This year I had some scheduling conflicts so I managed to see only 20 of the 100+ programs in the Tribeca Film Festival.
I saw nine documentaries. Many were standard constructions of interview/cutaways, archival footage and scenes, with or without voiceover, all straitjacketed together into some kind of narrative architecture. After years of experimentation and innovation, we’ve arrived at a kind of template for documentary. It is difficult, for this viewer at least, to gain knowledge or insight, to be moved, convinced or disturbed by these films: the restrictive structure renders them dry, drained of affect. Also I wonder why I should watch a film at a festival when I wouldn’t read an article about the subject if it appeared in a (serious) magazine. I go to a film festival for movies, not information. On the other hand, a film like “Untouchable,” which documents an extremely troubling situation in which men and women labelled “sex offenders” by the Florida courts are forced to live in tents in a parking lot at the edge of town because of a draconian low that forbids them to sleep near schools or to visit public parks, and labels their driving licenses with the words “sex offender,” obscures by its very structure an underlying world-view that is deeply unsettling. A wealthy lobbyist has a warped view of mankind as divided into good and bad people, and believes that the bad group should be singled out as pariahs, subjected to inhuman punishment for their entire lives — a young woman, who at age 18 had sex with a 16 year old boy, cannot take her daughters to the park, struggles to get a job and a home. The lobbyist is pushing for a new ordinance that will take her daughters from her and put them into foster care. In order to fit the film into the “doc” template the filmmaker fails to discuss the underlying ideology that has infected the lawmakers of the state of Florida, instead focusing on the indignities and genuine difficulties the victims are forced to suffer. There is no space for philosophy in the current documentary standard architecture, attempting to fit cinema into the restrictive format and rules of news reporting.
On the other hand, I saw two excellent documentaries (Houston, We have a Problem! and National Bird) and one very good one (LoveTrue). These movies are not afraid of mixing fiction and theatre with fact, exposing situations, raising questions and opening dialogue about them in ways that contain power and substance.
ALWAYS SHINE Directed By: Sophia Takal
THE FIXER Directed by Ian Olds
THE TICKET Directed by Ido Fluk
THE TENTH MAN (EL REY DEL ONCE) Directed by Daniel Burman
A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING Directed by Tom Tykwer
A KIND OF MURDER Directed by Andy Goddard
THE LAST LAUGH Directed by Ferne Pearlstein
MAGNUS Directed by Benjamin Ree
MR. CHURCH Directed by Bruce Beresford
NATIONAL BIRD Directed by Sonia Kennebeck
AFTER SPRING Directed by Ellen Martinez, Steph Ching
DETOUR Directed by Christopher Smith
DEAN by Demetri Martin
HAVEABABY Directed by Amanda Micheli
HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM! Directed by Žiga Virc
THE LONER Directed by Daniel Grove
NIGHT SCHOOL Directed by Andrew Cohn
FEAR, INC. Directed by Vincent Masciale
ALL THIS PANIC Directed by Jenny Gage
LOVETRUE Directed by Alma Har’el
UNTOUCHABLE Directed by David Feige