’s point of view it can only be good that documentaries are made available on VOD for a price that is not overwhelming, but are they documentaries that could have ended up on public service channels anyway? And the industry side: which I dont know enough about: Netflix takes all rights world-wide, when they buy a film (I am not talking about those films that they finance/ produce themselves) and if they come in at the end of a film’s life on festivals and on public TV, then what
is the problem? But do they? Tell me.


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Cíntia Gil

What is the focus of this year’s edition of DocLisboa? Is there a theme for the films selected in the festival?

DocLisboa does not centre on themes. The program has sections, retrospective and focus sections, but they are not linked to a larger theme.

This year, we present a full retrospective of Czech filmmaker Vera Chytilová, and a thematic retrospective entitled Another America – The Unique Cinema of Quebec. We also host an exhibition by Sharon Lockhart, gathering her photographic work and her films with children in Poland, and a side program on Andres Veiel, with 3 films that look at different artistic processes.

Why these and not others?

Vera Chytilová is a major figure in Czech cinematography and a surprising filmmaker, and we find her work inspiring and important.

The retrospective on Quebec cinema covers a period from 1955 until 2016, and it’s a showcase for a filmography full of diversity, with filmmakers largely unknown to the European audiences, but that opened new ways for film and documentary.

Sharon Lockhart

Sharon Lockhart is a very interesting artist working on the connection between cinema and visual arts; and Andres Veiel presented Beuys in the Berlinale this year, and that is a good “excuse” to look at his other films.

What does the term movie that matter mean to you?

I believe that we should understand our times by questioning the idea of contemporaneity while understanding both past and present. How do films resonate with each other and with us over time? The movies that matter are the ones that somehow point to a problem in the present, but connect to the history of cinema, and offer a singular perspective on cinema and filmmaking.

What is the standing of documentary films now, compared to ten years ago, and also regarding your festival?

There is now more diversity in production styles, and that has consequences on the films, on their themes, forms, experimentation. Audiences are much more used to recognizing documentary films as art. Therefore, they are more demanding, but also more able to link contemporary films to the history of cinema. This means that it is easier now to take risks, especially for us, programmers.

Doclisboa has been growing in number of guests and premieres, and we believe that it is because we are consistent in defending diversity, matching films with audiences, surpassing the rules of the mainstream market.


Gil is Co-director at DocLisboa


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