Tag Archives: Doc Edge Festival

Doc Edge 18 | Dealin’ with the Devil

Dealin’ with the Devil – New Zealand / 2017 / 102 mins / English / Phil Davison

Phil Davison, accomplished New Zealand song-writer and blues aficionado, tells the story of his influential friend and musical mentor Ralph Bennett-Eades, as he makes the harrowing descent to his untimely death, through the sultry and often dark sound of the blues.

Phil’s background as a Film Editing lecturer clearly shows, as he uses effective and visually stimulating animations, including a scene of aliens coming down from their galaxy to jam with his alter-ego Dr Marigaux – genuine Dr of Theology, within the barren walls of his ramshackle home in the heart of the Mississippi Delta.

The ‘Blues’ – characterized by it’s lyrics, bass lines and instrumentation.  All things that Davison certainly brings to this documentary through soulful genre and his unique mode of story-telling, as he takes us on a journey of human reflection and personal heartbreak through animation and music.

He references such greats as; BB King, Muddy Waters and Johnny Lee Hooker as he taps into the life of his loved companion Ralph and the journey his life took after he was diagnosed with Hepatitis C.   Not forgetting a notable mention to his trusty guitar named Hazel.

A vibrant, colourful man and like most humans, flawed.  The film speaks of Ralph’s decision to make a deal with God to start playing Gospel, and in doing so he would relinquish the blues, if only he should be allowed to keep living.  ‘Dealing with the Devil’ so-to-speak, while his closest friends speak of his final days and the darkness that would often creep in after his fatal diagnosis, and Ralph’s inner-most fear of the ‘Man in Black’ …

Phil Davison, himself a talented and inwardly-thinking musician, sings the blues in his definitively hoarse, morose and poetic style. But with doses of dry humour that make the journey that little more entertaining.  The tracks ‘Embryonic Blues’ and ‘Hotel’ being such examples of his signature style of story-telling.

He films this documentary right up until Eades’s final days on his death-bed, echoing the sound of the deepest roots of the Mississippi as he sings of redemption and salvation, right here, in our backyard of N.Z  – while the fiddles and guitars of his backing group unite in the name of Gospel, this performance being a tribute to his dear friend and mentor, and a promise to him, he vowed to keep.

‘Dealing With The Devil’,  was at times quite an undertaking to follow, with the sadness and decline of someone suffering from an incurable illness.   However, I enjoyed the philosophical essence of the film as a whole, and found it absorbing with it’s visual content, as well as it’s welcoming moments of humour, that provided refreshment from the dark subject matter.  With an uplifting sense of peace towards the end, it is a loving tribute to a man who has lived his life to the brim and his wish to leave a lasting legacy that truly reflects who he was/is.

Ralph Bennett Eades had a wicked sense of humour as he clearly demonstrates,  even from his death-bed, with a mischievous hoax that defies gravity …

***3.5 Stars!

 

 

 

 

“Dealin with the Devil’ – is now showing in Auckland at the following times:

Loft / Thu 31 May 8:30PM
Rangatira / Fri 1 June 4:30PM

 

Doc Edge 18 | Whispering Truth To Power

South Africa, Netherlands | 2018 | 88 min | English, Sotho, Zulu | Shameela Seedat

“Whispering truth to Power”.  Never a truer word uttered and straight from the film’s main protagonist’s mouth – Thuli Mandosela.  South Africa’s first female Public Protector and direct opposer to the deception and inequity that ran rife within the country’s ruling and democratically elected power under the Zuma administration.

Shameela Seedat (filmmaker and human rights lawyer) produces and directs this film, as she follows Thuli throughout her tenure as ‘Protector of the Public’.  Beginning with initial investigations during her earlier days in office, as she leads a case into alleged corruption, involving President Zuma and a questionably large sum of state funds (246 million Rand to be precise) used in security upgrades to his home in Nkandla, Kwa-Zulu Natal.

His definitively unapologetic and vitriolic response to these allegations, clearly demonstrated the lack of justice that is still prevalent in South Africa,  even decades after apartheid.

The documentary traces back to the Mandela years and the subsequent release of political prisoners in 1990.  Of which Thuli Mandosela had been an active underground member, before they became the ruling party in 1994.  Following thus, her 7 year term in 2004.

