December 13, 2013
DocBuenosAires fest kicks off today
While throughout the year some remarkable local documentaries have been released (think Ulises Rossell’s El etnógrafo, Martín Oesterheld’s La multitud, or Rolando Goldman’s and Julián Troksberg’s Simón, el hijo del pueblo), the truth is that there should be more screens for such a rich genre. Granted there are the documentaries you can see at festivals such as the Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema (BAFICI) or the Mar del Plata Film Festival. And there are also those regularly screened at the Sala Lugones too, plus a couple of other art houses. But that’s as far as it goes.
However, here comes the year’s most anticipated event: the DocBsAs, running October 17 to 26, a forum for documentary production which has been getting better and better since its first edition in 2001. This year’s edition features ten sections: Special Screenings; Past, Present; Claire Simon x 2; J.P. Sniadecki; New Voices, Other Places; Ten Years for the Sundance Documentary Fund; Jean Rouch; Five Latin-American Premières; and Two Argentine Premières.
The opening night feature is Human geography (Géographie humaine), by French filmmaker Claire Simon, who will present the film and give a master class. Simon’s new film takes place at Gare du Nord in Paris, a transit station for those coming from the suburbs, the provinces or abroad; and it features a series of brief meetings with people who recount their lives in just a few words before disappearing to take their trains.
The other film by Claire Simon is Gare du Nord, which gathers several actors (Nicole García among them) and places them in the same train station. Just like in Géographie humaine, the film connects snippets of conversations with people from Gare du Nord (train workers, salesmen, employees) as their stories, scripted by Simon, are intertwined with the stories of the social actors scripted by life itself.
Another prominent guest of the festival, who will give a master class and present his two new films, People’s Park and Yumen, is US director J.P. Sniadecki. Co-directed with Libbie Cohn, People’s Park focuses on a walk through the park: it’s a walk like no other since it presents the vivid reality of an urban park, the People’s Park in Chengdu, in one continuous 75-minute long tracking shot. The kind of cinematic magic that renders reality even more real.
As for Yumen, expect an experimental twist on ethnographic documentaries as the filmmakers visit the Chinese town of Yumen, a once-thriving, oil-rich community in the 1980s that has become ruined and forgotten. Sniadecki’s striking opus tells the story of this ghost town through a series of wandering characters and inventive vignettes.
The sections “Special Screenings” and “Past, Present” gather some of the latest documentaries from consecrated filmmakers such as Claude Lanzmann, Wang Bing, Nicolas Philibert, Jean-Marie Straub, Avi Mograbi, Thomas Heise, Helena Tøeštíková, Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci-Lucchi (among others).
Take Till Madness Do Us Part, by Hong Kong’s Wang Bing, recently featured at the Mostra de Venecia and the Toronto Film Festival. Bing’s most touching documentary is shot with a very unobtrusive HD camera, and focuses on the everyday life at an isolated and run down mental asylum in China.
From France, there’s Radio House (La Maison de la radio), by Nicolas Philibert, which features 24 hours at Radio France, from one dawn to another.
Another work not to be missed is Jean-Luc Godard. Disorder Exposed ((Jean-Luc Godard, le désordre exposé; France/Switzerland), by Céline Gailleurd and Olivier Bohler. Producer and director André S. Labarthe searches for what’s left of an exhibition that took place six years ago: Voyage(s) en utopie, an installation by Jean-Luc Godard at the Centre Pompidou. In so doing, he begins a most engaging, thought-provoking tour. Films, archive footage and interviews are combined, proposing new readings of the most essential aspects of Godard’s cinema.
En The Last of the Unjust (Le dernier des injustes), Claude Lanzmann focuses his relentless political gaze on an infamous place: Theresienstadt, a unique place of propaganda which Adolf Eichmann called the “model ghetto,” designed to mislead the world and Jewish people regarding its real nature, the last step before the gas chamber. Released more than twenty-five years after Shoah, Lanzmann’s latest film reveals a little-known yet fundamental aspect of the Holocaust, and sheds light on the origins of the “final solution” like never before.
Once I Entered a Garden (Nichnasti pa'am lagan), by Israeli director Avi Mograbi, begins with a dream the filmmaker had about the possibility of meeting his grandfather in front of their house in Damascus in 1920. To make his dream come true, Mograbi starts collaborating with his Arabic teacher, Ali al-Azhari, an internal refugee who has lived most of his adult life in Tel Aviv with his Jewish wife and daughter Yasmin.
Consequence (Gegenwart), by Germany’s Thomas Heise, is a detached, deadpan account of a behind-the-scenes operations at a small-town German crematorium. Never veering into misery or self-pity, and with minimal dialogue, Heise presents a cool, resonant, sobering meditation on the passing of life. Many saw in Consequence the German’s director masterpiece. Yet another must-see is the French production About a Summer, by Peruvian filmmaker Hernán Rivera Mejía, which consists of a series of interviews of the main protagonists in Jean Rouch’s Chronicle of a Summer, the first experience in cinema verité as well as most original piece to set new trends in documentary filmmaking.
The sections “Swiss Perspective” and “New voices, other places” are spots for young and promising filmmakers and include award-winning features that have been privileged inclusions at the festivals of Visions du Réel (Nyon) and Cinéma du Réel (Centre Pompidou, Paris). To accompany the presentation of his films, film director Thomas Ammann will be present, along with Argentine producer Eugenia Mumenthaler (Abrir puertas y ventanas).
As if all this weren’t enough, there’s also room for five Latin American and two Argentine documentaries. From Chile, there’s El otro día (The Other Day), by Ignacio Aguero, a meditation on the notions of interior spaces (the filmmaker’s home) and exteriors (the street), and on the many crossovers between the two.
Requiem NN, by Colombian Juan Manuel Echavarría, explores the town of Puerto Berrío, where for more than 30 years the people have rescued bodies or body parts of victims of violence thrown into the river. Also from Colombia, Don Ca, by Patricia Ayala Ruiz, is the portrayal of a complex man, the heir of the best and the worst of Colombian society, who decided to turn his life into a cry for freedom. Then there’s Carrière, 250 metros, by Mexican Juan Carlos Rulfo, a portrayal of Jean-Claude Carriére, a script writer and a playwright who worked with Buñuel on several occasions. Finally, Escuchar el río: Una escultura sonora de Cildo Meireles, by Brazilian Marcela Lordy, which aims at the different possibilities to register plastic artist Cildo Meireles and his team recording the sounds of the river.
Last but by not least, two never seen before Argentine documentaries: Totém, by Franca González, focuses on Canadian Stan Hunt, a wood carver who works on the most important project of his entire life, a 14-metre-high totem which will traverse 15,000 km by ship to reach the River Plate. Then there’s Pescado rabioso, una utopía incurable, by Lidia Milani, which concerns the reencounter of the musical band after some 38 years at the concert “Spinetta y las bandas eternas” on December 4, 2009.
The festival takes place at the Lugones Auditorium within Teatro San Martín, Cine Arte Multiplex, Alliance Française, Fundación Proa , and Universidad del Museo Social Argentino. It is organized by Asociación Civil DocBsAs, Complejo Teatral de Buenos Aires, Fundación Cinemateca Argentina, Institut Français d'Argentine, the French Embassy, Fundación Proa, Alliance Française, Goethe Institut, the Swiss Embassy, the Chilean Embassy, the Canadian Embassy, the FUC, and the INCAA.