by Tim Gordon
One of the most anticipated films of the festival is a look at the wacky presidency of the “Tangerine Toddler.” Will the doc be as bizarre as the actual presidency itself?
(Director: Matthieu Rytz) – What happens when your nation is swallowed by the sea? With the harsh realities of climate change looming, the low-lying Pacific nation Kiribati must find a new solution for the survival of its people. With sweeping cinematography, Anote’s Ark interweaves two poignant stories. Anote Tong, endearing president of the island, races to find options—advocating in international climate negotiations and even investigating building underwater cities. At the same time, warm and sharp-witted Sermary, a young mother of six, tackles every struggle with humour. She must decide whether to leave the only culture she knows on the island and migrate to a new life in New Zealand.
A Polar Year
(Director: Samuel Collardey; screenwriter: Samuel Collardey & Catherine Paillé) – Although he’s warned to expect boredom and bitter cold, Anders, a young Danish primary school teacher, accepts a post in Tiniteqiilaq, a remote village of 80 inhabitants in Greenland. Arriving with certain preconceptions—the “Danish look” as one villager calls it—Anders contends with cultural differences and an unruly classroom, to say nothing of the snow. Wondering what it takes to be accepted in this “hellhole,” he’s advised to try learning the language and local ways—hunting, sledding, fishing. How hard can it be, he figures, to ride a sled?
A Woman Captured
(Director: Bernadett Tuza-Ritter) – While preparing a project on modern slavery, filmmaker Bernadett Tuza-Ritter uncovers a treacherous story. Inside an upscale Hungarian home run by a tyrannical matriarch resides a domestic slave. At 52 years old, Marish labors 20 hours a day without pay and endures a constant barrage of emotional and physical abuse. For those who see her on the street, it’s impossible to imagine the hell she returns to every day. Eating only scraps from dinners she prepares and receiving cigarettes instead of cash, Marish has forgotten what freedom feels like and lost all will to leave. Until Bernadett enters the scene.
(Directors: Christian Frei & Maxim Arbugaev) – Two sets of sojourners passionately pursue the remains of the storied, long-extinct woolly mammoth: a small population of scavengers in the Siberian Islands who unearth mammoth tusks (prized in the Chinese art market) from the harsh landscape, and a loosely-knit international community of scientists who now seek to revive the mammoth through cutting-edge synthetic-biology technologies.
MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A.
(Director Stephen Loveridge) – Drawn from a cache of personal tapes shot by Maya and her closest friends over the last 22 years, MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A. captures Maya’s remarkable journey from immigrant teenager in London to international popstar M.I.A.
Of Fathers and Sons
(Director: Talal Derki) – Syrian filmmaker Talal Derki was most recently at the Sundance Film Festival in 2014 with The Return to Homs, which won the World Cinema Documentary Grand Jury Prize. Once again, Derki returns to his homeland, upping the ante of danger to new heights by posing as a pro-jihadist photojournalist making a documentary on the rise of the caliphate. The result is an unfettered vérité portrait of al-Nusra general Abu Osama—a radical Islamist leader and loving father—and the gaggle of young boys who idolize him. Chief among these boys is the leader’s son Osama, named after Dad’s personal hero, Osama bin Laden.
Our New President
(Director: Maxim Pozdorovkin) – Ever since a fateful visit to a mummy’s glass-encased tomb in 1997, Hillary Clinton has been plagued by fainting spells, drug use, and even allegations of sexual abuse and murder. Don’t believe it? Just ask the reporters at Vesti and NTV, two of the most-watched state-run news shows in Russia, where outlandish stories like these reach millions of viewers every night.
(Director: Sandi Tan) – Embodying the creative spirit of the early ’90s, super-cinephile and VHS bootlegger Sandi Tan and her friends found inspiration in American independent film. Eventually, they knew it was time to make a film of their own. In her home country of Singapore, Sandi pens a thriller about a teenage assassin and enlisted her friends, Jasmine and Sophie—think the Coen sisters—and the mysterious mentor Georges to film it. Shirkers became one of the few films in the country to be shot guerilla style, coloring the newly independent nation with a playful, hyper-real aesthetic. Then one day, Georges disappeared with all the 16mm footage.
(Directors: Moritz Riesewieck & Hans Block) – Dive into a secret, third-world shadow industry of online content moderation. Here we meet five “digital scavengers,” a handful of thousands of people outsourced from Silicon Valley whose job is to delete “inappropriate” content off of the internet. In a parallel struggle, we meet people around the globe whose lives are dramatically affected by online censorship. A typical “cleaner” must observe and rate thousands of intense images every day, from war zone photography to pornography, leading to lasting psychological impacts. Yet underneath their work lies profound questions around what makes an image art or propaganda and what defines journalism.
The Oslo Diaries
(Directors: Mor Loushy & Daniel Sivan) – In 1992, with Israeli-Palestinian relations at a low and official communication suspended, an unlikely group of negotiators—two Israeli professors and three PLO members—met secretly in Norway. To these unsanctioned meetings, the bitter enemies brought fiercely held convictions: the Palestinians saw occupiers, the Israelis saw terrorists, and both saw a history of failed negotiations. But united in the serious desire for peace, they continued through disheartening setbacks, escalating violence, and fraught government politics, ultimately reaching an accord few thought possible.
This Is Home
(Director: Alexandra Shiva) – Only twenty-one thousand Syrian refugees out of five million have been accepted into the United States since 2011. This is Home follows four families sent to resettle in Baltimore in 2016. They have just eight months to find jobs, learn English, and become self-sufficient. The clock starts right when they land. Despite good intentions, a vast cultural divide prevents the new arrivals and the Americans trying to help them from truly understanding each other. For Syrians like Khaldoun, who was tortured and left physically disabled, and children like Mohammad, who suffers from PTSD, their needs extend far beyond lessons in proper job attire.
Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist
(Director: Lorna Tucker) – Punk. Icon. Activist. The undisputed queen of fashion Dame Vivienne Westwood is known for her subversive and original take on British fashion. Told in her own words, ,Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist is a sharp-witted look into Westood’s creative process and her life’s journey from 1970s punk protests to fierce independent global figure. Westwood sits alongside Gucci, Dior, and McQueen—but only Westwppd still owns and runs her empire. Today she fights to maintain her brand’s integrity and legacy as it expands to open flagship stores in fashion capitals Paris and New York in the face of global consumerism.