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Oliver Laxe (#110 of 3)

Cairo International Film Festival The Other Land, We Are Never Alone, Clash, Kills on Wheels, Mimosas, & More

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Cairo International Film Festival: The Other Land, We Are Never Alone, Clash, Kills on Wheels, Mimosas, & More

Kino Lorber

Cairo International Film Festival: The Other Land, We Are Never Alone, Clash, Kills on Wheels, Mimosas, & More

From the window of an airplane, metropolitan Cairo seems to stretch into infinity, a truly ancient city that keeps adding onto itself, year after year. A handful of cities occupy a greater land area, but fewer appear to be as impossibly intricate and dense, its overwhelming breadth a dreamed thing. The next thing you notice is that Cairo wears its history on its sleeve. Very little fails to carry signification of events and people, past and present. Does your town have a bridge named after an historic date? The river island of Zamalek connects with Tahrir Square and points east using the “6th of October Bridge,” named for a successful show of force against Israeli occupiers in 1967. Even the hotel where most guests of the Cairo International Film Festival stayed, the Cairo Marriott, has thick roots in the 19th century, as related by a short documentary preloaded in each room’s television set, explaining the colocation of a sleek, modern hotel within the 150-year-old Gezirah Palace. The Marriott, by the virtue of its dual structure, symbolizes the city’s relentless, incremental layering of the new upon or within the old, the way a very old cathedral might be built over the ruins of an ancient one.

Toronto International Film Festival 2015 The Sky Trembles and Chevalier

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Toronto International Film Festival 2015: The Sky Trembles and Chevalier

Ben Rivers

Toronto International Film Festival 2015: The Sky Trembles and Chevalier

Titled as if in homage to Fiona Apple, Ben Rivers’s The Sky Trembles and the Earth Is Afraid and Two Eyes Are Not Brothers is the latest in the filmmaker’s unpredictable efforts to not simply fuse documentary and fiction, but set them against each other. For a time, it chronicles a film shoot out in the Moroccan mountains, where a director (Oliver Laxe) orders around a cast and crew of locals to present a realistic glimpse of life in the region. Yet the dailies taken from this production give away the charade, surrounding moments of folk singing and custom with calls of “action” and “cut.” In one shot, a man breaks the spell of his singing when he flashes a thumbs-up to the camera, foregrounding that his performance was just that.

Truth vs. Fiction: True/False Film Festival 2011

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Truth vs. Fiction: True/False Film Festival 2011
Truth vs. Fiction: True/False Film Festival 2011

The True/False Film Festival in Columbia, Missouri completed its eighth year last weekend, and that title as a terse talking point is only more and more pervasive. At this very moment, a class-action lawsuit against Catfish demands to know what was staged and what was real (true/false indeed). This question of how to approach the many hybrid documentaries rising up has preoccupied film writers for the last year, leading to a mind-numbing, redundant slew of essays on the subject. (Full disclosure: I was supposed to speak on a panel about this and almost completely missed it, so the notes below here are something like what I might have said.) Trying to empirically pin down a film’s “truth,” shot by shot, is a parlor game to evade thinking about a film’s form, meaning, context, etc. In that respect, much documentary criticism fixates on questions of what’s staged and what isn’t. The hard work of taking a film apart and building it back up block by block, trying to reassemble it in written form, is set aside for faux-journalistic inquiry.

One of the best films at the festival was You Are All Captains, whose very nice director Oliver Laxe introduced it by noting that everything in it was false. This, as it turned out, wasn’t the stumbling block for some viewers: the real problem was that at least 20 people walked out, and I’m told that a third of the screening later in the day did the same. I loved it, but I’m an arthound: this is a movie made for me. The stumbling block was artiness: You Are All Captains is serene, black-and-white and contemplative. Very much in the spirit of Abbas Kiarostami’s work, especially in its presentation of children—whose responsiveness to the world matters more than their cuteness—the film gives us a way of looking at a difficult part of Morocco that transcends the direness of what we see. If you wanted straight reportage (but why?), this was not the place to be.