This film I saw late in the week but it is a remarkable and unusual documentary. The directors tell the story of a terrorist attack at a bus terminal in Be’er Sheva, Israel in 2015. The unique aspect of the film is the use of film from the surveillance cameras in the terminal which documented the actions of security guards, police and civilians caught up in the attack. Most the film is made from this surveillance footage although there are some short interviews with some of the participants and survivors. The incident itself resulted in several injuries and three deaths, including an Israeli soldier, the terrorist and one innocent victim. The latter is very much the focus of the film. The surveillance cameras document a single victim who is shot several times by a security officer and left bleeding to death on the floor. He is kicked and abused by several civilians who also assume he is one of the terrorists. It turns out he is an Ethiopian immigrant completely innocent of anything. The assumption of the security guard leads to his death and abuse. The film is difficult to watch and for much of it you assume the victim we see is a terrorist. It is only near the end that the truth emerges. The film illustrates what the fear of terrorism can do to otherwise civilized people. It also is an open critique of the inability of the Israeli security forces to cope or respond appropriately to terrorist attacks. The security guard who killed the innocent man was never charged although several of the citizens who assaulted him after the attack have been criminally charged.
One of the most amazing parts of the film is at the end. The tape of the main surveillance camera is rewound and the whole event unfolds in reverse. Stunning.
One of the themes of the festival this year is Syria and the Middle East with several films that address the conflicts there. City of Ghosts is about the city of Raqqa, an ancient Syrian town that has been a focus of conflict between ISIS and the Syrian government. The town has suffered under the rule of ISIS and the bombing and conflict it has endured. To highlight the situation there and in Syria generally a group of citizen journalists based in Raqqa have fought back with social media and created an organization known as RBSS or Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently. The group has gained international recognition and shown the power that citizens can have if they are determined and compelled to act by the horrors of the situation in which they live. Members live and report from Raqqa but many have fled to Europe to continue their work. Under constant threat, those who have left live in safe houses in Germany and Turkey. Nonetheless ISIS has managed to find some of them and assassinated them. The fear is real but so is the determination to keep up the struggle. Heineman, the director is a skilled reporter himself and is known for his earlier film, Cartel Land, about vigilante groups in Mexico that have arisen to fight the rise of Drug Cartel’s in rural Mexico. The latter is available on Netflix and I imagine this film will be also in the near future. Definitely worth your time to understand the situation in Syria today.
The best movie of the whole week. Jeff Orlovski came to Hot Docs with a film called Chasing Ice which documented the collapse of the world’s glaciers. The current chase is documenting the bleaching of the world’s coral reefs. In both cases we are introduced to the telling signs of climate change and the devastation it will cause even if we were to do what is necessary to cut fossil fuel emissions. This movie like Chasing ice is beautifully filmed as the director and the people who are the focus of the film travel around the world to conduct their research. As well as the films being visually stunning, Orlovski also introduces us to the researchers who have their own story to tell. The combination of cinematography and characters make the films informative and highly engaging.
In Chasing Coral we are given incredible underwater images of reefs in the Caribbean, near Hawaii and on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Using time lapse photography we are shown the terrible damage even small changes in the water affect the health of the reefs and the speed with which it is happening. The problem we have with recognizing how fast climate change is occurring and how fast the damage it causes happens is the difficulty in filming the changes. In this film and in the previous film the researchers have tremendous difficulty collecting the necessary evidence due to the difficult conditions and because they are the first to try to film the changes. The films document that difficulty as well as the ultimate success. Not only are we the viewers stunned with the rapidity of change but so are the researchers. While they express hope that we can stop or reverse the damage, their faces betray their pessimism. They make it clear that this is not just about the decline of glaciers and coral reefs but about how those declines are going to result in more major changes that our society and civilization may not be able to survive. This film and the previous Chasing Ice are important for everyone to see. Chasing Ice is currently available on Netflix and Chasing Coral will also be available later this summer.
Brother’s Keeper is a film that was released 25 years ago and was a landmark film in that it was an example of verité documentary style. The filmmakers followed the murder trial of a man accused of murdering his brother. The film focussed on four brothers who lived together in poverty and squalor on their diary farm in rural New York State. One day they awoke to find the eldest dead in his bed apparently having died in his sleep. The coroner however determines that it appears he was suffocated and suspicion falls on his brother who shared the bed with him. The police decide to charge the brother with murder. The case drew statewide and nationwide attention as the small community came to the defence of the brother and raised awareness of the whole trial. The directors decided it would make an interesting study and without knowing the outcome came and asked permission to follow the process over several months. The images of the three remaining brothers in their poverty and illiteracy facing off against the prosecution is difficult to watch but very powerful. We were lucky enough to have Joe Berlinger there for a Q and A which gave even greater insight to the making of the film. I will not tell you the end as this is a movie you all should see but the verité style combined with brilliant editing make the story moving. Politically relevant, and full of tension too. It is available on Netflix and it is worth your time to find it and watch it.
I was somewhat disappointed by this film. Being a leftie of the best sort I read the description of this film and was attracted to the description of a film that would look at the insane world of art auctions and collecting that carried on despite the horrendous impact of the economic crisis of 2008. So at the start they mention the crash but then just carry on describing the world of art auctions, the buyers, the artists who feed off the insane amounts of money and agents who promote both. Rather than being particularly critical of it, the film makes no judgement other than to describe it and in some sense to be envious of the various players in the business. Some interviews with artists suggest they are not entirely happy with the situation and its unfairness to many but that is about as far as it goes. The rest of the film is simply a glimpse into the activities of some of the one percenters and how little they care about the rest of us.