Documentaries beyond prizes, for a “metamorphosis” of reality

In the last months I have been lucky to watch many documentaries. I did it not just to take inspiration from the films of others, because I’m editing the images I shot in Spain for my film project Flamenco sin Fronteras (www.flamencosinfronteras.net). I did it because I am increasingly convinced that there are real characters and stories that are important to know and let me tell you some documentaries that have the ability to tell them.

In the last weeks, I arrived at the 31th Torino Film Festival (from 22nd to 30th November 2013) with a pair of crutches for a little accident and although not all the movie theatres were accessible to people with disabilities and in spite of the complicated system of access to screenings, I could also see some documentaries in the rich festival program, which now includes all kinds of films. Even beyond the prized (all prizes here: www.torinofilmfest.org/?action=article&id=427), among all I would like to recommend “El lugar de las fresas” (The place of strawberries, Italy/Spain, 2013) by Maite Vitoria Daneris, for the authenticity of the story and the determination of the director to shoot it, even with simple images, with years of work “in the field” in every sense. In fact it tells the efforts of Lina, an old farmer from San Mauro Torinese that goes early every morning to sell her strawberries and other vegetables to the great market of Porta Palazzo in Turin, the few words of the faithful husband Gianni, and the meeting with Hassan, a young Moroccan immigrant who began working with them. A symbolic story of the relationship between cultures and generations. As stated on the website www.ellugardelasfresas.com, «told from the eyes of a young Spanish filmmaker, in a common and universal place, as is a large outdoor market. But above all it is a poetic film, showing to the public the most essential and pure value of the human being through the work of the land». After the approval obtained at the Turin Film Festival, where it won the prize “UCCA – Venti Città” and the mention of the special prize “Gli Occhiali di Gandhi”, Maite has decided to propose again the film at the cinema Massimo of Turin on Tuesday, January the 28th, renting at its own expense and filling the large movie theatre 1 during the 20.30 and 22.30 screenings and making an appeal to the public for helping her in the future distribution of the film.

I was able to follow with less difficulty the 54th Festival dei Popoli (from the 30th November to the 7th December 2013), where I also interviewed among the din of celebrations the director Alberto Lastrucci (see video), which stressed the need for everybody to be intrigued by the stories around us, and the movie director Giovanni Cioni (interview in the editing stage), which won the award for Best Feature Film (8.000 euro) and for the distribution, with the film “Per Ulisse” (to Ulysses”, Italy/France, 2013). The other award-winning films are mentioned on the website of the Festival dei Popoli: www.festivaldeipopoli.org.
But beyond the awards, among the documentaries seen in Florence I would like to recommend two by two young filmmakers who I had the pleasure to know, very interesting for their great strength, despite the independent way and minimal means they were realized. First the short film “Quand passe le train” (when the train passes, (France, 2013, Special Mention of the Award of the Syracuse University in Florence) by Jérémie Reichenbach and “Metamorphosen” (metamorphosis, Germany, 2013) by Sebastian Mez.
In the French director’s film, a group of women of La Patrona, in Mexico, provide food and basic necessities goods for migrants who illegally abandon Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and pass the border attached to freight trains, often on the roof of the wagons. They are women who do not respect the law, because in Mexico helping illegal migrants is a crime, and they do it for people who they do not know, for no future benefit. Jérémie Reichenbach has been able to represent as unique the gestures of solidarity for the preparation of food, rationing and the launch to the “passengers” on moving trains, without falling into rhetoric, telling these women in a real way, even with their limitations.
Here’s the trailer:

The film “Metamorphosen” (Germany 2013) by Sebastian Mez is the movie that impressed me the most among those I saw at the festival, for various reasons.
First, because the director brings to light, taking some personal risk, the unknown story of one of the most radioactive places in the world, a remote area of 20,000 km2 in the southern Ural region (formerly part of the USSR), contaminated with a similar level to the most infamous Chernobyl, from a first incident occurred in 1957 at the nuclear plant Mayak, then kept secret, and after more decades of irresponsible management of the site and slag, which have polluted the local river Tetcha. The merit of Sebastian Mez is to build an original portrait of the lives of people who, left to themselves, still live today in this area, with a photographic approach, to make the invisible visible. It does so with intense shots that alternate between close-ups of the dumb characters, and long shots of desolate landscapes with in the background the words of the protagonists, dominated by the snow, the sound of the wind, the flow of the polluted river and where radiation can be perceived as a ghost, at last made “visible” in the frames of a Geiger counter going mad. The director said he changed into a sort of black and white the images in post-production, applying a filter frame by frame, and the movie has been made ​​with the same type of mirrorless HD camera that I use (I was even quoted with my camera in my hand in the movie theatre during the dialogue with the audience after the screening!). A relatively cheap gear but thanks to a software change legally made by some hackers, it can greatly increase the quality of the image. A sign that you can create stunning movies with more affordable equipment than in the past, if you have an important story to tell and the ability to do so with an appropriate style.
Here’s the trailer :

Some documentaries rather than in festivals can be seen only in particular places, such as during the “Tuesdays” of the Piccolo Cinema in Turin (www.ilpiccolocinema.net), where on the 14th of January was presented “Heroes and Heroines – A Day in Kathmandu” by Filippo Papini and Danilo Monte (prize “Italia.doc” to Salina Doc Fest 2011 and “New World” at The Village Doc 2012). The two directors closely observe the day of a nurse and a group of street children in Nepal, in the center of Kathmandu, but without interacting with the characters, except for an interview shown at the end. “Heroes and Heroines” is a documentary shot in the street, which immerses us in the lives of some of those little guys and of the ones who try to help them, from the waking up in the cold, looking for glue to sniff, to the dorm rooms of the hostel in which only those who accept to wash themselves manage to enter. «The story of a group of people – says the presentation – become small epics in the heart of a modern medieval metropolis that ignores them». The filmmakers after the screening have contextualized the story, and told how they made it​​, with a very small budget.

From the 13th January to the 22th February, it is held “Il Mese del Documentario (The Month of the Documentary)”, a series of screenings in various Italian and European cities, organized by the Italian documentary association Doc/It, you can see the program here: http://ilmese2013.documentaristi.it. In this cycle, I watched the poetic film “Il libraio di Belfast” by Alessandra Celesia (The Bookseller of Belfast, France/Ireland, 2012, winner of the 53° Festival dei Popoli, the edition of 2012) in the new movie theatre of the Irenea project of the Sereno Regis Research Centre, an old cinema just restored and dedicated to the arts for peace (http://ildiariodirenea.wordpress.com/). The story of the movie is that of a thin little man with a past as an alcoholic, who has dedicated his life to his greatest passion, books and reading, and that ends up being a little guide for three young people: a rapper covered with scars, a dyslexic opera lover punk, an X-Factor adept singer. «Three characters in search of an author – is stated in the notes – who try to carve out a living space in a city that for years has been a battlefield». «I filmed Belfast without filming it – said the director -. I told the city through its cozy lounges, rooms for teenagers, hair salons, out of fashion nightclubs. Starting from private persons, from the simplest things of their daily life, I have tried to reconstruct the geography of a city that has experienced war». She has succeeded with beautiful images, in close contact with the faces of the characters and their more intimate dialogues. Unfortunately, the protagonist, the bookseller John Clancy, died of a sudden illness on the 17th of January.

Do not miss the appointments still planned in the “Month of the Documentary”, and the upcoming festivals around the world. As says also the director of Festival dei Popoli, Alberto Lastrucci: «reality is more!».

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