Tag Archives: Doc Edge Festival

DocEdge 17 | This Air is a Material

This_Air_Is_A_Material_WEBUSE

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

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

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

pulitzer

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

Psycho

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

 

 

DocEdge 16 | A Billion Lives

A billion lives

The documentary A Billion Lives is the satirical novel-turned-movie Thank You for Smoking brought to life.

Director Aaron Biebert turns a microscope on the history of the tobacco industry, from it’s obscure roots as a ceremonial cleanser used only by Incan priests to the massive leap in popularity during the industrial revolution that turned tobacco into the mushroom cloud estimated to cause a billion people to die early this century.

More than a boring timeline of history though, A Billion Lives delves into the politics, corruption and dirty spin tactics of the fight to keep the public addicted to smoking. The documentary features illuminating interviews with former Executive Director of the World Health Organisation Derek Yach and former President of the World Medical Association Dr. Delon Human, which reveal that even in the early twentieth century studies from the tobacco companies themselves demonstrated that cigarettes were causing death.

Particularly interesting is the interview with David Goerlitz, the man who was the face of Winston Tobacco for years, but became an outspoken opponent of tobacco when his older brother died of cancer. Goerlitz provides an inside look at the massive marketing machine that is Big Tobacco and the vulnerable segments of the population that they targeted. A hint at damning information the tobacco companies were hiding can be surmised from Goerlitz recalling the day he realised that none of the senior tobacco executives smoked. When he asked why, they replied, “We don’t smoke the shit, we just sell it!”

The second half of the documentary focuses on vaping, the revolutionary new alternative to smoking. While Hon Lik, the inventor of vaping, discusses his hopefulness that the invention will save lives, the documentary goes on to investigate in detail all the misinformation being spread about vaping being harmful. A Billion Lives reveals that the anti-vaping lobbies are all funded by companies, and even governments, who have substantial interests in the money made from tobacco.

Public health comes second to capitalism in this documentary that encourages you to question the information you are sold.

The 11th DocEdge Festival takes place in Wellington 4-15 May and Auckland 18-29 May www.docedge.nz

DocEdge 16 | Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise

Maya Angelou

From the opening scene, this documentary captivates. Viewers are confronted with a mash-up of black and white images and video clips from key moments in the African American Civil Rights Movement of the Twentieth Century – the lynching of fourteen year old Emmett Till, who was murdered for whistling at a white woman in Mississippi, the Greensboro sit-in of 1960, Rosa Parks riding a bus, President Obama and more. It is instantly powerful, and just as captivating for those who know little or nothing about the movement or Angelou.

The first documentary about Angelou, And Still I Rise covers the iconic African American’s life chronologically. Directors Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn Whack seamlessly blend together filmed footage, rare photos and commentaries from those who had known Angelou to create a coherent and interesting film. What is best about this documentary is that Angelou herself is given the primary voice – having only passed away in 2014, Angelou was able to tell her life story first, so we get to hear it in her own words. In a way, this is Angelou’s departing gift to us all – for as those that knew her declare, she was not just a poet, an author, a singer or an actress, but a storyteller.

Angelou’s story beings as a young child in Los Angeles. When her parents separated, Angelou and her brother were put on a train and sent to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. “It was terrible rejection,” Angelou remembers, and goes on to describe life in the South as a young African American girl. Angelou’s childhood was dominated by abuse, both racial and sexual. The Ku Klux Klan made regular visits to the village, and at just seven years old she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. Her attacker’s subsequent murder caused Angelou to become mute for five years, certain that her speaking out was the reason for his death. At sixteen, she became pregnant, and after giving birth to a son, Guy, Angelou began to dance and sing in bars to earn money.

Poetry was next on the cards, and Angelou’s literary journey saw her move to Harlem, the African American cultural hub of New York. During the fifties and sixties Angelou met many famous and influential African Americans, including poet Langston Hughes, author James Baldwin, and civil rights activists Martin Luther King Junior and Malcolm X. Angelou describes her respect for both King and X, praising their different approaches to black equality. Angelou worked with the New York branch of King’s organisation the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and later became an advocate for X’s black nationalist rhetoric after meeting him in Ghana. “I loved him so much,” she recalls, recounting her devastation at his assassination in 1965 and King’s just three years later.

The year after King’s assassination, Angelou’s first autobiography was published. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings covers the early years of Angelou’s life and went on to become hugely successful. She was the first female African American to write about her experiences in such a way, opening the door on ‘hidden’ issues like sexual abuse which many young black girls had experienced.

And Still I Rise covers the next decades of Angelou’s life, during which time she continued writing, acting and speaking, and also married and later divorced British author Paul de Feu. In 1993, Bill Clinton asked Angelou to write a poem for his presidential inauguration. Angelou’s poem, On the Pulse of the Morning, was “an eternal gift to America,” Clinton remarks. “And it’ll read well a hundred years from now.”

When Angelou died in 2014, she left a mark on everyone who had ever met her. It was not just the films she had starred in or directed, the poems and books she had written or the songs she had sung, but her demeanour, her personality and the vision she had shared. There was no one like her, this documentary asserts – and there won’t be another. As actress and friend of Angelou, Alfre Woodard says, “nobody is guna talk like she talked, and nobody is guna walk like she walked.” Do yourself a favour and watch this documentary so you can understand why.

 

The 11th DocEdge Festival takes place in Wellington 4-15 May and Auckland 18-29 May – www.docedge.nz