Documentary filmmaker Niall McCann’s Lost in France is a nostalgic trip down memory lane for a group of mid-1990s bands and musicians borne from the influential Glasgow record label Chemikal Underground. Both an ode to the industrial Scottish city from which they hail and a lament on the changing face and decline of musical creation in its purest form, the rather rambling journey on which we are taken is back to the Brittany countryside and tiny village of Mauron where the burgeoning groups assembled for a festival of sorts in 1997.
“She sees everything but is totally blind,” says Jacques Derrida crossing a New York City street as Kirsten Johnson tracks him with her camera walking backwards, half stumbling in the process. The French philosopher thinks himself frightfully clever with this witticism at the Big Apple-based filmmaker’s expense but a viewer of her latest work, Cameraperson, may take issue with a claim that she is anything but a true visionary.
Spanning thirty years, three continents and a myriad of lies and mistruths, the facts of the case in Karin Steinberger and Marcus Vetter’s absorbing true crime documentary The Promise are anything but clear. Speaking in its latter stages from a common room at the Buckingham Correctional Center in Virginia, Jens Söring – the film’s principal subject and a man convicted of double homicide – states: “I was terribly in love with this woman.”
As the ripples of Russian governmental intervention in the US elections crashed across the airwaves last week, chipping away at a stony-faced Putin and turning The Donald’s putrid mien a more embarrassed shade of orange, the faint sound of Alex Gibney’s hands wringing with polemical glee could be heard from the famed documentarian’s home.
Through a symbiosis of sound, image and storytelling, a film’s ability to transport a viewer to a time and place far removed from the comfort of a darkened theatre in just a matter of seconds is where the real magic of cinema lies. From it’s very opening frames, and the crash of a giant cymbal, Otto Bell’s The Eagle Huntress is a wondrously beautiful and beguiling journey into the unknown and a documentary of simultaneously mythic and very modern proportions.
“The Mozart of chess” isn’t the most hip of nicknames but it goes some way to expressing the inexplicable, impossible genius of Magnus Carlsen. The 25-year-old Norwegian Grandmaster is the focus of Benjamin Ree’s Magnus, an intimate documentary that charts his rise to fame and an all-important 2013 World Championship event in Chennai. It does so with a humility that mirrors the self-effacing nature and bashful smile of its timid, attention-averse subject. “It’s hard to be cool when I play chess,” says Magnus in home video footage as an adolescent, struggling through his formative years at school.
The stakes of The Ivory Game couldn’t be higher. Make the wrong moves now, or fail to make the right ones, and within a generation one of the largest and most beloved land mammals on earth will be no more. The gravity of the situation faced by the African elephant will stun many of those who behold the galling facts of Kief Davidson and Richad Ladkami’s revelatory documentary – this reviewer included: an astonishing 150, 000 elephants have been killed in the last five years and if this tide is not stemmed the animal risks total extinction within fifteen.
Understanding, in every sense of the word, is the essence of Swedish filmmaker Jonny von Wallström’s deeply personal, frequently galling documentary, The Pearl of Africa. Compassion and comprehension are the principle objectives of a film that aims to spread awareness, enlightenment and with any hope, much needed societal change.
There’s something deeply unsettling about the unstoppable, magma-like flow of Werner Herzog’s Into the Inferno. Imperceptibly bubbling away in time with the veteran filmmaker’s monotone delivery, and left-field, impenetrable musings on mankind’s interaction with the natural world, this documentary may concern itself with the incendiary hostility of some of Earth’s most dangerous volcanic activity but the tentacled rivulets of human consciousness attributed to these volatile mountains of fire seep under the skin to chilling effect.
At the time Chasing Asylum was filmed 2,175 men, women and children, seeking refuge in Australia, were being detained indefinitely in centres on Manus Island – in northern Papua New Guinea – and on Nauru, a remote Pacific Ocean island nation. A further 10,000 were stranded in the Philippines due to an escalation in 2013 of the Australian government’s already rigorous and unflinching decree to “Stop the boats” by successive Prime Ministers.