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“Bombay Beach” Director Alma Har’el: “I’m Not a Documentarian, or a Filmmaker, or Anything.”

"Bombay Beach" Director Alma Har'el: "I'm Not a Documentarian, or a Filmmaker, or Anything."

I sat down with “Bombay Beach” director Alma Har’el this week to talk about her hard-to-define new “documentary.” Turns out she’s hard to define as well, but the completion of her statement from the headline is this: “I’m just a person who likes to express herself and who is finding her way through it.” She’s a true artist, one who hopes you won’t question her mixing of documentary and dance fantasy anymore than you’d judge a painter mixing two colors together. You can read the full interview over at the Doc Channel Blog, but here’s a segment that I like, particularly because it proves most of the negative reviews are missing the point in complaining that it’s not serious enough about its subjects.

I really wanted to make a film that captures something about the surreal quality of a life that is lived on the outskirts of society. I wanted to capture something of the broken American dream. And when something is funny and sad at the same time, the contrast between how tragic this place is and at the same time how much beauty and life there is in it. A dialogue between music and dance and imagination and everyday life.

I didn’t come there with an idea that I’m going to expose these people and show the world their true nature, and have them see things about themselves that they didn’t even know. I might do that movie one day, but if I do it’ll be about politicians, people who really have something to hide, not about people in Bombay Beach.


Read the full interview here.

Check out my capsule review from Tribeca below.

Here’s what I wrote on “Bombay Beach” back in May:

It’s not necessary to infuse a film about Bombay Beach and the Salton Sea with much fantasy. The place already resembles the setting of a post-apocalyptic movie and is for the most part an unbelievably surreal wasteland on its own. But we’ve already seen the straight story of this paradise-turned-dystopia (in Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer’s 2004 doc “Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea”), and anyway filmmaker Alma Har’el’s unconventional hybrid approach to her subjects—residents of the town and its surrounding area—is a wonderful, remarkable and irresistible way of presenting strange truth through hyperreal execution. Having just come off directing a music video for the band Beirut (whose music makes up most of the soundtrack of the film), Har’el makes a documentary that is as much MTV as PBS, almost like a non-fiction compliment to Spike Jonze’s recent Arcade Fire collaborations of video and short film. And all I can really say is that it’s an awesomely fresh piece of cinema.

And here is what I wrote more recently in my Doc Talk column for Movies.com:

My top choice for theatrical openings in the next two weeks is Alma Har’el’s fantastic, award-winning documentary/musical hybrid, Bombay Beach, a wonderfully unconventional portrait of the people and places around the wasteland of California’s once-bustling Salton Sea. Terry Gilliam recommends it, which should give you an idea of its dreamlike awesomeness, and fans of Beirut should understand the magical possibilities of a movie set to their music. As I noted elsewhere back in May, it’s part MTV, part PBS and altogether remarkably fresh.

“Bombay Beach” is now playing in NYC, opens in LA October 21, and hits VOD on November 1.
Recommended If You Like: early Errol Morris; late Terry Gilliam; Beirut (the band)

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