Tag Archives: Doco

Don’t be a stranger

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Review – GasLand

Depressing in its telling but motivating in what it leaves in you.

I missed this doco during BIFF – it was clashing with something and opted against this controversial journey documented by Josh Fox.

Often in docos I am more interested in the motivators (of the documenter and the documented) than the story they actually tell. This was one of those docos for me. Fox owns a property in Pensilvania and had received an offer for drilling rights on his property. He decided to find out what the outcomes might be if he signed – what he found he didn’t like, and documented his voyage of discovery.

It is worth nothing that this piece is entirely from the side of Fox and those opposed the drilling. As such, often the editing is extremely unflattering and detrimental to the gas companies. There is certainly a problem but it was the motivation of the companies involved and the power of their money and as a consequence, their reach, that I found incredibly depressing. I am certainly concerned that there can be such negative impacts on millions for the benefit of some – and that rings true for what recently occured in Queensland, where high levels of carcinogenic chemicals were reported in water around the coal seam gas exploration sites. Just yesterday, Farmers on the Darling Downs locked out exploration teams. From what I have read, it is a slightly different process to the US, but the drive of shareholder returns > all it seems these days. (Oh I am starting to sound like a Socialist Panda). In truth, I don’t trust the government or “the corporations.”

It is a personal journey.
The style – often it costs a lot to have production look that rough – this felt authentic.
The people Fox meets – often their abiding sense of humour.
The frustrations people feel and the clear lines in government.

Too one-sided for me to really love this doco.
When it went from journey to preaching/activist it lost it power for me.

This is a long doco, that I found dragging. The same over and over – but then that is the point he is trying to make. That being said, I wouldn’t be revisiting this show again any time soon. If it does anything well, it makes the audience want to understand more.


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Review – The Red Chapel – #BIFF

Simon, Mads and Mrs Pak present the pizza oven device

Poor Mrs Pak has no idea what is really happening.

This is a hard movie to describe. I have seen a few people try – but it doesn’t quite get to how I see it.
In short, two Korean born Danish comedians (Simon and Jacob) return to Korea but go to North Korea, not South Korea. They are accompanied by their “manager” (Mads Brugger) under the pretence of putting on a comedy show for the North Koreans in a cultural exchange – possibly the worst show ever produced. In truth, they are there to show the darkness that pervades North Korean society by their interactions and Simon who as a (self labelled) spastic is a living representation of what is never allowed in North Korea – perfect children only please.

The movie works on many layers and asks the viewer many questions, often ones that are very uncomfortable, while at the same time filling you with shock, awe and laughter by what they are prepared to do to get their point across – and how eagerly the North Koreans lap it all up. Mads Brugger does realise that he is also manipulative and cruel in forcing his comedians past their level of comfort and ethics – putting on a face for their hosts, while at the same time the North Koreans are being manipulative and cruel under the guise of helping and love for their guests and their Dear Leader. There are a few moments in the documentary where you think – no, there is no way – but there it is, unfolding out in front of your eyes.

The impact on Simon was heartbreaking. Seeing a “perfect” world where everyone is happy, beautiful and loved that he can never be a part of is so emotional and honest. Then to see how Mads continues to manipulate and force him to push forward is just as heartbreaking. It should be noted that Simon is the only one in North Korea who can speak their mind. Not only is he speaking Danish (their handler speaks English) but he is speaking “Spastic Danish.” So while Mads and Jacob are careful in what they say, even in Danish, Simon tells it like it is – the only time he dissembles is in English and in letters. You laugh as Mads deliberately lies as he translate, but at the same time you squirm on the inside.

The manipulation of the North Koreans knows no bounds. From a bus load of pretty girls for the boys to picnic with to totally redoing their comedy show including patriotic sentiments and hiding Simon’s disability, it leaves you gob smacked. Watching though, it is impossible to forget that these people’s lives, and those of their families, depends on making this work to make North Korea shine. I do have real fear in my heart for the North Koreans involved, especially Mrs Pak. Then you think about the entire population of the country – living in fear, lies and mistruths – always watching what they do and say – even their children. It is no life to live like that.


