The Documentary at FICCO By Nelson Carro
by Nelson Carro
The documentary section of the 3rd Mexico city’s Contemporary Film Festival (Ficco), made up of 19 films of diverse origins, was recognized with a remarkable amount of prizes: 10, the double of the ones dedicated to the fiction cinema. Practically half of the documentaries exhibited were awarded by one of the juries, in general with a good aim. Although some of the prizes can cause surprise or rejection. The FIPRESCI Jury, which I took part in along with the Peruvian Isaac León Frías and the Argentinean Horacio Bernades, granted a prize that did not turn out far from easy to determine. Finally, the chosen film was surely the one made with the smaller budget and infrastructure, The Friend.
At the opposite extreme appear other two important documentaries. Into great silence is a complex and rigorous work of the German director Philip Gröning. Its subject is the Cartujos’ monks congregation and, in particular, the Great Chartreuse monastery, nailed in the middle of the French Alps. Even though the director asked for permission to film more than a decade ago, they delayed 13 years in authorizing it. The result is a daily life registry, without music, interviews and without a notable narrative line. During little less than 3 hours, we are witnesses to the daily existence of the monks, their works, their rituals, their limited moments of relaxation.
The Ficco prize to the best documentary fell into the most spectacular film, in certain way a superproduction of more than one and a half million euros, which is not little for the category. Workingman’s death, from Austrian director Michael Glawogger, shows some of the most dangerous professions that exist in the present world: from the miners who remove coal in the Ukraine, in Heroes, to the ones that must extract sulfur from the gas blast of an Indonesian volcano, in Ghosts. From the very detailed description of the operation of a gigantic slaughterhouse in Nigeria, in Lions, to the Patshus workers where in a Pakistani shipyard dismantle great boats, in Brothers, until we get to the workers of the Chinese iron and steel industry, in Future.
East of paradise, by Lech Kowalski, was one of the most controversial films of the festival. The film, which came preceded by an important prize in Venice, is clear and sharply divided in two parts of almost opposed styles. The first one is an interview with the mother’s director, a Polish woman who in the days of the Second War was captured in a Soviet gulag. In the second part, Kowalski looks for creating a parallel between the previous part and his own life, among the marginalized ones of the New York of today.
On the other hand, the public chose as the best documentary a slighter and pleasant work, but non devoid of interest. In Crossing the bridge: Sounds of Istambul, the German director of Turkish origin Fatih Akin travels along with the musician Alexander Hacke to register the sounds of a city in which Europe and Asia are intermixed. Although the work is conventional, the rescued and divulged music is of first-rate and so it was felt, of course, by the audience who attended the exhibitions.
About the Mexican documentaries, 1973, by Antonino Isordia, that already had been awarded a year ago in the Guadalajara Festival (and that was commercially released in Mexico this week), received a mention; whereas the film by Gustavo Gamou, student of the Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica, The wild young pigeon, received the Kodak prize, consisting of five thousand feet of virgin film. The wild young pigeon narrates the history of two losers of the Mexico city suburbs, dreaming about triumphing at the rodeos and thus changing their way of life. Nevertheless, those dreams have very little relation with the reality they live in.
Another important documentary, was the one of the consecrated Israeli film director Avi Mograbi, Avenge but one of my two eyes. The film director enacts a parallel which evidently is very controversial in his country, between the Jews fights throughout history and the Palestinian intifada. Mogravi relates the Sanson myth and the Masada resistance, to show then how the Palestinian, children, women, elders, farmers, are humiliated by the Israeli soldiers and retained for long hours at the control posts.