by Alex Elder
"The current, and in many ways devastating, situation might lead to new ways of thinking, behaving, and caring for our world and each other.”
Last week, CPH:DOX wrapped up its 17th edition - the first to occur outside of cinemas and physical space.
It can’t have been easy to take 700+ planned physical screenings, talks & seminars and roll them out online, so our hats go off to the organisers for all the hard work that made this year’s festival a (virtual) reality.
As we said in the first part of our festival roundup, film fans should keep an eye out for these titles on the UK circuit but also on any online streaming services.
The Reason I Jump (2019) (dir. Jerry Rothwell)
Book-to-film adaptations get a bad rep on the whole, but Jerry Rothwell’s cinematic version of ‘The Reason I Jump’ will certainly restore your faith in page-to-screen.
Based on the international bestseller of the same name where Naoki Higashida, then 13 years-old, answers 58 questions about autism, Rothwell forgoes the literal adaptation treatment for a much more nuanced ‘filmic supplement’ to Higashida’s incredible memoir. It was SO GOOD that the less we say about this groundbreaking film, the better. Met with the immediate challenge of Higashida’s decision not to feature the film, this obstacle actually makes for a structurally more creative patchwork of book extracts; interview clips with English translator and ‘Cloud Atlas’ author David Mitchell plus intimate footage of 5 young people with autism captured across 4 continents. The end result is a beautiful and sensitively crafted film that will change your understanding of the condition. This is not a film to miss when it comes to the UK later this year.
I Walk on Water (2020) (dir. Khalik Allah)
Street photographer Khalik Allah, the cinematographer and 2nd unit director for Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’ film, continues his quest to document Harlem by picking up from where he left off in his 2015 film, ‘Field Niggas’.
Imbued with his unique and hallucinatory approach to filmmaking, ‘I Walk On Water’ is a 3+ hour masterclass in moving portraiture, edited together with a creative zeal.
With fully unsynchronized audio and video from the get-go, Khalik’s film turns into a blissful sensory overload that cinematically echoes his own experience as a daily consumer of magic mushrooms. The viewer is met with a countless snatches of conversation and a deluge of 8mm and 16mm film images depicting both Harlem’s streets but also serene shots of flowers, water with heavy use of lense flare.
As well as documenting the homeless of New York’s 125th St. and Lexington Ave. and focusing on one of Khalik’s muses, Frenchie, intimate moments of the filmmaker’s own life are spliced into the audio track. His friend warns him about including some of his photographic subjects who are prone to spice-induced aggression. We even hear his girlfriend and shooting-partner, tired of running around the streets at night filming, break up with him mid-movie.
You could see this as a window of opportunity for Khalik, especially as a staunch Five Percenter, to enlighten the ignorant masses but his decision not to explicitly teach lessons is appreciated. His gorgeous kaleidoscope of images is merely presented ready for the viewer to find meaning in the wonderful chaos.
We Hold the Line (2020) (dir. Marc Wiese)
Picking up this year’s F:ACT Award, Marc Wiese’s ‘We Hold the Line’ is an intricate and important documentary covering a year in the newsroom of Rappler, the Filipino news outlet that’s been highly critical of President Duterte’s extrajudicial killings committed under the guise of a ‘war on drugs’.
Focusing predominantly on the publication’s editor Maria Ressa, the film brings you to the fact-checking frontline and highlights the serious threats these journalists face on a daily basis. With its pacey editing style and a soundtrack including the likes of Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto, ‘We Hold the Line’ ends up blending investigative journalism with the cinematic ‘rush’ of a thriller flick.
Duterte’s reputation on the world stage precedes him, but from the outside, it’s hard to wrap your head around. Wiese does a great job of outlining what his populist leadership means in visceral day-to-day reality. The film opens on an interview between Ressa and candidate Duterte (the mayor of Davao City, at the time) where he openly admits “If you fuck with me I will kill you”.
We see the bulletproof glass and shrapnel-repellent curtains a senator installed after he publicly linked Duterte’s son, Paolo, to the country’s drug trade and the Triad crime syndicate. You see footage of a Facebook live-stream as two nationalists break into the Rappler office and the venomous real-time comments from users suggesting that the pair should rape and behead Ressa. Mercenaries frankly explain the pricing structure for different targets the police direct them towards and we’re shown a raw CCTV clip of a death squad taking out a community leader.
Operating in this context, and in the face of a multitude of bogus lawsuits and Ressa’s semi-annual stint in incarceration, the Rappler journalists’ unrelenting passion for the truth and their refusal to be silenced is an encouraging glimmer of hope for the Philippines.
Family Romance LLC (2019) (dir. Werner Herzog)
On paper, this film has the makings of a riveting watch; its blurb promising “Werner Herzog in Japan, where a real rent-your-own family member is cast to play himself in a strange and surreal fusion of reality and fiction”.
Unfortunately, there’s a real disconnect between the curious premise of following a chameleon-esque character, who impersonates unavailable family members to make their loved ones feel better, and the reality of the film you’re met with. The auteur director, known for such films as ‘Grizzly Man’ and ‘Fitzcarraldo’, has sadly missed the mark. The real-life rental company this film is based on is very interesting, but not much drama is added when Ishii Yuchii, the actual owner of Family Romance LLC, acts out dramatised versions of his work. You’re also very aware of how this is a film written by a Westerner about Japan. There’s some hugely clichéd scenes where Yuchii and his ‘daughter’ take photos of cherry blossom and one where he is a train-worker being screamed at by his boss for letting a train run 20 seconds early. Maybe both of these scenes are based on true stories but way to inject some stereotypical portrayals of Japan into your film, Herzog!
That’s all for our coverage of this year’s CPH:DOX festival. We’ll leave you with an optimistic thought sent out to all attendees by the festival director, Tine Fischer :
“Although we are facing an unknown future, this year's festival has - in its own surreal way - left us with an optimism as unforeseen perhaps as the pandemic itself. We remain hopeful that the current, and in many ways devastating, situation might lead to new ways of thinking, behaving, and caring for our world and each other.”
Alex is a writer, DJ and 'content farmer' covering the venn-diagram of tech, art & cultural theory. Catch his cynical rantings on Twitter