Berlinale Documentary Highlights

Panorama Dokumente giving political insights

The Berlinale section Panorama Dokumente is presenting 20 documentaries this year. Aside from films deepening insight into political events – Red, White & The Green, about the last election in Iran and Budrus, about Palestinian life with the fence, the programme includes works that are cinematographic in nature. For instance, Blank City, in which an array of US avant-garde artists from the 1970s and 1980s are reunited on the screen: from Amos Poe to John Waters, from founding father Jack Smith, Eric Mitchell and Lizzie Borden to Richard Kern and Lydia Lunch – all of whom also bring back to mind spectacular Berlinale appearances. What’s more, this series includes, for example, Candy Darling, the tragic Andy Warhol superstar and Waste Land, an insight into ‘Jardim Gramacho’, one of the largest garbage dumps in the world.

Beautiful Darling: The Life And Times Of Candy Darling, Andy Warhol Superstar
USA, 2009, 85 min, English

Director: James Rasin

Transsexual performer Candy Darling was special – even among the iridescent figures of New York’s subculture of the sixties and seventies. Lou Reed, Tennessee Williams, Richard Avedon, Cecil Beaton and Robert Mappelthorpe were all inspired by her, and Andy Warhol created a monument to her in FLESH. But just how did this Brooklyn boy become such a glamorous phenomenon, an underground icon of a decade still revered today in films, photographs, songs and short stories? Assisted by Candy’s long-standing partner Jeremiah Newton, filmmaker James Rasin sets off in search of the story behind the dazzling spectacle that is Candy Darling. A plethora of photos, finds and films from the estate of the late star who died of leukaemia in 1974, as well as unique archive material tell the story of a wild, bohemian existence of the kind that was only possible in New York in the sixties and seventies. They also tell the story of a life lived between legendary night clubs such as “Max’s Kansas City”, appearances in off-off-Broadway shows, and working at Andy Warhol’s factory. Lou Reed: “Candy came from out on the Island / In the backroom she was everybody’s darlin’ / But she never lost her head / Even when she was giving head / She says, Hey babe / Take a walk on the wild side / I Said, Hey baby / Take a walk on the wild side / And the coloured girls go / Doo do doo do doo do do doo …”

Screenings on 18 and 19 February, more info here.

Blank City
USA, 2009, 94 min, English

Director: Céline Danhier

New York at the end of the seventies was a virtually bankrupt city. Poverty was on the increase – and with it, the crime rate. And yet New York was a city that had an extraordinarily rich contribution to make in cinematic terms, for here, on the Lower East Side of downtown Manhattan, something new was evolving: an independent, enduring cinema, made by young filmmakers, who, inspired by contemporary music such as punk and new wave, were discovering new topics and new forms of expression.
‘No Wave’ cinema or the ‘Cinema of Transgression’ also reveals the influence of the French Nouvelle Vague and American film noir; Andy Warhol was one of its proponents, as was John Waters. The East Village’s art and music scenes also left their mark on the work of filmmakers Jim Jarmusch, Eric Mitchell, Beth B, Charlie Ahern, Lizzie Borden and Amos Poe. Working on shoestring budgets, these filmmakers produced rough-and-ready, unwieldy works, which – short or long, in colour but more often in black-and-white – confidently expressed what it was like to live in districts that had been neglected by the authorities and the economy – and paved the way for an emergent independent cinema.
Director Céline Danhier sees her film as a declaration of love to the city of New York; a portrait of Manhattan at a time when rents were low and drugs were cheap; a time before Ronald Reagan and the influx of megabucks that was to lead to the city’s gentrification. But, above all, her film is a tribute to all the filmmakers who made downtown Manhattan a breeding ground for the avant-garde.

Screenings on 15, 19, 20 February, more info here.

USA, 2009, 78 min, Arabic, Hebrew, English

Director: Julia Bacha

Budrus is a Palestinian village, thirty-one kilometres north-west of Ramallah. There are just under one-and-a-half thousand people living here. Budrus came to the attention of the world at large in 2003 when the Israeli government decided to erect a barrier in the form of a fence or wall which, among other things, was to run straight through Budrus. As a result, the village was to become the site of some remarkable protests. For her film, Julia Bacha, who has followed events in Budrus for the past five years, has chosen to focus on Palestinian activist Ayed Morrar and his fifteen-year-old daughter, Iltezam. By portraying the events largely through their eyes, the viewer is able to understand the reasons for the commitment displayed by the people of Budrus. The barrier, which was to be built on their land, their fields and their plantations, posed a serious threat to the villagers’ means of existence.
Ayed Morrar’s organisation of the protests is an extraordinary feat. Not only does he manage to bring together competing Palestinian organisations Hamas and Fatah, but hundreds of Israeli citizens also take part in the peaceful protest actions, as do members of the international peace movement. Nobody, however, can prevent these peaceful, non-violent demonstrations from being the target of aggressive reactions on the part of Israeli soldiers.

Screenings on 15, 16 and 20 February, more info here.

Red, White & The Green
Iran, 2009, 57 min, Farsi

Director: Nader Davoodi

Last year, the international community was alarmed by the events that occurred in the wake of the tenth presidential elections in Iran and the eyes of the world’s media were all turned towards what was happening in this country. During the course of a few days – the most violent since the Islamic Revolution – more than 65 people died. The international community began to wonder what could have caused such widespread dissent and such a vehement clash with the government.
The documentary RED, WHITE & GREEN focuses on the last three weeks prior to the elections in June, 2009. The film shows eighty-five minutes of images of the Iranian capital as it has never before been seen. Perhaps the most moving aspect of this film is the enormous sense of optimism expressed by most protagonists with regard to the upcoming elections – little could they know that many of them would experience a rude awakening.
In his film, the director conducts interviews with a number of important personalities, several of whom have since been arrested following the elections. The interviewees include journalist and opposition member Isa Saharkhiz, as well as the renowned director Jafar Panahi, whose football film OFFSIDE was screened in Competition at the Berlinale in 2006.

Screenings on 16, 17 and 18 February, more info here.

Waste Land
United Kingdom, Brazil, 2010, 99 min, English, Portuguese

Directors: Lucy Walker, co-directors: João Jardim, Karen Harley

Vik Muniz was born in São Paulo in 1961. He is widely regarded to be one of Brazil’s most significant contemporary artists. He makes use of all sorts of material – including food and rubbish – in order to create his large works of art; he has also often demonstrated his dedication to social issues.
In WASTE LAND Lucy Walker provides a record of one of his most elaborate projects – an installation in ‘Jardim Gramacho’, one of the largest garbage dumps in the world. The dump is located on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, where the poorest of the poor live. Many of these people earn a living from the rubbish, which they recycle in many different ways. Known as ‘Catadores’ or ‘pluckers’, Vik Muniz collaborates with many of them on his project.
One of them is Tiao, a charistmatic dreamer who has founded a Catadores cooperative; bookworm Zumbi, who is a real intellectual, or eighteen-year-old Suelen, who is already mother of two children and is pregnant with a third. She’s been working at the rubbish dump since she was seven years old and is proud that she has never had to work as a prostitute.
Guided by Vik Muniz, they create extraordinary work of art which involves them shaping of self-portraits in and from the rubbish. The work changes not only their view of themselves, but also their view of the world.

Screenings on 14,19 and 21 February, more info here.


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