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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Totally Under Control

Directors – Alex Gibney, Ophelia Harutyunyan, Suzanne Hillinger – 2020 – US – Cert. 12 – 123m

***1/2

Documentary looks at the Trump administration’s handling of the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US – in cinemas from Friday, October 23rd and on iTunes, Amazon, Google, BFI Player, Curzon, Sky, Rakuten, Virgin. On BBC iPlayer from Sunday, November 1st.

This is a documentary shot, as it were, on the hoof. It constitutes a record of near-contemporary events as they unfolded in the recent past, in two of three very specific geographic locations. Two or three because the subject is the early months of the 2020 global COVID-19 pandemic in the origin of which the third country, China, specifically the city of Wuhan, played the major part. But this film isn’t really about China beyond that country’s being the source of the infection.

Nor is it really about the second country, South Korea, here quite reasonably held up to the audience as a paragon of virtue in its handling of the crisis. The film is really about the first country, the US, during this period, which had a playbook ready and waiting should such a crisis come to pass.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies Music

Delia Derbyshire: The Myths And Legendary Tapes

Director – Caroline Catz – 2020 – UK – 98m

*****

Docudrama explores the ten years the legendary electronic musician spent at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop – on BFI Player as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2020 from 8.30 Thursday, October 15th to 18.30 Sunday, October 18th

Part documentary, part drama and part performance art, this is a fascinating examination of Delia Derbyshire, the woman who between 1962 and 1973 worked in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. The film does examine her life and career before and after that, but only briefly. After studying mathematics and music at Cambridge, she became interested in music as an expression of mathematics and, as such, knew that the Radiophonic Workshop was the place she wanted to be.

We see Delia (writer-director Caroline Katz) interviewed for a job at Decca Records only to be told that women don’t work in the technical department but there are openings for secretaries. It’s easy to see that as sexism now, but at that time such attitudes were commonplace. She wonders if her interviewer was the person who turned down the Beatles. We see interviewed Dutch video artist Madelon Hoodykas with whom she collaborated in The Netherlands after her BBC period and there’s some brief footage of the LYC museum set up by Li Yuan-chia near Hadrian’s Wall where she spent some time after a disastrous marriage to a man with whom she had little in common with beyond drinking.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Dick Johnson Is Dead

Director – Kirsten Johnson – 2020 – US – 89m

*****

The director imagines the death of her dad in a film which celebrates both the man himself and the art of cinema – on Netflix worldwide from Friday, October 2nd

I was alerted to this movie both because not only was Johnson’s prior Cameraperson (2016) excellent but also the subject matter of this new film looked promising. Johnson spent three decades as the cameraperson on numerous documentaries (among them Farenheit 9/11, Michael Moore, 2004 and Citizenfour, Laura Poitras, 2014) before making her previous feature out of interesting bits and pieces of footage she had lying around. Her new film is highly personal and almost fits into the home movies or personal diary school of film making – lent an inevitable, additional gravitas given Johnson’s prior artistic and technical career.

C. Richard Johnson (b. 1932 – ) is Kirsten Johnson’s dad. One day, like all of us, he is going to die. So his daughter decided that while he was still alive she would make a film about his dying, filming his possible deaths and staging his funeral service ahead of time.

There’s a huge contradiction at the heart of this idea.… Read the rest

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Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies Music

White Riot

Director – Rubika Shah – 2019 – UK – Cert. 15 – 80m

***1/2

Documentary charts the rise of the UK’s Rock Against Racism movement of the late 1970s and features among others The Clash, Steel Pulse and Tom Robinson – in cinemas and on BFI Player and Curzon Home Cinema from Friday, September 18th

Curiously prescient for our own time, the late nineteen seventies saw the rise of the far right movement in Britain characterised by the National Front and its desire to send all non-white British residents “back where they came from”. One of the other things that happened at that time in the UK was in the seemingly unrelated area of music: punk rock. Something clicked for photographer Red Saunders when the NME dispatched him to shoot Punk Night at London’s ICA venue. He saw an immediacy and an energy to what was going on, with bands the The Clash singing about social issues such as unemployment.

Fuelled by some ill-advised, vaguely Teutonic sentiments from David Bowie and, more specifically, a gig where guitarist Eric Clapton encouraged people to go and vote for racist MP Enoch Powell and everything he represented, Saunders set up the Rock Against Racism (RAR) movement to bring together youth from the UK’s various different ethnic backgrounds.… Read the rest

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Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Coup 53

Director – Taghi Amirani – 2019 – UK – Cert. 15 – 120m

*****

In cinemas from Friday, August 21st

Virtual premiere Wednesday August 19th, Q&A Thursday August 20th. See https://coup53.com/

A documentary begun in 2009 interviewing many people who died before the film’s completion some ten years later, this covers the 1953 coup in Iran backed by President Eisenhower in the US and Prime Minister Churchill in the UK which replaced Iran’s democratically elected, left-wing Prime Minister Mossadegh with the Shah. The UK has never officially acknowledged its role in this coup.

Amirani’s researches lead him to a basement of documents held by Mossadech’s grandson in Paris comprising archive material from the Granada TV 1985 End Of Empire documentary series, for which he is gets access to the rushes from the BFI. Iran was included because it had been controlled by British interests for so long (because of its oil reserves). Amirani’s editor, helping pull all this together, is the legendary Walter Murch (Gimme Shelter / 1970, The Conversation / 1974, Apocalypse Now / 1979, The English Patient / 1996).

