Documentary

The Gatekeepers (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

The Gatekeepers (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
2/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Documentary Feature Film (Dror Moreh, Philippa Kowarsky, Estelle Fialon).
Watched February 1, 2014.

  

It is hard for me to describe The Gatekeepers to you because it is a very straightforward documentary.  It is an interview driven narrative that features all of the surviving heads of Shin Bet, the Israeli intelligence agency.  The men mostly discuss the events that occurred while they were involved, either on the ground or in leadership, and the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians.

 

There are certain aspects of the film that are extremely creative.  They used 3D effects on images taken at events (specifically when some terrorists were gunned down on a bus) and make them appear almost life-like.

 

The interviewees are honest and fairly transparent about their answers and what they believed at the time.  They knew that what they were doing was almost without morals but at the time they knew no other way to protect lives.  By the end and in their current lives they might have different opinions, but it is all in retrospect.  They understand that they are treating symptoms and not the problem.

 

This year of Oscars has focused a lot on Palestine and Israel.  It is interesting to see all of the different angels throughout the documentaries and dramas.  Unfortunately, The Gatekeepers was not my favorite.  It was certainly no nail-biter, although enlightening and informative.  As I mentioned above, there is little content aside from interview footage, although the B-roll that is used I quite enjoyed.

 

If what I have describes sounds like it might be up your alley, I would encourage you to see the film.  However, it is very slow and dry, so if you want something you would not likely see in a classroom, you might want to stay away from this one.

Inocente (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Inocente (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award, which it won.
Won Best Documentary, Short Subject (Sean Fine, Andrea Nix Fine).
Watched January 21, 2014.

  

Inocente is definitely an Academy type documentary, and I can see by their standards how it stood out.  I haven’t watched any of the other shorts yet from this year so I’m not sure how they compare.  However, I’m not sure that Inocente would have won in my book, and here is why.

 

I thought it was fairly average.  The story had power and the colors and symbolism were there, but I felt that its stillness and quiet moments were a large weak point.  As a fan of photography and cinematography alike, I understand and can appreciate how just one frame or photograph can speak volumes.  In Inocente, those frames were so repetitive that the forty minute short felt like seventy.

 

Inocente Izucar is a 15 year old living in San Diego, California.  For all intents and purposes, she is homeless.  She has never lived one place more than three months at a time and knows most, if not all of the shelters in and around her county.  None of her friends from school know.  She has found healing in art, so much so that she can’t even keep it off her face.  She paints her face every morning, dons her bright red converse, and is off.  She enjoys being alone and does not spend a lot of time with her family, but instead at ARTS (A Reason To Survive) where she paints bright scenes from her dreams.

 

Inocente is chosen by the director of ARTS to be one of two chosen to host their own art show.  She creates thirty pieces in a couple months, and then sells them for twelve thousand dollars towards the program and her college fund.  The documentary follows her artistic journey and uses the art pieces as background as she narrates over the top, sharing stories of the past.  She and her family are living illegally in the United States, and Inocente feels like it is her fault that they are homeless and running scared.  Her abusive father was deported years ago, and Inocente feels directly responsible.  At only eleven years old, her mother pleaded with her that they should both jump off the Coronado bridge.  Inocente had to talk her down.

 

Despite the power in her words and story, I felt like the story telling was weak.  The people were all respectfully represented, but there was little shown of the difficulty of their life.  There was so much time spent in the art studio and so much less on just her life that although Inocente shared many stories and many things, very few things stood out as emotionally grabbing.  The colors and camera work were well done, as far as MTV goes, but I am surprised that the film gained an Oscar from the Academy.

 

Inocente’s story seems like it would be fascinating, and her way of telling it is raw and real.  She feels awkward at first, not knowing how to start.  Her art is a central focus, and perhaps that was the goal.  Perhaps she and the Fines wished her art to tell her story more than her words.  They wanted it to be brighter and more positive.  I can understand that, but I guess it just was not my cup of tea.

 

If the story I relayed for you sounds interesting, I would recommend the film to you.  Obviously a lot of other people really enjoyed it, I was just more indifferent to it than they were.  I will say this, though–the colors were absolutely beautiful, as was Inocente.  I wish her the very best.

5 Broken Cameras (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

5 Broken Cameras (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Documentary Feature (Emad Burnat, Guy Davidi).
Watched January 17, 2014.

  

I have a lot of love for Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi for 5 Broken Cameras, if only for what Burnat has done and what he represents.  Whether or not I agree with the political activism and the statements made in the film is irrelevant.  Burnat films his life and what is happening to his community.  Davidi helped it become cinematic brilliance.

 

From someone who vlogs my personal life for friends and family, but also to document, I felt a personal connection to this film that probably gave it one more star than it may deserve.  Burnat got his first video camera in 2005 for the birth of his fourth son, Gibreel.  He is born into Bil’in, a Palestinian town outside of Jerusalem in the West Bank.  We’ve all heard of the West Bank, but these people live there.

 

The Israeli government has moved the wall and taken good portions of their land.  These people do not have salaries–they live off of the land, and the government has given permission for settlers to build on the Olive grove.  Outraged that the Israeli government thinks they can take their livelihood, Burnat and the other men in the town organize weekly protests to be held every Friday.  They are supposedly “peaceful” protests, but there is always tear gas and gunshots.  Sometimes people are arrested, and occasionally people die, but the wall is stubbornly unmoved, year after year.

