How important are Documentaries at this year’s Berlinale?

26. February 2018

Do documentaries become more important in times of crisis, and if so, can you see that at the Berlinale? Here’s what the Berlinale Bloggers have to say about that.

Philipp BühlerPhilipp Bühler – Germany: Documentary films have always been important at the Berlinale. In recent years they’ve been invoked as a remedy for the crisis. So it sometimes seems as though feature films don’t stand a chance against the more “realistic” documentary. Personally, I will always prefer the active artistic engagement of the feature or essay film. Unfortunately, really exciting semi-fictional formats have been in short supply this year.

Camila GonzattoCamila Gonzatto – Brasil: In times of crisis, documentary films provide a different take on important issues. In the case of Brazil, which is going through a serious crisis of democracy, the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff is the subject of a long-awaited documentary called The Trial (O processo). Other films address socially relevant issues as well, such as the plight of indigenous peoples in Ex Shaman (Ex Pajé), or prejudices, machismo und homophobia in Bixa Travesty(Tranny Fag).

Ahmed ShawkyAhmed Shawky – Egypt: If documentary is a form of art most related to reality, it really functions better when reality offers more stories than there have to be told. For instance, audiences around the world learned about the Arab Spring and its consequences not only through the news, the subject was also covered by lots of impressive documentaries. The only concern that remains is that the programmers’ aim to reflect the crisis in their film choices may imply that the quality of film-making is paid less attention to in the selection process.

Sarah WardSarah Ward – Australia: As a window into the world’s happenings, a snapshot of reality at a particular time and place, and a forum to investigate and amplify topical issues, documentary filmmaking’s purpose has remained unchanged — but, in times of crisis, its impact echoes with greater potency. Every film festival’s factual program encapsulates this reality, and Berlinale 2018’s more than 80 documentaries prove no different across their variety of topics — whether stepping into the refugee crisis in Eldorado, looking at life on the margins in Game Girls or celebrating a unique voice that transcends a nation’s general lack of respect for indigenous culture in Gurrumul.

Yun-Hua-ChenYun-hua Chen – China: Documentaries have become an increasingly important means of expression in times of crisis, especially because they have the possibility of combining different layers of reality to portray our zeitgeist. In Matangi/MAYA/M.I.A for example, through the clever mélange of private archival material and media footage, the documentary goes beyond the realm of a portrait and a music doc. It inspires us to reflect upon the way images of public figures on media are consumed and how they shape public opinions.

Andrea D'AddioAndrea D’Addio – Italy: Nowadays we use the word “to document“ every day. Each of us has a smartphone on which we can shoot videos and show them to hundreds of friends on social networks. As a result, documentaries have increasingly come to resemble feature films in recent years. The narrative structures have grown more complex and the genres increasingly diversified: documentary films are now no longer confined to current events: some even take the form of comedies, thrillers or “fake“ documentaries.

Hikaru SuzukiHikaru Suzuki – Japan: I’d like to name two documentary films that have particularly stuck in my memory at this year’s Berlinale. The Waldheim Waltz (Waldheims Walzer) is an essay film with excerpts from television coverage of the June 1986 election of the Austrian president. Central Airport THF (Zentralflughafen THF) is a documentary film about the life of refugees temporarily lodged in Berlin’s former Tempelhof Airport since the autumn of 2015. All these films show harsh realities and rivet the viewers.

Gerasimos Bekas

Gerasimos Bekas – Greece: Documentary material with a dash of fiction is conspicuously present at this year’s Berlinale. That does the Berlinale some good, for it often yields better stories. The fictional features shown here frequently suffer from trite endings. The documentary framework lays down a structure that often benefits the storyline.

Jutta BrendenmühlJutta Brendemühl – Canada: In Canada it is often argued that the documentary is the national art form.  Case in point: Charles Officer’s race and gentrification doc “Unarmed Verses” just won Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival. And 7 out of 17 Canadian films at Berlinale 2018 are docs. Toronto artist Chris Kennedy is presenting “Watching the Detectives” in the Forum, a silent experimental film listed under “documentary form” – which he questions: “I’m resistant to the idea of documentary form as a genre, it’s usually as manufactured as dramatic filmmaking and bends reality towards the director’s desired moral statement. My new film relies on documents – reddit posts and 4chan drawings – but it assembles them to examine how we manufacture truth through our subjective lenses.”

Grace Barber-PlentieFoto: © privatGrace Barber-Plentie – Great Britain: Yes, definitely! I’ve already seen so many documentaries here that have taught me new things and been extremely illuminating in important issues of race, gender and sexuality.

This blog post was originally published here and was republished with permission from Goethe-Institut.

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