The name which keeps coming up in Amirani’s research is that of Norman Darbyshire who reportedly asked for his interview footage to be removed from the film following a pre-transmission screening at the BBC.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Giraffe

Director – Anna Sofie Hartmann – 2019 – Germany, Denmark – 82m

****

On MUBI from Thursday, August 6th. As part of a series of films from the 2019 Locarno Film Festival.

There is a beautiful, lengthy shot of a giraffe at the start. Beyond that, it’s hard to know why it’s called that. No doubt we’re meant to construct our own ideas as to why this might be so.

Leaving that aside, this is a curious film, part drama, part documentary. Some of the time, you’re not exactly sure which of the two you’re watching.

A link is being built between Denmark and Holland that will require the demolition of numerous 19th Century farmhouses in its path. It falls to ethnologist Dana, 38 (Lisa Loven Kongsli) to compile a record of these houses and the people who lived in them before they are gone forever. The premises vary from derelict to maintained with occupants about to move out.

Going through one of the derelict farmhouses, Dana discovers the diary of one if its occupants and starts reading. The woman lived alone but had occasional romantic visitors, a compelling tale – for Dana at least, since it seems uncannily to mirror her own existence.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies Music

Last And First Men

Director – Jóhann Jóhannsson – 2020 – Iceland – 71m

****

Available on BFI Player (extended free trial offer here) from Thursday, July 30th

This is the only feature directed by the late and renowned composer Jóhann Jóhannsson who has been releasing albums since Englabörn (2002) and has provided the soundtracks for such films as The Miners’ Hymns (2010), The Theory Of Everything (2014), Sicario (2015) and Arrival (2016). Last And First Men was originally a multimedia project performed in Manchester International Festival in 2017 with the BBC Philharmonic orchestra. While its appearance on BFI Player is most welcome, there are plans to tour the film with a live orchestra in the future.

To describe the film as based on or an adaptation of Olaf Stapledon’s cult SF novel Last And First Men: A Story Of The Near And Far Future (1930) is both accurate and misleading. Accurate because the scripted monologue spoken by Tilda Swinton (a terrific voice performance that would be a pleasure to listen to on its own, no other sounds or images) which runs throughout the film is adapted from that source. Misleading because the film largely comprises live action cinematography of architecture beneath skies in rural landscape against a soundtrack of Jóhannsson‘s specially composed music and Swinton’s narration.… Read the rest

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Animation Art Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Buñuel In The Labyrinth Of The Turtles

Director – Salvador Simo – 2018 – Netherlands – 80m

***1/2

Streaming on BFI Player (extended free trial offer here) from Thursday, July 16th – with more Buñuel movies here.

Following the success of his surrealist film L’Age D’Or / The Age Of Gold (1930), film director Luis Buñuel finds his main source of funding cut off when the strongly Catholic mother of his primary investor puts pressure in the latter. At the same time, a stranger named Eli Lotar strikes up a post-premiere conversation with the director saying he saw no influence of Dali in the film and presses a book Las Hurdes into Buñuel’s hands.

Frustrated at the lack of funding for his films, Luis decides to film the book which details the appalling living conditions of poor people in a remote village in rural Spain.

As part of my Annecy 2019 coverage, I review Buñuel In The Labyrinth Of The Turtles for DMovies.org.

Categories
Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Zero Impunity

Directors – Nicolas Blies, Stéphane Hueber-Blies – 2019 – France, Luxembourg – 95m

*****

From the Annecy 2020 Online Animation Festival

Framed by live action sequences of serial expert, journalist and activist talking heads projected on the sides of urban buildings or rural landmarks, this skilfully uses minimal 2D animation to tell the stories of victims of sexual violence in contemporary war zones. It’s intended as part of a wider, ongoing media project designed to bring accountability to the perpetrators of such acts who at the present time face zero impunity.

Stories include, from Syria, the 11 year old daughter of an alleged terrorist who was imprisoned for 45 days towards the end of which she was unexpectedly injected with hormones before being raped by (at least) one man before passing out.

A Ukranian woman is held captive in a house and coerced into sleeping with her captor. In bed, she feels something cold and metal in her crotch. It’s a bullet. Much is made of her captor’s pistol. He puts it on a table in front of her, knowing she won’t take it because, if she were to shot him, where would she go?

The US doesn’t come off well. Dick Cheney and the Bush administration know the difference between right and wrong but facilitated sexual humiliation techniques on male prisoners held in prisons such as Abu Ghraib in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay at home.… Read the rest

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Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies

My Favorite War

Director – Ilze Burkovska Jacobsen – 2020 – Latvia, Norway – 77m

****

From the Annecy 2020 Online Animation Festival

In World War Two. Latvia was caught between the Nazis and the Russians. After the Nazis capitulated, the country was absorbed into the Soviet Union. Ilze’s grandfather, a small farmer, was declared an Enemy of the State and sent to Siberia because he owned a small piece of land. Her Communist Party member father became a City Manager but he was killed in a car crash leaving her mother to bring up her and her brother alone.

At age three, Ilze’s parents risk everything by taking her to a forbidden beach a few miles from their home just so their young daughter can see the sea. This is the self-proclaimed “happiest country in the world” where party officials can queue jump and take the last pack of butter, where peace is paramount but shooting lessons are mandatory at school. As Ilze grows, she must keep quiet about all sorts of things or her mother will lose her job.

This is made using 2D cut-out animation in a highly unobtrusive manner. It’s so effective in fact that most of the time you don’t feel as if you’ve watching animation at all, just that the medium here is the best it could possibly be to tell the story.… Read the rest