Concrete Playground's Picks for The Documentary Edge International Film Festival 2018
Screening 74 docos from across the globe, this year's Doc Edge has something for everybody.
If 'life unscripted,' Doc Edge's tagline, makes a truth claim that is liable to elicit a raised eyebrow from anyone who happens to have taken a Film 101 paper, there is nevertheless something to be said for the immediacy, freshness and urgency proper to documentary filmmaking. With 74 docos from across the globe, and offering a number of excellent homegrown pieces amongst these, this year's Doc Edge has something for everybody. There's food, sex, politics, adventure, drinking and dancing to be had; kind of like a wild party, but one from which you get to go home sans hangover or broken bones. See below for more info.
Bringing together previously unseen archival and private footage from George Michael's formative years and beyond, this doco promises a look into the inspiring life of a man who shunned the spotlight, sometimes even to his own detriment. One can't recommend it enough, and to fans of Michael recommendations are doubtlessly superfluous. For anyone hesitating, though, you (just) gotta have faith.
If you like this, try Doc Edge's other much-anticipated biopic, Spielberg.
I'll admit I have some misgivings about this one — middle-class, homonormative gay couples dancing their way to fame sounds a bit too much like So You Think You Can Dance. But such an initial reaction must give way to an understanding, one articulated throughout the course of the film, that (ballroom) dancing remains a bastion of heteronormative ideals — with its strictly delineated (and gendered) roles, and structuring around the union of the hetero couple, excluding queers of all stripes from the get-go. As such, though it rightly doesn't strike one as a prime site for contesting some norms (class inequality, individualism), it is a more than apt starting point for addressing matters of gender and sexuality. Following a number of LGBT+ dancers over a four-year period, as they train for major competitions (The Gay Games, amongst these), Hot to Trot points to the fragility — and strict policing — of the norms of both ballroom dancing and heterosexuality. If the film ultimately shies away from big political questions, and has a bit too much of a made for "straight" audiences feel, these flaws are more than adequately compensated for by its unfailing charm.
If you like this, try: Believer.
Offering a window into the intersections of imported religious fundamentalism, and more traditional understandings of gender diversity, Leitis In Waiting presents us with the story of Joey Mataele and the Tonga Leitis, a group of indigenous transgender women whose vibrant lives are becoming increasingly inviable in an ever-more-inclement religious setting. Like a number of our other picks, this is a doco sensitive to its subjects' agency and sense of self, never putting words into their mouths, but rather carefully listening, and allowing us to listen in too.
If you like this, try Call Her Ganda for a look into the more insidious effects of (neo)colonialism on trans bodies.
The Gospel According to André is a must-watch for the sartorially inclined, or those who just enjoy the odd rerun of Project Runway. An exploration of legendary fashion journalist André Leon Tally's diverse and intrepid life, this doco, along with festival pick The Rape of Recy Taylor, spotlights a history of black agency and resilience. Tally, who grew up in the segregated Jim Crow South, took his fashion cues from his grandma, and, overcoming the double-bind of black masculinity and homosexuality, has risen to become a luminary of all things vogue (and Vogue).
If you like this, try: Integral Man.
In these times transfixed by sexual assault and its many and varied permutations, it's important to reflect on how unevenly such assaults affect people of different genders, races, classes, and sexual orientations. (Notice, indeed, how overwhelmingly white, affluent and powerful those whose cases currently 'enjoy' the spotlight are). Nancy Buirski's stirring study invites us to reappraise what we think we know about rape. In 1944, the titular Recy Taylor, a young black woman, was kidnapped at gunpoint, and subsequently raped, by six white men. "A legacy handed down from slavery, where white men owned their women slaves and their bodies," notes Buirski. None of the perpetrators were convicted. Whilst any chronicling of rape risks falling into the trap of negating the agency of the victim entirely, Buirski avoids this, and we gain access instead to an overlooked history of people of colour activism and political organising. When, even today, some bodies continue to be all too literally considered more disposable than others, The Rape of Recy Taylor asks us to remember that just to speak up about her assault, as Taylor did, was an act of supreme bravery.
If you like this, try: Whispering Truth to Power.
Coming to us in the wake of its premiere at Sundance, The Oslo Diaries remembers a place and a moment in history — Oslo, 1992 — when peace in the Middle East, specifically between Palestine and Israel, seemed (almost) realisable. True, the negotiations the film zooms in on did not reach this desired outcome, but they did reveal nuanced and complex perspectives from all parties, where people tried their best, almost unthinkably, to engage with their sworn enemies. Bearing notes of the ever-popular political thriller genre, The Oslo Diaries carefully offsets the threat of sensationalism with a number of more reflective moments. On this note, however, keep in mind that a good deal of the doco's 'footage' is re-enacted, a disorienting and possibly questionable technique given the fraught history in which the film traffics.
If you like this, try: Ben-Gurion, Epilogue.
Beyond the hotter-than-usual summer everyone keeps banging on about in these parts, the effects of climate change rarely manifest in our quotidian. No matter how much we believe the evidence (and believe it we should), climate change shimmers beyond the horizon as something peculiarly abstract. Such distance is not afforded to the people of Kenya, whom this film zooms in on. There, extreme downpours and scorching drouts cannot be remedied by a Blunt umbrella, or a higher SPF sun lotion. But this is nevertheless a doco about solutions. Kisilu Musya, whose village is the microcosmic focal point of director Julia Dahr's camera, believes that planting trees is both a good place to start and a top priority. How successful he is at convincing others of this, is something you'll have to watch the film to discover.
If you like this, try: Anote's Ark (Opening Night Screening).
The Documentary Edge Festival 2018 will play from May 9-20 at Wellington's Roxy Cinema, and from May 23-June 4 at Auckland's Q Theatre. See the full program, along with ticketing and venue information, here.
Published on May 08, 2018 by Leah Lynch