One cannot live in desperate times like these without wondering how and why we reached such lows. The list of grievances is long: persistent neoliberalism, increasing precarization, total commodification, environmental disasters, labor exploitation, the militarization of police, brutal warfare, terrorism, mass surveillance, racial incarceration, social cleansing, corporate America, the military-industrial complex at the White House and, obviously, Donald Trump. Unsurprisingly, the documentary has become the most interesting, perhaps even urgent, film genre today. The unexamined life is not worth living, as the adage goes. Good documentarists provide some answers. Great documentarists ask important questions. My list of inquiries keep growing.
In my previous post I mentioned that the horror genre is quite lackluster these days. Perhaps it's because everyday life is so horrific that it's hard to imagine bleaker scenarios. Zombies seem harmless if compared to standard corporate practices. If you are a black person in America, you experience a horror movie every time you leave the house. If you are a migrant, your life is a horror movie. If you work in a Chinese factory making iPhones, your life is a horror movie. If you are part of the precariat, your life is a horror movie. If you want to see real monsters, just read DemocracyNow.org on a daily basis. Unlike narrative cinema - which seems to be struggling on several levels and find itself under attack from TV and videogames - documentaries - especially the most experimental and unconventional ones - have truly captured the Zeitgeist.
My 2016 list has notable omissions, e.g. Frederick Wiseman's In Jackson Heights, Burden, Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back, Safari, Shadow World, The Prison in Twelve Landscapes, Command & Control, and Cameraperson, among others: alas, I have been unable to catch these films. Other omissions are intentional: I was underwhelmed by Gianfranco Rosi's Fire at Sea, which was universally lauded by critics. I found it rather ineffective and weak on several levels, but that's just my personal opinion. I also disliked Herzog's internet meditation, Lo And Behold: Reveries of the Connected World, a far cry from Adam Curtis's masterpiece, All Watched Over by Machines of Love and Grace. On the other hands, some inclusions may be debatable, like Roberto Minervini's latest work: most critics would consider The Other Side fiction rather than non-fiction. But for me, along with Curtis' HyperNormalisation, Minervini's work prefigured Trump's rise to power in America better than anything else I have seen this year. Included in the list are a couple of films produced in 2014 but distributed in 2016, including The Price We Pay, The Iron Ministry, and Requiem for the American Dream, all excellent.
Definitely not a great year for art docs (but then again, I have seen just a few). I recommend Manuel Correa's #ARTOFFLINE. It is extremely well directed and edited. Alas, most interviews are not as enlightening as I hoped. It would have worked better as a series, à la ART21.
UPDATE: 12/21/2016. I have finally seen Grimonprez' Shadow World. It provides a parallel, at times convergent, narrative to Adam Curtis' HyperNormalisation. Both filmmakers show who the real terrorists are. The gist: the most powerful country on the planet, the US, does not have nationalized health care and/or free college because of Lockheed Martin, Dick Cheney, and Ronald Reagan.
Here we go.