Rappers in Rio, Homeless in L.A., and the Ravages of War in Berlin's Panorama Dokumente
by Eugene Hernandez
Seventeen new documentaries from around the world are screening in Panorama Dokumente, the doc portion of the Berlinale's large Panorama section. The category offers an array of stories, from a look at striking performers Klaus Nomi in "The Nomi Song" and The Ramones in "End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones," and even culture jammers in "The Yes Men," to portraits of people living lives of hardship: rappers in Rio in "Fala Tu," homeless living on the streets of Los Angeles in "Trollywood" and injured mothers and children living in Kabul in "Texas - Kabul."
"Fala Tu": Rappers in Brazil
"Rap in Rio is more political," explained "Fala Tu - Lives of Rhyme" director Guilherme Coelho during the introduction to his insightful first feature. It's also not a form of musical expression that is performed widely in public concerts. Coelho and producer Nathaniel Leclery chose four rappers from the more than 80 they met in Rio De Janeiro. They shot 75 hours of footage before cutting it down to feature length. Over the course of the film, viewers go inside the lives of people who use rap as a way to express their hardships, from a man who was estranged from his now-dying father for 10 years, to an unemployed street gambler in the favelas whose wife is pregnant with another child they cannot afford to raise.
"I am someone, but I am broke," says one rapper, "My pockets are empty. If rap is for someone who has nothing, then it's ours." He adds, "I didn't ask to be born in the slums." While another offers, "I don't protest, I write about everyday life."
"Traveling With Che Guevara": The Same Route Twice
Gianni Mina's "Traveling With Che Guevara" re-visits the route traveled by a young Ernesto "Che" Guevara and Alberto Granado, a story also explored in Walter Salles' new film, "The Motorcycle Diaries." Described as a "journey through the memories of an old man, 50 years later," the film offers unique insights into the subject through interviews with the aging Granado. However the movie falters by spending too much time incorporating behind-the-scenes footage of the Salles movie. The doc, while engaging at times, is perhaps best suited as an extra on the eventual DVD of "Motorcycle Diaries."
"Texas - Kabul": Four Opposing Voices
Five women, four subjects and the director, are at the heart of "Texas - Kabul" which not only takes a highly critical look at the Bush administration but also explores the impact of aggressive states. Leading German documentary filmmaker Helga Reidemeister interviews activist author Arundati Roy from New Delhi, India, former Texas legislator Sissy Farenthold, from Houston, Jamila Muhajed, publisher of Afghanistan's openly women's magazine, in Kabul, and Stascha Zajovic from Serbia, founder of the "Women in Black."
Dramatic images, footage of bombed out Kabul neighborhoods and children recovering from the loss of limbs due to landmines, are intercut with critical interviews that question the motives of leaders, notably George W. Bush. Reidemeister, a leading doc filmmaker and former social worker in Germany, who has been making movies for more than 30 years, was criticized by one premiere attendee for using the images of damaged kids to make her point.
"I wanted to ask the question, what kind of world do we want to leave our children," she told the audience member.
Following up, another filmgoer wondered if President Bush would face prosecution for lying to the American people about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. "There is evidence from many places, we just don't have a court," Farenthold said defiantly. "I just want to get him out of office at this point," she added, to growing applause from the full-house crowd. The film will open in Germany this spring.
"Trollywood": The Sad Streets of L.A.
British photojournalist Madeleine Farley was in Los Angeles shooting images of the many "trolleys" -- or "shopping carts" as they are known in the U.S. -- that are to be found in an around the streets. Somewhere along the way she found a connection to a deeper story and "Trollywood" was born.
"I started photographing trolleys and then met their fascinating owners," Farley explained during a post-premiere discussion with a large crowd of fans of her first documentary.
In an expertly crafted film that weaves together still photos with Super 8 and 16mm footage, Farley captures the stories of many homeless who are living on the streets and out of shopping carts around Los Angeles. For instance, there is Hershey, who makes $100 a day collecting recyclable cans and bottles, or there is Michael Jackson, a homeless man who lives in a self-proclaimed "mansion" near an alley. Then there are the stories that can be seen as nothing more than tragic. There is Linda, a former actress whose life has plunged into inebriation and an on camera fight with a male street companion, or there is the sad interview with a doped up homeless man who says he is sexually aroused by the way filmmaker is sitting during their interview.
"We wanted to show that there were a lot of chemically ill people (living on the streets)," director Farley told one audience member who questioned her reasons for including footage of addicted street dwellers.
Farley shot 50 hours of footage on the streets and has assembled the sometimes fuzzy, artful images with a striking soundtrack that includes Lou Reed, Duran Duran, The Velvet Underground, John Cale and many others. "Each song is part of the narration," she said during the discussion about the movie. She financed the film through equity and the U.K. tax credit systems.
In the case of many of the docs playing in the Panorama Dokumente section, other festival screenings will no doubt follow. Farley hopes to take her movie to Los Angeles. "They need to see what's going on in front of them," Farley told one attendee when asked if the movie will screen in Southern California.
"I am going to work to get (the film) some place in the United States," Sissy Farenthold, in attendance for the premiere of Texas - Kabul," told the crowd, "There are many people that would be sympathetic to this film in the United States I assure you."
As for "Fala Tu," director Coelho and producer Leclery are applying to U.S,. festivals and strategizing over how to get the movie into the Film Forum in New York City.
"Can you tell Karen Cooper to see our film?" Leclery asked, smiling, anxious for the Film Forum programmer to see the movie.