DOXA fest rolls over that mainstream boogie
Our cover image this week comes from a program of Indigenous and Inuitthemed short films called Rethinking Representation, but you might as well say that the project of the DOXA Documentary Film Festival is to rethink everything.
Beginning on Thursday (May 3) with The Rankin File: Legacy of a Radical—a movie that ponders the Vancouver that might have been if we hadn’t handed our city to the developers—there isn’t too much on this year’s DOXA calendar that doesn’t take a dissident view of its subject, whether it’s art, society, health, wealth, sex, race, war, current events, past events, future events, or the vital matter of restoring the real history behind Linda Blair’s Roller Boogie. Think of it as the best deconditioning program going.
Read on for our take on some of the most notable titles screening over the next 11 days, and remember to check Straight.com for even more reviews, news, and features, and www. doxafestival.ca for the full schedule.
THE CLEANERS (Germany/brazil) In office spaces in Manila, dead-eyed workers make their way through a daily quota of images and videos uploaded to social-media accounts, deleting anything that exceeds a haphazard set of standards, traumatized in some cases by endless images of child sexual abuse, snuff clips, and live-streamed suicides. These are your anonymous content moderators, outsourced by Silicon Valley giants more invested in saying the right things than reckoning with their appalling dereliction of ethics. On one level it’s a parade of humans who are in way over their heads, from Filipinos desperate to avoid a life of scavenging landfills to clueless U.S. senators pointlessly quizzing hardly less vacuous Facebook, Google, and Twitter lawyers, applying phantom principles to politically shaped falsehoods, achieving nothing in the end besides theatre. In the real world, we see Syrians and Rohingya among those who are failed—the word doesn’t really do justice—by a global “connectivity” miscreation that none of us can possibly understand. In short: social media has produced insoluble problems so inconceivably vast and complicated that they paralyze the mind. Deep nausea aside, The Cleaners is a very noble effort to backspace us into reality. SFU, May 9 (6 p.m.); Vancity, May 11 (9:15 p.m.) > ADRIAN MACK
CO-CREATORS: THE RAT QUEENS STORY
(Canada) Local filmmaker Lonnie Nadler stumbled into a hell of a story when he started profiling the two men behind Rat Queens, a feminist-friendly comic-book series that became an instant New York Times bestseller. The first half of this unfussy doc is really about the difficulties, personal or otherwise, of maintaining a creative partnership, especially when your stock is skyrocketing. Vancouverbased writer Kurtis Wiebe doesn’t conceal his frustration when deadlines are consistently blown by artist Roc Upchurch, working in Atlanta. Matters become considerably worse when Upchurch is charged with domestic battery, leaving Wiebe to handle the fallout and find a replacement—assuming their fan base hasn’t completely ditched. Ultimately, he flounders into a sticky situation with another artist, alienating yet more readers and leading to a trial by Internet. High-strung and often pulling on a cigarette (plus, he’s a new dad), the barely 30 Wiebe is also, seemingly, a constitutionally honest guy, unafraid to look bad or make plain his discomfort with the filmmaking process. It’s hard not to like him, or to ignore the body language when he’s given a chance to air his side of the story. Twitter/ Facebook/instagram lynch mobs: take note. SFU, May 6 (8:30 p.m.); Vancity, May 13 (5 p.m.) > AM
DREAMING MURAKAMI (Denmark) Haruki Murakami, the great builder of dreamworlds, is himself an imaginary creature in this quietly engrossing documentary by Copenhagen’s Nitesh Anjaan. The famed Japanese novelist never appears on camera here, and his voice is never heard, even though at one point it’s clear that he’s standing mere feet outside the frame. But the film isn’t directly about Murakami. It’s about Mette Holm, the veteran Danish translator of his works, a captivating, enigmatic figure in her own right. Holm is constantly chasing the distant author’s intentions while wrestling with the crosscurrents of two languages so unlike as to constitute different worlds. She lives in a kind of limbo of interpretation, passing back and forth between realms just as Murakami’s stories drift between parallel realities. If these analogies aren’t clear enough, they’re driven home by computer-generated imagery of a six-foot-tall bipedal frog (yes, you heard right) from the pages of a Murakami short story, who appears to pursue Holm as she moves through the labyrinth of Tokyo. It seems at once menacing, absurd, and profound. And, like the work of both author and translator, it embodies not only hazard and doubt, but also magic and the promise of freedom. Vancity, May 4 (6:45 p.m.); Cinematheque, May 13 (6:15 p.m.) > BRIAN LYNCH