It also references the disenfranchised town of Bapong – North West South Africa, and the millions that they stood to gain in mining rights after 1994, but yet to experience any direct benefit into their community, from these supposedly vast profits.

“Corruption derails efforts to improve the quality of life for everyone”  (Thuli Mandosela).

An extremely articulate, well-educated and softy spoken woman,  yet with an innate power within.  Thuli Mandosela proves she is not a person to back down, even when those in power try to denounce the honesty and transparency of her findings.  Case in point; when President Jacob Zuma, with his air of invincibility along with his supporters, try to derail her work.  Using suggestions of association with the ‘White Monopoly Capital” in attempt to deflect the focus from his own scandalous business associations

Thuli is dedicated to her career and to her calling, in a country where the basic needs of it’s people are barely met; food, housing and education.  Accountability is pivotal to her position and the respect that she coincidentally gains is evident, when towards the end of her term, there is a fear among it’s less fortunate citizens, that their personal plight/cases will not be fairly heard without her representation.  Considering the strained history of this country and the continuing social and racial prejudice, theirs is an anxiety that one can vehemently understand.

‘Whispering Truth To Power’  also provides us with a glimpse into her family life; and her children Wantu and Wenzile.  Allowing them to describe their own perception of their mother and the incredible media interest that she holds to the public, as well as how  that impacts them personally.   It also touches on Thuli’s own self-image as a youth and her somewhat blighted perception, to how she perceives herself now …

Moments of humour are felt when her son Wantu and friend laughingly joke about his mother’s soft demeanor and loll voice, the film then also delves into her own daughter’s interest in politics and her opinions regarding this.  A subject very relevant to the foundations of this film, as it outlines the racial conflict still prevalent in universities today in South Africa, regarding inequality and the right to free education for it’s people.

The film then leads us into the final days of Mandosela’s term as ‘Protector of the Public’.  The highly anticipated and publicized release of her ‘Legacy Report’ (also know as the ‘State of Capture’ report).  Emotions are high, as is the social and political unrest of the country.

Those who are abreast of the political status of South Africa, will be aware that this report led to the inexorable resignation of President Jacob Zuma.  Yet the film is necessary to understand the absence of morality in many of our political constitutions today, and the importance of women in power, like Mandosela, in exposing the criminal activity within a corrupt parliament, and in turn bringing justice back to it’s country’s people without violence and without threat.

“Corruption is a cancer that erodes everything that is good”. (Thuli Mandosela).

***4 Stars!

‘Whispering Truth To Power’ –  is showing at the following times in Auckland as part of the Doc Edge Festival 2018:

Loft / Sat 26 May, 9:30PM
Rangatira / Sun 27 May, 9:45AM

 

 

DocEdge 17 | This Air is a Material

New Zealand | 2016 | 49 min | English | Becky Nunes

Ann Shelton, originally from Timaru, is one of New Zealands foremost female photojournalists; Her hyper-real large-scale works blur the lines between documentary and fine art photography, and have received international acclaim.

‘This Air is a Material’ provides wondeful insight into Ann Shelton’s vast bodies of work, with input from other industry professionals (artists, writers, etc.) whom provide further observations (some full of wisdom) in regards to her work. Driven by Becky Nunes (Photographer and Director), ‘This Air is a Material’ pays close attention to many finer details, and delves into Shelton’s work thoroughly, notably the historical and conceptual importance of said work.

Relevant to any creative – especially those in New Zealand – I would highly reccomend this for your DocEdge 17 shortlist.

