The Future is Now! By Paulo Portugal

in 9th Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival

by Paulo Portugal

The variety, quality and strength shown in the several sections of the 9th edition of the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, both International and Greek, set a tone for some of the most vital subjects of a genre that absorbs reality and places it in the center of media attention. From the always urgent environmental issues (Gulf Stream, a River Under the Ocean, The Planet) to pungent social dramas (War Zone: Red World, It’s Always Late For Freedom, View From a Grain of Sand) and political idiosyncrasies and paradoxes (Unsettled, Spider’s Web or Secrets and Lies, awarded by the FIPRESCI as the Best Greek Doc). Clearly, documentary is a genre with a future.

Documentaries don’t use big budgets; neither cast big stars, nor applies great special effects. The camera is often portable, like the one hidden in the burkha of an Afghan woman in View From a Grain of Sand. It allowed us to see how a Taliban man beat a woman in the streets of Kabul just because her shoes made a noise while she walked. These stories don’t evoke adaptations made in Hollywood, but are often inspired by the harsh reality of faraway places. There are also the usual suspects, such as the Middle East, South East Asia or wherever human rights are violated. However, big cities are also part of the problem as they contribute greatly to global warming, but also hold offices of big corporations who export danger to faraway places in the name of progress.

Al Gore deserves his credit for bringing to a wider audience the theme of global warming in An Inconvenient Truth. Likewise, the Swedish team behind The Planet (Linus Torell, Michael Stenberg, Johan Soderberg) felt “the obligation to document” the same issue. By means of a metaphor of the human extinction on Easter Island , occurred centuries ago, they managed to foresee the same effects in the rest of the world. “The next ten years are crucial”, they predict. The documentary also depicts India and China as examples of nations with big economical growth, thereby concluding its logical consequences on demographic and pollution increase. “We will deal with the environment later”, admits one successful manager. “But it’s immoral to claim that they don’t have the same rights as the developed countries”, remarked an environmentalist. Furthermore, he added the expression “un-economical growth” to our lexis, stressing that the “bad” grows faster than the “good”. At last, someone would say ironically: “The cost of doing nothing is much higher now than in the next legislature”… It’s an awakening and troubling call.

In View From a Grain of Sand, the director Meena Nanji explores the gradually forgotten reality of the Afghan women who live under the Taliban regime nowadays. As refugees in Pakistan , a doctor, a teacher and a women’s rights activist take their burkhas and give their contribution. Clearly, it’s a grain of sand in the current situation of Afghanistan, where it is common to have public executions committed by Taliban’s. The outcome is an atmosphere of terror in a regime financed by the United States and Great Britain during the Soviet occupation. It must be reminded that 25 years ago women were free citizens in Afghanistan .

Finally, the Greek director Nikos Vezyrgiannis questions the secret CIA flights and the so-called special transfers of prisoners to unknown locations to be interrogated and tortured under no charges nor legal defense. That’s Guantanamo but also several other places in Europe and the Middle East. The film depicts testimonies and reports from the White House as well as the guilt of the EU. A disturbing and coherent documentary.

These are some of the most troubling issues that we’ll have to face in the next few years. However, is the future already used up?