Once again, I seem to be attempting to see a year’s worth of documentary films in the last quarter of the year, in fact I suspect I’ve seen nearly as many documentary feature films this month as I have the whole rest of the year. I’m not entirely sure that it’s just me, I think there’s a definite skew of documentary film release dates towards the latter part of the year. I feel a bit cynical suggesting that it’s anything to do with the upcoming awards season, but surely if it wasn’t we’d see a flurry of documentary releases in the aftermath of the Sheffield Documentary Festival in June instead?
Regardless of the above, the end of November marks the annual visit to Inverness of the Take One Action mini film festival. I usually go for the environmental themed films at this festival and this year’s selection looked to have some cracking offerings on that front. (The trailer for Anote’s Ark in particular, looks worth tracking down.) Unfortunately, due to work commitments, those weren’t the films I ended up seeing! Instead I saw a couple of documentaries that could be considered to belong to the genre of ‘one person against the world’. But what they actually do is subvert this cliché, by giving these – often charismatic and also important in their own right – figures and place them back in their own context, showing the support structures and the colleagues that have pulled them up and held them back in turn.
Naila and the Uprising
I knew very little about the film before going in, only that it was about female empowerment against a wider activist movement. The wider movement in question in this case is the first Palestinian intifada.
The film uses animation to portray segments of the stories that by their very nature have no illustrative footage. Including those of imprisonment and torture, which allows the film to address the subject directly without making it feel exploitative of the activists past pain. The animation manages to be almost poetically beautiful without either obscuring the truth with rose-tinted glasses or undermining it’s point with too much gory detail. It’s impressionistic in all senses of the word and all the more powerful for it.
It’s both fascinating and somewhat depressing to see how much hope and activism there was towards real change during this time, even in the face of so much violence and oppression. To hear from all these clever, passionate women who stepped up into leadership positions during the latter part of the intifada only to be side-lined completely during the peace negotiations and within the new government. Lingering underneath all the interviews, is that feeling of an opportunity lost, the ghost of another solution that might have been, and whether that might have been a better more lasting solution.
Silas in turn is about an anti-corruption activist in Liberia. It’s also a fascinating look at Liberia itself, in the aftermath of a brutal civil war, and in all it’s contradictions. It’s a refreshingly honest look at the compromises and sheer volume of persistence required to make a lasting impact on any one cause. We learn early in the film, that Silas and his colleagues at SDI have been long-term activists, and that their research and activism around illegal logging had been instrumental in helping bring former dictator Charles Taylor to justice. The film’s central focus is on the campaign to protect one particular community from the predations of a multinational logging company, as a prism to look at the wider issues within Liberia, along with the ways in which the international community both interferes with and turns a blind eye towards these issues.