Festival Focus: Frames of Representation 2017 Preview

Posted March 27th, 2017 by Matt Turner

Frames of Representation looks to find a home for “new visions for documentary cinema,” in whichever form that might be interpreted and shape it may arrive. When rounding up his favourite films of last year, festival curator Nico Marzano stated that his ambition each year is “to be inundated by films that are both able to inspire and to take a risk or and to challenge mainstream cinematic languages.” Frames of Representation is the result of this, posing a cross-section of the abundance of creative, challenging documentary films arriving from around the world. Here, we select five options from the team’s eleven film and eight event proposal that this year is focused around the theme of ‘work’.

One of the more challenging, conceptual works in the programme, Salomé Lamas’ Eldorado XXI takes place 5500m up in the Peruvian Andes, tracking the activities and lifestyle of the mining community of La Rinconada, the world’s highest permanent settlement. There, the miners work for months with no payment, eventually being allowed to explore the mines for their own profit for a few hours, a near-futile lottery that enshrines their livelihood and the wellbeing of their family within a system of desperate luck. Lamas captures the community in two parts, first from a distance, focusing on the landscape in the image and the community through the sound, before merging the two in the film’s more conventional second half. Though less than 30 years old, Lamas already has a handsome portfolio of projects under her belt; spreading across the cinema and the gallery, and around her resident Portugal and the world. Eldorado XXI, her second feature film, is beautiful and emotionally generous, a structurally and psychologically complex portrait of a community living at the height of extremity that demonstrates perfectly why she looks to be a major force in creative documentary.

Another film where the form is central – where an experiment in how documentary can or could be made makes a major part of the experience – is Torstein Grude’s Mogadishu Soldier. His film emerged as a result of “frustrations about not being to be able to make an authentic film in Central Africa”, where the presence of the camera. or more specifically of the “White Western” filmmaker, came to interfere with the capturing of natural situations. His way of dealing with this is bold, choosing to remove that presence entirely and surrender control over to his participants. Training two Burundi soldiers with camera and sound equipment, Grude then leaves them to work – having them filming all that they wish to whilst at war in the Somalian capital – before assembling the provided material into a diaristic, semi-structured feature. Working from 530+ hours of raw recordings, this task of assemblage is no mean feat, and the result is of genuine interest, an investigation into the power-relationship between filmmaker and subject as well as crucial first person insight into an under-covered, misunderstood conflict.

Slightly less intense but no less commendable is Mister Universo, a gentle, rewarding hybrid documentary from directing duo Rainer Frimmel and Tizza Covi. Following their subject largely in an intimate over-the-shoulder perspective, the filmmakers follow a circus lion tamer navigating his day-to-day in a time where his choice of career is becoming an increasingly perilous proposition. Mister Universo feels like a negotiation between the filmmakers and their subjects, a collaborative venture in storytelling where the most interesting version of real events has been reached together. As the lion tamer heads out of the circus into the wider world to find his hero – the strongman of the title, Frimmel and Covi follow, finding grace and humility in the mundane along the journey. A perfect exchange between filmmaker and collaborator, their efforts are aided by the daft humour and effortless charm of their protagonist. a performer through and through.

One of the more literal interpretations of the festival theme, Rahul Jain’s Machines is the week’s opener. Having played in Sundance and IDFA before, it’s one of the higher profile titles selected and the one perhaps most likely to attract most attention going forward. An intricate, visually stunning portrait of a Gujarat textile factory and the conditions therein. The apparatus of the title refers as much to the complex garment producing contraptions tracked obsessively by the filmmaker as to the human operators working in a no less technical, and equally demanding fashion. Differing from other detached observational documentaries that record mechanisms, process and the instrumentation of labour, Jain’s film probes at the human experience behind the work, which, unsurprisingly, is not a pleasant one.

Lastly, the most unclassifiable, incomprehensible and outright exciting film in the programme must be the debut feature of Argentinian experimentalist Eduardo Williams, The Human Surge. Williams follows his impressive run of short films with an extension of the form he had been developing through them, producing a freeform mismatched masterpiece that follows an expanding band of wayward protagonists across three nations and three varying camera formats. Starting in his resident Argentina, Williams leaps into Mozambique, to later surface again in the Philippines, lingering agitatedly behind characters that lucidly express all manner of thoughts and ideas as the camera bounds behind and past them. Expressive, energetic and unpredictable, The Human Surge is a total ride, a blisteringly agile piece of youthful cinema. Gently philosophising on work, technology and the intermediation of the two, it is a film that actively expedites the vitality and curiosity of its creator.

Arriving at any of the eleven films, a viewer with even a passing penchant for documentary (as it is currently understood or as it may come to be reinterpreted) will find something of interest. As a showcase for work that finds favour at festivals but no home in traditional distribution routes, the selections are diverse, but their quality unifies them. What makes Frames of Representation most interesting perhaps – especially in a time where audiences might favour home-viewing and online-access – is its commitment to fostering discourse around the events, something which lent the festival’s first edition last year its inimitable atmosphere. Alongside some form of Q+A or filmmaker presence after every screening, filmmakers Rahul Jain, Eduardo Williams, Salomé Lamas and Paweł Łosiński will be conducting longer conversations about their relative practices; doc luminary Joshua Oppenheimer (The Act of Killing, The Look of Silence) will be leading the headline masterclass; group panels will debate the ‘Aesthetics of Working‘ and ‘Why We Write‘; and bold new radio documentary platform Radio Atlas will host a session demonstrating their ideas. Under the connective theme of ‘working’, the films selected will dialogue with each other, alongside the filmmaker’s own conversations.

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