GOLDEN DAWN GIRLS (Norway) Following the 2013 murder of antifascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas, three women from the inner circle of Greece’s ultra-right-wing Golden Dawn busy themselves with the functioning of the party when their leadership is thrown in jail, including most of the GD’S 18 elected MPS. Among this little cell of Pr–courting women is Ourania, daughter of troll-shaped party founder and professional rage queen Nikolaos Michaloliakos. Full credit goes to these ladies for their principled stance on semantics. We see GD goons trashing immigrant market stalls, punching lesbians on live TV, chanting about turning communists into soap, chittering affectionately as their kids play with real guns, and blaming all their problems on the International Jewish Conspiracy—but for God’s sake don’t call them Nazis! From the Embedded With Extremists miniseries curated by journalist Geoff Dembicki, this must-see doc ends with a remarkable conversation between filmmaker Håvard Bustnes and the Disney-film-collecting, dog-loving Burzum fan Ourania. He tries to tease a smidgen of human decency from beneath all that “sacred resistance” garbage. The close reader might describe her response as vulnerable and sad. Haunting, even. Vancity, May 8 (6:45 p.m.) > AM
LETTER FROM MASANJIA (Canada) A disquieting exposé of China’s human-rights abuses, local filmmaker Leon Lee’s Letter From Masanjia begins in Damascus, Oregon, where the discovery of a desperate note inside a box of Kmart Halloween decorations brings to light the injustices taking place at the notorious Masanjia labour camp. The author of the message is revealed as Sun Yi, a Falun Gong member who was wrongfully imprisoned and tortured at the facility, and is now committed to uncovering China’s corrupt police state through clandestine-camera footage. Lee’s decision to have the dissident tell the bulk of his story through talking-head segments— and the occasional black-and-white animation—doesn’t prove the most compelling, but the perseverance on show should leave viewers inspired to learn more. Vancity, May 5 (2 p.m.) > LUCY LAU
OUR NEW PRESIDENT (Usa/russia) A wild and often hilarious trawl through the sleazier ends of Russian media sensationalism during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Our New President is also so radically decontextualized as to be almost worthless, maybe even dangerous. Russia obviously has its own Glenn Becks and Youtube crazies, but other than the cheap yuks, what of it? Pandering to the new Mccarthyism of the pseudoleft with dollops of Evil Putin porn only clouds the film’s gonzo entertainment value, revealing its dangerous blind spots and ideological bent. It’s doubly ironic considering we’re treated to the spectacle of a Russia Today employee being chided by the boss for objecting to institutional bias. The balls of this film! Similarly, it mocks the probably marginal Russian belief that Hillary Clinton was cursed by an unearthed Siberian mummy, but seems reasonably comfortable hinting its support of the no less deranged fantasy of American “democracy” sabotaged by dastardly foreign troll farms. Really, besides the style of consent being manufactured here—at a time when war is a real possibility—what’s the diff? Cinematheque, May 5 (6:45 p.m.); SFU, May 9 (8:30 p.m.) > AM
THE PAIN OF OTHERS (USA) The title is double-edged. Sufferers of Morgellons disease must endure the near blanket skepticism of the medical community, but also public ridicule and isolation. The three people portrayed in this heartbreaking doc eventually arrive at a kind of ontological collapse, vainly protesting their sanity against a climate of near universal othering. Penny Lane’s new film wants to engender some compassion for these women, using only their own (bravely) documented experiences on Youtube and a few news reports for context. The disease itself produces lesions and weird fibres that emerge from the skin (cue gross-out close-ups), along with the sense of infestation by something invisible. For the youngest of these women, Tasha, we witness a horrifying physical decline. If the condition is psychosomatic, as most argue, it nonetheless devastates its victims, leaving one to wonder if Morgellons is just altogether too strange and challenging to be handled by orthodox science. Admirably, The Pain of Others is built to tolerate this and any other viewer inquiry. Cinematheque, May 6 (8:45 p.m.); Vancity, May 8 (5 p.m.) > AM
PRIMAS (Canada/argentina) Rocío and Aldana are Argentine cousins who both suffered extensive violence in their youth. Rocío was kidnapped, raped, and set on fire by an unknown assailant, while Aldana’s father subjected her to several years of sexual abuse. They are bonded by their shared experiences of trauma, but also through the familial support they receive throughout their recovery. Director Laura Bari is revealed to be their aunt, lovingly referred to by the cousins as “Auntie Minou”. Bari films the girls’ everyday lives as they begin to unearth painful, forgotten memories. It is the deep trust felt between the three that allows Rocío and Aldana to cry openly in front of the camera while they retell these events. The girls also learn to heal through their shared passion for the theatre and dance. They travel to Montreal to perform. During their performance, both girls draw upon their experiences, incorporating them into powerful monologues and choreography. Through their immeasurable bravery, these teens demonstrate that healing starts from within and that self-discovery is best accomplished through the arts. Vancity, May 5 (7 p.m.) and May 7 (noon) > DANNIELLE PIPER
