Apart from the screen nutrition, festivals are about logistics and practicalities. A first-time visitor to Punta de Vista enjoys the benefits of having most of the programme at the same venue. No time wasted on constant relocating. There’s always the charm of eating lunch sitting down, maybe even reading about films before seeing them. Orienting oneself in a new, exotic place is in itself a worthwhile experience – combined with navigating rows upon rows of tapas, throngs of natives and perusing a salsa-soiled map two minutes before a show starts; it’s a case of the worst of all worlds.
The doc festival Punto de Vista has a reputation for favouring the alternative, the bold innovations, the oddities, although not to the extent that they fancy the new just for the sake of novelty, as one of the festival committee members put it, adding that the financial crisis is just one reason the festival is a few days shorter this year; the other being that they are simply not interested in unnecessary growth. That might be a healthy attitude. There’s already more than an eyeful on offer, even if one should possess the unlikely ability to be present in two places simultaneously. Apart from the Official Section’s contestants for certain awards for best film and so on, there are the special screenings with directors present, where names like José Luis Guerin, Patricio Guzmán and Nicolas Philibert were listed.
The latter’s film Nenette was the festival’s opening show. Philibert’s 70-minute film is named after its protagonist, the 42-year-old orangutan who resides in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. The typical gloomy sight of wildlife behind bars is here softened by the fact that in this case, it is the observed animal that in a sense gets to call the shots. The prying visitors are captured within the game – at least as its focus. Their observations and remarks turn Nenette into a reflection of the onlookers themselves. Point of view, indeed.1 If Nicolas Philibert could be suspected of having taken his cue from one of the festival’s treasures of the classic repertoire, he would easily be forgiven.
It would seem unfair to Punta De Vista to say that one of its finer films was an old gem in black and white from 1953, but then again, Les statues meurent aussi (Even Statues Die, 30 min) is not the work of any n’importe qui in French cinema, but a collaboration between Chris Marker (La Jetée, 1962) and the very grand old maître Alain Resnais. Familiar with the perspectives of Nenette, there are a few moments in the opening scenes of Les statues… that will ring a bell, as the camera takes the exhibited object’s place, giving us a view up the noses of scrutinizing museum visitors.
The film’s title refers to the sad reality of native Africans starting to carve out sculptures by the dozen, figures which were originally ornamented objects of everyday use, works of art as much as they were furniture, tools or utensils. Marker and Resnais show how a once devoted artistry turns into largescale production, catering to the needs of an increasing influx of Western tourists and their appetite for exotic paraphernalia. Marker and Resnais elaborate on this transition from inspired manufacture to factory alienation by showing the black man put to work on the assembly lines of industrialised mass production. Terms like aura, or loss of it, could easily be justified on such occasions – hence the film’s title.
Les statues… was one of the first films to criticize colonial exploitation in its time, and therefore officially banned in France for many years. It may seem incredible today that this half-hour of discrete radicalism (at least by any contemporary measure) was penalised, but it’s a fact, and one that speaks volumes about the cultural and political climate in which it was released.
Les statues… featured in one of the festival’s main sections, called “Tupi or not Tupi: Cannibals vs Vampires”, focusing on connections and frictions between, to quote the programme “different cultures and different film genres and forms, as well as ways in which cinema can be either a cannibal or a vampire”. For viewers who’ve had more than a lifetime’s worth of parasitic documentaries, this certainly sounds promising. The Colombian film Agarrando Pueblo from as early as 1977 is a particularly sound initiative in that respect, addressing opportunistic documentarists’ perverted quest for poverty, including manipulated examples of such.
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