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Claus Mueller


Claus Mueller is a Film Festival Ambassador to filmfestivals.com

He is based in New York where he covers the festival scene.


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New York: Doc Fortnight 2019

Held from February 21st to the 28th at  MoMA, The Museum of Modern Art, the 18th edition of Doc Fortnight presented 17 documentary features, continuing its annual program of the best innovative international nonfiction films.  Except for one film from 2017 and one from 2019, the productions selected were from 2018.  Most of the films chosen were directed by female film makers and covered universal issues including stories from the Middle East, Latin America, Asia, Europe, and the United States. Many of the films had clear political messages. Some of the themes addressed were film making, the impact of civil wars on survivors, the legacies of Israel’s history on long term residents in Jerusalem, the meaning of life when facing death,  erasure of a large Gaza family by the  military, and the impact of cancer.  Innovative film making could be found in most of the productions, with only a few following a linear narrative approach.  There were original combinations of images and sound, juxtapositions of the exile experience through contrasting visual and auditory means, representation of a country’s human landscape through a multitude of brief images staged by a director, the use of poetry, relocation, and the shifting of time and space as well as original integration of photorealistic video and animation. 

Among the noteworthy films were documentations of the deep wounds left by political conflicts. The Israeli film LAND MINE by Tirtza Even is an outstanding experimental portrait of residents still living in an apartment building in Jerusalem while former neighbors and tenants from their old firmly bonded resident community are gone. We meet them and their descendants through interviews, learn the history they experienced over the last years sixty years, and realize the devastating impact of political struggles and wars. This microcosm of society and its issues is reflected in the past and present tenants of the building where the filmmaker grew up.

The French Italian documentary SAMOUNI ROAD by Stefano Savona dissects how 29 members of an extended Palestinian family were killed in January of 2009 during an Israeli military operation in a farming section of Gaza City that also resulted in the death of 19 other people. Using black and white animation, video recordings, family mementos, and extensive interviews with remaining family members, the filmmaker was able to reconstruct what happened. The veracity of the more than 18,000 drawings used in SAMOUNI ROAD and of the computer animated drone images of the attack and its aftermath was verified through extensive research. Without this research, Savona would not have been able to raise the funds for the production that took close to ten years to complete. A survivor of the bombing that had been left for dead was a principal anchor of the film. We meet through her the surviving members of her family in their everyday life and work, and obtain a deeper understanding of the socio-political context the family has been embedded in. The people who returned to the destroyed Samouni section just want to be farmers and want nothing to do with Hamas or other political groups political. Their rejection of Israel has not abated and their resilience, surviving against all odds, is admirable. Savona’s film impressively integrates several media techniques alongside a subdued narrative approach. Sorrow for the victims of the massacre is evoked and admiration for the survivors, rather than hate for an enemy.

CHINESE PORTRAIT by Wang Xiaoshuai is a great example of non-fiction film making. The film has no narration and conveys in a persuasive manner the diversity of Chinese people. Wang’s lens captures the Chinese in their everyday life through an assemblage of hundreds of brief segments Wang has recorded over the last 10 years, first on celluloid, and more recently with digital cameras.  He is a well-known director with awards from the Berlin, Cannes, Locarno and other film festivals and his CHINESE PORTRAIT is radical departure from his narrative features.  Wang’s title for the Chinese release of the film is MY LENS, and through Wang’s lens we see traffic scenes, work on nets by fisherman, people having lunch, factory workers, a closed steel mill, kids, monks, a train, construction woke, harvesting potatoes, exam taking students, musicians in a parking lot, and much more.  At the end of the film there is a scene of people eating in a restaurant with two seemingly frozen individuals staring into the camera, a staging device which Wang used for many other segments. From comments he made, his camera served as a paint brush, providing the purest forms of image as he also sought have the purest sound possible. In this film Wang destroys any narrative sequence. The totality of the segments images convey industrial wasteland and city scenes, but also rural and farming areas, with the multitude of people living there, shown as individuals in small groups.  Chinese entertainment films cannot convey Wang’s view of China as CHINESE PORTRAIT does.  For Wang Chinese fictional filmmaking does not capture reality, and a record of the vastly changing China has to be provided, from what lies below the surface to what is beyond affluence. His realism does not allow for compromise.

 

Claus Mueller   filmexchange@gmail.com

 

 

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