IFI Stranger Than Fiction (26 – 29 Sep, 2013)
Matt Micucci looks back at some of the highlights from this year’s IFI Stranger Than Fiction film festival.
Smash & Grab: The Story of the Pink Panther
Havana Marking takes us right into the world of one of the most impressive organised gang of jewel thieves of all times, the Pink Panthers. Through its clever and hip mixtures of elements from real life surveillance footage to a fascinating use of animation, this film is an original look at organised crime with a modern and exciting feel. Yet, there is more than an impressive and creative visual style to the Smash and Grab experience. Apart from the enriching and pricelessly insightful interviews with real members of the Pink Panthers, Marking also offers an interesting and original viewpoint on the figure of the criminal by digging deep within their personalities, their cultural background and even their place in history, exposing them as flawed and as vulnerable as any other human being.
Here Was Cuba
It happened more than fifty years ago, yet the story is still as bone chillingly shocking as ever. Emer Reynolds and John Murray’s careful examination of the infamous Cuban Missile Crisis event, which took place during the Cold War, offers perhaps the most complete and insightful look at the time when the world came closest to self-destruction. Not only is it oustandingly insightful thanks to the interviews of men who had a direct link with or played a part in the crisis, but also because of its use of primary source material such as archive video, audio and documentations – some making a ‘feature film debut’ – that reveal more haunting and intimate sides to the story. In addition, Here Was Cuba also draws up some troubling parallels with present times by making observations on to the fragility and dangers of the trust we place upon the leaders of the world. However, be warned! This is no textbook history lesson, and thanks to an exciting rhythm as well as a fair share of intensity and suspense, this documentary is as entertaining and gripping as a great fictional Cold War thriller.
A respectful and tender look at the lives of the young female students at the Shaolin Kung Fu school which is regarded as the birthplace of kung fu. Unsurprisingly, considering Westmeier’s acclaimed background as a cinematographer, the film is of a rare beauty. It comes across as an intimate and reverential look at a different culture, but also at the school itself and its inhabitants, whether it is when filming the 35,000 students lined up as disciplined soldiers or the face of a girl forcefully restraining the tears overcome with the stress induced by the hard training and the sadness of being so far from home – not to mention that the camera moves as smoothly as brushstrokes on a canvas in the scenes where the girls reveal their amazing martial arts skills through exhibitions that could easily be defined as nothing short of poetic. It is also amazing to see how close Westmeier was able to get to the girls, whose childish warmth cannot be concealed by the tough training and hard lives they must endure. Yet, the enjoyment and gratification of Dragon Girls also comes down to his great choice of respecting the foreign Shaolin tradition by not giving into facile judgemental viewpoints and conclusions dictated by Western world ethics.