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The 12th DocEdge Festival takes place Auckland 24 May – 5 June – www.docedge.nz

DocEdge 17 | The Last Laugh

Is it ever acceptable to make jokes about a real tragedy? This is the question at the heart of Ferne Pearlstein’s documentary The Last Laugh, which focuses on humour and the Holocaust. The documentary includes interviews with a range of comedians, directors and actors, from the legendary Mel Brooks to Judy Gold, Carl Reiner and Sarah Silverman. It also explores a number of musicals, films and skits that address the Holocaust in a comedic light. Examining the fine line between bad taste and successful comedy, the documentary pushes viewers to consider the concept of free speech in our increasingly PC world

To clarify one thing, in no way is The Last Laugh trying to claim that the Holocaust itself is funny. “But survival, and what it takes to survive…there can be humour in that,” Reiner points out. Furthermore, humour can be an avenue for coping with trauma: “it’s a way of dealing with an unbearable reality,” writer Etgar Keret says. “It’s a way of protesting [and] keeping your dignity.” Is it then simply a matter of time that makes it acceptable to joke about extreme tragedy? Does time make a difference, or will it never be okay? “You cannot forget,” claims one survivor at the Holocaust Survivors Convention in Las Vegas. “The shadow is following me all my life.” To her, and several others at the convention, it is wrong and deeply offensive to joke about the Holocaust. However as Renee Firestone, another survivor who features throughout the documentary, notes, you have to learn to live your life away from the shadow. Mentioning her three great-grandchildren she laughs, claiming “that’s my revenge” against Hitler.

Does this mean it is then a question of who can tell a story? Is it acceptable for Jewish survivors to joke about the Holocaust, but implausible for anyone else? The documentary looks at other examples to broaden the scope of the argument, comparing the situation to 9/11, the aids epidemic, slavery and white supremacy. It’s certainly thought-provoking, begging the question that, in a world of supposed free speech, are the people who have experienced a tragedy the only ones qualified to publicly address it?

Regardless, the interviewees all agree on the difficulty of joking about such a tragic historical moment. There is far more pressure for risky comedy of this nature to be humorous, Gold claims. “You can’t tell a crappy joke about the biggest tragedy in the world!” Despite the risk, Silverman believes that comedy should be used as a way of contemplating devastating occurrences. “It’s important to talk about things that are taboo,” she says. “Otherwise they just stay in this dark place and they become dangerous.” By discussing a topic only through education, museums and other ‘acceptable’ channels, do we lose sight of its importance and relegate it to a thing of the past? Perhaps. The Last Laugh will make you consider all of the above questions and then some. Maybe, however, we should just maintain Reiner’s personal view: “I don’t have a philosophy about it,” he states. “I just know that it’s a lot more fun to laugh than not to laugh.”

 

The 12th DocEdge Festival takes place Auckland 24 May – 5 June – www.docedge.nz

DocEdge 17 | Bugs

Bugs, directed by Andreas Johnson, follows researcher Josh Evans, chef Ben Reade and chef Roberto Flore of the Nordic Food Lab for The Insect Project as they travel the globe discovering edible insects and the delicious ways to prepare them.

From termites in Kenya, to maggot-infested cheese (casu marzu) in Italy, to ant eggs (escamole) in Mexico and even wasps in Japan, Bugs takes you on a journey full of extraordinary delicacies.

The documentary treats its subject with sensitivity and respect. As the people from The Insect Project embark on their unusual culinary adventure, they don’t use eating insects as a mere stunt for the camera or an entertainment opportunity to laugh like tourists at the “weird” things that others eat. They make it plain that these insects are an integral part of an entire culture and way of life.

Bugs does a good job of showing the inner conflict of the people behind The Insect Project as they wrestle with wanting to bring more attention to insects as a food source while knowing that their work will also help corporations exploit a new protein source unsustainably. This is a key point of difference for Bugs to other documentaries or videos that I have watched about edible insects as a potential solution to world hunger – it fights to include sustainability as part of the discourse and calls into question methods of production or collection.

Josh Evans leaves you with a thought-provoking question at the end of the documentary – is it really that there is not enough food in the world or is the big issue equality of access to food instead?

Bugs is an interesting documentary that raises complex moral and cultural issues about the food we consume and the system that produces it.

 

The 12th DocEdge Festival takes place in Wellington 10-21 May and Auckland 24 May – 5 June – www.docedge.nz

 

 

 

 

DocEdge 17 | The Pulitzer at 100

Kirk Simon’s documentary The Pulitzer at 100 explores the legacy of the Pulitzer Prize a century on from its origin. The Pulitzer Prize is a prestigious award for high achievement in literature, journalism, photography, drama and music, with yearly prizes awarded in twenty one classes. On his death, newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer donated his fortune to Columbia University to create an award recognising extraordinary artistic and journalistic skill, and in 1917 the Pulitzer Prize was established. For 100 years, it has endured as the utmost level of merit. “The Pulitzer stands on integrity and a standard, it’s a standard of excellence”, says Wynton Marsalis, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1997.

