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 - Dogs of Democracy

Review by Bec Fleming

Dogs of Democracy Dir: Mary Zournazi | Australia, Greece

Dogs of Democracy, written and directed by Mary Zournazi explores the challenges facing democracy in Greece through the eyes of the stray dogs of Athens and the people who  care for them.

There is much to lure dog lovers to this film. Adorable dogs stretch in the sun on the pavement, sidle up to restaurant patrons seeking a snack or a pat: they even stop traffic. But these stray dogs are much more than they seem. In Greece they have become a symbol of hope and compassion.

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One would expect a film documenting the crisis in Athens to include stories from the people involved in the protests and academics reflecting on the issues. These stories are included but by telling them through the lens of the dogs of Athens Zournazi creates a greater level of empathy.

The story of Loukanikos, a key narrative thread of the story, was from my perspective the strongest element of the film. Loukanikos was perhaps the most famous of the stray dogs in Greece, a hero of the protest movement. Through interviews with people who knew and cared for Loukanikos the audience comes to feel a strong sense of affection for him.

In the second half of the film we travel to the island of Lesvos and learn something of the despair of the migrant crisis. The film shows us the commonality between migrants, the Greek people suffering under economic pressure and the dogs – all are vulnerable. The film explores kindness to those who are suffering. The welcoming of the ‘other’ as friend.  It is this kind of democracy, the democracy of hope, which is represented in the care shown to the dogs.  

 


Dogs of Democracy screens Sunday, October 22nd at Palace Electric Cinema. Tickets Available Here

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.

Review - Austerlitz

Review by Rod Freedman

Austerlitz Dir: Sergei Loznitsa | Germany

On a trip to Poland, I once went on a ‘tour’ of Auschwitz with mixed feelings. I wanted to go for personal reasons but even the word ‘tour’ seemed to diminish the solemnity and respectfulness required of such a visit. This film, by Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa explores that discomfort but, with no narration or music, leaves the audience time to observe, reflect and think about the complexities. On a hot summer’s day, thousands of sightseers flood through the infamous ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ gates of Dachau and Sachsenhausen Nazi concentration camps. Incongruously dressed in shorts and t-shirts, the crowds would be gaudy if the film were not in black and white. Shot entirely on locked off cameras which simply observe the different reactions and behaviour, with snippets of guide commentary and location sound, we are led to question the nature of remembrance and how we can possibly connect to such places. 

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.

Review - Mountain

Review by Rod Freedman

Mountain Dir: Jennifer Peedom | Australia

Due for a cinema release later in the year, this must be seen on the big screen. Jennifer Peedom (Sherpa 2015) teams up with Richard Tognetti and the Australian Chamber Orchestra to explore our fascination with mountains and high places. Narration written by British writer Robert Macfarlane and voiced by William Defoe takes us through themes of history, wonder, risk taking, obsession, madness, peril, disaster and above all, the grandeur of the landscapes that most of us will never get to see first hand.

The cinematography is breathtaking and there are plenty of sequences narration-free for us to simply appreciate the wonders of the earth and the soaring, original music. A unique celebration of mountains and the people who revere, revel and rampage in them.

 
 

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

Review - My Year With Helen

Review By Rod Freedman

My Year With Helen  Dir: Gaylene Preston | New Zealand

New Zealand filmmaker Gaylene Preston follows former PM Helen Clark over a year in her bid to become the 1st Secretary General of the UN after 72 years of male SGs. We know she didn’t succeed, but the process is revealing of the behind-the-scenes machinations and politicking of the powerful and not so powerful countries.

An inspiring portrait of a forthright woman, a major player on the world stage who still ensures her ageing dad has homemade frozen dinners while she’s away running the United Nations Development Program.

 
 
 
The film conveys how tough it is to break the remaining glass ceilings. May it motivate future generations of women to keep at it!
- Helen Clark, 2017
 

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.

What I Love About ... Sherpa

Sherpa: Trouble on Everest    Dir: Jennifer Peedom | Australia

What I loved about Sherpa was its strong narrative and character arc. Peedom and her team set out to document the 2014 climbing season from the Sherpa’s point of view. What they never anticipated was following the tragic loss of sixteen Sherpas and the impact of that loss on their families and community.

The film shows how the people on Everest - the tour operators, the climbers and most importantly the Sherpa community – react as the tragedy of the 2014 climbing season unfolds. The balance between the commercial interests of the tour operators, the expectations of the climbers and the well-being of the Sherpas is a central tension explored throughout the film.

The other great strength of the film is the focus on a central character – Phurba Tashi Sherpa. A distinct character arc emerges as we follow Phurba Tashi Sherpa’s journey during the 2014 climbing season and learn about his family and their feelings on his dangerous job. He is struggling with his desire to continue climbing and his family’s fears for his safety. Following his story, the audience is drawn into his world and this fosters an empathy and understanding for the challenging work the Sherpas undertake.

Visually, the film is stunning. It contrasts the breathtaking beauty of Everest with the increasing tourism on the mountain that is likely to compromise this magnificent place. The shot of a line of climbers on the mountain, reminiscent of visitors at a theme park waiting for a ride, is a powerful illustration of how Everest is changing.  The film demonstrates the extent to which the mountain and the Sherpa people are exploited in the pursuit of the tourist dollar.   

If you have ever had a passing interest in what happens in the climbing seasons on Everest, Sherpa is the film to watch. Visit the Sherpa website to view the trailer and buy. 

 

By Bec Fleming

Announcing Stronger Than Fiction News!

We recently announced on Facebook that we're stepping back for a year.

After tripling in size over four successful years, Stronger Than Fiction Documentary Film Festival has decided to take a break in 2017 in order to concentrate on developing partnerships to ensure that we can keep knocking your socks off with breathtaking documentaries and events for many more years to come.

Our first step is this - our new blogspace - Stronger Than Fiction News!

For several years we've been sharing news and updates on documentaries we've screened, and other related topics (if you don't already, please follow us here). Now, we've engaged a number of contributors to write for us on our very own site.

You'll meet them all in the coming months, and we'll share them with you both through the newsletter and social media. We'll put any updates on the next festival up here as well. We hope you'll read and follow and participate in the discussion.

We look forward to hearing from you - and we very much look forward to bringing you more jaw-dropping documentaries in 2018!

Thanks!

- The STF Team