Back-to-back viewings of “Spark,” a documentary by filmmaker Hu Jie, and “The Observer,” a portrait of Hu and his work, are likely to convince you of something Hu’s mother says in the second film. “He won’t suck up to anybody,” she explains of her son. “He just documents things as they really are.”
Icarus Films has released the movies as a pair. A major documentary filmmaker who, as Ian Johnson wrote this week in The New York Times, is nevertheless not well known in his home country of China, Hu is a self-taught filmmaker with a particular interest in memorializing the horrors of the Mao era.
Because of government pressure in China, Johnson’s reporting indicates, it is difficult for Hu’s films to be shown there.
From the age of 15, Zhao Pinfeng worked for two decades as an iron ore miner in a remote, mountainous area of Hunan province in central China.
Several years ago Zhao, who by then had two children and a wife who is mentally challenged, was diagnosed with pneumoconiosis, a fatal lung disease. He lost the ability to work and had to breathe through a ventilator.
On one fateful night in 2018, an electricity outage at his village stopped his ventilator. He died the next day.
Zhao’s final days were recorded for a documentary, “Miners, the Horsekeeper and Pneumoconiosis.”
Directed by Jiang Nengjie, the film revolves around Hunan villagers who relied on the illegal mines for a living before they were closed down by the government. They include porters who transport the mine explosives and iron shards, and miners like Zhao.
Nengjie tells the South China Morning Post that he distributed the film privately because he did not send it to China’s censors for approval. “We can’t show it for a fee as it is illegally published work,” he says.
Capturing the urgent, boundless invention of young, politically minded African artists with nothing to lose and everything to communicate, Renaud Barret’s thrilling documentary “System K” showcases a thriving art scene in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, that isn’t just born of the streets, but often made and displayed there as well.
Through the eyes of the struggling creators, we meet a troubled city embattled by corruption, poverty, and the legacy of colonialism isn’t just inspiration — it’s also one big showroom.
What connects the many artists featured in Barret’s film, besides their meager means and creative contribution to a city that doesn’t always know what to do about their exhibitive brashness, is the support they get from local, internationally celebrated sculptor Freddy Tsimba, whose appearances throughout the film make for a culturally authoritative through line of sorts as we meet the artists.
The rise of far-right nationalism in Europe, the U.S., and elsewhere has become a sign of our times — a sign of fear and loathing for many, but one of pride for a growing minority in France that, in the last presidential election, captured over a third of the vote. In fact, the minority no longer looks like a minority at all.
In their new documentary “The Tie” (“La Cravate”), directors Étienne Chaillou and Mathias Théry focus with razor-sharp precision on Bastien, one such foot soldier in France’s burgeoning far-right movement, tracking him around the country as he campaigns for candidate Marine Le Pen in the run-up to the 2017 presidential election.
What the filmmakers reveal is a young man whose deep-seated political convictions were, at least in part, shaped by his life in the economically strapped region of Picardy — where Le Pen’s National Front party, now renamed the National Rally, has a sizable following.
They also reveal someone willing to face a certain level of ridicule and ostracism, including getting fired from a promising job, to defend the ideas that he believes in.
In 2016, Jang Ji-sung’s seven-year-old daughter, Nayeon, died of an incurable disease. Three years later, the South Korean mother was reunited with Nayeon — sort of — in a virtual world created for a televised documentary.
Earlier this month, the Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation shared a clip from “I Met You” on its YouTube channel with the footage cutting between the real world and the virtual one.
In the former setting, Jang stands in front of a massive green screen while wearing both a VR headset and what appear to be some sort of haptic gloves. In the latter, she and her daughter talk, hold hands, and even have a birthday party complete with a lit cake.
The VR reunion is, as you might expect, extremely emotional. Jang appears to begin crying the moment she sees the virtual Nayeon.
The process might not be simple and the final product might not be perfect, but we now have the technology to recreate the dead in VR — convincingly enough to move their loved ones to tears.