This year's Copenhagen doc fest was the most political CPH: DOX had ever been, with a focus on Ai WeiWei and a strand created by the Yes Men. The DOX: Award went to Narimane Mari’s Bloody Beans, radical exploration of Algeria’s struggle for independence, while Dirty Wars, a chilling documentary revealing the dark side of U.S war on terror, won the F:ACT Award. The Politiken Audience Award went to Everyday Rebellion, and A World Not Ours director Mahdi Fleifel was presented the Reel Talent Award for exceptional cinematic vision.
Winning a Special Mention in the DOX: Award was Roberto Minervini’s Stop the Pounding Heart, a film that drifted through the religious heart of a large fundamentalist family of goat farmers, and the physical reality of the rodeo riders. Visceral and submerged in the natural environment, it pushes the boundaries of traditional documentary with its blurred lines of observing and directing – or as the jury stated: “a film in which intimacy becomes problematic and challenges the very nature of the documentary form.” Sara, a young teenager in a large, deeply religious family, and on the verge of discovering the opposite sex, is warned by her mother to guard her heart: at the same time she meets Colby, a local bullrider her own age.
A gentle story of tentative adolescent awakening emerges as the film follows Sara’s inner struggles, confronted by the archaic traditions of fundamentalism. Minervini’s photography is close and captures the exquisite beauty and intensity of the life he observes, mirrored by the richness of the natural sound. Minervini lyrically layers the experiences and tensions implied within Sara’s heart and her tactile connection with the animals around her. The images have a painterly fluidity and softness – Edward Hopper’s sense of solitude and anticipation meets the grit of William Eggleston.
Another experimental documentary was Anna Odell’s The Reunion. Odell’s debut feature film tears through conventions as she confronts the demons of her school years. Upon discovering she wasn’t invited to her school year’s 20-year reunion, Odell filmed a reconstruction of the reunion, in which she read out the speech she had originally intended to deliver. With the Dogme style and ceremony of Vinterberg’s Festen, chaos unfolds. The second act follows her contacting her former classmates and inviting them to watch the film. Unsurprisingly they were camera-shy and cautious, so in yet another layer of fictionalising reality, she staged re-enactments of these meetings.
The Reunion is a challenging film about the ignorance of the long-lasting effects of bullying, hierarchies and how hostile behavioral patterns can be normalized en masse. It is a fascinating study of subjectivity and trauma, an explosive confrontation between fantasy and reality, and as Odell states in her speech: “how the time we shared shaped us."
In Nan Goldin – I Remember Your Face, German director Sabine Lidl brings the passionate, chain-smoking legendary photographer out from behind the lens. With warmth and abandon, Goldin introduces us to her loves and her inspirations, from her apartment in Paris to the Berlin squat she used to inhabit with her friends. The film journeys through Goldin’s shows such as ‘The Ballad of Sexual Dependency’ and reveals her expansive art collection. The pace reflects her wild side, and the soundtrack is rocking, with slide shows of her work peeling away to the Velvet Underground. Falling in love frequently and deeply, she also lost many of her loves over the years. Hailing from a difficult background she built her own family out of friends, who remain her greatest passion. The queer world in which she lived was not marginalized; they were the world. Lidl’s film is an intimate portrait of a fierce, fun and strong woman with a weakness for men (who often turn out to be gay).
Redwood Hill made a post-black metal score to Danish director Palle Demant’s Men & Metal, which revisits the Copenhagen’s B&W shipyard – now the site of metal fest ‘Copenhell’ – and a handful of its former employees. Opening in 1843 and closing in 1996 due to bankruptcy, Men & Metal shares the memories of a group of men who dedicated their working lives to the yard. The heavy drones start kicking in as the elderly men open their fists to reveal the history etched out in the palms of their hard-labouring hands. Evoking their sense of loss, the film floats over abandoned objects and spaces, with waves of metal surging through the images. The elderly men reminisce about schnapps-fuelled lunch breaks, workers hiding from the boss, and the sense of community and camaraderie born of the dangerous work. It was a rough, demanding lifestyle – complemented in the film by the thundering, ferocious metal score – but it was rewarded in the satisfaction achieved from the finished product; huge, hard-wearing ships.
Canadian filmmaker Kyle Armstrong heads to Manitoba for Magnetic Reconnection. Narrated by Will Oldham with an original score by Jim O’Rourke, this is a beautiful short film about the Aurora Borealis, illuminated by its brilliant components. Armstrong’s film plays with the physicality of film, as Oldham’s narration ruminates over the awesome, hypnotic beauty of the phenomena and its affect on the human psyche. The Northern lights ripple and flare across the frame with unbelievable colours, blasting away scientific theories and dancing above the remnants of human-built structures, weathered by time.
Looping in the cavernous dome of the Den Frie, the audio-visual immersion of the Alberi installation from Le Quattro Volte director Michaelangelo Frammartino is tremendous. The men of Satriano, a village in Southern Italy head into the forest to hack down foliage and use it to cover themselves from head to toe. The wall of trees kaleidoscopically shifts, then as in Macbeth, the forest closes in on the village, the crunching leafy march ascending its steep cobbled inclines to the summit of the festivities. Engulfed in forest, the installation wraps man in nature, and the volume of the rumbling forest gives it an unnerving Twin Peaks-ian edge.
FOCUS ON AN AUTEUR
This meandering, conversational documentary recording a meeting between Dazed and Confused director Richard Linklater and filmmaker James Benning echoes how the two directors explore duration, perception and how we relate to our past selves.
Switching between excerpts from their work and their conversation about life and film, Double Play is a film about the friendship that blossomed when Linklater started a film club in 1985 in hometown Austin, Texas and invited Benning to talk about his filmmaking. There is perhaps not enough about the fascinating James Benning and his observational, non-narrative work, but there is a brilliant montage sequence expressing one of Linklater’s obsessions: dreams. Through clips from his Before… trilogy, Slacker and Waking Life, characters share their dreams, hypothetical explorations of their decisions, and the notion that “every thought you have creates its own reality”.
DOC X STRAND LAUNCH
The Future of Cinema gave a taster of what was to come from the Dazed Doc X strand with short docs from California to Dublin, experimental styles and music videos…read more about the launch here.