A Stone Is Thrown Away

in 9th Split International Festival of New Film

by Diana Nenadic

So far, documentary, and political documentary in particular, has not been such an important category within the Split Film Festival, focusing on experimental, video and new media forms since its beginning. However, in this challenging ‘Moore moment’, this kind of documentary seems to be almost irresistible, and thanks to its momentary ‘weakness’, the Split festival presented a relatively compelling, though not such an artistically fresh documentary Forum. This selection functioned as some kind of counter-shot, as defined by Godard’s Notre Musique, that is a dialectical supplement to the fictionally oriented selection called Focus.

A stone is thrown by controversial Oliver Stone. The Forum opened with his Persona non grata, dealing with the still ‘hot’ Palestinian-Israeli duel, featuring physically and spiritually Stone’s omnipresent persona. Although his fictional works often refer to the prevailing political atmosphere in the USA, this self-assertive chronicler of the Pentagon’s modern history in, makes good use of his reputation to get closer to political leaders and actors on both sides, to explain the nature of conflict and its future perspectives by drawing out fairly explicit statements from them. Of course, Stone’s attitude is hidden between the lines of this open cinematic (and political) document.

This Near-Eastern ‘Bowling’ fitted in well with the festival programme. Following a Palestinian taxi-van driver, who takes all kind of passengers through dangerous streets and zones between East-Jerusalem and Ramallah, often risking both his own and his passengers’ lives, Ford Transit, directed by Hany Abu-Assad, is exciting and intense, at the same time is a bitter and humorous mosaic portrait of Palestine and Palestinians. Some passengers’ appearances and utterances may seem prearranged and ‘directed’, but what we see and hear in this documentary is harmless in comparison with the stoning-actions of children in Lina Halvorsen’s documentary A Stone Is Thrown Away (Et steinkast unna, 2004). Three Palestinian boys from a refugee camp, talking about their engagement with occupational military forces, mostly suggest that long exposure to a military regime, arm! s and propaganda may have an impact on a child’s mind and behaviour. Finally, the Israeli documentary Garden (2003) by Adi Barash and Ruthie Shatz, also suggests that this part of the world is far away from Eden, regardless of the position or sides from whitch we observe it. The film follows two transgressive youngsters from a desolate section of Tel Aviv called Garden – a meeting-point of gay-prostitutes, addicts and dealers. Political tones are replaced with social ones, and the prevailing method of ‘direct-cinema’ gives immediacy to this slightly repetitive documentary.

Barefoot to Herat by Majid Majidi (2002) certainly represents a qualitative peak of the second part of the Forum selection dealing with hot political zones of the remains of the Third World. Faces and words of starving and barefoot children is presented with Majidi’s simplicity and warm poetical touch known from his Children of Heaven…

Similarly, emotionally strong reactions can provoke confessions by survivors of the 1994 Genocide in Ruanda, in Eric Kabera’s Keepers of Memory (2004), or a testament by a Korean ‘sexual slave’ during the Japanese military occupation of North Korea in Takashi Itoh’s Crossing the Arirang Ridge (Arirangtouge Wo Koete, 2003), but both lack stronger cinematic approach.

Genocide, precisely the Holocaust, represents just one historical section of the Middle-European highway built during Hitler’s regime, the motive of Lech Kowalski’s On Hitler’s Highway (2002). Instead of carriages of death, Nazi or Soviet battlewagons, it’s now a meeting-place of prostitutes and other marginal persons, but the director seems to hesitate about his film’s focus: should it be political history or social margins of post-communism?

In this respect, Pešèenopolis by Zrinka Matijevic-Velièan (2003) was more determined. Located at the geographical and industrial periphery of the Croatian capital, it an unrealised docudrama within a thematically provokative selection of uneven achievements.