Wednesday, June 29, 2011
D.A. Pennebaker's short film, Daybreak Express (shot in 1953 and released in 1958), is a tribute to the about-to-be-demolished Third Avenue Elevated line in New York City, set to Duke Ellington's composition of the same title. The film is an abstract city symphony: a fast-paced complement to silent films such as Paul Strand's Manhatta and Joris Ivens's Rain. Pennebaker's intuitive and rhythmic editing allows architectural elements, visual action, and the view out of the front of the train to match perfectly with the music.
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Djembefola (1991) by Laurent Chevallier celebrates the homecoming of djembe virtuoso Mamady Keita from his home in Brussels to his family's village in Guinea. The film documents Keita's hammy mode of performing and contagious love for drumming. At all times, Chevallier keeps his charismatic lead character front and center. Keita makes his way from teaching djembe in a staid classroom in Brussels to the post colonial city of Conakry to the village he left 26 years before, with reunions and opportunities to play the drums along the way. The film's structure builds to a series of encounters at the village and Keita's search for the answer to how he came to be a drummer.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Two Laws (1982), by Alessandro Cavadini and Carolyn Strachan, was an unusual collaborative project in which two outsider filmmakers worked with the Booroloola Aboriginal Community in the Northern Territory of Australia. (The two laws of the title refer to "whitefella law" and Aboriginal law.) The film's four sections provide a consensus version of decades of Booroloola struggle against Australian police violence, cruel social policy, and unfair land usurpation. Cavadini and Strachan structure the piece as a mix of observation and re-enactment. The film's leisurely pace warmly invites the viewer to feel completely at home with the Booroloola community. The camerawork (by Cavadini; sound is by Strachan, third still) is all done with a wide-angle lens, emphasizing the high degree of participation and consent: everyone gets to be seen and heard.
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Chris Marker and François Reichenbach's 1968 short film, The Sixth Side of the Pentagon (La sixième face du pentagone), documents the front lines of a demonstration against the Vietnam War. The cameraman and sound recorders are right in the middle of a 100,000 person event outside the Pentagon on October 21, 1967: we see young people yelling (top still), marching with banners, burning draft cards, and facing the Military Police (second still). Eventually, men with guns beat back the crowd (third and fourth stills). The overall mood of the footage recalls this year's mass protests in the Middle East. As the stills show, protesters holding 35mm film cameras documented the action in 1968; cell phones have replaced them (bottom still: Tahrir Square, Cairo, January 2011).
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Barak Goodman's My Lai is a moving and well-told history of the killing of civilians in the village of My Lai on March 16, 1968. The standardized framing of survivors (such as Pham Thi Thuan and Tran Nam) and soldiers (including Greg Olsen and Fred Widmer) imply that that all of the witnesses contribute important voices to the story. Images by the army photographer that day, Ronald Haeberle, add to the horror of first-hand accounts. The film also chronicles the activities of Charlie Company leading up to My Lai, the subsequent cover-up, and the official investigations that followed. Jerome Walsh, recalling the results of the US Army's review of the matter, says in the film, "Calley got away with it - and all the other people who were involved got away with it also." One hero emerges, Hugh Thompson, a helicopter pilot who saw the massacre for what it was and saved Vietnamese villagers.