CPH:DOX Festival: Day Three

Day three was a full one! Six films in total (two of which were shorts) and one delicious waffle made for an enjoyable Friday. The fact that the theatres are so close to the hotel is a good thing but it also means that I don’t get to see as much of the city walking from theatre to theatre. Still, the little I have explored has been quite beautiful. I’ve also sampled the Denmark versions of both McDonalds and Burger King and I can say with confidence that there is a subtle difference. The fries are slightly greasier and the Big Mac seemed to have mustard in its ‘special sauce’. Also, they offer ketchup and ‘fry sauce’. I will have to give that a go tomorrow.

I hate to start this off on a down note but I really disliked the first film of the day. In the program synopsis, ‘Balangay’ is described as being “related to the modern, Asian arts film, where the atmosphere of the location brings a collective character to life.” This translated to lots of lingering shots on things that aren’t as interesting (visually or thematically) as the directors think they are. Extended sequences of homeless people walking around in an abandoned airport are intercut with extended sequences of a couple of guys trying to get their car started. Not to mention the fact that almost everything in the film looks to be staged. I can’t even say I liked the cinematography, which was drenched in some unfortunate use of editing software video filters. To be fair, this type of film just really isn’t up my alley. It’s one of those projects that’s probably better suited as part of a video installation in a gallery.

Next up was Homeless, directed by Ditte Haarlov Johnsen. The film follows three men who were born and raised in Greenland but ended up transplanted to Copenhagen. When we meet them, they’re living on the streets or staying in various shelters. The film is a very honest and gritty look at this existence as we learn of their struggles with addiction and watch as they attempt to connect with their families back home. I thought the film was well executed and the characters were interesting and the only criticism I’d have is one of style. It seems as though the director has decided to shoot the subjects in mainly close ups, rarely revealing their surroundings or the people they’re talking to. It was a very claustrophobic feeling that I wasn’t sure was exactly 100% successful for me. Still, that’s a small complaint.

Next was At the Edge of Russia, which follows the day to day activities of a group of soldiers stationed along the Russian border, deep within the snowy gulag. The film focuses on one 19-year-old rookie as he’s shown the ropes by his superiors. This film was an interesting one as it demonstrated the seemingly popular European approach to non-fiction filmmaking — specifically, the melding of fiction and documentary. Within the first ten minutes it’s clear this is not a traditional documentary. Although we may occasionally see the boom mic drop into frame, the Hollywood lighting and perfectly composed shots are a clear indication that the majority — if not all — of this film is staged. This seems to be the norm at CPH:DOX considering last year’s grand jury prize winner was Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers, which isn’t a documentary at all. As for the film itself, it was mostly interesting and sometimes humorous. Basically, it’s the Russian training scene from Rocky IV meets the Klingon penal planet Rura Penthe from Star Trek VI.

After a short break, my next film was Lucy Walker’s Waste Land. While was aware of a buzz surrounding this one, I really didn’t have much of an idea of what it was about. I knew there was some sort of environmental connection but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that while the film does look at the importance of recycling, it’s done as a character study with a great story. The film follow artist Vic Muniz, a collage artist who creates elaborate ‘paintings’ using garbage and recyclable materials. After finding success in the United States, Muniz decides to return to his homeland of Sao Paulo to try and use his art to help the less fortunate. He targets one of the world largest landfills, Jardin Gramacho, and enlists a group of ‘pickers’ — people who pick through the garbage and pull recyclable materials to later sell for profit — to help him create giant portraits of themselves using the recyclable materials they collect. The result is a touching but controversial project that has the artist and his partners questioning the effects of interfering with the lives of these people. Will giving them a taste of life outside of the landfill provide them with unrealistic hopes? Will returning to picking devastate them? The film is shot quite nicely and Moby provides a wonderful score. Definitely worth checking out.

After Waste Land I had a bit of a walk to the next screening which consisted of two short films directed by Blaine Dunlop and Sol Korine, the father of Harmony Korine. The first was ‘Sometimes It’s Gonna Hurt’, a look at a kids rodeo training camp. I absolutely loved this film! It has a great sense of humour to it but also manages to capture the sincerity and the passion these kids share for rodeo riding. While it doesn’t pass judgement, the film is certainly aware of the safety concerns of putting kids on bulls. It would be a great companion piece to Spike Jonze’s short ‘Amarillo By Morning’. Second was a short called ‘Hamper McBee: Raw Mash’ which looks at a moonshiner named Hamper McBee who spends the majority of his time on screen singing, telling stories and constructing a moonshine distillery in the woods. The film was shot on video in 1978 and has a great aged aesthetic that perfectly suits the subject matter. Harmony Korine curated a block of films for CPH:DOX, and after seeing these two I wish I had a chance to catch the rest of them. Definitely one of the highlights of the festival.

Alright, well that wraps it up for me. I’m just about to head off for my last day of films. I’ve got four more on tap: American: The Bill Hicks Story, Over Your Cities, Brian Eno: Another Green World, and Werner Herzog’s presentation of Happy People: A Year in the Taiga. BYE FOR NOW.