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Digital Sketches

digital citizen media, ict with a focus on Central Asia and the Middle East.

Category Archives: film & documentary

Taking some days off to dive into the yearly International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) is one of the biggest treats I can dream of. Most of my festival days start with a huge cup of Americano before I disappear in to cinemas around the Rembrandts square. In between the films I am having coffee and later on wine breaks with friends, filmmakers and other visitors of the festival. Only the hideous Christmas market (Winterland) – filling up almost the whole square – is a disturbing pain in the eyes and ears this year. Ignoring this foolish market as much as possible and watching about 20 films I enjoyed the IDFA 2010 until the very last-minute. A top 3 through the eyes of an advanced amateur:

1. Feathered Cocaine, by Arnarson and Hardarson Alan Parrot was falconer for the Sjah of Iran. Now smugglers are trading – many times illegal – falcons to obsessed oil sheikhs. To the wealthy elite throughout the Arab region falcon hunting is a passion beyond compare. Bedouin tribes of the past used the falcon for hunting game that formed a nutritionally important part of their diet. Today this is no longer necessary but the falcon remains an part of the Arab’s lifestyle and tradition and falconry is an important sporting activity. As a result of the illegal trade certain falcon species are becoming increasingly rare in the wild. Parrot commits himself to the preservation of this endangered species. He devoted himself to his very passionate objective and learns about coincidentally the place of one of Osama Bin Laden’s hunting camp in Iran. This is the place where Bin Laden stays with his entourage and four falcons during the hunting season – October until March.

Strangely enough, the US authorities are not interested in the seemingly solid information and direct sources of Parrot. Maybe because I watched American Coupe (see below) the day before; but somehow the disinterest did not surprise me really. To close; this film is a true visual essay in every sense: – relevant topic – well documented and intelligently opinionated – beautiful film scenes (falcons relaxing and in action, Tajik views, illegal trade situations versus elitist falcon market in Qatar) – excellent storytelling. The part of Bin Laden only enters half an hour before the end. The indifference of the CIA comes as a blow to the audience: to f…unbelievable to be true. One weak point of the film is the title: there are almost no drugs in the film. One of the makers – I did not hear his name clearly because of the background noise in the café – told the birds command prices from 25,000 to 1 million dollar and they are nicknamed ‘feathered cocaine’. That is a shame because a more sexy title would have drawn more interest of the public. How about ‘Osama Bin Laden’s great hobby’?

2. Position among the Stars, by Leonard Retel Helmrich. Much has been written about this beautiful film.  I attended  Retels’s IDFA Masterclass on Friday 19th November in Escape. A few quotes:

`I am trying to catch the moment. To catch what is happening in on single shot and still have all the angles. Like it is shot with several cameras. I want freedom of movement and to move with my camera more flexible in space. This method is based on the theories of the French film critic Andre Bazin who’s books I read only after I finished the film school. Basicly I reinvented his ideas with regards to objective reality’ –  such as documentaries and films of the Italian neo realism school – and directors who made themselves ‘invisible’.’

Single shot cinema comes down to:

–         Shoot the beginning, middle and the end. Framing is not that important but try to keep with the movement of your camera the object of interest in the centre. In this way the material will dictate the editing work afterwards

–         Filming consciously makes that you always will be too late. Use your feeling and intuition: be fluid, invisible and e-motional. Act natural and follow your topic in a organical way. Be in the moment to capture the story. This might sound very Zen but yes I am a Tai Chi practitioner.

–         Knowing the filmhistory. Not only sociology, philosophy and politics but keep a close eye on the inventions: those are changing our way of working. Sound, remote control, hand-held digital camera; they all changed the film world tremendously.’

Helmrich shot 300 hours of material for his film Position among the Stars, he does not use external microphones because people become too aware of being filmed. Also Helmrich does not use much music in his films; only in more symbolic scenes like such as the boy running through the streets with clothing in each hand. The scene with the man walking along the train bridge is shot with the help of a bamboo crane on a dolly riding over the rail track with two persons hanging on each side as counterweights. Helmrich demonstrates some single shot positions with people from the audience, shows how he is handing over the camera to another person down the ladder. All simple but effective ways to move the camera around like it is dancing. Helmrich is like a Leonardo da Vinci dancing with a camera.

3. The Prosecutor, Stevens. A strong film about Luis Moreno-Ocampo, head of the International Criminal Court. It gives a clear insight in the many dillemmas and challenges of this court. Moreno is a megalomaniac but is there another way?