 

Burnat goes through five cameras over the course of five years, and in the end he is on his sixth.  One camera saved his life, another is repaired multiple times from being shot.  There is one poignant scene when Burnat’s wife Soraya is pleading with him to stop filming everything because it will get him killed.  Burnat is recognized by the Israeli government as a journalist, so he gets many unique shots even from amongst the soldiers as they deal with the protests.  Sometimes they don’t acknowledge the camera and other times it angers them.

  

There are certain shots that certainly have a great deal of foresight that your average home movie doesn’t have.  Panoramas of Israel, shots of burning olive trees, and a fascinating discussion between mother and son while washing dishes.  Even more interesting among this is watching Gibreel grow up in Bil’in and discover the world around him.  As a toddler, the soldiers are just other people, but in only a few years he will be confused by his father’s anger and then slowly come to understand.  By the time he is five and has lost people he loves dearly, the anger begins to become his own.

 

The story telling is well done, and although there are a lot of scenes of protest, Burnat and Davidi are capable of showing them from new angles and in new light.  In each one, something significant or representative of their struggle happens.  Although certain aspects of the story frustrated me, I enjoyed their method of story telling immensely and appreciate how raw and real everything is.  Other directors try to capture this feeling in a lot their projects, but 5 Broken Cameras trumps most of them.

 

Even if you aren’t necessarily a fan of documentaries I would recommend this one for you.  If you aren’t into political activism, the story telling and raw nature of the film are enough to draw you in and hold you there.

Undefeated (2011) Review | Jamie Daily

Undefeated (2011)
84th Academy Awards 2012
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award, which it won.
Won Best Documentary Feature (Daniel LindsayT.J. MartinRich Middlemas).
Watched September 11, 2013.

  

Even if documentaries aren’t your thing, if you like sports films or if you always find yourself rooting for the little guy, Undefeated is the film for you.

 

high school football team in the heart of Memphis, the Manassas Tigers have never won a playoff game.  In 2009, their coach, Bill Courtney, after 6 years volunteering with the program is determined to have his guys win a playoff game.

 

The documentary focuses on four main characters. Courtney is a family man who owns a business but has a passion for football and coaching.  He sees a need, being a man who grew up without a father, to step up and teach the teenagers of Manassas how to overcome their circumstances.  His three star players have chances for scholarships and college (or maybe even college football).  Courtney and another coach go so far as to help O.C. Brown by giving him a place to stay during the week so that he can have a tutor.

 

There are a lot of anger issues among the teens, and one star player has a lot of his season taken from him in a surprise injury.  Most of them live in poverty and with only one parent.  Courtney teaches again and again that you play with character–if you play for the team instead of yourself–winning will follow.  He teaches leadership and humility, although not necessarily patience.

 

I thought the film was very well done.  The pacing was good, the cinematography had a raw darkness to it that gave it a great mood, and the narrative was great.  It isn’t necessarily an uplifting story, but it held my attention all the same.  The selflessness of the couches is touching and the team meetings are very revealing.  I hope that what Courtney could do for the Manassas Tigers spread through the rest of the school and continued once he left.

 

If you enjoy a good sport film or documentary, I would definitely recommend Undefeated.

 

Pina (2011) Review | Jamie Daily

Pina (2011)
84th Academy Awards 2012
1/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Documentary Feature Film (Gian-Piero RingelWim Wenders).
Watched April 9, 2013.

Most of the reviews I read for Pina were absolute raves, but I did manage to find one that agreed with me and made me feel like a little less of a weirdo.  If you love modern dance, contemporary, and ballet, and also have an eye for the abstract in art, you probably will not agree with me.  I generally like contemporary and classical ballet, along with other styles of dance, but this documentary was fairly alienating and is definitely aimed at fans of Pina Bausch, the choreographer genius behind the dances in the documentary.

 

Pina passed away from cancer just five days after she was diagnosed.  The film was already in pre-production, but after her passing it became a tribute to her choreography and her genius in the dancing community.  The documentary features several dance numbers that she and her company performed during her career, but they are broken apart and are never shown from beginning to end, but rather sprinkled throughout the narrative.  They all tend to incorporate elements–earth and water–or obstacles.  There is very little dialogue, and when there is, it is usually a brief, somewhat ambiguous statement from one of Pina’s dancers about Pina and her style of teaching and choreographing.  There are also original clips of Pina herself in both the studio as well as the stage.  She embodies so much of her dance that after watching her, the other dancers seem as if they are chasing her greatness.

 

From someone who knew nothing about Pina Bausch before the film, I almost know less after watching it.  I know her name and that she was a dancer and choreographer.  However, the documentary revealed little of her story and her character, but focused mostly on the imagery of her dances and therefore her ideas translated through dance.  However, the fact that her dances were broken up made it more difficult to discover their meaning and therefore grow attached to them.

 

I am not a dancer and therefore the messages did not translate well.  I was very confused and bored until the last few minutes, when I was finally able to discover some of my own meaning in a few of the dances.  One of the last scenes has the group of dancers doing a certain “line dance,” if you will, along the ridge of a mountain, and I found this shot quite beautiful.

 

All things said and done, I am glad to cross the documentary Pina off my list and move on to something else.  I would not recommend it if, as I mentioned before, you don’t care for modern or contemporary dance and if you would rather there be some dialogue or verbal explanation of story.  I am a great lover of story, and there was little depth in that regard for me.  However, if you are a lover of dance and a lover of Pina Bausch, please disagree with me and see the film for yourself!