EVENT REVIEW Wales One World Festival 2012
This event ran from 18th March to 11th April 2012.
If there was one theme to this year’s Wales One World Film Festival, it was progress. Be it the rushing onslaught of industrialisation or the slow death of tradition in the face of crass consumerism, it’s clear that progress is playing heavily on the minds of many people the world over at the moment, and the following films provided a unique glimpse into their hopes and fears.
As well as showcasing several critically acclaimed works from regions as disparate as the Lebanon, Tibet and Indonesia, in venues spanning the length and breadth Wales, the festival was host to panel discussions concerning the issues of sustainability and globalisation, as well as Q&A sessions with directors Simon Bright (Mugabe… What Happened?), Tim Pierce and Sophie Lascelles (AnDa Union: From The Steppes To The City) and Carol Salter (Window On Africa).
More than just an excuse to showcase a few movies, the festival’s mantra ‘Think Global, Act Rural’ played a big part in the proceedings, and the following all played a part in getting the point across:
The festival opened with this ancient but profoundly influential Soviet documentary, accompanied by a new score composed by BIK’s Guy Bartell and performed by Bronnt Industries Kapital. It’s a fusion that works wonderfully, bringing a deserved grandeur to the film’s spectacular footage.
Charting the construction of the 1445km Turkestan to Siberia (Turksib) railway line in 1929, a route that traverses vast uncharted plains, rugged mountain ranges and parched deserts, it’s a carefully crafted propaganda piece celebrating what would have been a staggering feat of engineering for the newborn Soviet Union. More than just a means to an end, the coming of the railway heralds the arrival of industry to many of the isolated people of the plains, linking them to the bustling cities of the north and bringing modernity to their lives.
It would bring modernity to the documentary format, too, and everything from the impressionistic cinematography to the infographics can still be felt in the genre today. Turksib is the modern documentary in embryonic form, the start of a through-line that would go through cinéma vérité and the British New Wave right up to Adam Curtis. It was one of the earliest documentaries to realise the importance of a strong narrative to a convincing argument, backed up by powerful imagery, and it doesn’t fail to deliver – the unstoppable onslaught of the train against its harsh natural surroundings, or the casual way in which the suit-clad Soviet engineers welcome the haggard, rag-clad plains peasants all suggest the coming of a bold, unstoppably modern civilisation. One can only imagine how eager the plains people would have been to sign up for the revolution.
Credit, finally, has to go to the musicians and the composer for enhancing the footage with an excellent score and helping to make the screening a truly enlightening experience for cinema fans.
Gonpo is a ne’er-do-well living in a bleak village in the shadows of the Tibetan foothills. He’s trying to find a buyer for his dog before a local criminal can steal it to sell to Chinese businessmen. The only thing standing in his way is his staunchly traditional father.
This is the set-up for a story about the conflict between the young and the old, between preserving a traditional culture and surrendering to the charms of consumer capitalism. The crumbling concrete blocks of the town are a sad indictment of modern Tibet, especially when compared with the towering ruins of ancient temples dotting the mountainside. It’s a civilisation in decline, where centuries of tradition are abandoned in pursuit of the almighty Yuan, and men who once identified themselves as hunters or warriors sit around watching the Shopping Channel and drinking profusely.
All very bleak, but Old Dog’s heavy subject matter is made more palatable by some wonderfully black comedy. The bickering between Gonpo and his father is often as amusing as it is poignant, and the film is littered with quirky set pieces, such as a pool game played in the middle of a busy high street, or the increasingly farcical attempts by Gonho and his wife to determine why they are incapable of having children – particularly after it turns out that the wife is not to blame.
All of which makes the shock ending even more powerful when it does arrive. Although the film meanders a little towards the end, stick with it – it’s building up to a truly devastating climax.
Poor subtitling failed to ruin the audience’s enjoyment of Michael Ocelot’s latest picture, a charmingly inventive collection of six fairytales from around the world. Told through Ocelot’s unique style of animation, in which silhouette characters are laid over bold, colourful backgrounds, Tales Of The Night is set in an old theatre, where a writer and two actors recreate fairytales with the aid of a fantastical machine. The stories are set everywhere from the wild mountains of Tibet to a Caribbean take on the Land Of The Dead, and involve princesses, sorcerers, giant iguanas and fabled cities of gold.
There’s something refreshingly old-fashioned about Ocelot’s films. The lack of cynicism and the striking animation give this one a timeless feel that evokes old children’s adventure books. The backdrops are surreal and beguiling, be they intricate stained-glass windows or towering golden pyramids, and the bold colours give the proceedings a magical otherworldly quality. The tales themselves are simple enough for a child to enjoy, but with enough complexity to keep adults from drifting off.
The best of them is set in a kingdom in the mountains of Tibet, where two kings wager that a princess can successfully encourage a young man determined to always tell the truth to finally lie. Her method involves disguising herself as a wounded beggar-girl and having the boy fall in love with her, at which point she makes a truly shocking request of him. The boy is forced to commit a traitorous act or risk losing his love forever. Like all classic fairytales, there’s a dark edge to the tale which elevates it above becoming too saccharine, and a final twist to keep the adults from drifting off.
A fly-on-the-wall documentary ten years in the making, Position Among The Stars is the third in a Danish-Indonesian trilogy, set in the slums of Jakarta. Rumidja is an elderly Christian lady, living in a rapidly changing metropolis in the heart of a staunchly Islamic nation. Her conflicts with her two sons, Bakti and Dwi, and her teenage grand-daughter, Tari, form the crux of a film that, like the aforementioned Old Dog, takes place in a society caught in a state of transition.
Politics and religion give the film its voice, but it’s the very human struggles that give it a soul. The family re-mortgage their home to pay for Tari’s university studies, hoping to give her a chance to escape poverty, but Tari has her own adolescent concerns to deal with. Meanwhile, Rumidja is in trouble for teaching her young Muslim nephew a Christian prayer. The petty squabbles and the ever-increasing stress of scratching out a living give the narrative a universal appeal, and although the characters are often guilty of being impetuous or intolerant – who isn’t? – they are all relatable.
Add to this some stunning cinematography that brings the sights and smells of Indonesia to life, and Position Among The Stars is less a film and more a tourist destination, although it’s anything but a smooth ride. It’s the juxtaposition between the exotic – from narrow, exhaust fume-choked alleyways to lush green jungle – and the intrinsically human that gives this unique documentary much of its power.
WOW succeeded yet again in bringing the world to this corner of the British Isles, and judging by this year’s selection, it’s a place as troubled as it is enticing. Yet, it’s the glimpses of hope and wonder in amongst the soul-searching that give many in this annual showcase their charm. For cinema fans and global citizens alike, it’s a treat not to be missed.
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