Worth mentioning:

The American coup, Ayella

Tabloid, Morris

Client 9, Gibney

Burma soldier, Dunlop, Sandberg and Stern


The documentary film Shadow of the Holy Book reveals the secretive and repressive dictatorship of Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenistan’s head of state from 1985 to 2006, and the Western companies who did business with him.

Listen to  the discussion about the film held at the OSI office New York in February.

The Iranian documentary Head Wind about satellite television and internet access was shown at the Amnesty filmfestival Movies That Matter. Despite the fact free access is difficult – though not impossible – Head Wind is a lively film with lots of humour.

Interesting to do the Q&A with Kamran Ashtary.

For me the International Filmfestival Rotterdam (IFFR) 2009 was:

The Hungry Ghosts (NYC): entertaining citystories

Blind Pig who wants to fly (Indonesia): surrealistic, wonderful disorientating, puzzeling visual poetry. Quote:  ‘Schiet met je boog, maar niet in mijn oog. Want mijn oog is voor iedereen, en mijn hart alleen voor jou.’ I just called to say I love you by Stevie Wonder will never sound innocent again.

Also see Dana Linssen’s excellent review about this weird film.

The Fixer, The taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi (VS): not one second of fiction, a great journalistic documentary. ‘ Truth is much stranger than fiction’ (Mark Twain)

Jalainur (China): nice scenery of Mongolia, lots of snow and steaming trains, still do not have a clue what the story was about

Native Dancer (Kazakhstan): magical film about some crooks (petrol dollar gangsters) and a healer. The story is based on an real character who lives about seven kilometres outside Almaty. An intense story, with a heart breaking ending: neither happy, nor sad. Director Gulshat Omarova witnessed several rituals (seldom without blood) and told in the Q&A she sincerely believes in the power of this witchcraft. Currently Omarova lives in Rotterdam: ‘a great city to write scenarios’ and she travels to Kazakhstan three, four times a year. In 2006 she was asistant director of The Mongul.

My favourites for the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) are this year:

Burma VJ; winner of the Joris Ivens Award and the ‘Movies That Matter’ Human Rights Award and also my number one.

Afghan Star; how about the tv programme Idols in Afghanistan? A film  about national roadshow in search of Afghanistan next big star.

When Carmen meets Borat; Carmen is 17 years old and lives in Glod; a small gypsy village somewhere in the Romanian mountains. She works daily in the shop and pub of her father. But Carmen dreams of a future somewhere else; somewhere she can find her ideal husband and lead a fantastic and rich life. She watches Spanish soap operas on TV and learns Spanish. When a man named Borat and his film crew appear; the villagers cooperate on what they believe will be a documentary.

Rough Aunties; “Fearless, feisty and resolute, the ‘Rough Aunties’ are a remarkable group of women unwavering in their stand to protect and care for the abused, neglected and forgotten children of Durban, South Africa.”

The Queen and I;  ‘Whereas during the Iranian Revolution in the late seventies the leftist documentary-maker Nahid Persson helped depose the shah the Iranian king. In reaction to these reprimands, Nahid decides to make a film about the last Iranian queen Farah, who lives abroad, like herself. This leads to a fascinating encounter of two women with clashing political visions, who develop an improbable friendship in the two years of their association’

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Last night we viewed this animation documentary in Rialto, a cosy and pleasant cinema in our neighbourhood. I can be short: Waltz with Bashir is impressive. The combination of documentary and animation is a very effective way to visualize personal experiences, in this case in war situations. The film is situated in Libanon. Although it shows more about Israel and its country’s politics in the 80’s.

Walz with Bahir tells the story through the eyes of young soldiers.  A former army friend tells Ari Folman about his recurrent nightmare in which he again is a soldier in the Israeli army.  They were both 19 years when they witnessed a mass killing in the Libanese refugee camps Sabra and Shatila in Beirut.  In a combination of comics and videogames the films shows the madness and confusion of the war. When you are in the opportunity; go and see this film. Other people will have to do with the beautiful website: Waltz with Bashir.

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Technology knows no borders. Effects are not only more popular in the movie, but also our environment is a platform for effects. Soon we shall see the chair where we can sit at home moving together with the image.
A lot will change in the film industry.  The conference of the Stifo@Sandberg on Friday 31 October, shall give an overview of developments, new trends and ideas and will start a debate with speakers and the audience on these.

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