Tag Archives: documentary

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 | Inside the Chinese Closet

Insidethechinesecloset

China | Mandarin / English | 2015 | 72 min | Feature film | Sophia Luvarà

Inside the Chinese Closet is a look into the life and struggle of what it means to be Chinese and Gay in a modern society, bound by the social and cultural expectations of family. It focuses on two contrasting situations; Andy lives in urban Shanghai, and is searching for a lesbian psuedo-wife of convenience to bear his child and appease his family. Socially active, with a calm self-confidence, he is challenged by these social constructs; although his father may to accept his lifestyle to a degree – it is still referred to as ‘his issue’, and something to solve. His journey explores his options, including IVF, surrogates & adoption.

Cherry is a different personality entirely. From countryside China; she is emotionally sombre, and possibly procrastinating when it comes to the task of actually procuring a child. Many complications prolong the process, to the very apparent frustration of her parents. Her Father especially seems to rule with an iron fist, while her endearing Mother tries to understand her daughters homosexuality (and fails).

What I came to realise early on is that there is a real sense of unity in China’s Gay community, as their situation is unique, and they are stuck in this in-between place; a forward moving, industrious China vs. cultural tradition. Andy and Cherry are very real people; Sophia Luvarà illustrates this with beauty and sensitivity.

I would highly recommend adding ‘Inside the Chinese Closet’ to your view-list, premiering in New Zealand this May at the DocEdge Film Festival. Get your tickets HERE.

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

DocEdge 16 | Miners Shot Down

rsz_miners_shot_down

The opening sequence features a hail of bullets, followed by rising smoke and dust, briefly camouflaging the bodies of dead and injured miners strewn on the ground. The documentary Miners Shot Down, directed by Rehad Deshai, is a haunting, moving and informative account of the Marikana massacre that took place in 2012– the deadliest protesting clash with police to occur in South Africa since the Sharpville massacre during the darkest days of Apartheid.

The bluntness of the documentary title speaks to the weight of the event – thirty-four miners were killed unnecessarily. Despite repeated communications from miners that they had no wish to fight, the intent of the police force and the politicians that controlled them are laid bare. Before the fight even begins, the police order four trucks from a nearby morgue. After the fight, footage can be seen of policemen bragging about the shooting skill it took to take down the miners.

Miners Shot Down is not an emotive compilation without direction or substance. The documentary contains clips from the Marikana Commission of Inquiry and enlightening interviews with key figures from the event such as Lonmin Mining director and Deputy President of the ruling political party (the African National Congress) Cyril Ramaphosa, mining strike leaders Tholakele Delunga and Mzoxolo Magidiwana, and Pulitzer award winning photojournalist Greg Marinovich. These are interviews that would never be shown on public television in South Africa, given that the South African Broadcasting Corporation is firmly controlled by the government.

Miners Shot Down above all portrays a story of political betrayal. Apartheid has ended, but the majority of black South African citizens are still living in poverty, fighting for a living wage. The struggle heroes who had once rallied miners and organised strikes against Apartheid, but who are now wealthy politicians in the African National Congress (ANC), had abandoned those they fought with and sanctioned the police brutality against the miners. The ANC, who had liberated South Africa from Apartheid, had turned into the oppressors they had deposed. The documentary depicts a major turning point for the young democracy of South Africa. The battle for equality and freedom, both economical and political, is not yet won.

New Zealand’s history has its own memories of Apartheid in South Africa, having been part of the worldwide protests against it. If you enjoy history and global politics, this documentary is ideal and will remind you to never stop fighting for what you believe in.

Buy tickets to see it here.

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

seen | The day that changed my life

TDTCML

I went into this film with a sense of foreboding that only someone about to watch death can.  The Day That Changed My Life starts my showing scenes of the earthquake hitting Christchurch on February 22nd, this imagery is always bound to bring out tense feelings, wondering if the person in front of you will live or die in these few moments on camera.

The overall story is told from the viewpoints of several different people, using real footage from a press videographer that isn’t in the public domain. The first story is shot moments after the quake as both the cameraman and the Christchurch Press journalist on screen try to maintain their composure; they of course fail in the face of such a calamity. Seeing their own friends injured or dying during the aftermath.

A second viewpoint is told from the point of view of an ambulance officer whom on the day was helping lead the Latimer Square trauma centre. His tale is both inspiring because of the leadership role he took and devastating because of the decisions he had to make. Of course resources were constrained during the time of crisis and listening to this decision maker telling you how he had to let people die for the greater good is no easy task.

This documentary is well worth a watch for anyone and really does a good job of conveying the emotion of the moment to the viewer; one might find themselves holding back a tear during the final scenes.  Buy tickets here.