Three to see at LFF if you like... documentaries

Christine Bardsley recommends three hot tickets at the BFI London Film Festival: a film by an established director, a great debut and a wild card.

Christine Bardsley

The new film from an established director…

Transnistra

What’s it about?

Atmospherically shot on 16mm film, Transnistra is an intimate account of love and friendship in a complex, contradictory world. We follow a group of young people as they come of age, moving from a sweltering, carefree summer to an unforgiving winter in the tiny post-Soviet breakaway republic of Transnistria.

Who made it?

This is the fourth feature from Swedish director Anna Eborn. Her debut Pine Ridge screened at Venice 2013 and since then her career has gone from strength to strength, with further films premiering at Busan, CPH:DOX and Visions du Reel. Transnistra has won four awards, including the VPRO Award at Rotterdam (IFFR) 2019.

What’s special about it?

Most people would struggle to find Transnistria on a map; this narrow strip of land lying between Moldova and Ukraine has a total population of only 555,000 and still has the hammer and sickle on its national flag. What’s so special and engaging about Eborn’s film is the way she shows us that however remote and exotic the location teenagers have much the same concerns the world over – love, identity, hopes and dreams. At a time when global politics seems preoccupied with stressing national differences this film succeeds in putting our common humanity into beautiful focus.

See this if you like…

Eborn’s films; American Teen; Skins (TV); All These Sleepless Nights

The breakthrough…

Hope Frozen

What’s it about?

A two-year-old girl from Bangkok becomes the youngest person in the world to undergo cryo-preservation. After her death from brain cancer, her devout Buddhist family sends her body to an American lab. Hope Frozen documents the emotional struggle of this family, devoted to reviving their daughter at all costs. 

Who made it?

Pailin Wedel won best international documentary at Hot Docs 2019 with this debut feature. A Thai-American journalist and self-taught filmmaker, she began her career shooting stills but fell in love with video narratives, making short films for TV and newspapers on faith, trauma and the clash between tradition and modernity.

What’s special about it?

The death of a child is every parent’s worst nightmare. Wedel’s film pulls off the difficult trick of being at once an emotional chronicle of parents doing what they believe is best for their child and an objective debate on science, ethics, faith and family. With great sensitivity tempered with journalistic rigour this fascinating film weaves beautiful footage of the child’s life with observational scenes of the family following her death. It explores the technology that promises to preserve the human mind and the challenges it poses to our belief systems, but offers no easy answers – that’s up to us.

See this if you like…

Lorenzo’s Oil; films about families; films about scientific exploration.

The wild card…

The Valley

What’s it about?

The mountainous border region between Italy and France is a hot spot for migrants risking their lives to flee poverty and persecution. To prevent a humanitarian tragedy local people have provided food, shelter and legal aid, but their compassion has put them on the wrong side of the law.

Who made it?

Winner of the emerging international filmmaker award at Hot Docs this year, Portuguese director Nuno Escudeiro works on different fields of the moving image, exhibiting in both galleries and film festivals. He regularly collaborates with art and design-based research projects, particularly the use of art within different social contexts.

What’s special about it?

This is a feel-good film that challenges the normalisation of the refugee crisis. At a time when migration issues in Europe are politicised and hostile environments abound, Escudeiro documents the battle between the population and the authorities who blatantly violate human rights by refusing to process asylum seekers and minors’ requests. It’s an inspiring call to action that challenges audiences to go rogue if they can no longer stand idly by. In this battle between the state and its citizens, it is this doughty group of volunteers, Roya Citoyenne, who truly embody the French national motto ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité’.

See this if you like…

The Other Side of Hope; How to Change the World; Human Flow; films about social change and nonviolent direct action.

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