For his debut documentary feature Campaign (2007), Kazuhiro Soda followed the city council election campaign of Yamauchi Kazuhiko in Kawasaki, 2005. Though with no political background/experience, Yamauchi was backed by the powerful Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and so managed to win a seat in the city council on behalf of the LDP. In Campaign 2, Soda accompanies Yamauchi again during another campaign just a few days after he decides to run for office in his home district of Miyamae, Kawasaki, and after twenty-plus days had passed since the Fukushima nuclear reactor catastrophe in March 2011. This time, however, Yamauchi is no longer affiliated with the LDP. He is an independent, nonpartisan candidate; and that is the way he wants it. Similar to Yamauchi’s character but in terms of documentary style, Soda presents an independent and keen, but also droll eye on the proceedings. The film’s subtitle, ‘Observational Film #5,’ is descriptive of Soda’s preferred documentary approach, although in truth he is more observational and participatory since he does not efface himself from the film and instead interacts with people. Armed with the help of Yamauchi and some of his opponents (among them, rather involuntarily), Soda produces a truly perceptive and candid slice-of-life of Japanese local politics and election protocol, and such a pleasurable one that makes its 150-minute running time an effortless watch.
The Seventh Walk is a wistful and beautiful voyage into the world of dreams and the creative process by experimental filmmaker Amit Dutta. It is set entirely in the popular tourist landscape of the Kangra Valley and based on the art of landscape painter Paramjit Singh. In fact, Singh appears in the film as a dreamer-artist whom we follow ever deeper into a forest. What we find in the forest with Singh is a place where time operates differently; in the midst of nature, mythical time reigns and storytelling is the act of dreaming.
For his debut feature-length documentary, British journalist and filmmaker Peter Snowdon constructs a dazzling and moving timeline of an imaginary revolution in the Middle East. But the footage that Snowdon used to imagine this revolution-that-will-be-televised is based entirely from the plethora of amateur videos uploaded to YouTube and/or Facebook during the actual revolutions that swept across Middle Eastern countries from late 2010 to 2012. These videos were shot by people who were in the eye of the storm of these revolutions—in Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen, specifically—and so provide a very immersive perspective of them as they transpired. From this remarkable array of videos Snowdon builds an audiovisual document of an imagined pan-Arab revolution. For he does not identify the videos in terms of location or date (at least, not until the closing credits), thereby presenting a seamless series of events that transcends geographical borders. This lack of specificity echoes the film’s generic title.
The English title of Kim Dong-ryung and Park Kyoung-tae’s latest documentary effort makes one think immediately of soldiers and their time of service. In this sense, the title is painfully ironic. The film’s Korean title, The Land of Spiders, is more ambiguous and provocative with regards to its subject. ‘The Land of Spiders’ is a more appropriate entry point to the film’s opening shots of lush vegetation, shade against sunlight, a set of abandoned buildings among the growth. An interior shot follows: rays of light pierce through the window of one of the decrepit buildings. This ‘Land of Spiders’ is silent, depopulated, and seemingly left to ruin and oblivion. In actuality, the film presents the lives of three women who had been prostitutes in a now ghost American military camp town and surrounding village in Gyeonggi Province, during the decades following the Korean War (1950-1953). Filmmakers Kim and Park collaborate with Park Myo-yeon, Park In-soon, and Ahn Sung-ja to speak of scarred minds and bodies in the face of silence and remember in the face of forgetting.
During the latter half of the 1920s, a genre of avant-garde/experimental filmmaking emerged devoted to capturing the modern, urban city’s bustling movement of people and machines. Regarded as ‘city symphonies,’ films such as Rien que les heures (1926, Alberto Cavalcanti), Berlin: Symphony of a City (1927, Walter Ruttmann), Man With a Movie Camera (1929, Dziga Vertov), Rain (1929, Joris Ivens/Mannus Franken), and their precursor Manhatta (1921, Paul Strand/Charles Sheeler) present poetic impressions of a city, with the city and oftentimes its industrial development as the main character over individuals. They are also driven more by a visual musical rhythm, formal experimentation, and lyrical tone than explanation or rhetorical persuasion.
Gonçalo Tocha’s latest documentary is set in Vila Chã, Portugal, supposedly the only place in the world where professional fisherwomen (known as the arrais) worked and captained fishing boats. Tocha begins his look at this little known history precisely by talking about how little known it is: he finds only two articles devoted to these women in 1980. Then, one must look further back to 1942 to find another article. In this way, Tocha sets up the gap in history and the documentary’s objective to fill in this historical lacuna.
But apart from the voiceover and introduction to present the subject, the rest of the film takes on a blend of the poetic and observational, with hints of self-reflexivity to remind the spectator that the film is a film shot from a personal perspective. Self-reflexive scenes of the crew shooting footage by the sea and the camera on a tripod propped up on the sand are unexpected, given the nature of the prologue and its emphasis on official documentation (or lack thereof) of this particular history. But they bridge the prologue and the film proper to establish the personal piercing through the historical. The film moves from the objective to the subjective, from the official written record, which is little to none, to the informal oral record, which is rich and varied. A majority of the film constitutes everyday scenes and elements of a persisting (albeit dwindling) fishing life and casual discussions amongst the elder inhabitants. The film thus presents a more spatial, spoken, and performative representation of the history of these fisherwomen, in the space of the town, the sea, and the rocks; the staged, painting-like conversations and memories exchanged; and the actions of catching fish and plant life, instead of the more frequent approach of facts and talking heads.
When a film takes place in one specific space without leaving its premises, the intention is often to concentrate on character, suspense, and the emotion and dynamics of human interaction, sometimes developing along a sadomasochistic, Sartrean way to elaborate that ‘hell is other people.’ Part of this intention is also to make this insular world a microcosm of the society in which the characters find themselves, a consequence of that society and hence the characters’ enclosure and isolation from the rest of the population. Some examples that immediately come to mind for being singular in their site-specificity are Cría cuervos (1976, Carlos Saura) and La ciénaga (2001, Lucrecia Martel).