The march.
The uniforms.
The filming style.
The honesty.
The pain.
The hopelessness.
The tears.
The table.
Simon saving Mrs Pak.

Did they really think about the fall out back in North Korea?

This was my “life changing” moment of the festival – every year you want one – you don’t always get it – and this year I was beginning to think it was going to be one of those years where I picked the wrong movies. Then I saw The Red Chapel. It touched me in ways I can’t put into words – infact I have tears behind my eyes as I write this, then I will smile and laugh as I remember a particular obtuse moment. I have wanted to go to North Korea for many years, and have looked at various tours to go – but couldn’t bring myself to give my western currency to the regime… for the same reason I have never gone to Indonesia or Burma/Myanmar. After seeing this documentary I desperately want to go, while at the same time horrified by what I saw and what I would experience.


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Review – Freakonomics – #BIFF

Gibney Pure Corruption

A perfect shot reflecting the balance of the two major concepts explored in this piece.

Takes a number of different ideas, based in and around economic/statistical concepts and attempts to communicate those formulated thoughts to the audience. Some are used are “fillers” to set the theme for the upcoming short or to explain that what we think to be true may not necessarily be true.


Gibney’s Pure Corruption – by far the most interesting and informative of the segments that also wasn’t trying too hard.
I liked the opening and closing credits.
The research behind Spurklock’s piece.

I really didn’t like Jarecki’s style – dealing with issues such as crime and abortion with a hipster narrator and base animation didn’t do anything for me.
Drawing on people’s own racist mindsets for jokes.
Relying on schadenfreude.
Ewing and Grady’s over managed incentive piece on education.

Look, it isn’t a bad film per se, it just didn’t have that cohesion that a good multi-directorial documentary needs. They tried to do it, but it didn’t really come off. To me, the to camera banter felt like add ins on a DVD that had all the segments on it – they didn’t really tie them together or engage me.
Further to this I felt that most segments lacked resolution – if they were meant to be a mini movie in the greater movie/documentary within a documentary – surely the basic structures need to be followed. I think that is why I liked Gibney’s Pure Corruption so much. It set the scene – I met the protagonists, I felt empathy for the players, it related back to something I knew and then tied it all up neatly – all while being beautifully shot and lyrically narrated.

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Review – Cane Toads: The Conquest #BIFF

Send 'em back to Hawaii, to Barack Obama!

Tonight I was invited to attend the opening night of the St.George Brisbane International Film Festival. The film was a 3D doco about Cane Toads with a relaxed after party at a very cool inner-city space.

It is hard to think that I would be saying that a documentary about CaneToads was “delightful.” However it was a delightful little flick.

One thing I like about documentaries is that often the participants say and do things you could never script.  Cane Toads (or Avatoad as it has been called as it is in 3D) is exactly that. The talent is a hoot. Real Aussie characters – often with no self consciousness, and usually passionate about what they are discussing. This doco does track the migration of the Cane Toad from a sleepy Northern Queensland town to being the dominant force that it is now, but does it in a non-preachy and entertaining way.

Seeing Dobby (cross breed dog) having what can only be described as a good trip from licking the toads.
The editing takes the mundane and makes it magical – Marshall(?) the white dog’s story.
Tip Byrne.
Quirky arcs.
Nice tie backs.
Excellent score.
NT’ers make Qld’ers look anything but parochial.

Not enough science for me to really love it.
Dragged in parts.
Didn’t discuss the negative impact of the toad much.
Didn’t cover how “well meaning” toad hunters often kill our native amphibian friends .

A highly enjoyable flick – that was in 3D. Funniest thing about it being in 3D were the ppl who had never seen a 3D movie before. Otherwise, it was just a well executed gimmick. To be honest I wouldn’t have gone if it wasn’t free, and as I am not a 3D devotee I wouldn’t have gone at regular release. But to those who love 3D, it is well done, and not too many 3D for 3D’s sake and worth catching when it has a limited national release early next year (2011).

PS. Gotta love the guy who brought his pet cane toad with him,

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