Review - Hope Road

Review by Rod Freedman

Hope Road Dir: Tom Zubycki | Australia

Tom Zubrycki is one of Australia’s most consistent and prolific documentary filmmakers. Shooting over five years, Tom follows the quest of South Sudanese refugee and Sydney resident Zacharia to build a much-needed mudbrick school back in his remote home village. After an initial visit and a hero’s welcome, a new outbreak of fighting prevents him returning to Southern Sudan, but he won’t give up his dream.

He's enthusiastically supported by a small band of Aussies, including Janet, a TAFE teacher who accompanies him on an ambitious fund-raising walk from Brisbane to Sydney. The power of a film shot over such a long time is that we see the ups and downs of this refugee trying to make his way in a new country while remaining closely connected to the old one. Other personal complications arise to challenge Zac’s indomitable spirit. Especially heartening is the reception Zac gets along the way from school students and country communities. It’s a serious, funny and warm film.

 
 

What I Love About... Fire At Sea

By Joshua Paul

Fire At Sea Dir: Gianfranco Rosi | Italy

Fire At Sea hit me like a ton of bricks when I saw it. This quiet film is subtle and understated for most of its runtime - it is shot on Lampedusa, a small island off the coast of Sicily, where most people are fisherman. Periodically, the dependable routines of the villagers are interrupted by boats packed with refugees drifting off shore - a result of the European Migrant Crisis of 2015. Government officials work overtime to take in these boats; distributing blankets and food, administering health care where necessary, and moving the people into a refugee camp. 

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Primarily, we follow a young boy living on the island. His dad dives for fish. His mum cooks at home. He and his friend shoot slingshots at cacti. He tells the doctor he is more sick than he is. The doctor shows the cameraman  pictures of some migrants he has treated. The local radio operator converses with drifting ships, and relays their position to the coastguard. The coastguard scrambles helicopters and speed boats.

Director Gianfranco Rosi shoots with such a careful eye for humanity. The film usually operates on long takes of beautiful stationary shots. A helicopter preparing for take off. A pier full of boats bobbing on the water. A radio console. Our young boy carving a slingshot. The film is strung together with these poignant vignettes that powerfully convey the raw and real circumstances people find themselves in. You can't help but feel empathy as the film unfolds.  

At some point in the film, the juxtaposition just clicked with me - the simple stable lives of the villagers contrasted with the desperation and tragedy of the migrants' plight - all the frantic activity to bring survivors aboard while back at home a woman silently changes the sheets in the guest room. 

 
 

Fire At Sea screened at Stronger Than Fiction in 2016. It is available on DVD or iTunes. 

Review - McLaren

Review by Rod Freedman

McLaren Dir: Roger Donaldson | New Zealand

One for motorsport enthusiasts, this is the true story of Bruce McLaren, an unassuming, obsessed young Kiwi who became an unlikely star of the Formula 1 circuit in the 1960s, before dying in classic fashion at the age of 32 in a car crash. Directed by Roger Donaldson, the film takes us through his spectacular career through interviews with his wife and colleagues, using a wealth of photographs, footage and effective recreations.

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This was a time when the top drivers were treated like movie stars. Yet the foundation of McLaren’s fame was an incredibly hard-working man and his team who designed and built their own cars, starting from his dad’s Auckland garage. Though not a fan of motor racing, I was swept along by the story and the character of McLaren as a modest Kiwi who became world famous.

 
 

Review - The Dead Nation

Review by Michael Goss

The Dead Nation   Dir: Radu Jude | Romania 2017

 

The Dead Nation is Director Radu Jude’s haunting account of a troubled period of Romanian history brought back to life using an extensive photo archive. This found-footage film of life in provincial Romania in the lead up to WW2 makes a makes a superb, illuminating selection from this photographic treasure trove.

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As a multi-dimensional snapshot of history, the film is a rich evocation of a community on the brink of war. The soundtrack features extracts from the diary of a Jewish doctor fully aware of the approaching catastrophe interwoven with period radio broadcasts and patriotic anthems.

The film is striking in its purity, with beautiful images placed in the context of barely conceivable horrors, crafting a powerful depiction of fractured times that speaks to the unease of our own age.

 
 

Review - I Am Not Your Negro

Review by Rod Freedman

I Am Not Your Negro Dir: Raoul Peck | USA

If you think you know about the American civil rights movement, this Oscar-nominated film directed by political filmmaker Raoul Peck, will give you insight on a deeper level both poetic and political. James Baldwin’s words, narrated by Samuel L Jackson, take us inside those seminal and traumatic times.

 
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Baldwin started but never finished, a book on Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Medgar Evers, three very different activists who were each assassinated. Baldwin’s unpublished writing is the profound, passionate and eloquent voice that takes us inside those times and struggles. The archival footage is extraordinary and powerful, including passages of Baldwin at talk shows, interviews and rallies. The consistency and power of Baldwin’s reflections and intellect make for a cohesive, emotional and ultimately uplifting experience. 

 
 

ROD FREEDMAN is an independent director and producer whose documentaries have won many Australian and international awards and screened in dozens of film festivals. Rod is particularly interested in stories about people and their life’s journeys.