By Roger Costa
Doc Fortnight, the prestigious festival of new inventive documentaries from around the globe, will screen amazingly curious and urgent perspectives through the lenses of emerging or first-time directors in its 16th year at MoMA February 16-26. Each film transports the essence of its realities with incredible dramatic and creative techniques, as well as it exposes comprehensively the struggles of each situation, offering insightful looks at intriguing stories of social and racial injustice, spirituality, fame, family, education, human rights and adventure. Here are some discoveries not to be missed:
Among the devastation of war, a group of surfers find haven in the oceanside of Gaza, despite the increasing conflicts. Philip Gnadt and Mickey Yamine’s GAZA SURF CLUB analyzes the courageous virtues of these men, living under “open air prison”, determined to express themselves through sports and struggling to get recognized as a national team, constantly denied. It reveals their hopelessness and tragic involvement with war, focusing on how surf changed and gave meaning to their lives.
In a mountainous sheep herd village in Afghanistan, a group of children experience the joys of childhood and early puberty in the magically gorgeous, sensitive, poetical WOLF AND SHEEP, the directorial debut of the first feature female director of that country, Shahrbanoo Sadat. Using non professional actors to reenact their own routines, perspectives and fantasies, Sadat develops a fable-like technique that proves her as a promising newcomer. The meditation on the landscape, the children’s activities and the ruling adults, as well as the gothic nightly shots using metaphorical figures, reveals it as a fine piece of pure art.
Director Stanley Nelson continues to investigate African-American history of racial injustice with TELL THEM WE ARE RISING, an important account on the pioneers of education. Through interviews with renowned educators and historians, photos and footage archives, it depicts the early attempts of educating slaves, the establishment of the first black colleges, the risk and prejudice as main obstacles, and their accomplishments in art, sports and literature. Nelson extracts importantly relevant testimonies, creating a thrilling atmosphere, supported by crafty editing and harmonious score.
Strangely beautiful and haunting, directors Valeria Testagrossa and Nicola Grignani and Andrea Zambelli’s IRRAWADDY MON AMOUR, brings the audience to a small village in Myanmar where the gay residents reunite to defend their rights, including their willingness for freedom from the oppressive authorities. The camera follows a young couple planning to marry despite the possibility of military intervention, while meeting with a group preparing for religious festivities, participating on spiritual rituals, and exchanging revelations with cheerful personalities. A very curious and delicate look at a small community and its interconnections.
An experimental collage of memories and history, Abigail Child’s darkly stylized ACTS & INTERMISSIONS depicts the story of Emma Goldman, considered at a time “the most violent woman alive”. As the narrative depicts the industrial revolution, the workers crisis, and current conflicts, it blends intriguing images of poems, confessions, dramatization, and archive footage with seductive lyricism.
Visually striking and contemplative, Pablo Chavarria Gutierrez’s LAS LETRAS is an intimate and symbolic look at a countryside family in Mexico, punctuated by the suffering and perspectives exposed in the letters of a militant in prison. The camera wanders around in a surrealistic aesthetic, capturing deep observations on the people, the children, waterfalls, mountains, the wilderness, skies. The result is a meditative and mastery composed exploration on the land and its existences.
At the age of 10, Flavio Cabobianco wrote a book with Messianic, astrological and evolutionist messages, becoming a phenomenon in Argentina, as he claimed receiving messages from the Universe. Manuel Abramovich’s SOLAR gathers family material, interviews and haunting images, building a sensitive, investigative and curious exploration of Flavio’s persona, his devoted relationship to his parents, his influences and tendencies as a psychoanalyst, and the controversy of his allegations. The sensibility of the narrative, and the naturally relaxed angles, reveals the director’s incredible control of the material.
Filled with glorious musical moments, Lee Breuer’s THE BOOK OF CLARENCE tells the story of The Alabama Boys, one of the world’s most well-known gospel groups. It follows Clarence Fountain, the group’s founder, now a veteran, blind in his eighties, recalling his career, the collaborations, the passion for music and the success. Very moving and inspirational.
To celebrate her 50th birthday, director Lynne Sachs gathered some Manhattan residents to discuss important topics of these periods in America’s history, social and political transformations along the decades in TIP OF MY TONGUE. Through conversations and real testimonies of people who came to New York in search of freedom and haven, the director mixes the hopeful stories with personal notes of herself, her aging process, elaborating a lovely portrait of the Big Apple’s essential characteristic, the city that embraces and shelters everyone.