The International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam is coming to an end and I bought a ticket to see four of the awarded films in a single afternoon. When I biked to the city center cinema it was still sunny outside, but later in the day it became rainy and dreary. I walked across the flower market with some food in between two films, and my fingers noticed that the winds through town had also become icily cold.
Here are some of my thoughts on the four films, which I wrote down immediately after their screenings.
Where are we headed?
This documentary tries to give us a feel for Russian culture and society by solely presenting us with footage from the Moscow metro system. Its vibes are gray, lonely, disillusioned. But also militant, proud. In private spaces, women seem stronger than men.
I honestly wasn't expecting such a documentary, but it turned out insightful and interesting. Though there isn't much of a story to speak of, I felt a sense of progression. Especially when we ultimately take a train to the sunny, outside world. Simple sunlight had never seemed as welcome as it did right then.
Children of the mist
A look at archaic ways of living of the Hmong people in Northern Vietnam. Poor farmers with little to no future prospects and limited global perspective. The film mostly follows Di; a teenage girl with parents who are perpetually drunk, in her village which is composed of friends and other people they farm with. The scenery is beautiful, with mountainous areas and terraced fields of rice and other crops. Opening shots capture the mist rolling in surprisingly swiftly through the hills.
Apparently, "kidnappings" of girls are relatively common. Men get drunk and then kidnap teenage girls they want to marry. This happened to Di's older sister La, who then had to drop out of school. Two babies at 17 and living with her husband's family.
We see Di living her life as a kid, innocently. Until she too is kidnapped by a guy not much older than her after a Lunar New Year's celebration. The guy's called Vang. Di is gone for a day or two and then Vang's whole family comes over to negotiate marriage terms. This all happens shamefully tongue-in-cheek; really cheaply, to my perception. Just like that, you can be married off to a different family in a few days, never to be seen again in your own village.
Di escapes to her school, and that is when her teachers start getting involved. They make their way over to the family's house to explain that it is illegal in Vietnam for underage girls to marry. While the teachers are there, both families seem to have a sort of respectful reverence towards them, but as soon as they are gone, both families fall back into a sort of acceptance of the marriage; "as long as it is the kids' choice". Though this is nonsensical, as the boy Vang seems to have been fully brainwashed into believing that this is his way of being a man and doing something for his poor family.
Di's is almost kidnapped right in front of the camera out of her house and it takes kicking and screaming for them to let her go, so that she and Vang can finally drink the "breakup wine". These scenes were very heavy and emotionally-laden, with the filmmaker even starting to get involved when she shouts at Di's mother to do something.
The whole film's undertone clearly stresses the importance of two things:
- General education, and
Societies need more of the former and less of the latter.
This film is really well done, and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone.
Writing with fire
Documentary about an all-female newspaper/digital news outlet. Most journalists working there are also from the population group placed outside of the caste system; the Dalit. Their organization is called Khabar Lahariya (mainly operating a YouTube channel and a Facebook page).
We experience their shift to digital reporting and their growing influence in Uttar Pradesh. They focus on conducting journalism truly as a fourth pillar of democracy and they refuse to play the games via more traditional ways. They also focus on often neglected issues such as rape and murder cases of lower caste people.
There is a persistent power against women's freedom throughout the whole Indian society and its systems.
The case of this women-led newspaper is inspiring and hopeful, though not as emotionally or personally touching as the previous film.
No dialogues, monologues, pluralogues. No characters. This film is a silent observation of the damage after the 2020 Beirut explosion at the port. It is months after the tragedy, but the city is littered with rubble and dust. Houses, shops, everything; broken in at least one way. We observe how Beirut's people slowly—almost dispiritedly—rebuild their world. The film made me feel slightly bored, which I think is a novel way of trying to convey the undescribable emotions mixed up in such an event. It really forced me to work through this sense of hopelesness for an hour.