Highlights from the Documentary Edge Festivalby James Robins
Including Requiem for the American Dream, Maya Angelou: And I Still Rise, and Gabo: The Creation of Gabriel García Márquez.
The Documentary Edge Festival returns with an impressive showcase. Often made with limited budgets, these films shine lights and take sideways glances at places and subjects where many dare not to tread.
One such place is Pakistan and the subject is honour killings. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness is completely devastating but delicately handled, rightly winning an Oscar earlier this year. Equally compelling, if not more visually striking, is Diving into the Unknown, about a group of Finnish divers who risk death to rescue the bodies of their lost friends – an expedition so rife with claustrophobia and tension that it could almost pass for horror.
A surprise charmer of the New Zealand selections is Monterey, detailing the everyday trials of running a cafe in a well-to-do Auckland suburb. The three Samoan chefs are the lifeblood of the picture, conveying in a distinctly understated way that inter-kitchen warfare is not a middle-class problem. Also worth mentioning is the slightly manic family tale, A Kick to Heaven.
Further up the food chain, two films celebrate writers who died recently. Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise delivers more than a taste of hagiography, but what a joy it is to feel Angelou’s presence once more, to listen to that voice reciting from a body of work as majestic as the woman herself. More subdued is Gabo: The Creation of Gabriel García Márquez, a tour through the childhood and life of the celebrated Colombian novelist.
No documentary festival is complete without at least a nod or two to the Holocaust. Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah is an extended interview with the Frenchman as he visibly wrestles with the legacy of his seminal 10-hour film, Shoah. There is a chilling contrast between his jovial manner in archive footage and the mumbling old man on screen laid low by the weight of his accomplishment.
Less mournful is A Man Can Make a Difference, an ultra-low-budget portrait of Benjamin Ferencz, chief prosecutor during one of the Nuremberg Trials. By just sitting with the 96-year-old, you can feel the power of his conviction and the threads of trauma that run through him from his time investigating Nazi war crimes.
Dark forces are also at work in Requiem for the American Dream, which claims to be the last long-form interview given by veteran radical Noam Chomsky. An equally damning indictment is served by Guantanamo’s Child: Omar Khadr, an account of a Canadian teenager’s torture at the hands of a US establishment rife with paranoia post-9/11.
There’s weight of a different kind in Sugar Coated, a far less sensational companion to Damon Gameau’s self-induced torture in That Sugar Film and 2014’s Merchants of Doubt. Making use of startling figures, it exposes the global food industry’s lobbying power, which fuels an ever-growing obesity crisis. Maybe ease up on the popcorn at this screening.
Wellington, May 4-15; Auckland, May 18-29.
Artifice it might be, but the graphic novel animation style has the miraculous effect of breathing new life into the Gallipoli story. Imaginative treatment of reality makes vivid the words and memories of six Anzacs. [Helene Wong] ••••½
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Tina Fey tries to go serious as a war reporter in Afghanistan, but despite entertaining performances all round, the script’s uncertain mix of comedy and drama has each undercutting the other. [HW] •••½
Eddie the Eagle
Feel-good sports underdog story touches all the usual bases, but the novelty is the sport: bespectacled little guy “Eddie” Edwards faces down Establishment snootiness to represent the UK in Olympic ski jumping. [HW] ••½
Doco on singer Mavis Staples’ long career spanning gospel to social commentary is standard in treatment but buoyant with family, music and her own upbeat persona. [HW] ••½
Melissa McCarthy’s comedic force powers this rags-to-riches-and-back-again story through a few joke-less wastelands. [James Robins] •••
Noma: My Perfect Storm
A documentary deeply in love with Scandinavian chef René Redzepi. He’s compared to Mozart, for the way he’s upended the culinary establishment. But his ambition comes off as megalomania. [JR] ••½
The Divergent Series: Allegiant ••
Eye in the Sky •••½
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