Monday, July 17, 2006

Encounters promisses to be best yet

According to Matthew Krouse from the Mail and Guardian this years Encounters documentary festival promises to be the best yet.

Bang bang goes gung ho
The Encounters documentary film festival highlights the responsibility of filmmakers in troubled times, writes Matthew Krouse

The raw material of the documentary filmmaker is misery. The fallout of war, the false hopes of the poor, the battle for survival of almost lost animal species, the territorial skirmishes of underprivileged youth, the painful dissolution of the traditional family and more.

Crafting this misery into entertainment is the documentary filmmakers’ lot. They take us with them on journeys fraught with doubt as, frame for frame, we witness the construction of the work. Even if you don’t appreciate their political views, you’ve got to love them for the commitment to their craft.

Having sat through all eight Encounters documentary film festivals, albeit in my lounge on preview tapes, I am convinced that of all the festivals we’re privileged to have, this is The One. In short, the programme tells us that this year there are 56 titles, including a record number of 20 local works.

In the early days of South African television, the nation’s understanding of the documentary form was based largely on the Thames Television series The World at War. Week upon week (26 in all) we sat glued to the box as cadavers piled up in faraway Europe. Mum knitted and dad puffed on his pipe sternly as Lord Lawrence Olivier’s exquisite narration droned on.

The world’s most acclaimed documentary, it seemed, had been made by God himself.

Today the divine presence is very much out the picture and the handmade aspect of the documentary is in. There is scarcely a work on the festival that isn’t narrated in first person by the director. Stock in trade is the cellphone. There are hours of conversations in moving cars with evasive, guilty parties adamant that they are not to be filmed. Nick Broomfield is the master of the genre -- “his idiosyncratic style of filmmaking has been called not so much fly on the wall as fly in the soup”.

When Broomfield arrives as a festival guest, perhaps someone will ask him what it is about the simpletons of the far right that keep him coming back for more. Broomfield’s recent work, His Big White Self, is a follow-up to his earlier look at Eugene Terreblanche in The Leader, His Driver and the Driver’s Wife.

Watching His Big White Self, locals will experience a sort of sick nostalgia for the chubby, red necks poking out of self-important safari suits. But Broomfield is a master of redemption, and he befriends the most unlikely of characters. This “apparently bumbling and chaotic Englishman who disarms his subjects”, as he’s referred to, finds worthy qualities in all his adversaries.

For a more in depth review of His Big White Self read this one on the Kwailwai* sister site Mhambi.

Read the whole Mail and Guardian article here.


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