THE QUIET ZONE (Canada) The vast Green Bank Radio Telescope is so sensitive that it can detect the impact of a snowflake on the ground. It sits inside the signal-free National Radio Quiet Zone in West Virginia, and it’s here, like a subculture that might have been dreamed up by William Gibson, that a community of rural-living “electrose-nsitives” have nested, taking refuge from a world increasingly bathed in Wi-fi signals and all the other invisible noise of modern life. As with Penny Lane’s The Pain of Others, the symptoms of this marginal condition sound appalling. “This is not a belief or an ideology,” says one resident, pointing to a photograph of herself, reduced in the outside world to a vanishing 77 pounds by electromagnetic hypersensitivity. “This is real.” Others refer to the zone as the last safe place in the world. Others still patrol the area for stray signals, sometimes as small as an electric heater found in a doghouse. Mindfulness is a fashionable idea right now, but what really beguiles about this modest film, aptly placed inside DOXA’S Quietude series, is the in-the-moment quality that it somehow manages to transmit (not by radio) to screen. Cinematheque, May 8 (8:45 p.m.); Vancity, May 9 (4:30 p.m.) > AM
RETHINKING REPRESENTATION: SHORTS PROGRAM
(Canada) The most immediately satisfying of the three shorts in this Rated Y for Youth series entry, “Three Thousand” uses archival footage and typically innovative NFB animation to produce a sort of hyperlucid reclamation of Inuit history, which is then projected into the future in its breathtaking final moments. Artist Asinnajaq is the creator of this little gem, and she also graces the Straight’s cover this week in appropriately spectral fashion. Of the two other contributions, both very fine, “Butterfly Monument” overcomes technical crudity in its effort to memorialize teen activist Shannen Koostachin, who went head-to-head in 2008 with Minister of Indian Affairs Chuck Strahl to get a school built in Attawapiskat before losing her life in a car accident. And after last year’s The Road Forward, Marie Clements returns to ruminate on an early-20th-century ethnologist-photographer with “Looking at Edward Curtis”. His work, though problematic, is given a fair hearing by the participants, including musician Ostwelve, in this frank, thoughtful, and very handsome essay. Vancity, May 9 (noon); SFU, May 11 (6 p.m.) > AM
ROLLER DREAMS (Australia/usa) A shooin for audience favourite, Roller Dreams delivers ecstatic jolts of adrenaline while retelling the never-ending story of America’s war on the poor. From the late ’70s to the early ’90s, roller dancing was a phenomenon confined to a small patch of concrete on California’s predominantly African-american Venice Beach. Key people from the scene are still alive and talking; they bore witness to the familiar assault on black street culture first by Hollywood (the Linda Blair film Roller Boogie was the biggest whitewash/cash-in), then by racist law enforcement and gentrification. By the time of the Rodney King beating, a joyous soundtrack of ’80s R&B and electro had been replaced with gangsta rap and the crack epidemic. Says one participant: “How did we get from the ’70s to ‘Bitch Betta Have My Money’? You want me to dance to this shit?” Everyone here is fascinating (and the archival footage is killer), but all the drama and tragedy of Roller Dreams is distilled into the story of the leonine Mr. Mad, who was venerated by all. His full-blown genius on skates remains suspended between a violent childhood in Watts and a present that finds him weeping for a moment that was more than just lost: “It was taken.” Vancity, May 10 (6:15 p.m.) and May 13 (7:15 p.m.) > AM
THE THIRD OPTION (Austria) Uncomfortable conversations must be had, including those featured in this Austrian documentary. In an effort to discuss how society views disabilities and late termination of pregnancy, The Third Option incorporates both the professional opinions and the personal experiences of those who study, carry out, and undergo prenatal screenings. Filmmaker Thomas Fürhapter does not show the faces of those who speak. Instead, he overlays their voices atop visuals of children displaying incredible athletic skill juxtaposed with others living with disability. Through this technique, the movie accomplishes two things: it creates an environment where the viewer is discouraged from projecting their feelings onto any particular person, and it limits the possibility that we will demonize or sanctify the film’s speakers. The Third Option is, at times, raw and excruciating to witness. But by the end, we’re left with enough space to reconcile our own perspectives on this challenging subject. SFU, May 7 (6 p.m.); Vancity, May 9 (2:45 p.m.) > DP
From top left: Roller Dreams reclaims black history; author Kurtis Wiebe deals with being a Co-creator; Mr. Putin bros down with Our New President; and Golden Dawn Girls reveal themselves.