Friday, June 14, 2013

Doc/Fest 2013 Coverage: Day Two

Today at Doc/Fest was both quieter and busier than yesterday since although I saw fewer things, they were on average longer and more time consuming than yesterday's batch. As such, I wasn't able to blog the day live, but I will endeavour to cover everything in this wrap-up.

The Act of Killing (dir. Joshua Oppenheimer)

It's hard to convey just how strange and disturbing The Act of Killing is without making it sound fatally quirky. Oppenheimer set out to make a film about the victims of the Sumatran genocide, a truly horrifying anti-Communist purge which resulted in millions of deaths between 1965 and 1966. However, since many of the self-described gangsters who carried out the executioners remain in power, it proved next to impossible to get the victims' side of the story, and so Oppenheimer offered the killers an opportunity to tell their side of the story. What then follows is a truly disquieting film in which these murderers candidly and proudly talk about their past violence and actually reenact some of it for the cameras. It is quite simply jaw-dropping, and what's great about it is the ease with which Oppenheimer is able to tease out these details not just about his subjects, but about Indonesian society in general, which treats the killings as a glorious, necessary event.

While the film is incredible, the version that I saw was the 2 hour 40 minute director's cut and, for fear of sounding churlish, it was simply too long and baggy to be as great as the subject matter deserved. Apparently the regular cut is only 2 hours, and I'd imagine that it is probably better, if no less grueling.

The Best of BUG (dir. Various)

I've been hoping to see Adam Buxton's show BUG for literally years now, and while the presence of a comedy show about music videos, Internet comments and Zavid Bowie impressions seems a touch out of place at a documentary festival - a fact that Buxton himself admitted - it was still one of the most purely enjoyable things I've seen in a while. (And it provided a nice palate cleanser after The Act of Killing.) Buxton acts as curator and showman, showing off some of his favourite music videos and interspersing them with gleefully silly comedy routines, jingles and animations to create what is a rollicking good time. The only misstep came with the inclusion of two fairly sexual videos which, while funny and innovative, did kind of suck the air out of the room.

The Summit (dir. Nick Ryan)

Any film about a mountain climbing expedition gone awry, especially one which features a lot of reconstructions, is inevitably going to draw comparisons to Touching the Void, so it's to The Summit's credit that I spent the majority of the film wrapped up in the story, rather than thinking of that other film. Ryan uses an interesting non-linear structure to detail the events that led to the deaths of 11 climbers on K2 in August 2008, marrying reconstructions with interviews of the survivors and archive footage shot by the climbers themselves to tell a propulsive and compelling story of people caught in an impossible situation, trying desperately to hang on in the face of the implacable forces of nature.