Life strives to grow and flourish amid catastrophic ruins in “Angels Are Made of Light,” James Longley’s stirring and gorgeous documentary about young students and teachers trying to maintain hope in Kabul, Afghanistan.
As with his prior “Iraq in Fragments,” the director offers a multitude of despairing perspectives on this war-torn milieu, where poverty and war are constant impediments to happiness and progress.
Driven by powerful confessional narration from various sources, the film should strike a resonant chord following its premiere at the Telluride Film Festival.
The winner of the 2018 Yale Environment 360 Video Contest, “Venerable Augusta,” examines how the people of Augusta, Sicily, led by the town’s priest, are fighting back against a cancer epidemic linked to a massive petrochemical complex.
The Augusta-Priolo petroleum refinery complex, one of Europe’s largest, has for more than 50 years spewed a toxic brew of pollutants into the air and water of eastern Sicily. In recent decades, the roughly 60,000 residents of surrounding towns have experienced abnormally high rates of cancer, an outbreak that one comprehensive study has shown is tied to emissions from the refineries.
In the documentary, Italian filmmaker Francesco Cannavà depicts the crisis in Augusta and nearby towns through the eyes of the local priest, Father Palmiro Prisutto. We follow him and other Augusta residents as they stage a demonstration against government inaction in the face of a deadly epidemic.
“The accusation I am making today against the Italian state is this: Our cancer dead have been murdered,” says Prisutto. “For some time, the population has repeated this chorus: ‘Better to die of cancer than of hunger.’ This saying is unacceptable. One cannot trade health and life merely for a job.”
A crucial and often overlooked element of documentary filmmaking is standpoint: not the filmmaker’s abstractly intellectual point of view but her physical and visual one—her personal, experiential relationship to her subject.
Mila Turajlić’s documentary, “The Other Side of Everything,” gets its energy and its inspiration from a clear sense of place: she filmed it in the Belgrade apartment in which she grew up; her subject is her mother, Srbijanka Turajlić, a retired professor, political activist, and, briefly, political official; and the film’s starting point is a set of doors in the apartment that neither mother nor daughter has ever looked behind.
They were closed and sealed, shortly after World War II, by an official of Yugoslavia’s new Communist regime, who partitioned the family’s spacious apartment and installed other residents behind them.
The subject of “The Other Side of Everything” is Srbijanka’s political activity, centered on her resistance to Slobodan Milošević’s repressive and genocidal post-Yugoslav regime and the price that she is still paying for her activism.
More broadly, the movie looks at the collapse and dissolution of Yugoslavia, the wars and slaughters that followed, and the fragile efforts to create a democratic resistance and then a modern democracy in Serbia, to replace the ruins of Milošević’s regime.
In France, a man known as Dieudonné appears before crowds who shout out their approval when he claims that the Holocaust has become an engine of “profit.” He then brings an actor onstage in ragged clothes who pretends to be a Jew being deported.
Dieudonné is no historical denier; his point is that the Holocaust happened, but that we don’t have to pretend to give a damn. “I shouldn’t have to choose between the Jews and the Nazis,” he says with a smirk, evoking Donald’s Trump’s comments about the Charlottesville riots.
The most shocking thing about him, though, is that Dieudonné isn’t a far-right politician. He’s a comedian. In France, the new wave of anti-Semitic fervor is more than ideology — it’s entertainment. In the 21st century, that’s how you know that it’s working.
Dieudonné is one of a dozen or so figures featured in “Spiral,” a documentary about the new rise of anti-Semitism in Europe. It’s a disquieting movie, because it attaches faces and attitudes and a close-up vision of civilized hatred to the kind of news story that, in the United States, we tend to register as a nearly statistical abstraction.
The reports of European anti-Semitism that come over here are generally tied to incidents of violence. “Spiral” certainly captures the toxic phenomenon of homegrown ethnic terrorism, but it also captures how the hatred has spread like wildfire among those who don’t necessarily commit violence themselves.
The clock tracking the timeline of the events depicted in the new Netflix documentary series, “November 13: Attack on Paris,” takes up nearly the entire screen.
The coordinated terrorist shootings and explosions of that night in November 2015 that killed 130 people happened in a timeframe shorter than any thorough examination of the number of victims, both killed and still living, could handle in real time. Instead, directors Gédéon and Jules Naudet anchor their account of what transpired in the testimony of those who lived through it.
Though not depending on footage from the shooting at the Bataclan theater and attacks on four restaurants as much as they did in their noteworthy feature documentary “9/11,” the Naudets do orient the viewer to understand which of these events were happening concurrently, particularly how law enforcement and government officials responded to the events as they were unfolding.
Rather than show the aftermath of the destruction, “November 13” affords the men and women who survived these various strikes to describe their experiences in their own words.
Walk around the streets of Duhok in northern Iraq, and you’ll see the same face staring back at you. Stoic and square-jawed, the inscrutable portrait is a common sight behind shop counters and stalls in this city, a short drive north from Mosul.
Everyone in Duhok has heard of the man known as “Crazy Fakhir.” For over a decade he risked his life to ensure others’ safety; a local hero who removed landmines with nothing but a knife, wire cutters and quick wits.
Now his story is being told in a new feature-length documentary, “The Deminer,” that has been described as a real-life version of Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar winning film “The Hurt Locker.”