Hybrid Worlds By Michael Pekler

in 11st Thessaloniki Documentary

by Michael Pekler

As the Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival has reached the 11th year of its life, it is no longer easy finding one’s way through several growing sections and tributes. This year one more addition was the so called Hybrid Docs segment, a selection of films “that explore and experiment with the different formal aspects of the documentary genre”, as artistic director Dimitri Eipides declares. So maybe it wasn’t by pure chance that — beside the well-tried Stories to Tell — section — this was the area where you could find some of the most impressing contributions to the program.

It seems evident that even classical themes in the wide documentary field (e.g. films concerning human rights or on working conditions) are searching for a new approach, and it doesn’t matter if it concerns the exploitive flower industry in Kenya (A Blooming Business by Ton van Zantvoort) or the heroic fight of local Amazonian people against the American Chevron-Texaco oil company (Crude by Joe Berlinger).

The fact remains that every search for the truth has to walk in pace with its subject, and so did Canadian filmmaker Laura Bari in her great hybrid documentary Antoine. Antoine is a five year old blind boy who was born about three months prematurely and is now attending a nursery school in Montréal. But Bari fortunately isn’t interested in an emphatic portrait of mercy, but creates a whole new world that surrounds Antoine and his little comrades: Inventing a mysterious figure called Madame Rouski, who is sending Antoine on several missions, this film manages to portray the boy as an imaginary detective: supplied with a microphone Antoine is going to discover and capture the sounds around him, always searching for new facts and imaginary phone calls. Bari succeeds impressively in filling the gap between reality and fantasy by filming the boy’s daily routine and his researches in snowed-up Montréal city parks. Because there’s no need for presenting conventional images for Antoine’s blindness, she is able to create a certain stream of consciousness that is drawing us along with the little kid.

Perhaps so called ‘hybrids’ are only a kind of makeshift solution because you don’t know how to classify them. They have no Stories to Tell, are not handling Human Rights and are not foretelling about Human Journeys (as the sections in Thessaloniki are titled). But, because they are incalculable for such categories, they are also able to deal with all of these topics. Sebastian Doggart, for example, mixes up different genres, such as musical, drama and comedy in his already awarded crowd-pleaser Courting Condi, in which he follows the journey of his protagonist Devin who has fallen madly in love with Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. But while the musician is making his way from his idol’s birthplace Alabama to Washington, D.C., he has to discover the dark side of his perfect dream. We could have told him.

So if this young American would have asked “How many people in the world are like me?” perhaps he would have got an answer by watching Bloody Mondays and Strawberry Pies. Dutch filmmaker Coco Schrijber is searching for a very unusual topic by examining the role of boredom (!) in the human condition. While the voice of actor John Malkovich declaims phrases of Dostoyevsky’s “Notes from the Underground” and Bret Easton Ellis’ “American Psycho”, Schrijber unfolds this essential state of mind and a reflection on time. So what about Brenda Spencer, who shot eleven people because she didn’t “…like Mondays”? And what does a young female confectioner who is putting strawberries on a cake have in common with a Wall Street stockbroker who makes millions a year? Watch this fascinating hybrid and you’ll find out.