Document film festival returns to Glasgow this month, running at various venues from the 19th to the 28th. Here's a preview piece written for The Skinny...
To change the world, you have to change perceptions. It’s a rationale
that’s driven politically-minded film festival Document for close to a
decade, inspiring its organisers to seek out and screen hundreds of
documentaries from across the globe, shedding light on an extensive
array of human rights issues. This year’s selection is as varied and
internationally-focused as ever, demonstrating that, ten years in, their
commitment to awareness-raising remains strong.
The ten films selected for the main competition demonstrate this
continued breadth of interest. Amongst those looking to impress an
international jury of programmers, filmmakers, journalists and academics
are Love in the Graves, a study of homelessness in a Czech graveyard; Another Night on Earth, in which Egypt’s revolutionary protests are discussed in taxis by passengers and drivers; and Desert Riders,
which exposes the practice of trafficking young boys to the United Arab
Emirates where they’re forced to work as jockeys in the popular sport
of camel racing, risking serious injury on the racetrack and enduring
deplorable living conditions off of it.
Elsewhere are films spotlighting selflessness, like Justice for Sale,
in which a Congolese lawyer confronts the flaws in her country’s
judicial system. Other competition choices present a more conflicted
ethical morass, such as the Sundance-supported The Redemption of General Butt Naked.
During Liberia’s long, bloody civil war, Joshua Blahyi slaughtered men,
women and children indiscriminately, claiming responsibility for
thousands of deaths and leaving a trail of grieving families and
mutilated victims in his wake… and then he found God. Directors Daniele
Anastasion and Eric Strauss follow Blahyi as he preaches the gospel and
repents his unspeakable sins, testing audiences’ capacity for
forgiveness in the process.
In addition to the main competition, Document 10 will honour
Cambodian director Rithy Panh with a lifetime achievement award, on
behalf of the worldwide Human Rights Film Network. The award recognises a
remarkable career spent analysing the terrible consequences of Pol
Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime, in films such as S-21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine,
in which prisoners and captors from the notorious Tuol Sleng prison are
brought face to face with one another; or his more recent study of the
prison’s ruthless director, Duch, Master of the Forges of Hell.
On a similarly retrospective note, this year’s festival will feature
handpicked highlights from previous Documents – which, considering how
infrequently screened some of these films are, is likely to be much
appreciated by those not present first time around. But the overall
focus remains on bringing new works to Glasgow cinema screens, including
opening gala choice Special Flight (an insight into a Swiss detention centre, in which illegal immigrants are held pending deportation) and The Collaborator and His Family,
one of a number of films in this year’s programme to focus its
attentions on Israel and Palestine. The family in question are
Palestinians from Hebron in the West Bank, forced to seek asylum in Tel
Aviv when it is discovered that the father has been acting as an
informant for the Israeli security services for over twenty years. Also
taking inspiration from the region and seeking to challenge expectations
is Ameer Got His Gun, about an Israeli Arab who volunteers for military service, raising a raft of questions about civic identity and social duty.
With debates, workshops and other events planned around the films,
Document’s decennial edition mixes protest with reflection; echoes of
the past with hopes for the future; headline stories with plights that
languish far from the public gaze. It’s a festival in which watching the
films is only part of the process; it’s the discussions that follow
that matter most.