Sunday, March 11, 2012

Opening ceremony - 14th Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival

Thanks to the help of friends I was not only able to attend the opening ceremony of the 14th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival but also see a couple of films as well. First up was Tony Gatlif's Indignados which wove together the issue of immigration and the Indignant movement that swept both the Arab world and much of Europe last year. It's not exactly a documentary in the traditional sense as much of it was filmed in a more lyrical, filmic manner, though it does include real life footage taken in places such as Spain and Greece.

I enjoyed it but I think the marriage of two themes was at best strained and occasionally looked like the two were about to go their separate ways. Both topics would have made for excellent documentaries in their own right.

The second film, Interviews Before Execution: A Chinese Talk Show by Robin Newell was a more conventional documentary both in terms of approach and subject matter (albeit somewhat macabre) and dealt with a popular Chinese TV programme featuring interviews with prisoners on death row and follows their case right up the day of execution. It was an insight into a culture and mindset that is both familiar and, at times utterly alien. The makers of the series are no crusaders for the end of capital punishment but rather view their work as educational, a warning to those who would break any of the 55 laws that Chinese penal code punishes with the death penalty.

Newell delicately balances the requirements of bringing a documentary that would not offend the Chinese authorities with the needs to tell his story in an honest manner and in doing so leaves the viewer to make up their own minds by being rigorously neutral in his approach to the subject.

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