The documentary consists of interviews with a large range of award recipients, from musicians such as John Adams and David Crosby, to journalists ranging from Carl Bernstein to David Remnick, to writers including Toni Morrison and Tony Kushner. The recipients discuss their award-winning work and explain what receiving a Pulitzer Prize means to them and their career. As they describe the “humbling” and “emboldening” effect of being given such an award, Simons examines their skill, guts and commitment. The interviews are intertwined with readings of famous literature by respected actors, such as a passage from Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence by Helen Mirren. We are also shown several of the recipients at work, for example Marsalis playing a captivating tune on the saxophone.

While the documentary does touch on some of the history behind the Pulitzer Prize, its primary focus is the people who won it and what their individual stories reveal about history. Ultimately, The Pulitzer at 100 asserts that the Pulitzer Prizes are historical artefacts that reveal valuable information about the American society and culture from which they sprung. “We can trace American history by looking at the prizes that have been given over the years,” Roy J. Harris Jr., author of Pulitzer’s Gold, explains. Indeed, examining the long list of awards displays a clear trend in historical importance: the awards all connect to significant historical moments, from World War One and the Great Depression to the Civil Rights Movement and the Cold War. As such, this is an important documentary because it not only acknowledges the talent of some of the world’s most influential people, but chronicles ground-breaking moments in our history.

 

The 12th DocEdge Festival takes place Auckland 24 May – 5 June – www.docedge.nz

DocEdge 17 | 78/52

78/52, directed by Alexandre O. Philippe, is without doubts one of the best documentaries I have ever seen. If you love horror, Alfred Hitchcock, or just film in general, this one is for you.

The documentary focuses on the massive impact that the iconic shower scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho had on the rest of cinema and pop culture. The casual observer will notice countless odes to it in other films – even The Simpsons tips its animated hat to the scene. It features interviews with Marli Renfro (Janet Leigh’s body double for Psycho), Hitchcock’s granddaughter, and many notable names such as Jamie Lee Curtis (Janet Leigh’s daughter and a scream queen legend herself), Elijah Wood, Danny Elfman, Guillermo del Toro, Eli Roth and more.

The passion and deep respect that these famous figures of cinema from all areas of the profession have for this particular scene is clear, absorbing and contagious.

78/52 is a documentary that, like its subject, has put a lot of thought into its aesthetic and the atmosphere it creates for the viewer. It begins with the scene of Janet Leigh’s character, Marion Crane, driving in the pouring rain to her fate at The Bates Motel. The slashing of windscreen wipers foreshadows what is to come. The documentary continues themes from Psycho, such as showing many of the interviews in black and white, against old-fashioned patterned wallpaper, or interspersed with foreboding music.

Every facet of the shower scene and its significance for the films that came after it is dissected in great detail – the symbolism, the unique way it was edited, the portrayal of violence towards a female body, sin and retribution, and of course the legendary musical score and cue by composer Bernard Herrmann.

Psycho was a film ahead of its time, not only because it did the unspeakable and killed off the main character early. The horror movie staple of the dramatic string ensemble music that immediately causes your heartbeat to quicken and tells you that something bad is about to happen was perfected in this shower scene.

In 1895, the Lumière brothers showed a film called Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat. Nothing like it had been seen before. The film showed exactly what its title promised, and legend has it that the audience was so terrified they ran over each other trying to escape the theatre, because they thought the train on the screen was actually coming at them. The first horror film was born. This is arguably what Psycho did for its own generation of film – its innovation was managing to put you into the place of the protagonist so that you feel the absolute horror of being stabbed in the sanctity of the bathroom. Hitchcock let you know that no space was safe anymore.

Watching 78/52 is a beautiful way to learn more about a piece of cinematic history.

 

The 12th DocEdge Festival takes place in Wellington 10-21 May and Auckland 24 May – 5 June – www.docedge.nz