Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Document 10: A Year of Independence

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.


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